Friday, November 15, 2013

Omniscient Narrator

People say all the time that they wish their lives had a soundtrack. They want romantic music to play on their dates and exciting music to play on their adventures. I don't care about that. I have a boyfriend and a cousin who would kill for that movie trope to be real, but I couldn't care less. Music or no music I'm ambivalent. What I want is an omniscient narrator following me around and telling me my story. How amazingly useful would that be?

In just an average situation in my life a narrator would be so useful. When I'm telling my roommate I would rather live with a friend next semester than her my narrator could either say, "Emily was making a terrific decision that she would only know about later," or, "Emily was inadvertently making a terrible mistake that she would regret and in the process she was angering her roommate." Then I'd know. There are so many ambiguous situations in my life. I'm about to have that conversation and I think an omniscient narrator would really help.

If you don't believe in the power of the omniscient narrator then you need to play the gave The Stanley Parable. If you play that game you will understand how awesome someone telegraphing your thoughts could be. They could help you solve problems and make decisions, but you could remain autonomous and make your life decisions with or against their advice. I think the coolest thing about that game and just the idea of an omniscient narrator is that it shows life as a series of possibilities. I never think of life as a branching tree of moments of mistake and triumph; I instead imagine life as a smooth progression from my birth until now. An omniscient narrator would point out the players where I'm making memories that will impact my future. There never is a warning when you are creating destiny, but an omniscient narrator would give you one.

I know this is as much of a pipe dream as time travel or teleportation, but it is fun to imagine it anyway. Maybe someday I'll be able to predict more of my own pivotal moments, but maybe seeing moments of impact is solely an activity for hindsight. I can only hope I get wiser with age so that my conscious comes closer to an omniscient narrator.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Unexpected College Perks

When you are a senior in high school you are making your college choice with almost no data about the potential outcomes of your decision. When I was picking schools I didn't know which would be best out of the hundreds of viable options. It was all guesswork and gut feelings. I'm happier with Simmons every day, though. I would have probably been happy anywhere because the cognitive dissonance would not have allowed me to spend thousands of dollars and hate my existence, but each moment at this school convinces me it was the right choice. It's never the things the school promotes as its features that make me happy, either. It's always the unexpected perks.

For instance, 40% of undergraduate students in this school are going for some health profession. In my first semester I taught my mother to ask Simmons students, "Are you a nursing major?" instead of, "What's your major?" This fact means that everything at my school is clean. There are always trash cans by the bathroom doors so you don't have to touch the handles. The food is safe. The health center is good. The campus is fit. For someone who is conscious of those things it is really nice to notice the abundance of Purell floating around. I'm proud of how healthy we are in and out of the Sports Center.

We do have excellent grad programs too. There are graduate programs in Library and Information Science, Nursing and Health Sciences, Management, Social Work, and others. They are academically rigorous and they are what make the college "famous" I think. Each day I'm happier and happier with our library school because we have a gorgeous library. Students from all around come to our library. It's not Harvard, but it's pretty stellar. That one great convenience can undue so many ills because I am a sucker for a good book. 

Finally, the thing that actually is an incalculable, unexplainable variable I never could have known about when I entered College was the community. Today I was studying in the common area with my laptop and books splayed everywhere. I was focused on finishing an essay. At that moment a young woman I'd never met before walked over to me and said, "Hey. My friend and I have been watching you from over there for a while and you seem really focused. We wanted to give you this cookie we bought from the bake sale to remind you to reward yourself." She handed me a cookie in a plastic bag and walked away. I ate it with a giant smile plastered on my face. It could have happened at any university in the world, but it didn't. It happened at my school because here from First Year Seminar and Freshmen Orientation to Senior Seminar they teach us to work together, accept each other, and become a community. I could never have known, but Simmons has a student body that cares for one another. I'm indoctrinated. I'm a believer. I love my college.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I was observing a fourth grade class today and we were talking about the problems associated with growing plants in space. One person said they thought we could breathe in space if only we could float some algae up there. Not quite. A moment later the conversation had shifted and I heard a young man say, "Yeah I want to be a millionaire. Then I'll be really rich and can do lots of things. I think I'm going to achieve it by inventing something in science and selling it to NASA because they have a lot of money." There are so many things wrong with that statement. It's really hard to decide where to start.

I think the first thing wrong with his statement is that he thinks NASA has a lot of money. It actually doesn't. They aren't even doing a space program right now. The politicians would like you to think they are funding science enough, but in my honest opinion they could generally be doing more.

Next, this boy thinks science is the best way to earn money. I certainly encourage young people to go into the sciences, but the actual best way to earn money is to be a doctor. Anesthesiologists get something like $234,000 every year. Natural sciences managers get something like $128,000. So go to med school ladies and gentlemen. It is still worth the crippling debt.

Perhaps the biggest problem was his misconception about the value of money. Is a million dollars that much money? Yes and no. You could certainly do a lot of things with it, but then it would be gone. If you want to never think about money again you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the American dollar isn't worth very much. This boy had a cultural misconception that he could buy more than he actually could. Why? Big businesses told him so.

I know this picture looks like an infinite regression that I created with Photoshop or a bunch of mirrors, but  it's not. Surprisingly, this is a photo I snapped while we were in the new Wegmans Food Market during a visit to my brother in Rochester. It's so big. The store is  shockingly, aggressively large. In my opinion, Wegmans falls into a category with Walmart as just an obscene store. Not only is it bigger than it needs to be (which I could forgive), but it is so unashamedly proud of its grotesque size that it markets itself in that disgusting Superstore way that almost makes you gag. Imagine if you were from Burundi (a generally pretty hungry country) and you just strolled into a store like Wegmans. You'd be nauseated by the richness that capitalism provides.

I know Wegmans is a good company to work for (unlike Walmart) and I almost feel bad bashing them because they do good things for the communities they exist in, but there is a Wegmans coming to the Fenway area of Boston and even though I want to endorse it I can't. On a microscopic level it will provide jobs and give new food options, but on a more macroscopic level it promotes unashamed consumerism that causes little boys to think once they have a million dollars they will be set for life and happy. I don't want our children to think that. It's simply not true.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I talk a lot about fairness on this blog. I have a whole post called Life's Not Fair and I've talked multiple times about the ways in which children, women, minorities, and just about everybody faces unfairness on this Earth. I want you to forget all that. I want you to forget that I had an opinion about fairness before this one. That's what I'm trying to do. This semester I've totally redefined the word fair and I'm trying to incorporate the new definition into my thoughts and actions.

Previously I held fair as a word meaning that everyone has the same opportunities for success.  I mistakenly believed that fairness was a road to equality. That must be wrong, though because all else being equal, it's not. I should have known, as well as anyone can know, that people are born into different circumstances. From biology to sociology people are born with with bad families, bad hearts, or mediocre brains. It's not their fault. It's not equal. I was brought up in a Capitalist culture that taught me fairness of opportunity was the only predictor of wealth and that anyone who tries can succeed. That's simply not true based on wealth discrepancies in our society.

I could write books about fairness (and maybe I will some day), but right now I will settle for thanking my university for just helping me define the word in a way that makes sense. The dictionary definition of being, "free of all obstacles to success" is completely unfair. My new definition is better. It's stolen from special education and reads that, "Every person gets what they need." Just let that soak and stew.

If we all followed this model of fairness then all the people who were sick would receive care and those that are sickest would receive it first. Students in school would get differentiated learning to help meet each of their own personal views. People would receive wages based upon actual standards of living. This doesn't actually sound like a utopia to me. It sounds like a slight modification on the world we know. This definition makes fairness feel achievable by recognizing innate difference and than catering to strengths.

