Sunday, April 29, 2012

How I Feel About Finals

I'm not a fan of Finals. There is a lot of weight put on the last two weeks of class in all but one of the courses I've taken so far. In a couple of my classes the work of the first fifteen weeks verges on being only superfluous, when compared with the final. This is the set up of the work of most classes as far as I can tell. By the end, there is literally no way to keep up with the exponential pace. I try of course, and more or less succeed, but think the institution of it is terrible. Just saying.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Swimming Truths

I have been teaching a lot of swimming lessons recently. It seems around this time of year triathletes, competitive swimmers, and recreational beach-goers alike all notice that they used to love the water or would like to learn to enjoy the pool and run to get some swimming pointers. This has led to too numerous stories to tell, but I thought I'd share two swimming truths tonight.

One- It Just Feels Right

I was teaching an adult student flip turns and I demonstrated the move. The swimmer tried a few then looked at me confusedly and said, "how do you know where to put your feet? Do you look at the wall?"

As I often find when I'm teaching adult students I had to think for a moment, but then I said assuredly, "Well you definitely don't look at the wall because then you aren't tucked. After you practice enough it just feels right." I'm not sure how much that helped my swimmer, but it struck me that I no longer had to think about placing my feet in a flip turn. I know the minute I initiate a flip turn if it is going to be good or not. My muscles instinctively perform the flip without consulting me about where to put my feet. Sometimes my feet are planted perfectly hip distance apart at a ninety degree angle and sometimes they are not, but I never think about my feet during a flip turn. They either feel right or they don't.

It's not just a swimming phenomenon. Its a universal truth about sports and beyond. How do you balance a bike? It just feels right. How do you choose a college? It just feels right. How do you know if that relationship is good? It just feels right. How do you know if your writing is decent? It just feels right. Yet, as I told my swimmer, you only know if it just feels right after a lot of practice with it feeling wrong. My swimmer is still missing a lot of her turns, but she only needs to get it right a couple times and then she knows how to make it feel right.

Two- I Am Really Good At Chemistry

I find quite often when I am teaching an older swimmer, over the age of ten, that I have to completely ruin their stroke to make it real swimming instead of just a simulation of what they think swimming looks like. I have to tell people they are doing basically everything wrong. I tear apart their self-esteem and their stroke and then I put it back together afterward.

Today, after this one woman experienced this she reached the end of the lap and said, "I am really good at chemistry, just not moving one hand at a time." We both laughed at that. It was ridiculous because of the irrelevancy. I wasn't judging her as a bad swimmer and certainly not a bad person, but swimming leaves you so accountable that she felt the need to tell me she had skills.

Swimming leaves you accountable for yourself. Its not something you do with a team for the most part. Even if you have a team they can't pull you along if you aren't willing to put in the work. It seems easy. Kick. Rotate. Breathe. Pull. That's it. That turns out to be a lot though, when done all at once and it takes all but the most skilled people a long time to put the skills together cohesively. At least I am good at swim teaching, if not chemistry.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Don't Count the Days, Make the Days Count

I have been thinking a lot about money recently as I have been deciding my summer plans. I realize I love money. Having it. Earning it. Holding it. Money feels like power. To this, my brother would say, "Em you really want to go into Education?" The answer is yes, though. I don't need a lot of money because I am probably one of the most frugal people I know. I just like getting a paycheck now and then. It's very empowering.

I don't really know why I am so frugal. As a kid, I never wanted for anything really. If something had a purpose or was worthwhile I was allowed to have it. My brother and I always knew what was an acceptable purchase and we had a lot of things. For instance, we would be allowed to have a computer game, but not a dirt bike because we would never use a dirt bike. This standard of usefulness still informs all of my purchases. I will be perfectly willing to go out to dinner with friends, because that is an investment in my friendship, but I would never go to Shaw's and buy food when I could just use my meal plan. That s a waste of money and I hate wasting money.

I sometimes worry that college is a waste of money too. I believe in education. That's not the issue at all. I knw that if I want to be a teacher, writer, or whatever Simmons will help me get there. I love it here and can already see myself transforming into a smarter, more critical thinker. The only issue would be that my life expectancy is kind of low. Excluding random variables like the world ending in 2012 or getting hit by a bus on Brookline Avenue I am still only scheduled to live a dozen years. I'm not being pessimistic. I want to survive and believe I will, but objectively, even excluding the increased chance of heart disease, I take poison that causes cancer, liver, and kidney disease, with every dose. If I die in only a score of years, college will have barely been worth it. If you count the days it will barely pay itself off.

