Monthly Archives: February 2015

The “Unpleasant Job” of Being Atticus Finch

Standard

mockingbirdIn the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie perfectly describes the nature of her life-long friend, Atticus, who is a lawyer. Maudie tells his children, “I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”

The nature of his “unpleasant job” in the novel is simple: Atticus defends a black man against the blatantly, undeniably false charges of a white woman in the south in the 1930s. Atticus is ridiculed and threatened by the townspeople, who don’t understand why he is trying so hard to save someone they are convinced is guilty.

Atticus perseveres through the destruction of his reputation. He ignores the whispered criticisms and shrugs off the mocking insults. His belief in doing what is right enables him to wade through the venomous hate, so that he can teach his children to stand tall and proud. He leads by example; doing what is right is not always popular, but is necessary nonetheless. Even when his family is attacked, Atticus takes what he believes is the just and moral path, never growing bitter or regretful.

The unpleasant job of being Atticus Finch is the same in all times and all places: it is unpleasant to do what is morally and ethically right, even at the expense of one’s own security and happiness. It is unpleasant to defend the weak, the abhorrent, the defenseless. It is unpleasant to have compassion. It is unpleasant to go against the grain, to be unpopular, to, in essence, be despised unjustly. It is unpleasant to value truth and justice over tradition and expectations. It is unpleasant to be strong, when it would be so much easier to give up or give in. It is unpleasant to be a leader, rather than a follower.

Peace and love.

IMG_20150218_165654_636

Advertisements

Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Standard

***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***

Summary: This fictional novella depicts life for two traveling workers during the Great Depression. George and Lenny are two men who are constant companions as exemplified in the book’s theme: it doesn’t matter who you are with, so long as you are with someone.

Lenny is a mentally challenged but hardworking giant of a man. George, his opposite in every way, is also his protector. The pair plan to eventually buy a farm together so that they may work their own land and keep animals, including Lenny’s beloved rabbits.

The friends get jobs working on a ranch, where they meet the wife of their boss’s son. Lenny, out of love for “soft” things, grabs the woman’s hair. When she screams, Lenny panics and accidentally kills her. Lenny runs to the place George told him was safe, and awaits the arrival of his friend in fear that he will no longer be allowed to tend the rabbits on their imaginary farm.

Out of mercy and compassion, George sends the lynch mob on a detour and finds Lenny on his own. George begins again to describe their farm and wonderful future while Lenny listens excitedly. In the midst of this distraction, George shoots Lenny in the back of the head.

Reflection: There is a great deal of symbolism present in this novel. Its title is taken from a poem by Robert Burns: the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. George may represent “men,” who do things that must be done whether they wish to do them or not. The lynch mob may represent “mice,” as they set out as a group in a cowardly attempt to kill an unarmed mentally handicapped man in secret.

George may also be more like Lenny than outwardly shown. Lenny killed small animals (mice, birds, a puppy) by loving them too strongly — while “petting” them as they lay in his pocket. George killed Lenny (whom he loved) while Lenny felt safe and secure — Lenny was in George’s “care” being “soothed.”

Lenny was in many ways similar to the mice he loved. Mice are often harmful but mean no harm. They are frightening but easily scared. They are likewise fragile and can be crushed easily by forces bigger than they are. Lenny similarly acts off baser instincts and was “crushed” by forces bigger than he: his circumstances; his lack of natural intelligence; his inability to control himself; his friends; and smarter “prey” meaning to harm him.

Peace and love.of mice and men

Why Cats Are Like Tempermental Kids

Standard

10001162_10203012910619514_5431744211315265957_oMy cats, litter-mates named Magellan and Archimedes, are almost nine years old — senior citizens, in the cat world. They don’t frolic or play often; though, when they do, it nearly always ends with some degree of booty-shaking, yowling, and pouncing. My husband insists that boys just like to roughhouse, but I cannot support the violence they perpetrate against each other and usually wind up consoling whoever happens to lose the battle while the winner struts victoriously away. IMG_20150125_161624_763

They are more content to sleep most of the time. In fact, they can nap just about anywhere, anytime, and in any position. How have they mastered the art of sleeping, which so often eludes me? They don’t live with the constant fear of interruption (as I do, from them, when they happen to be hungry, or bored, or feeling snuggly, or cold, or just ready for me to be awake). You see, they are the only kids in the house, so they don’t have to worry about their tails getting pulled or their ears getting yanked by tiny fingers when they aren’t paying attention. Thus, my cats sleep soundly any time they wish, which, at their age, is most of the time. IMG_20141229_223619_606