I think the greatest benefit of making fairness into an affair where every person gets what they need is that it reduces so much everyday guilt we all fight. You treat your children differently because one needs you more. It's only fair. You are able to go to college while your friends are not because you need that training for your job. It's only fair. You are alive because you have more to do. It's only fair.

Maybe this is an oversimplification. I'm still working through it. I like it though. It feels better than the incalculable vastness of the other definition. At least with the special education definition of, "every person gets what they need" there is a place to start. Give one person what they need today. Help someone's life be a little more fair. I can do that. I have faith you can too.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Irritating Phrase

I feel like everyone has a few phrases that just drive them up a wall. On of my Dad's, for instance is, "That's the way it's always been." He can't handle it when people use that as a rationale to do things. I just use that as an example because it's on the blog. I'm sure you can think of things people say that you simply hate. I know most of mine.

When I sat down for a meeting with one of my professors today I didn't expect she'd throw out any of these because she's so lovely, but she said the evil words anyway. I spent a couple hours putting together a hypothetical unit lesson plan for some imaginary students. I thought it was ok. Maybe it needed some tweaking because it was my very first attempt at creating a curriculum, but it met all her requirements. She handed it back to me and said, "This is far too ambitious. I don't think children would be smart enough to understand this." That's one of my phrases. Let's be clear. Children are smart. They don't have any life experience, they are uncoordinated, they lack some higher processing functions, and their language is not as sophisticated as an adult's vocabulary, but they are smart.

Telling me children are stupid says more about you than the kids. If you think that children are stupid then they will behave like little idiots. You can't expect them to know everything, but you can't treat them like imbeciles either. I hear it in swimming lessons. I hear it in education classes. If you tell a child that they can't do something, even non-verbally, they will not do it. If, however, you tell them they can achieve greatness they will. All my five year-olds learn to swim four strokes because I tell them they should. If I can do it they can do it.

My professor thought my expectations were high. They are. We live in a country of standards-based education. If fourth graders are supposed to learn how to compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures then I don't see why I can't teach them that. It's not too ambitious to have expectations. That's what my professor forgot in her special education bubble. Sometimes you are allowed to set a goal that not everyone will reach. Once that goal is set, though, everyone will learn from trying to hit it.

This is where my training from games comes in. A game designer revels in spectacular failures. They make hard boss monsters so that once players kill them they have actually accomplished something. If they can't kill it that's fine. Players know it's possible. That's what I want to do for my little friends. I want to give them big battles and the tools to fight them. I want to always tell children that they are smart and capable. Please. Please don't ever say, "I don't think children would be smart enough to..."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Women's College Education: Valuing Independence Founder’s Day Essay

I gave a speech at Simmons College Founder's Day today. There were multiple requests for a copy of the speech. I don't see why I shouldn't post it here. So I will.

When John Simmons died in 1870 and left money in his will for the Simmons Female College to be created the world was a very different place. Even in 1899 when the first students came to this institution the world was nothing like we imagine it today. People in history were not simply humans exactly like us, but in different clothes. No. John Simmons and his contemporaries thought in different ways, taught in different ways, and practiced a very different kind of study and scholarship from what we experience. John Simmons wanted to create a haven that would focus on, “educating women for an independent livelihood,” and in many ways Simmons still maintains his vision. We are still an all-women’s institute at the undergraduate level and we still mostly major in, “medicine, music, drawing, designing, telegraphy, and other branches of art, science, and industry best calculated to enable the scholars to acquire an independent livelihood," but women aren’t satisfied as easily today as they were in 1899 because we’ve had options opened up to us by our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers that those nineteenth century students couldn’t have imagined. We can do more than simply go for “independent livelihoods.” We can aim higher. We can be better. We can take John Simmons’ goal and make this an institution that includes all people from all social locations and gives them more than just an independent livelihood, but provides instead a launching pad to an individual happiness and an everlasting success.
The modern Simmons student isn’t likely to accept a life of subsistence. The modern Simmons student expects this college experience to be more than entry-level job training. The value in a Simmons education is not just the job skills we learn, but also the life skills we inherit to help us meet each sunrise as another day in which to excel. We want to learn to think, grow, evolve, and pursue a greater happiness here. As Provost Katie Conboy said during her Convocation speech about the college, "we pin dreams and aspirations to it, personal ones and collective ones.” Our education here is valued by the people we become and the people we meet; it’s not just the science and math we learn and the modes we complete.
The people we become are based on the professors we have and the administration that supports them. From first year writing to senior seminar we are encouraged to think a certain way, act a certain way, and be a certain kind of person that John Simmons might not have totally accepted. It might have been unfitting that a group of people who are female-bodied (“laidies”) are encouraged to be precocious, questioning, and unyielding. I know my friends at Simmons don’t back down. They don’t give up. They don’t settle for just independence. They want more. They want CEO positions as well as secretary jobs. They want to be nurses, but they expect the respect given to the doctors in that field. They want to be elementary school teachers as often as they want to be superintendents. They don’t want to be overlooked. They don’t want to be underestimated. They want to be powerhouses and politicians that revolutionize the world more than John Simmons and his ready-made clothes. The Simmons students I know are as adaptable to different positions as standard-sized clothing, but as varied as the cloths and patterns John Simmons, the tailor, used in his factories.
Our challenge for the future as a college is to take this quilt of individuals and make sure that they each have an opportunity to reach beyond the independent livelihood of the past to the greater goals our advisers encourage us to seek. It’s a complicated thing to be a women’s college these days. I wouldn’t give it up. I wouldn’t throw away the unique opportunity and success we’ve gained as one of the US News and World Report “Best Colleges” or as the Number 1 MBA program in the U.S. with the Greatest Opportunity for Women by The Princeton Review. Being a women’s College gives us a community and reputation that I hope we never sacrifice. It’s one of the reasons our students are so strong and our learners are so passionate. We must remember, though, that although everyone here was cultured a female we are striving to be diverse and inclusive in our language and action. In the same way we are reaching beyond “independent livelihoods” to independent success we must also be reaching past our identity as a place that is solely designed for “educating women” to a place that is educating all the marginalized and underrepresented groups who need a place to prosper. I believe we can do this because I believe it the extension of John Simmons goal to help all people.

Simmons is an American school funded by an American entrepreneur. It has always been a place for the underprivileged, who used to be women, to rise up, support themselves and be strong. Emma Lazarus is a woman whose poem  “The New Colossus” became famous when it was was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. This poem was written around the time of John Simmons’ death and read, “"Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Simmons is like the Statue of Liberty. It’s a woman-centered place reaching out to people across the country and the world and offering them a better life. It relishes in its history, but always stands tall holding the torch of progress. I love this school because it memorializes the past without idealizing it. We recognize that women didn’t always have it great. They had to fight tooth and claw for their “independent livelihoods.” They had to use their male allies like John Simmons to just subsist. Now, though, my friends and I live out his legacy by exceeding him. We aspire to be better than the women John Simmons knew. We’ll be more industrious. We’ll be smarter. We’ll be more clever. We’ll be braver. We’ll fight battles and overcome struggles those nineteenth century women couldn’t have imagined. But most importantly, we’ll be the most independent group of alumna ever. That we can do. We are Simmons students after all.

Monday, August 12, 2013


This weekend I went on an excursion to Long Island to visit my cousins with my father in his little plane. It was some of the nicest flying we've ever done because of the CAVU (ceilings and visibility unlimited) skies and severe clear days.