I was thinking in this dreary manner when I saw on my friend's white board, "Don't Count the Days, Make the Days Count" and I thought, "you know what? I like college." College is not as hard as having a heart transplant, but it's pretty difficult. I am challenged in a new way all the time and I don't want to worry about counting the dollars and cents, the days and hours I have here. I want to go out to get chocolate at Max Brennar's tonight even though I had Easter Eggs for breakfast. I want to talk about racism even though I know I am hugely guilty of it. College is most likely barely worth it if I count the days, but if I put aside my frugality and enjoy the upcoming lecture on World War II, maybe I can make the days count. Luckily, life is more than consecutive financial calculations.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Waste Land

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire,
--TS Elliot

For me, this has rung true. April seems cruel so far.

April taunts me with summer without actually supplying. It's warm here in Boston and the sun shines most days, but slipping into the pool is not refreshing, just cold. I want the summer, whatever that means at this point. I don't have solid summer plans yet, but I know they will involve friends, sunshine, clear water, and no classes. I want lilacs, green beans, spinach, and sweet peas straight from the garden and April can not provide me those things.

April gives me desire. We are picking houses this week and all I can see is the senior suites and air conditioned common rooms floating just beyond my reach. I have a bad lottery number and will probably not get spectacular housing. All I need is four walls, two beds, and an easy-going roommate, but wouldn't it be nice to have a 1 instead of 161.

April breeds fears about classes. This week we are also selecting classes and I am worried if I can do the work, if I can get what I want, and if my professors will find my talent. On Friday when I hit register for all I will be committing to yet another semester of hard work and learning, that I am ready for, but find hard to agree to. It seems that college is a little bit like signing up for beautiful torture.
April stirs memory. I haven't been home for a couple of weeks and I find myself waking up, dreaming of my family. I miss the memories of easygoing springs and sitting on the porch with the Adirondack chairs made by my father's hands and maple trees planted with my grandfather's strength. Familiarity here is good, but the memories are recent, not reminiscent.

I hope with you all we can defeat cruel April and make it to May

For I'm to be Queen o' the May
--Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Have This Blog

I have this blog. I have this little corner of the internet stored on some server somewhere just to lay down my thoughts and tell my stories, but I only post in it once a month at best. I have great, commited blogger friends who post every day some anecdote or revelation and I am jealous of them. I found out the reason for this phenomenon only recently. While reading a book for class it all made sense. I opened up Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, a revolutionary writer, poet, teacher, and painter, to find an echo of my feelings about blogging and writing in general. The fear, paranoia, and pride that Natalie Goldberg describes I feel every time I sit to make a blog post.

My biggest fear about blogging is that no one is reading. I have been told that people still follow their RSS feeds and check up to make sure I'm still alive. I know that I have thousands of followers in thirty-three states and seven countries that have looked up my blog, but I always have that nagging fear that, "no one cares about it" (Goldberg 130) and that I am only writing for myself. I should be accepting of that, writing for myself, but I am not. It is not enough for me to simply write something and have it sit here for an eternity unread. I need to know not only that people read what I write, but also that they find it somewhat interesting.

That wanting to be interesting is difficult because previously on this blog I was going through the dramatic steps of dying and being pulled back from death. I often see my, "life as dull" (Goldberg 182), just because I am not in the hospital. I wait to blog about something extraordinary that I always expect will happen. Not only was I dying when my life was interesting, but the record of that dramatic event was being recorded by my parents who are eloquent and articulate despite hiding their affinity for writing in fancy Biology Phds. In general, "most people are smarter and more talented than I am" (Goldberg), but I never expected that when I read my blog I would be inspired by my parents' talent for writing. I thought that I could win with no contest there and so when I read something on the blog I often get intimidated into not writing because of the dullness and blandness of my life and writing. I am constantly surprised that I am only comparable with my parents, not exceptionally better.

I know I am a writer though, so I continue to try. I am a writer because I live from "first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness" (Goldberg 11) most of the time. I can be polite, but if my friend asks if their hair looks nice I will sometimes say no and I told someone when I was eight that they weren't the person they thought they were. I am a writer because I can usually recognize and express my first thoughts before they are edited out by what I 'should' say. This I know I can bring to the blog in every post.

This blog is called Emily's Atrium. Atrium is not only a play on the heart, but it is also an entrance, a passage, or a walkway. By no means do I consider what I write here to be complete. I consider it a passage. See, I know most of the readers on this blog think I am strong and brave, that might even be true of my writing, but like most writers, "as people we are wimps" (Goldberg 153), and I want to please everyone around me more than I want to be brave. I will enter this atrium and try to express my ideas as first thoughts, but I am often staggered by my parents eloquence, my own apparently monotonous life, or my fear that no one will read what I write. This blog is a passage for me to visit my past and my friends, but it is hard not to look at what I have done and not feel bored.

I have written beautiful writing in the past like my letter to my donor, but I have to not let that terrify me into never writing more. Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones reminded me this week that it is acceptable to only use this atrium as an entrance instead requiring every post to be interesting and insightful. I love the world and I live in first thoughts so I am a writer. Whether anyone finds my life as interesting as my near-death is unimportant to my identity as a talented writer.

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Boston, Massachussettes: Shambhala Publications, 2005. Kindle EBook.