49: Turning it off

Not much has been happening lately. That makes me quite happy. Yes, happy. 

Dana and I have played a few board games that have been sitting unopened for a couple of years. Good times. 

I’ve barely had to leave the house during this heat wave. Bliss. 

I developed a three week schedule to help me balance chores, to-do’s, tasks, hobby, and leisure. It may seem masochistic from an outside perspective to subject myself to a “work routine;” however, I believe this is the solution to the problem I’ve discussed regarding the concerns I have for getting lost in a dark abyss of aimless thoughts and perceived purposelessness.

I feel a difference. Whether or not it will be a lasting difference remains to be seen, of course. But the weight of “should be doing” has been lifted. I’ve given myself a rotating schedule that provides both freedom and consistency such that I know when I can “turn it off” for the day… or how much to double up to make up for lazy days. And I’ve allowed for “days off.”

I don’t regard it as anything set in stone. It’s just a guideline – a self crafted illusion. The primary benefit is simply allowing myself the ability to “turn it off.” And that has already made a world of difference. 

It’s easy to “turn it off” at an hourly job. But, for me, at 19 years old I was managing a video arcade. Punching out didn’t mean I could completely “turn it off.” Phone calls from employees, having to stop in to make change, refill change machine hoppers with tokens, troubleshoot problems, cover shifts. It wasn’t demanding, but it did keep some level responsibility always on. 

For awhile, the security job didn’t have those demands. But, since I was going to school beyond full time with all the required field experience hours required to become a teacher, “turning it off” was a guilt-ridden luxury. 

And teaching? Hah! Figuring out how to “turn it off” was a survival skill. The professional expectation is that teachers are educators, mentors, social workers, innovators, engaging entertainers, experts in subject matter, masters of individualizing instruction for a hundred students, caregivers, role models, coaches, evaluators, reflecters, tweakers, communicators, protectors,  collaborators, chaperones, motivators… martyrs. Teachers could spend every minute of every hour every day of the week and still be made to feel they weren’t doing enough. 

It’s that last sentence that is the big problem that causes burn-out. 

Nonetheless, except for those few years of work/school/field experience-student teaching there was always a point of the day I could “turn it off.” At the arcade, for the most part, if I wasn’t there, it was “off.” Anytime the phone rang, though, there was good chance I’d be booting up again. During the security/school years, the light at the end of the tunnel was worth the two or three years that I didn’t even think about turning it off. In fact, that was the time of my hyper-social anomaly and spending time enthralled with the Renaissance Faire. 

Eventually I consciously developed the concept and ability to “turn it off” when teaching: do work at work; work at home only when it was something I considered fun (or the beginning weeks of the school year). It took a few years to get to that point, but it came. 

Since May 9th, 2014, “turning it off” just wasn’t an option. If it was “off” it was because of a metaphorical circuit breaker blowing or power outage. Even then, the “off” state was just about doing what needed to be done in order to get things back up and running again. 

So, this schedule I’ve developed for myself isn’t so much about a plan to get things accomplished (although that is ultimately an outcome). It’s about giving myself some room to live again. To be inspired. To lighten up. To stop merely taking breaks. To enjoy. 

An odd effect of the schedule is that I’ve started to sleep according to normal people hours. I’m curious how long that will last. 

So far, the one thing on the schedule I haven’t been able to scratch off is “physical activity.” I gotta get there. My belly is starting to require it’s own bedroom. 

12:35am

Advertisements

43

Up early again. I’m trying to muster up the motivation to get back to taking care of the tasks that need accomplishing. To that end, I typed up a master to-do list in Google Docs, then made a duplicate for just the current priorities (things I’d like to get done by the end of summer). Of course, after getting that taken care of, I thought of a few more things to add to the list, but am resisting the urge to put them on… screw it. Be right back.

There’s an “excessive heat warning” for the next couple of days. Not that I’d strive to leave the house anyway, but that clinches my staying indoors. Hopefully giving me the kick in the ass to spend time in the basement doing the chores.

I’m experiencing an interesting conflict about the basement. I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about some kiln work I’d like to try out. I’ve also had the urge to paint some miniatures (which will be basement work now I suppose). And, I’m running low on vape juice, so I gotta get down there to mix some up.

Now, my workspace is sufficiently cleaned up to do any of those things, but I’ve resisted the desire to get down there solely because, as soon as I step foot into the basement, the To-Do-List smacks me in the face.

I’ve been pretty good about balancing hobby time with chore time the past couple of years, but now, for some reason, I’m having a hard time reconciling the dueling priorities. I’m afraid that’s what’s kept me from doing anything truly productive over the last few days.

Activity promotes activity. So, today, I’m going to push myself to get down there and get back to thinking one step at a time. One shelf. If I can get one shelf in order today, I can count today as worthwhile.

… I could also go back to bed and play some Nintendo DS…

ONE SHELF!

6:33am

42

It’s 9:43am on a summer Wednesday. First I wrote “Tuesday” before realizing that wasn’t right. Dana is out and about doing work related stuff. Maddux is curled up on the bed next to my right knee. I’ve got an appointment at 1pm today. 