Pteromerhanophobia is the fear of flying. It's not something I have. I'm probably the calmest flier you've ever met. Usually I end up sleeping because the sound of the engine makes me instantly soothed. 40% of people have anxiety about air travel. I know people that will literally not get in an airplane. Although it makes no sense to me to be afraid of flying I can try to be sympathetic. I know you can't logic your way out of phobias, but you can try. Here are a few things  that are more likely to kill you than airplane crashes.
  • car accidents
  • fire
  • pneumonia
  • poison
  • boats
  • hot tap water
  • ladders
  • lightning
  • strokes
  • bicycle accidents
  • cancer
  • heart attacks
  • depression
  • falls involving a chair (beware of chairs)
  • obesity
  • stairs
  • dementia
  • guns
  • drowning
  • motorcycles
  • terrorists
  • nuclear power
  • cold
  • drug use
  • influenza

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cutthroat Politics

This message is sponsored by Team Gnashblade for the Captain's Council.

In a recent update to the game Guild Wars 2 there is an election going on. Arenanet has asked the players to decide which fictional character should be a leading member of the most important city in the game. That city, Lion's Arch, can either be led by the human Ellen Kiel or the Charr Evon Gnashblade. I am here to campaign for everyone to vote Evon Gnashblade even though Ellen Kiel is currently in the lead. I know that Ellen Kiel is offering reduced fees for one month for all waypoints, but I hope I can convince you that is a good offer, but only a temporary thing to bribe you for votes. There are many reasons you should vote for Evon and I can't make him win alone so your support tokens are appreciated. 

Reason 1- Evon is a freaking Charr. I know that Lion's Arch is a city for all people and we shouldn't be racist in its borders, but Charr are cool whether I'm aloud to think that or not. Ellen and Evon have both overcome great difficulties in their lives just as I have, but Evon is more ferocious just because of his upbringing. You don't grow up a Charr and lose. They're great because they never fail to get what they want. They conquered Ascalon from the humans in just the same way Evon will usurp this position from the ape Ellen Kiel. 

Reason 2- Evon runs The Black Lion Trading Company. I don't know if you remember, but I named The Black Lion Trading Company during my Make-a-Wish trip. I never thought it would grow to the point it has. I didn't think it would be the basic trading system in the game. I didn't think it would get so much lore about the current and past leaders. I never could have imagined that it would have competition from such sketchy individuals as the Consortium. Now it completely blows my mind that the leader of the Company could be one of the leaders of Lion's Arch, but that is something I really want to happen.

Reason 3- Ellen Kiel has been out of town for months. Since May 14th she has been investigating events in Southsun while Evon has been primarily in Lion's Arch promoting trade. She is out of town and out of touch. The events on the beach were important, but people on the Captain's Council have had to split their time between personal matters, world events, their ships, and city concerns since the founding of Lion's Arch in the 1200s. In recent history Ellen Kiel has been remarkably bad at this with her extended trips to the beach. Evon has been much more focused and present.

Reason 4- The Game Director Colin Johanson says to vote for Evon. Well he only partially endorsed Evon as a candidate, but the internet doesn't care. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. The legend that Colin has endorsed Evon has become fact so I can officially say there are reasons we don't know (that the gamemakers do) as to why we should vote for Gnashblade.

Reason 5- This is the most important. Abbadon. Wooden Potatoes explains this better than I ever could and it takes him quite a while to do so, but there is a lot of lore in Guild Wars about a god called Abbaddon. If you vote for Evon we get to see some of that lore. There was a big fight in which five gods banished the sixth, Abbadon, to a place called the Realm of Torment. It was a massive battle that occured in a sea battle with a group of people called the Margonites. It was massively scaled and turned the Crystal Sea into a beautiful, but dangerous location called the Crystal Desert. I want to go there explore really cool places like the Malafarium in the Atrocity Library. I play Guild Wars games because they have good story as well as good mechanics so please allow me to experience this rare piece of lore. It will be amazing. I promise.

A vote for Gnashblade is a vote for progress. I hope you'll agree with me and throw all your support tokens in for Evon. It is imperative that you do this quickly because voting ends this week and the race is very close. Every vote counts.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I'm going home to Queensbury from Boston in about a week. Right now I'm missing everything about where I live. I was born in Boston and I like it here, but it's not my home and I can't imagine it will ever soothe me in the way the plot of land I grew up on does.
My home is brilliant. It's a farm in a city. We have a barn and a house made of brick, but I could ride my bike to Stewart's to get ice cream or milk for breakfast. We have forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, and cities. When I go home I feel local. People not only know me on sight, but many people know my grandfather and my great-grandfather and they judge me positively because I come from a good family. The longer I stay in Boston the more I brag about home. After a few months without a swim in Lake George and a trip to Saratoga Springs it becomes almost a magical land in my imagination that will solve all my problems. The lake gets cleaner, the house gets older, the snow gets thicker, the garden gets bigger, and the barn gets redder the more I stay away. I'm sure it becomes ridiculous and hyperbolic, but the people around me never complain about the way I portray my home.

None of my friends from Boston have ever been to my house so I can make it sound as spectacular and fanciful as I want and they can't call me on it. I want to bring people home and show them how fantastic life is where I grew up even though I know that they wouldn't see the same things in it I do. They'd see the barn and think it's quaint while I look at it and see my whole family history. We'd go out to eat and they just wouldn't have the same memories of the Harvest pizza or Martha's ice cream to be nostalgic about. Whether I took my Boston friends to the spectacular Adirondack Balloon Festival or the representative, but dubious Americade they wouldn't understand my feelings about the events. When I talk to people about my home they assume it's just another farm in some corn field, but it's not. It's a desirable location that people travel the world to visit and I was lucky enough to come from there. I haven't been able to convince anyone from Boston to come see where I come from, but I want to share it so they understand me just a little better. Places are a part of you. I want to share my whole self with certain friends and I feel that won't be complete until people see my farm.

I'm sure most people feel about their home the same way I do, but my house really is a very very nice house. I would live there forever if I could. If I didn't have career objectives and a crippling inability to drive (get on it Google) I would move home in a heartbeat and never leave. My parents are cool and they throw great parties. I like being in a place where everybody knows my name. Someday, maybe, I'll be able to really go back home, but for right now I have to accept that three weeks in August is really plenty of vacation.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Losing the Ponds

In the epic science fiction television show Doctor Who the main character (called The Doctor) travels through space and time with the help of his trusted companion. The companions change occasionally. They get killed, The Doctor abandons them, they chose to leave choose, their memories are wiped, or they are otherwise disposed of, but the Doctor's companions never stay forever. I knew this about the show long ago, but I have a small emotional stress about it every time The Doctor changes companions.

My boyfriend and I both enjoy this television show so we re-watched a few old episodes for fun. Eventually, though, I told him I wasn't up to date on the newest season because I know the current companions, The Ponds, are going to not be on the show anymore. I don't know exactly how it happens, but I know which episode it occurs in and I've been avoiding watching the series to avoid that moment where there is no more content with some of my favorite characters. We got into a large debate about the logic of this. He was arguing that they had already been eliminated from the series and I was living in an unnecessary state of unease about a competed event. I was arguing the point that it was fine because as long as I didn't experience the loss of these characters they were alive in my imagination and I could keep them existing forever. We couldn't agree on that, but we did agree that "forever is an incorrect concept" (as John Green proposed) not only because the sun will explode and the universe will die a cold death when it expands to the point where nothing is interacting, but also because time probably exists outside human observation of its passing. With that I decided I could watch because I didn't have forever to do it.