However, when they are awake and longing for attention, they demand it insistently, much like human children do. They greet us excitedly at the door each day when we arrive home from work, ready to be held or stroked or given catnip. They sit on books I’m reading, chew off edges of papers I’m correcting, plop down in front of the screen when I’m typing, and stand on my chest and meow until I acknowledge their presence (sleeping used to be blissful, prior to their arrival — a similarity to a baby’s first few months, I suppose, but this has gone on for eight long years).1920523_873887382645030_4205182349469638139_n

Furthermore, I find that, when I really need alone time, one of the two cats is always underfoot: they swish their tails in the water while I bathe, they hog the covers at night, and they jump up onto board games, knocking pieces over like they are getting paid to do it. They love to aid in kitchen chores, the extent of which consists of sitting directly behind whoever happens to be stirring the sauce or washing up dishes. In the way children do, beating me up or down the stairs or into the next room is a fun game we play every single day, over and over. Solo yoga has always been a dream of mine, but, luckily for me, they decide to help with that each day, too.

10462352_873904525976649_6022804356553615682_nWhen I need them to, say, kill a spider, though, neither cat can be found. Their helpfulness only goes so far. Their lives are all about their own comfort, almost all of the time. It’s lucky for them that I love it when they are content — our relationship as a family is perfect.

Love and peace.10806337_10204416238061823_1808339046698785271_n

Book Review: The Green Mile by Stephen King

Standard

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

Summary: This lengthy novel describes the autumn of 1982 in the life of Paul Edgecombe, a supervisor in the death row wing of a prison. The hallway was lined with green tile (hence the title) and ended in Old Sparky, the electric chair. This novel is a frame story, being told as though elderly Paul was writing his memoirs. In the year he writes about, an extraordinary inmate named John Coffey arrives, convicted of the murder of twin children. Through the course of the novel, we discover John is innocent and that the crime was actually committed by another inmate. We also learn that John has a God-given gift to heal. Because it is the south in the 1930s, Coffey is not given a new trial, but is executed with as much dignity as Paul and his officers can give.

Reflection: One key idea King presents is that the damage we receive from those we depend on and love is often irreparable, having a lasting impact on our minds, bodies, and lives. Another idea is that we often destroy the things we love in favor of protecting our fears, biases, and reputations.

Peace and Love.

IMG_20150219_212431_536

Ode to Winter

Standard

It is about this time every year that I start to reminisce. I think about fall, with its beautiful, muted, earthy colors. I remember hot, lazy summer days spent swimming or reading or napping and cooler nights huddled around bonfires. I envision the first bright blooms and brand new baby birds in spring.

In the north, where winter can — and often does — last six months of the year, the tendency for complacency takes hold. Lazing around indoors is not so much a luxury as a necessity when wind chills are in the double-digits below zero. The repetition of shoveling and scraping car windows clear makes each day seem longer than the last. Ice on sidewalks and snow on roadways cause travel to be treacherous. The biting wind, which steals your breath immediately upon stepping outside, chills deep to the bone and can cause lasting bodily harm.

What, then, is there to love about winter? For one thing, winter makes the world slow down. Driving conditions can deteriorate quickly, forcing traffic to a crawl. Walking safely can only be done at a tediously cautious pace. Being snowed in during a blizzard can make time seem to stand still. For another thing, winter brings people together. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years holidays draw families home to celebrate joyfully. Helping a neighbor shovel his driveway or pulling someone out of a snowbank makes for lasting friendships. Building snowmen with a loved one is an enjoyable way to pass time, and warming up with a mug of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows makes for a memorable afternoon.IMG_20150209_155213_253

And finally, the most remarkable aspect of winter is, undeniably, its beauty (which is, admittedly, best enjoyed from inside while sipping cocoa topped with whipped cream). It can be serene and peaceful watching the snow fall from the sky in giant, fluffy flakes. When caught in just the right light, it can seem to sparkle and shimmer. Indeed, few things are as striking as a pine forest covered in fresh, glistening snow.

Until I move to a warmer climate, I will try to make the best of each North Dakota winter. To do so, I will need a few comfy sweaters and a whole lot of marshmallows. Peace and love. IMG_20150218_165654_636

Yoga Pants Vs. Montana

Standard

There is, evidently, a Montana lawmaker attempting to pass a law banning tights in public. Wouldn’t it be nice if people would stop legislating leggings and instead let women dress in a way that makes them happy?

First, women wearing yoga pants are modestly covered from hip to ankle, or in the worst case scenario, hip to mid-calf. Men, on the other hand, are not being attacked for wearing pants that are too small to fit them, thus showing far more of their backsides than I ever care to see.

For another thing, it is not overtly sexual for a woman to want to be comfortable, and to imply that a woman should make herself uncomfortable because it’s distracting to men is sexism fit for the 1950’s. How about if men could just stop staring at me in a sexual way? I find it offensive. Is there a way to legislate that?