Yesterday Dana and I ran around to take care of a bunch of stuff: turning in her Kia, insurance quotes due to recent changes, and a stop at Time Warner to talk to someone about the sporadic minute long lapses in service we’ve been experiencing in Kenosha for the past couple of years. 

I’m feeling quite blissful at the moment, not because I’m relishing a life of leisure, but because I’ve got stuff on my to-do list, yet I am just chilling in bed for a bit because I’m able to. And, for once, I feel neither guilty nor pressured. 

None of the errands yesterday went quite like I expected (er… hoped for). Turning in the Kia cost twice than I realized it would. I’m irked about it. Not because of the amount, but because of the new awareness I have about financial matters. 

Years ago, I had a friend that scoffed at me for spending $30 on a pack of six razor blades instead of $10 on a pack that had two razor blades AND the razor. I explained the math behind the difference since the razor itself is reusable, but his response was, “I’m still spending less money than you are.” 

The disconnect wasn’t so much a sign of ignorance as it was a willful choice of perception given the availability of money. In other words, I wouldn’t have balked at the additional costs related to turning in the leased Kia if our situation was as it was three years ago. Leasing would have perceptually remained a wise decision for our availability of money. 

Thanks to Internet memes, the idea that things cost less for the wealthy is by no means a great shock, but to recognize the tricks we play on ourselves is scary. You know… but, leasing comes with free oil changes,  and you can keep driving a newer vehicle. 

The math behind leasing vs. purchasing a car isn’t as readily apparent to me as the razor blades. I don’t know, maybe it is a better deal depending on the circumstances. And, that is what irks me… I don’t know. Costs aren’t obvious. 

And that brings me to the insurance stops. I was hoping to walk out of the office knowing what our new costs for insurance would be. Nope. I was also surprised (but I’m not sure why) to find out that the premium for my Racine house would be higher now that I’m renting it out.

Oh… it makes sense… in a way. The risk to the insurer is greater because someone without a stake in the investment is occupying that investment. Yet, the renter is also paying insurance. Ultimately, the insurance companies are collecting more money, but who pays the cost? Duh.

In most situations, I, as the landlord would tack on the additional premium cost to the rent of the house. And, I’m sure that the common perception would be that I’d be foolish not to. Again, the math isn’t obvious. 

What is obvious is the web of costs associated with living are so complex that it’s no wonder there are ideological conflicts about how to achieve a blissful life. 

The last stop to Time Warner didn’t go as expected because the problem was solved within four hours. Seriously, we’ve  called a few times to get a resolution, but were told nothing could be done because there wasn’t a problem when we called. Of course not… the Internet would shut off and come back on a minute later. Sometimes it would continue that pattern many times in the course of a couple of hours. Sometimes we’d be good for a few days. There was simply no way for us to call and be sure the problem would occur while we were on the phone with a service representative. 

I downloaded a piece of software that logs Internet outages. I figured we’d get the run around at Time Warner for awhile, but ultimately get them to send out a technician sometime a few weeks from now. 

Nope. Log in hand showing over 160 outages over the past four days, the representative barely glanced at it before asking if we’d be home between 1pm and 2pm. It was around 10:30am when we got there.

Hell yeah! 

Some one was at the house at 1:12pm. After fiddling with cable line where it connects to the modem for a few minutes and observing the downstairs guts, we walked outside where he pointed at a squirrel sitting on one of the lines. After creating a plan of attack for maneuvering around a tree to get to the cable lines, he removed the chew toy of a wire and replaced it. It’s going to run underground now, but they still have to come out and bury it. 

Nevertheless, he was gone by 2pm, and we’ve had glitch free Internet service since (I think – I haven’t gotten out of bed yet to check the log – but we didn’t have an issue last night). 

Dana has returned from her morning tasks, so I guess I’ll scrape myself out of bed and possibly scratch something off that still lengthy, but deadline free to-do list. 

10:51am

Day 40

It’s my birthday. Yup. Dana asked me what I wanted to do this year. I replied, “nothing.” 

Really. I don’t want to go anywhere, have a special dinner, receive gifts, or have the day otherwise marked as “special.” 

I haven’t really been that into birthdays for awhile now. But, I usually like to do a little something to acknowledge the day… go to a movie or eat at Texas de Brazil. 

I’ve has way too many “special” days of late that the most special thing is to have a day that’s unspecial. 

Since our wedding last week, I haven’t really done anything productive. A bit of shuffling some stuff around, but nothing major. I’ve been pampering my introvertness by taking this week between wedding and birthday and enjoying the end of a long road.

Regretably, this nature of celebration that is so blissful for me is akin to torture for Dana. I know it’s a shitty side effect of our being opposite in nearly every regard, but she has been incredibly accepting this week. I wish I could sufficiently express the appreciation I have for her because of that. I am blessed to have her as my wife because she gave me an appropriate amount of space during for our honeymoon, which customarily is about getting out and enjoying/displaying our togetherness. 

I look forward to a lifetime of returning the understanding and giving her reasons to appreciate me. 

So, yeah, today’s “special” celebration shall be to have an unspecial day. Binge watch the second season of Black Sails and/or continue our James Bond chronology (we’re up to Diamonds are Forever.) Have some cheesecake and baked zits. Not let my mind race around a bazillion things that need doing. 