It makes me think about the way I put off sad or difficult things in general. Any time I have to disappoint someone I can't write them an email or call them up and let them know. It would almost certainly be better if I did it earlier, but I never would be able to logic my way out of it. We're trained to avoid pain and it's so challenging to make yourself do stressful things that we don't do them. I hope in the future I can look at this and remember that sometimes The Ponds are already dead.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I work for my college teaching preschoolers to swim so when the summer is over the vast majority of my business goes off to kindergarten and I never see them again. This is beginning to happen already and will be finished by the end of next week. I want to be done with my summer job so I can go home and see my family, but I absolutely do not want to see my little kids go. They are fabulous. I get a deep sad feeling when I think about the fact that they are leaving forever, but I also get a stranger and subtler fear that is harder to accept. I remember this fear from last year. I remember being worried that when the school year started and the preschool gave me new children to work with I wouldn't like them. I remember being worried that they wouldn't be able to swim by themselves, I couldn't teach them flipturns, and their streamlines would all be rubbish. This hasn't happened yet. Every time I've gotten a new batch of kids I've dutifully taught them all the strokes and by the end they leave with a mutual respect we all enjoy. It's a strange problem to intellectually know that and still be afraid that the next group will not be as kind and eager as the ones I have now.

I think it's mostly cognitive dissonance. It's at least partly the fact that I've put sixty-five hours into each one of these children and I know that if I put that much time into another group they'll be as good, but I can't imagine possibly having sixty-five more hours to give. I look at my fall schedule and don't see how I'll care this much during the year, but I know I will because I have before. This problem must be multiplied many times if you are a school teacher. Instead of sixty-five hours of effort you have put in about six thousand. I think I would be a good elementary school teacher, but I have no idea how I would deal with that. There are a lot of people I've been attached to in my life and left, but there is no one that I've taken care of for six thousand hours. I'm sorry for anyone who has to lose a person they love because I can barely send some little kids off to kindergarten.

Monday, July 29, 2013


I took dance lessons for about seven years as a kid. I was mostly really bad and I always took only a few lessons, but you'd expect that after seven years I could dance. You would be wrong. I can perform one very nice pirouette and my toes point quite a lot, but beyond that my dance skills are about average for someone of my social location. I was thinking about this the other day when I was scolding my five year-olds for not doing dolphin kicks off their walls. Will they remember any of it? Does teaching swimming that meticulously even matter?

My feeling is yes. I think all kids should be drown-proofed simply because drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children, but when I teach swimming I usually go way past the point of safety. I make them do flips, dives, and strokes correctly. I challenge them to swim thirteen feet underwater and glide off the wall backwards underwater. These things are unnecessary, but what they get from it even if they forget the particular skills is a lack of fear. In the same way that I'm never afraid to dance in any situation my preschool-aged swimmers will try anything from sculling to butterfly. They'll jump off diving boards because I told them they would be able to. Even if they are too young to really remember how to do everything properly it doesn't matter because when they grow up and want to swim laps they'll have no fear.

I've met so many adults who want to learn to swim, but can't because they are afraid of the water that I've lost count. Every time I get somebody requesting swimming lessons, but prefacing it with, "I don't want to get my face wet" I have to sigh a little. It's impossible to swim without getting your face wet. It's impossible to really swim without doing some drills. If people tell me they don't want to learn anything other than front crawl I know it's because they are afraid of putting their body in different positions. They should have conquered that when they were little children, but they didn't. Nobody threw them in the way I do. It's sad.

I'm glad that I learned to swim and dance when I was younger so I can be graceful on the land and the water now. Walking along on your tip-toes and doing flips is surprisingly rewarding even if that's all I retained from years of lessons. I believe learning is worth it for its own sake. Sometimes skills are just good to have.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Real Thing

Today I went to the first bookstore I've been to in a very long time. My town doesn't have a book store so it's been a while. I was instantly like an excited little kid again who lived with the house rule "you can always buy books." I'd pick up books and show them to my boyfriend and say, "Have you read this one? It's so so good and you should try it" and then see something else to smell and remember. I still read a lot of books, but since the books I read are not the kind you buy in the bookstore it made me reminiscent of younger days. It made me want to hold a book in my hands even though I couldn't actually read that font. Children's books have really big font that I miss. When I take young adult literature next semester I am going to revel in the large font, paper pages, and nice bindings, but that's not the only way to read.

Since the sixth grade when I was confirmed by the State of New York to be visually impaired I've been given every book as either an audiobook or an ebook and I haven't read much that is actually words printed on pages constricted by a binding. I still own many books, but most of my reading is done on my computer and kindle. I have some friends who insist that the only way to love stories and reading is to have a massive library of paperbacks while I simply disagree. I get an ecstatic joy upon entering libraries and bookstores, but I think that those who dismiss readers for using alternate formats are being extremely unfair. I've talked about this before, but it's immensely important to me that people realize that books are not action figures. They aren't meant to be collected in order to live on a shelf as conversation starters and furniture. Books belong to their readers. They are about being used and shared and understood. I get irritated at humans and memes that devalue literature as only existing in paperbacks. It's simply untrue. If you can use the story or knowledge you gleaned from a book in your life then it is valuable whether or not you read the words off a page in sequence and then stored it in your house.

Sometimes the real thing isn't even better. My feelings about video games are almost identical. I don't need a disk as long as I can play the game. Steam (a service that has 2,000 games and 4,000,000 gamers) stores your data, gives you achievements, and allows you to talk to your friends while you play. I don't need the boxes on my shelf to get enjoyment out of a game in the same way that I don't need the books on my desk in order to have the story. I think people partly collect these things to show off their geekiness. Maybe they had them anyway, but it strikes me as a badge of onor to have a library in your house. It screams, "look how intelligent I am." I don't need it. My kindle and I are going to take on the world.

Monday, July 15, 2013

World vs. Kite

A recent Guild Wars 2 update is called Bazaar of the Four Winds. One of the achievements that goes along with this update is called World vs. Kite. ArenaNet hid these large kites all over the map and gave the players points for finding them. Six out of seven of these kites are in the PvE (player versus environment) area that is created to be completed cooperatively with other players. The one remaining kite is hidden in WvW (world versus world) area that is created for servers with real players to battle each other. I am guessing, but it seems the developers of the games put a major objective in the competitive environment so players who don't normally go into that area are forced to venture into the dangerous lands of WvW.

The developers make the game and can intend whatever they want, but the consumer of the product (the players) have quite a lot of control over what happens with that content once its released. In this case, the players could chose to play the game as it was meant to played and fight for control over the kite or they could choose to stop fighting in WvW so that everybody could get the achievement. I'm interested in what actually happened. I'm not sure if it's sociology, psychology, or something else that deals with crowd dynamics, but I'm sure plenty of people would have had fun studying the result when ArenaNet put an important achievement atop a hill and allowed players to kill for it with little consequence. The result was different on separate servers and varied slightly over time, but I can report my experience even if I didn't stand around for days with a clipboard recording interactions.