Third, if a woman goes to the gym, what exactly is she supposed to wear, if not form-fitting clothes that wick away the sweat? Looser, baggier style pants could pose a hazard in that they could get caught in the machine and injure her. It is also often difficult to try to do yoga or Pilates correctly in pants that don’t fit snugly, as ones with less give often prevent a full range of movement.

Fourth, if schools plan to ban girls from wearing them, exactly how much of my tax money will go into buying new uniforms for track, swimming, football, wrestling, and volleyball, which are tight spandex shorts and pants? You can’t ban it during school hours and then allow it for sports — that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen from parents whose children are not athletes and are disciplined for wearing tights during the day.

Fifth, it is not my job to dress for your preference when you are not paying my bills. Keep your big government out of my closet.

Peace and love.Yoga Outfit and Cats 011

To My Students: What I Want You To Know

Standard

Dear Students,

I am writing to explain a few things I feel you should know. I realize that it is sometimes hard for you to understand things from my perspective, so I hope this helps to make my views clearer.

I want you to know that I believe that my job is one of the most important in the world, but also one of the most difficult. It is mentally and physically taxing. It is often so stressful that it makes me an emotional wreck. Meetings with coworkers, administrators, community members, and parents, and even meetings with you, often make me feel like I could and should be doing more. I walk away feeling inadequate and unappreciated. I want you to know that I am doing the best that I can. I know how much your learning depends on my being adequate. I want you to know that I know your future depends on my success.

Being a teacher means many long, unpaid hours spent planning, correcting, and reflecting. I want you to know that I do it so I am prepared for you each day. I also want you to know that when you say my class is “boring” or the story we are reading is “stupid,” it makes me feel like I should have prepped better or tried harder to reach you — in essence, I take those comments to heart. I want you to know that it hurts to hear you hate me.

I want you to know that I care about you. I care about what you learn in my classroom, which will, I hope, be more than just the formal rules of grammar. I want you to learn how to be a kind, compassionate, deep-thinking adult with a realistic view of the world. I want you to know that I secretly hope that, as you grow, you will be an optimist, because having a positive view leads to a long, happy life.

Finally, I want you to know that I am here for you, to help when and how I can, to cheer you on, to lend support. I hope I can motivate and inspire you. I want to make getting an education fun for you, so you will recognize the importance of learning throughout your life. I want you to know that if you make the effort, I will make it worth your time.

Peace and love.IMG_20150210_081406_717

Beauty Shaming

Standard

It’s all around us: the obsession with appearance. Celebrities are constantly being praised or humiliated for their appearance by the media. New moms lament over excess baby weight via social media. Models are ridiculed for being too thin yet are continually being hired by top designers to represent a specific image for the brand. Plus-sized advocates loudly protest popular stores that do not cater to that particular clientele. Magazine covers feature airbrushed cover girls looking flawless. Makeup artists demonstrate on online videos how to fake higher cheekbones, cover blemishes, even out imperfections, and contour, blend, and highlight your way to a face that is simultaneously unrealistically gorgeous and impractical for daily life. Those who are caught altering their pictures with Photoshop are criticized. Those who subtly Photoshop their pictures are admired and envied.

And we all pretend that this is normal. We are all victims and perpetrators. We all buy the tabloids or click the link or repost the pictures or feel self-conscious and worthless in comparison to the forgeries presented by the media.

This must stop. For my own sanity, I cannot continue to compare myself unfavourably to images that are not real because they have been “touched up” before being printed. I don’t want to fall into the trap of putting down others to raise myself up. I do not want to be the cause of another person’s pain.

People have so much more to offer than just how they look. It is really the quality of their hearts and intentions of their minds that matter.

Peace and love.IMG_20150206_080514_115

Happiness Breeds Happiness

Standard

I have noticed that thinking negative thoughts often creates even more negativity. So, logically, the opposite must be true as well: happiness leads ever on to greater joy! Happy people aren’t always the richest, best looking, healthiest people. They don’t always have the newest gadgets or biggest homes or most attractive spouses. They are happy despite having the same problems unhappy people have. The difference is that happy people feel grateful for what they have and find peace in themselves. They appreciate small things and rejoice over their blessings. They don’t dwell on obstacles; they attempt to ignore them, overcome them, or repurpose them. They turn challenges into a useful aspect for learning and growth in their lives. They treat others with kindness and compassion. They surround themselves with beauty, love, and things that make them smile. They focus on the positives, and that challenge I am henceforth going to actively work towards: count my blessings every day!

Peace and love.IMG_20150203_200622_767