Tuesday I’ll go “back to work” of my job sorting, organizing, inventorying, attending appointments regarding financial matters, and planning my next steps toward exchanging some of the artifacts of keeping my mind and hands busy into money that can be used to continue keeping my mind and hands busy. 

Today, again I smiled at the realization that I can let myself be free of deadlines. Unfortunately that joy has been short-handedly expressed as, “Get off my back about that,” to Dana a few times over the past couple of days. It seems so ugly to write that. And it is. There’s an entire dynamic between us that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and surely wouldn’t be mistaken as a fairy tale romance to an outside perspective. Yet, these obvious imperfections in our relationship cause me to value it all the more. For better or for worse, what you see is what you get. There’s a great deal of comfort in that. 

 I’m staring at the screen without thought. Yay! 

Birthday. 

3:55am

33

An early post today because I just checked out the AP test scores of my students from my last year as a teacher. 51% of my students taking the test got a 3 or better. Over the years my success rate has fallen, but this was a better rate than two years ago. 

Although I’d prefer the rate to be above 60%, the College Board doesn’t make it easy to determine what areas, as a teacher, I needed to focus on to improve that rate. So, while each year I get less than a 60%, I’m irked, I’ve learned to throw my hands up in the air and just move forward. 

It’s frustrating, and just another example of teachers wanting to improve, but not given the appropriate information to do so. Instead, we are told by the district to get some percentage, like 60% of the students to take the AP test (like we can control that) with 60% getting a 3 or better (with a vague analysis of how students performed). 

Knowing that my students averaged a 3.4896 on the synthesis essay isn’t helpful unless I know which students got what score (at the very least) and saw what they wrote (most appropriate). I won’t even go into the ridiculousness that makes me incredibly angry about the multiple choice section. 

Here’s a test, unlike State mandated tests, that would be useful to have an analytic breakdown to improve teaching, but we don’t get it. On the other hand, we get a fairly decent breakdown of the State mandated tests, but the information isn’t useful because of the socio-economic factors that impact educational success as well as lack of student investment to do well. 

With a 50% success rate, I can allow myself some peace that I didn’t let my students down during my last year of teaching — when my focus was everywhere but the classroom (largely due to personal concerns, but also because of work related matters). 

That’s the current problem in education. Teachers are being forced to chase fairy trails of inappropriate information and engage in more fruitless tasks than having access to appropriate information and given the time to focus on actual classroom concerns. 

Every professional development session that explains the importance of using inappropriate data takes away from planning time with the scant relevant data we have. Every reflection written and cataloged causes us to devote more time to ourselves rather than improving the work of our students. Every change in schedule or daily format causes us to start over from scratch. Every political reformation causes us to swim with sharks rather than behave collectively as a school. 

Ooh… collectively invokes the dreaded thoughts of socialism or communism: heinous words in our American culture. But, competition in education is counterproductive. Teachers need to work together to have students excel. Teachers required to compete don’t work together. 

Dana and I are an example of that. She and I have both taught AP language and composition for the past six years. Historically her success rate has been slightly better than mine. This year mine was better than hers. Typically, my first reaction to that difference has been to consider the students in each of our classes… did she have a stronger slate? Did I? 

This year, however, my first reaction was a sense of relief. Emperical data that can be used to defend the argument that RUSD’s changes have caused the loss of at least one “good” teacher (in actuality more than just one). The implication of that thought, however, is that, by those same scores, each year Dana or I is “better” than the other, and that definitely isn’t the case. But it’s human nature to use the data to shift discussions away from using the data to improve student learning to using the data to justify, defend, or blame our teaching efforts: competition vs. collaboration. Sharks vs. schools. 

The ironic thing about using data in this way is the one-size-fits-all paradigm in reinforces in the effort to individualize instruction. 

Anyway, the scores I’m looking at, as usual, have a couple of surprises. A couple of unsuccessful scores that I expected to be successful. A couple of successful scores I’m pleasantly shocked to see. And then there’s the range of successful scores… she didn’t get above a 3!? How the hell did he get a 5!? Questions that won’t get answered, but would be ever so helpful. 

This is the last year for me looking at those scores and feeling the frustrations and pride that drive me to improving myself and those around me. 

I am content. 

Strange. Content is typically my goal. But, in this case, content is a minimalistic feeling. Content must be like that glass half-full, half-empty point. Whereas, I’m usually a half-full type of guy until one more drop has disappeared, this time it’s more of a half-empty perception. It must because of the aspect of potential. 

When there’s potential, the glass is half-full. When there isn’t, it’s half-empty. At the end, 51% of my students taking the test this year succeeded in getting a 3 or better. Next year I won’t have any students taking the test. Just over half of my final students succeeded. I feel half-empty about that. Content. 

(For the uninitiated, 50% in this case isn’t a failing score. It’s a challenging test, designed to filter mostly college bound students with a diverse range of ability who voluntarily take the test, or are forced to by their parents.) 

… and… 

moving along now, getting married tomorrow, closing that book. 

8:57am