I was completing this with my guild. They were talking me through the whole thing and teleporting me past the hardest parts of the puzzle. I found that I could run around that area and not get attacked at all as long as I stayed largely out of the way. My guildees told me others weren't so lucky. What ended up happening where I was playing was that people were safe or unsafe based on their guild. People kept track of the major guilds on each server and whether they were being friendly or unfriendly toward people who were trying to get their achievement. My guild is full of kind, cooperative adults so for the most part we ran around unhassled in a part of the game that would normally have been a death trap. It reminded me that it's really important who you associate with. A lot of guilds were being killed on the spot and it didn't matter if it was only a subset of the members who weren't playing nice because the whole guild would be massacred. Even in video games it matters who you hang around with. It starts out with little decisions like what server you belong to or what college you chose to attend, but you can't ever complete your achievements if you don't get nice guildees to help. You always choose. You can always change guilds and switch friends. You don't have to hang out with the immature idiots who won't get on their mesmer characters and portal you to the top. You can find people who will enjoy your company and continue to fight for you even after you fail to complete the easy puzzle on your own.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Gamification of Writing

There are very few things I want more in this world than to be a writer. Perhaps more accurately I want to have written. The actual part of the process where I sit and type on a keyboard is intermittently fun, but I'm fairly ambivalent about that part compared to how much I want to have something to send to all the teachers, mentors, and professors that expect I will be an author-type. That is something I want passionately, but whenever it comes time to actually sit and write something I find myself much more excited about doing something else. I think the problem is that I don't feel rewarded for writing. I'll do it for school because there are grades, but it's something that's hard for me to do on my own. I'd much rather play Guild Wars than type elegant sentences because that game gives me points for what I'm doing while all I get for writing is a couple extra words on a page.

I hopped on NaNo for a couple minutes recently assuming that it would be really motivating and rewarding, but what I found was a pretty uninspiring user interface that could only really track your words per day. I can write down my words, but that's not what gamification is about. Gamification is about engaging users and making them actually want to do something. I think it's about time somebody gamified writing. I don't have the skills to do it, but I encourage somebody else to give it a shot. If someone could make a system that I could run in the background of my documents that gave me missions, quests, achievements, badges, and reward points for writing that would be fantastic. The missions can be epic adventures like write fifty thousand words as long as they have a nice progress bar. The quests can be silly things like writing sentences with thiry words or writing a paragraph without using a particular letter. The achievements should be correlated to the missions and quests you've completed and there should be associated points. The points don't have to be related to anything in the real world. It'll increase my motivation anyway. Virtual currency with absolutely no value is something I still feel the need to collect. I don't know why it does, but having a competitive ticker of points earned makes me significantly more likely to do something.

If this already exists please tell me. I need it. I really want to write, but it would be a lot easier with a progress bar.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ArenaNet Blogstalkers

I know in theory that this is on the Internet and anyone can read it. Intellectually I can process that information but it always surprises me when people do take the time to read the blog. It's not like I ever just say, "oh, cool" when somebody tells me they read the blog. I'm incredulous and shocked every time. The voice in my head that tells me that what I say is not important must be pretty loud because even after people tell me that they read this page I still assume that they haven't seen any of the recent posts.Some people do follow the blog, though. Some of those people are from ArenaNet. I didn't tell any of the superstars that work for that excellent company that I wrote a post about the dedication of the new novel Sea of Sorrows, but they found it anyway. The Guild Wars 2 Facebook page linked my blog which was surreal to watch. My blog got 5,000 hits in the first hour and many more after that. Ree has commented, "you're welcome" and Neil Gaiman said, "I'm really sorry," without me contacting either of them. It's almost hard to process that information.

It doesn't make writing any easier and it doesn't shut the voice up in my head that says what I'm saying isn't worth reading even though it should. It makes it harder for me to write my review of Sea of Sorrows because there are parts of the book I'm critical of or think could have been done differently and I know that it will be read. It makes me want to go back and delete the negative things I said in relation to Neil Gaiman just on the off-chance he notices. That's bizarre because one of the reasons that the people at ArenaNet like me is that I'm harsh. When I went to the ArenaNet offices I told Colin Johanson (who is a Game Designer) that I hated one of the missions he designed, but he laughed anyway. I don't dislike Sea of Sorrows or Neil Gaiman, but when I have thousands of people critically looking at what I'm saying I do have to fight a feeling like I'm being tested.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Life's Not Fair

On June 20, 2013 I went to a book signing for Neil Gaiman in Saratoga Springs, New York. He's a best-selling author and a writer of science fiction, horror, television, movies, comic books, and fantasy. I'm more than a fangirl of his. He falls with a very short list of my favorite authors. In order to get to his signing on time I made my mother drive out to Boston to get me, which is an eight hour trip for her and requires a commitment to bring me back. The book was published June 18th, but I wanted to be sure that at the signing on the 20th I would know what was going on so I read the entire book in 48 hours. My mother and I finished the book in the parking lot of the signing. I was glad I finished it, though, because it helped me decide what I was going to say when I got my twenty seconds with Neil Gaiman. I had the page with my favorite quote dog-eared and I was excited beyond belief by the time we arrived an hour before the program began. I knew he was popular, but I didn't expect the 1,500 people that actually showed up. After all, Saratoga's population is only 25,000 people. When we walked in we were assigned a signing group. I pulled group F. I didn't know if that was bad. I mean after all F isn't terrible if you use all the letters in the alphabet. I sat contentedly during the reading that preceded the signing with the knowledge that we were at the venue plenty early. When they started calling numbers it became apparent F wasn't good. It put us near the end and meant we would have to wait at least five or six hours. The people that sat behind us were a full ten minutes later than my mother and me, but they got C. The assignments must have been random, but it felt personal. It felt like the fact that my book with the dog-eared page marking my favorite quote meant nothing. It didn't matter that I had the perfect thing to say in twenty seconds. I wasn't going to get my twenty seconds because our whole family was coming to town. We needed to be home before midnight.

I walked out of that signing extremely sullen. If I'm honest there were tears involved. I didn't want to be upset, but there was nobody to be angry with so I could only blame myself for getting my own hopes up. It wasn't Neil Gaiman's fault that he had that many fans. It wasn't the bookstore's fault that they had a system that didn't favor me. I looked at my mom and said, "One of the ideas of the book was that life isn't fair. I guess he's just reinforcing it." I stand by that. I would have liked to tell Neil Gaiman that his books have been entertaining me for years and that his latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane was particularly poignant because the overall theme is owing someone your life and nobody knows better than someone who had a heart transplant what it's like to have to grow up and be worth another human life, but I didn't get that opportunity. 

By the end of the drive home I had settled into a moderate angst. After unpacking my suitcase I checked my mail and there was a package for me. I didn't know what it was, but I had a guess. The package was a book called Sea of Sorrows. It was written by Ree Soesbee who is definitely my favorite author ever. She works at ArenaNet as a Narrative Designer for Guild Wars 2 and is entirely made of awesome. I liked her writing way before Guild Wars and now that she has written a novel set in Tyria where my favorite video game exists I like her writing even better. I carefully unwrapped the book and saw a post-it note with her signature on it. After announcing that I was keeping the post-it forever I flipped the book open to see if she signed it. I figured it would be silly to ship the book across the country if it wasn't signed. It was, of course, and even had a nice note. I started crying again at the note. I've never had a signed book before. As I read and re-read the note I caught a glimpse of my name and wondered which Emily Ree had dedicated the book to. It was me. My next thought was that this was a special copy just for me. My father reminded me that they don't do that with paperback books. Ree has since confirmed that every single book is dedicated to me. It blows my mind. The book comes out today and thousands of people will read that dedication. Thousands of humans will know that Ree thinks I'm important. It's cool beyond belief. It's honoring and humbling and it makes me wish there were bigger words for thankful. 
As I was failing to process my over-emotional day I said, "I guess life isn't fair in both directions." It is so unfair that I was lucky enough to meet a woman as amazing as Ree, even if it was only for a day. There are a lot of people that would have wanted to go on that Make-a-Wish, but I was the one that did. My brother bought me that game as a present randomly. My heart failure was anything but fair. I have been so fortunate that I have met spectacular people and I always have plenty of chocolate to eat, but I've been miserably unlucky that my heart failed and I didn't get twenty seconds with Neil Gaiman. Life's not fair. Sometimes on the same day that one amazing author blows you off an even better one dedicates a book to you. None of it will ever make sense to me because I'm so small and insignificant compared to life, but I can tell you that I enjoy being alive even when I pull an F for my signing group.

