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Fear & Love, Part I

July 9, 2015

This past year, my students had one thing in common. They had not passed so-called “end-of-course” tests for 9th and/or 10th grade English. These tests were two of the five EOC tests the state of Texas requires its students to pass in order to graduate high school. Last year’s seniors, the class of 2015, were the first to graduate under the new testing regime. An alarming number were poised not to do so at the beginning of the school year.

In the end, almost all did pass. How did they overcome an obstacle that had knocked many of them down four or five times already?

This is not the part where I arrogantly claim it was my exceptional teaching. My ego is in check.

The greatest contributing factor was the motivation they felt. That motivation stemmed from a singular source: fear. Fear of not hearing their name called, of not getting to walk across that stage and accept that rolled-up piece of paper that holds far more symbolic power than any single portrait of a dead president ever can. Fear of not participating in this rite of passage with their peers, their friends, with whom they had shared this journey for the past four years, perhaps even longer. Fear of the future, of the uncertainty that loomed over it if this crucial step could not be fulfilled.

I would argue that there are two dominant emotional forces that serve in tandem as our greatest motivators: fear and love. It is not a bad/good dichotomy, because we can achieve great things due to our fears, and do tremendously stupid things for love; but fear is indeed often used for evil ends, and love can overcome the worse of human impulses.

To be continued…

Everyone Else is Writing, So Why Don’t I?

July 8, 2015

By “everyone else” I mean precisely four people who I know personally. It’s the middle of summer, so I have the time. Usually, when I post after a lengthy hiatus, I go on about my long off-and-on relationship with blogging. Not this time!

My name is Jason and I’m 40 now. How are you?

Purposelessly Piddling Procrastination

May 31, 2014

It’s nearing noon on a gorgeous Saturday morning, the final day of May. The mental math tells me it’s been 82 days since my last post. What happened?

It happens that today is the first day since that last post on March 10 when all of the following are true: 1) I’m not scheduled to work; 2) there’s not additional work I could do from home; and 3) I’m not studying for an upcoming test.

For someone who wants to be a writer so badly, it’s really easy for me to make excuses not to write. The trio above aren’t bad excuses, as they relate to either my present or future income. But did they really keep me from writing altogether? Not hardly.

What time I wasn’t being productive with 1-2-3 above, I piddled away. There was grocery shopping and dog-walking, occasional cooking and cleaning, and the other trivialities of daily life. Otherwise, though, there were collective hours of mostly mindless amusement. In the midst of it, a birthday passed, and I entered my final year before 40. Those few moments I’ve paused to reflect, I realize I have made progress in becoming a better version of myself, but I still have a long way to go.

It would be easy for me to sit here and type, now I’m going to do this! And I’m not going to do that! But broadly-defined, expansive, and/or unrealistic resolutions always fail. Yet, if I don’t give myself some structure for the day, it will end up like this… I wake up, much earlier than I care to. I walk the dog. I make coffee and breakfast and go sit on my patio to eat it and read my book. I come in and I turn on the computer. I don’t really have a purpose in doing so, other than I’m eventually going to write. But first, I have to get Pandora playing. Then, somehow, I end up reading a Yahoo! Movies article. I follow the link inside the article and spend over an hour looking (and laughing) at “The 301 Greatest Movies” list. Finally I remember that I was going to try to find deals on prescription sunglasses. I search on that briefly, but then come to my senses, realizing that such would not be a wise purchase at such an underfunded time in my life. Then I start perusing facebook. I’m not sure why I went there in the first place, either– I think I was going to play SongPop. I spend probably close to an hour there.

Just like that, it’s 11:30, I’ve been up over four hours, and have I done anything productive? Nope. I do apologize for boring you with minutiae, but it’s precisely my point. I am an accomplished procrastinator. When there’s something I have to do, I will find any and all manner of stalling tactics. When I don’t have anything I have to do– it’s far worse. I blink and it’s dark and I think, what happened to the day? That didn’t necessarily feel so alarming when I was 29, but I have a different reaction now at 39. I’m doing the polar opposite of carpe diem.

I have no grand plans to share, no lofty goals to set. I just want to do better. Teaching, as much as I complained about it, at least made me feel like I was doing something with my life. I was helping other human beings in a real way. When I withdrew from it, at first I felt I was regaining a sense of myself. The situation I’d gotten myself into had made me feel burnt-out and beaten-down, and I needed to recover. Once I felt I had, I started to feel that the risk of “taking time for yourself” is becoming self-absorbed. I feel myself falling again towards disliking what looks back at me in the mirror.

Writing and publishing this is its own kind of narcissistic posturing. It’s free therapy. I’m not going to lie; I’d love getting encouraging comments. What would do me better, I’m sure, is constructive criticism.

I have other things to write about, and this isn’t really what I intended when I started. I’ve got the final part of my family series to write, and the story of how my dog loves my best friend more than me, and maybe some actual, I don’t know, stabs at fiction in my head.

The one thing I’ll promise is, it will be less than 82 days until my next post. I’m thinking 82 hours would be better.

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