Thank you Ree. It's a great book. Everyone should go buy it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Living Through the Comma Splices

I'm only halfway through my college career, but I feel like I am a decent English major. I've taken all the classes on grammar that I'm going to take and I can write a solid essay under the right circumstances. For me, learning grammar wasn't the desirable part of being an English major. I was interested in finding out how meaning is conveyed in a story. I was interested in learning how authors weave language into emotion. I was not interested in learning about comma splices and semicolons. The professors here taught me smidgens of grammar despite my resistance. I won't be diagramming your sentences anytime soon and if you read this blog you will find typographical and grammatical errors aplenty, but comma splices are a particularly grievous error I attempt to avoid. In the same way that listening to the Pachelbel Rant makes it so you can't unhear Pachelbel's canon in every modern pop song and the Death Star will always look like the AT&T logo after someone points it out, once you know what a comma splice is you will notice every single one. Twitter has comma splices. Best-selling authors have comma splices. Actually, even the Bible has comma splices. Bad grammar is everywhere and totally inappropriate for me to point out in almost all situations.

It's not annoying to me that people don't know that sentences can only have one independent clause; it's annoying to me that I think it. I wish I could watch lap swim without correcting everyone's stroke in my mind just as much as I wish I could enjoy bad writing simply for the ideas and story, but I can't. If authors (even young ones) refuse to learn about comma splices and run-ons then I can't really respect them. I don't really care about grammar; I just want language to be clear and easy to understand. I want to know that people respect the complexity in language. When people who aren't dyslexic and have been speaking a language since birth string together run-ons haphazardly it tells me that they don't think the way we communicate is important. I don't have time for people who aren't willing to admit the miracle that is linguistics. Our languages have astonishingly few lexical gaps, a surprising amount of depth, and an improbable level of nuance. I can live with comma splices, but it's a struggle because I believe so strongly that intelligent discourse hinges on an appreciation for the language you are using.

Please point out my grammar mistakes in comments below. I'm stressed out about it in this particular post.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Today is the start of summer orientation for Simmons College's Class of 2017. We are going to ignore the fact that 2017 sounds like a date out of science fiction and proceed to my strange experience interacting with the almost first-years. My strange experience basically consisted of thinking, "Wow. They're idiots. Was I this much of an idiot?" Yes. I was. They don't know anything about college. Nothing at all. One kid (I've relegated them to children even though I was them two years ago) asked if  we had different classes every semester. That question is so high school. In high school you take English for four years with little change in content or approach. Yawn. How did we survive that monotony? Were our brains so narrow? One freshmen was from Arizona and didn't know what snow boots were. I may have forgotten my snow boots at home for a period of time this year, but at least I know the concept.

It makes me wonder why last year I understood those confused little first years and this year I don't. I don't understand why they're all so nervous. Simmons will take care of them. I don't understand why they are so shy. Don't they know that Simmons is the most empowering place they'll ever experience?  I don't even understand what they don't understand. In just a couple moths their lives are going to be so full of thinking and learning that they will look at their past selves like idiots who make no sense. They can't see it yet. There was no particular class or experience I can attribute to whatever growth separated us, the me that went to Orientation and the me that is now, but a chasm has broken between the person I was then and the person I am now. Slowly, over time I've been brainwashed into thinking college is the best experience a person could have if they are looking to achieve personal growth.

I went to the North End with the beautiful little fools to get pastries and stare at a rainbow. One of these pictures I took today. One I stole from Facebook of the exact same rainbow. My transformation over the last two years was caused by the light of a great institution, the university, coming towards me as a lot of different photons from different people and then reflecting off of a million little moments that were all falling in the entropy of time, but when looked at from far away is partly beautiful and partly magic. The change only makes sense as a sliver of a larger sky, but is a good part of that canvas. I'm happy with the rainbow Simmons has given me in the last year because even if it makes understanding first years difficult and it only exists from certain vantage points it makes my bit of sky a little more interesting.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


I always sort of thought empathy was something you were born with. Well, maybe I knew you weren't born with it, but I at least thought that when kids were two and realized other people had ideas, agendas, opinions, and that you don't always get "your way" they developed empathy for those opinions that other people have. I've learned this summer that empathy grows a lot slower than I first thought. 

I learn a little more about the preschool every week. Last summer I learned to call their students "friends" and when they get resistant that all you have to say is "this is not a choice." This summer I noticed that when the kids kick, splash, hit, take, or generally irritate each other the teachers don't say, "we don't hit. Hitting is wrong," which is my first reaction, but instead they say, "we don't hit. It makes our friend ____ sad." This explanation enforces proper behavior, but also teaches empathy. Most of the kids would still probably qualify as psychopaths when they are five. That might be an offensive way to put it, but at the explanation of "it makes our friend ___ sad" they often tilt their heads to the side and look confused like they'd never thought about the way their actions impacted others. I'm not sure when people get all their empathy. I feel like I have a fair amount now, but I could use a little more.

I don't want to be too empathetic. I don't to feel all the world's problems at once. If I felt each of the 107 deaths of every minute as much as I felt the death of a friend I'd instantly crumple into a ball of sadness and refuse to continue existing in such a terrible world, but I want to remember to be grateful for my life and my health. Empathy gives us the perspective that little kids lack. Sometimes I want just a bit more so I can say (as The Doctor does), "I've never met anybody who wasn't important before." Sometimes when I talk to people I struggle to find why they matter and perhaps, when my empathy grows, I'll be a better human who can really see how special they are. I really hope that my empathy is still growing. It would be fantastic if every person I met taught me what makes them sad so that I could eventually be sensitive to everyone's experience.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Learning English

Most of the kids we work with at swimming lessons are learning English. They speak some other language at home and they are just starting to spend full days with people who speak English. It's not too alarming with the two and three year-olds. Even the most WASPy American ones have a pretty limited vocabulary at two. They learn a new word every day and babble way more than they make sense. Yesterday I taught all my kids the word shallow. So the gap between a two year-old whose parents are English-speakers and whose parents are Chinese-speakers is usually pretty small in my experience,

It is shocking, however, when I get a five year-old who doesn't speak English. This summer is the first time it's happened to me in awhile. His teacher introduced him "This is [we'll call him Oscar] and he is learning English. He should pretty much understand what you're saying, but his first language is French." My first thought was a sigh. It's nothing like teaching an adult English language learner because the kid is much more likely to put himself in some stupid, dangerous situation. It's nothing like teaching a two year-old learning English either because the little ones just do what you say trustingly (whether they know what you are talking about or not) while the five year-olds ask why and how (even if those are the only words they know). It's easier to teach someone who is learning English than special needs, but only barely.

Oscar is always swimming away. He's never doing the drill. He barely improves. It's frustrating for both of us. I want to put away this arrogant American idea that everyone should know English (especially because I don't actually know any other languages), but when the only thing I'm sure we have in common is the word "no" I find a little fury that we can't communicate better. I know he's smart, but sometimes I don't know what to say to even keep him safe in the pool. It's all ok. Nobody has drowned yet, but I prefer the ones with excellent vocabularies if I'm honest.

One word really surprised me last week. After his lesson a five year-old was asking "What's that?" to everything around the pool deck. After we went through the names and various uses of flippers, fins,  pull buoys, and blocks he [we'll call him Graham] pointed to one thing and I notified him that they were called diving sticks. "They sink because they are heavy, right?" I cringed. Two years of high school physics made me abhor the word heavy. I looked at Graham and said,  "Well, if we want to get scientific about it the heaviness isn't really what makes it sink." Graham cut me off. "Is it because they are denser than water?" I... Yes. Denser. I agreed with him.  He even knew what it meant. That's the kind of vocabulary I can speak to. I brought out a rubber duck that was heavier than the diving stick so we had a ten-minute discussion about density. I don't know how you teach your five year-old words like density, but I appreciate it when I find a parent who has figured it out. I know they are all little, but I really respect kids who can use their words.

Monday, May 20, 2013


I have a roommate this summer who doesn't really know me. She's extremely nice, but it's the first time I've lived with somebody who wasn't my friend. Well, that's somewhat inaccurate. The first few weeks of my first semester of college I had a roommate that I didn't know, but at that point nobody had any friends and we were all surprisingly busy trying to become close to one another so it felt very different. I no longer need this person to like me the way I did freshmen year.

Even considering all that, I can't help but try and come off well. It's because she doesn't know me that I feel pressured to be interesting. Most of the time I think I am good company. I have great stories about the whole heart transplant drama. The tales from my dad's life make him sound like a Timelord who has been at every important event since his birth. Even my brother has had some great scenes to contribute to my portfolio of stories to tell by being so notably intelligent and lazy in the first epoch of his life. I just want to talk to her until she believes I am remarkable, but we don't really have anything to converse about because I'm not really doing anything right now. I'm teaching the kids to swim and hanging out with friends after work, but I'm not ruling the school like I do during the year or really "busy" with anything in particular.

I end up playing a game of "what's worse" with myself. Do I want her to think I sit around watching Netflix all day? I'm watching really good shows like Sherlock and Doctor Who, but she has walked past and inquired about what I was watching to which I responded Doctor Who and she said, "Oh I've never even heard of that movie." Now I feel like I can't watch it anymore because I have to explain it's the most popular drama in the UK that started in 1963. It is a movie too, but I haven't seen the movie because it's such an insignificant part of the overall canon. That would be embarrassing for her. It's completely outside of her box. Either that or the box I'm thinking in is bigger on the inside. Do I want her to think I sit around writing and reading all day? Whenever I assert that I don't do anything she points to the time I spend reading and writing every day. It's a kindness that she considers that productive, but I can't explain to her what I'm writing so she thinks it's a tiny bit strange simultaneously. Unless you've been a beginning writer you can't quit understand, "Well, I'm writing stories about my life, but they are almost all bad so then I just delete them." Do I want her to think I play games all the time? Gaming is still so frowned upon by people that she doesn't get that at all. She saw my frames per second running in the top left corner of my screen and inquired about what it was and I couldn't explain why I kept track of my FPS. Do I want her to think I'm vapid and spend all my time on Facebook and Twitter having debates in 142 charaters? Just no. Gtfo Twitter.

The truth is I can control what this not-friend roommate thinks of me based on what I display on my computer screen the couple hours each evening we're together. The problem with that truth is that all the things I'm doing right now basically amount to the collection of stories. I'm reading great stories. I'm watching great stories play out on TV. I'm playing games with great stories. It's not socially acceptable to live in fantasy worlds created by writers. Reality is broken as Jane McGonigal would say and I just prefer those worlds that aren't quite real. I hope this roommate doesn't judge me too harshly. If you can think of an activity I can do this summer that would make me a better human and is also "mainstream" leave it in the comments. I could use the help for this in future situations with non-nerds.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sportsmanship for Children

I'm teaching a lot of swim lessons right now, but my favorite is currently a group of six precocious five year-olds that just love swimming. A few of them I've been teaching for years and a few I met this week, but now that I've reached the conclusion of our first week of summer I can confidently say they all know my rules. They are, however, hyper-competitive despite their daycare preaching that they are all friends who need to help each other because their parents are hyper-competitive. They would rather race than play a game and, honestly, I respect that. Three weeks ago they asked if we could do a race and I said yes. I asked each kid if they were racing and then sent them off to swim down the pool. I was slower than them because I swam at the back with my little friends so I could maintain a headcount (even though they are all drown-proof), but when I touched the wall I heard the winner saying to the others, "I won. I'm the greatest nana" as you would if you were five. I considered this unacceptable behavior.

The next day I had a plan to change it. When they asked to do a race I said, "Sure. The rules are, though, that no matter what happens all you are aloud to say is 'Nice race. Good swimming.'" When I hit the other end I heard one of them (lets call him Benjamin) start with his victory speech and I responded, "What do we say, Benjamin?" His face was sad, but he parroted the correct response. He mumbled, "Nice race. Good swimming" It was completely disingenuous and forced, but that was fine with me.

We talk in the Like Minds Coalition, our community-building diversity and inclusion group, that you can't really change people's minds without first trying to change their behaviors. For instance, you wouldn't walk up to somebody and say, "You are really homophobic. You should stop thinking that way." It doesn't work. What you do is say, "That thing you just said sounded really homophobic even though you didn't mean it that way. You should watch out for that." People can't control what they think, but they can control how they act. Benjamin (and maybe everybody) didn't have an initial sportsmanlike reaction, but I made him do it anyway.

When we did our race this week on Monday and Tuesday I repeated the exercise of starting with the expectation of cordiality because I had a few new kids. Yesterday when I hit the wall I heard Benjamin (who always wins) lean over and say, "Nice race, Oscar. That was really fun. We are really fast swimmers," without any prompting. It made me ridiculously proud. Sportsmanship is important just so people keep playing with you. I was the one who always lost so if I can make a couple five year-olds learn how to win then I'm happy for all the children they are going to beat in the future. It's always more fun to lose to somebody who will force themselves to not gloat.

I know I'm pretty intense with the kids. Day one we swam three hundred yards (which is a lot if you are five) and practiced flip turns. Thursday this week I told them to do a drill (it was just kicking on their side so I knew they could do it) and I sent them off one by one. I did it in an order, though, so that they all ended up catching each other. That was my mistake, but I like to have everybody get a turn to go first. They ended up sprinting and entirely forgot about the drill. I noticed the head of their daycare was standing at the end of the pool observing, but in spite of her I put on my teacher voice (which is awesome) and said, "My friends that was bad. It was not good swimming.  We can have a race, but I will tell you if we are racing. You can do better so we are doing it again." The second time it was perfect. I noted that the woman in charge walked over to my boss and I thought I might be in trouble, but after the lesson my boss said, "Oh my goodness that was so fantastic. We couldn't stop laughing." My experience has been with those little kids is that wherever you set the expectation, they meet it. If you expect sportsmanship they'll give it to you. If you require them to do the drills they'll do it. So I don't mind if I'm a little more intense than my colleagues because my kids end up better swimmers and they love me anyway. I think everybody should get a job where people scream joyously when you walk into the room.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I Think I Live in the Quantum World

Some people get really rattled by their world shaking just a little. It doesn't take much for them to freak out. One bomb miles away, but in their safe country or one bad grade that hardly threatens their academic career and they panic. I like to think I'm a bit more hearty than that. I suffer from the same anxiety as everyone else, but for some reason it doesn't surprise me when something I thought was true isn't anymore. You're expecting me to say it's because my world was shaken when I had a heart transplant, but I think my mistrust of everything started long before this blog.

I won't go into the physics of it here, but a fact is that when you look at electrons or atoms, you can't really talk about where they are. The truth is that in the real world most things don't have an actual, fixed position. Everything we see every day could be anywhere. It is only most likely to be where you think it is. It makes all of matter seem sort of sketchy. Most people have a hard time with this concept. I think I have an easier time than most. People trust their eyes far too much. I don't. Playing frisbee or catch with me is quite the experience. I'm always guessing. The thing isn't there until I catch it. When somebody throws something at me my depth perception isn't good enough to give me a location of the object, only a vague idea of where it was thrown from.

I've never trusted my eyes. I've never trusted the world around me to be stable because things don't exist until I touch them. When there are bombers in my city or extra tests at the end of the semester that come from nowhere I am slightly less surprised than everybody else. I don't like it. I hate change. I resist anything being different partly because once I let go of the known I can't trust anything again, but I'm not alarmed. I just get sad that the atoms I thought were there, the things I thought I knew, really were optical illusions all along.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing

On the books Patriots Day celebrates the beginning of the Revolutionary War, but really Paul Revere has little to do with why Boston has a holiday the third Monday in April. It has much more to do with the Boston Marathon than the Battles of Lexington and Concord. We call Patriot's Day "Marathon Monday" because that's the point. This year was the 117th annual Boston Marathon, the longest running marathon in the country. It's a day where the Red Sox play baseball in Fenway Park, the people go out to the pubs, and the populace gets together to celebrate itself as a city. For many people it's the happiest day of the year. It's a holiday because the streets shut down so people can show how strong they are. Only somebody with massive mental toughness can run twenty-six miles. That's what Boston's celebrating; since the British were coming in 1775 this has been a city of people who are tough and face the threat. 

I think to be really "from" somewhere you have to grow up there for at least a few years. I didn't grow up in Boston. I'm not from here. When Patriots Day happened in the past I remember being jealous that my mom, who worked with Bostonians, didn't have to go to the office, but I had to go to school. Now I've been here for two years and I get it. I understand this city even if I'm not from here. 

A tragedy is something that is sad because it takes away something sacred. Today was a tragedy because somebody bombed the marathon our city loves. They killed children and civilians who thought they were safe. 20,000 people from 96 countries came thinking their only challenge would be the running, not bombs. The people who were there will never be the same. They will be traumatized and saddened by this holiday that is meant to show Boston's endurance. When a tragedy happens the poets and writers have to be the first to respond after doctors and nurses finish healing the bones. We  remind people that the the acts of today are pieces in a massive human puzzle. The people killed and the people saved are only pieces of a larger story. The individual stories matter, but writers put the whole thing in perspective.We have to tell the truth about the situation. We have to say that it doesn't really matter who did it; violence isn't acceptable if it's one person or a whole cell of terrorists. We have to say that we know there are other countries that America bombs every day. We have to say that it's beautiful that there are eight hospitals in Boston (including mine) and we have the best healthcare in the world even if it's the most expensive. We have to say something about the state of the world when even a bombing in Boston can't unite the country politically. We have to remind people it doesn't matter why it was done because knowing won't undo it.

I live in the hospital district and even now the ambulances and police are trying to contain the horror. I haven't liked helicopters since my transplant because I consider them harbingers of death so, like many, I had a hard day full of bad memories. I'll never be the kind of person who can run toward disaster. My roommate is a nurse and wanted to go help, but I just wanted to crawl into my bed and sleep until the tragedy was over. I think it's important to be a witness of the acts of kindness and the acts of aggression some will try to commit following this horrible Patriot's Day so I won't hide under my pillow. I'll sit here and tell you how my friends were attacked and the only reason I was spared was because I wasn't athletic enough to run or kind enough to volunteer. I'll tell you I'm scared, but I will not lash out in that fear to any person or group. I have practice feeling like my life is in danger, but even you, who maybe has never really felt threatened before, can watch without blaming the wrong people for this event. Please join me in witnessing. That's a good thing to do.

The only other good advice I have for the people of Boston is from one of my life idols Jane McGonigal "Focus visual attention on something highly engaging (like a videogame) and stay up late/sleep less. " so your brain can't convert traumatic images into memories. It's science. It works.

Monday, April 8, 2013


My family and friends have never taken the test, but I feel I can guess what Harry Potter house most belong to. If you don't know the Harry Potter house reputations you are really missing out on something. You should read the Harry Potter books just so you understand cultural references if not for the awesome story and interesting characters. My mom would most likely be a Ravenclaw. My dad and brother are almost certainly Gryffindors. My college roommate Victoria is a Hufflepuff for sure.

I've never told anyone this, but I am a Slytherin. I have been on Pottermore for fun and I found out this shameful fact. Slytherin is portrayed poorly in the books so I was pretty mad when I found out. Most people want to be a Gryffindor because that is what Harry was. People should want to be Hufflepuffs because they are the most loyal and kind people. I didn't get either of those though. I am a Slytherin.  I don't have enough of a disregard for the rules. I'm not quite as rebellious as I should be, but I understand why the sorting hat put me there. I'm not fighting it. Here's some of the traits of a true Slytherin. I think they describe me pretty well, but you can judge.
  • Slytherins are ambitious. I've had goals for my life since I was seven and I haven't given up on any of them. Ambitions are different for everyone, but I'm at college taking more classes than you are supposed to, overseeing the student government, making good grades, and working at a job that is twice as good as the norm. That feels ambitious.
  • Slytherins are shrewd. I've never truly grokked the word shrewd, but I think my use of the word grok says that I notice the thing around me and take the best bits. Academia is all about distilling what's important and I'm doing alright at college so shrewdness is not my greatest weakness.
  • Slytherins are strong leaders. I have done the Emerging Leaders Program, I'm part of Student Government, I love teaching large groups. Trust me, I'm a leader.
  • Slytherins are achievement-oriented. I think the only thing I can say to this is that I'm a gamer. A quest log or a list of achievements drives me most of the time. Nobody who loves RPGs isn't achievement oriented.
  • Slytherins also have highly developed senses of self-preservation.  Six words. Not sick four years after transplant...
  • Slytherins tend to hesitate before acting, so as to weigh all possible outcomes before deciding exactly what should be done. If you've ever asked me to decide anything ever you'll know this is true. There was a point when I was nine where I couldn't make any decisions, but I grew out of that into a subtler, but ever-present caution.
  • Slytherins are clever. Clever can be defined in many ways and I've never taken an IQ test because I just don't care, but I think I'm decently intelligent
  • Slytherins have determination. Six more words. Fastest heart transplant recovery ever seen...
  • Slytherins are proud of where they come from. I'm not going to cause a war about it or perform a eugenics experiment or anything, but I love my home. I like America even though I think we do evil things internationally. I like Queensbury even though I recognze it's just another little town. I'm proud of my family even though many of them were "just" farmers.
  • Slytherins have a dark sense of humor. My favorite joke... (six more words) Could have been a double lung
 So I'm a Slytherin. I admit it on the internet. I'm not ashamed anymore.