should foreign language classes be required in college?

In the December 2016 “Room for Debate” from the Opinion Pages of The New York Times, three high school students shared their thoughts on then-recent proposal by Princeton University that would require college students to study another language, even if they are already proficient in another language. The students’ responses varied significantly. Yes, one said. It’s a global world out there and students need to be able to communicate in another language besides English in order to be competitive. No, said the second. Learning to think is more important than struggling to express your thoughts in another language. It depends, said the third. It depends because it depends on a student’s goals; really, if we’re going to require students to learn a second language, we should really starting requiring it in kindergarten.

These students’ responses are not unlike responses politicians and educators have thrown around in the past, but what I find interesting is the common threads they all share. First, each of these students recognizes that, by the time a student reaches college, it’s already way too late to introduce them to a second language: The time to learn a language is when you’re young and your brain’s neural pathways are still being formed. Second, they all recognize the inherent value of knowing a second (or third, or fourth) language. The way they define these values are different, but they all see second-language learning as being beneficial. And third, they all feel that something needs to be changed about the way second-language learning is being approached in the United States. The American education system is falling short and, in so doing, failing our children.

And I have to say, I agree. The American education system is failing its children, and something does need to be done — long before students reach college. Learning a second language is critical for all kinds of reasons, but the one I feel most strongly about is one that isn’t usually talked about — or at least isn’t fully understood.

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With a group of 5th graders in Taiwan. Can you find me? :D

When I was 25 I moved to Taiwan. I moved to a little city called Sanjhih, about an hour north of Taipei, to teach English at a camp for 5th graders. Originally I was only going to stay for seven months, but I ended up staying for two years, and afterward I lived in Hong Kong for a year. In both cities I found myself surrounded by an unfamiliar people, language, and culture, and at first it was really hard. I was incredibly homesick and thought many times about returning home. Ultimately, though, it was my students who changed my mind. My Taiwanese students — bright, inquisitive 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds — were for the most part incredibly sweet, and I was blown away not only by their sweetness, but also by their similarity to the 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds I knew back home, as well as by their aptitude for English. Many of my students were already quite adept English speakers — fluent, even — despite the drastic difference between the English language and their native tongues. But more than that, English or no English, they were kids like any other kids found anywhere else in the world. The barriers that cultures and countries and religion and political systems create wasn’t in place yet. These kids were just KIDS. (People are PEOPLE.)

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Suffice it to say when I came back to the United States, I returned with a new set of eyes. I could no longer see my own country in the same light, nor I could I see those from other countries in the same light. A foreigner struggling to ask for directions in broken English was a person in a strange land trying to get by, just as I had been trying to get by, struggling to ask for directions in Mandarin at a 7-11 in Taiwan. The noisy group of tourists from mainland China was no longer an annoying group of tourists but an interesting group of people with a unique culture and background. Living abroad and the little bit of Mandarin and Cantonese I’d learned while I was there had changed my perspective on the entire world immensely, and I would never be able to go back to the narrower mindset I’d had before.

That said, it is very true that, because I wasn’t (and still am not) fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese, I felt very isolated while living abroad. I know that if I’d been able to communicate more easily, I would have gained a better understanding of the culture in which I was living. I also recognized while living abroad just how difficult it would be to master a second language like Mandarin, and that if I would ever have been able to do so, I would need to have started very young — very young, as in, kindergarten.

jGHNy51According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, American students lag way behind European students in language learning. In her article presenting the study, Kat Devlin says, “Across Europe, students typically begin studying their first foreign language as a required school subject between the ages of 6 and 9. Furthermore, studying a second foreign language for at least one year is compulsory in more than 20 European countries . . . Meanwhile, far fewer K-12 students in the U.S. participate in foreign language education. Throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 20 percent of K-12 students are enrolled in foreign language classes, according to a 2017 report from the nonprofit American Councils for International Education.”

This is, I feel, more than a shame — it’s doing our students harm. The cognitive benefits of learning a second language have been proven time and time again. The potential for improved job prospects and general understanding of other cultures is also vastly improved by knowledge of other languages. The United States is home to people from all different backgrounds, with roughly 65.3 million Americans over the age of four (i.e., approx. 21 percent) speaking a language other than English at home (2015 U.S. Census). If this is the case, and if my own experience in Asia is true (which it most certainly is), how much could we stand to gain if we started implementing the European language-learning model in our country? What would the results be if we started teaching our kids a second language in kindergarten? How much wiser would they be? How much more understanding of others? How much more competitive in the global job market? How much more culturally aware both abroad and at home?

At the rate the United States is going, we’ll likely never know. Things seem to move at a snails’ pace when it comes to making changes in education at the federal level. According to Dan Davidson’s “Notes on the American Academy Commission Report: America’s Languages (2017),” the founders of our country understood that “the study of language in the U.S. was a complex and varied endeavor, so much so that they determined not to establish an official state language for the new nation. They supported inquiries into what they referred to as the ‘rationale, genius and idiom of the English language,’” as well as examined Native American languages and linguistics more generally, as they believed that an “appreciation of the plurality of languages would improve communication domestically and internationally, and help the new nation understand its place in a changing world.” And yet here we are more than 200 years later, lagging behind the rest of the world in this very key area.

That said, if anyone brings up the argument, “Well, if we’re going to teach a second language, what language should we teach? There are so many here in the States, after all—how do you choose?” To them, I say, Any spoken language! It doesn’t matter. The results and benefits of knowing a second or third are the same no matter what language is being studied.

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With my language-exchange friends in Taiwan–Mandarin is hard!

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Note: Sorry for my long absence! I actually wrote this as an assignment for a grad school class. Grad school is hard!

nobody knows

I didn’t mean to let this sit so long. There’s a story here that hasn’t been told.

It’s the story of a 14-year-old girl walking her dog under the shade of oak trees in the California sun. She wondered why she had to feel this way. She was scared of her feelings. Her crush had written her a letter. He liked her, too.

Why, if she had food to eat and air to breathe, why did she have to have emotions, too? Even at 14, she was scared of rejection.

Fast forward a thousand years. Her heart’s been broken many times. He loved her—and still does—but he had a higher calling to attend to.

She will always love him.

At 1,034, she’s a million years old. The world is her oyster, but even that is not enough. She’s one in a billion, and her story is the same. How can she matter? How can this mean . . . anything?

She’s seen a lot in a million years. Most recently it’s been adults acting like children. At our cores we all want the same things—love and acceptance. Why is this so hard to admit?

. . . and where are all the dreamers? The ones who think beyond the here and now? They are few and far between, it seems. And she doesn’t understand.

And so she fights for her life as she rides out life’s storm, and she fights for her life on the train. And she goes . . . nobody knows . . . Except for the dreamers. They’re one in the same.

P.S. Happy Independence Day, America.

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*Featured image: Mine. Taken in Knoxville on a bike ride two days ago!!

the trouble is . . .

“. . . you think you have time.” — Buddha

I tried to write a blog post tonight. I really did. I had it all written out, but then my formatting was off, and I didn’t know how to fix it, and then I somehow erased it, and I just don’t have TIME to redo it all now.

My post, incidentally, was about “time,” and I was going to share the below video. The clip is somewhat cliché, but it hones in on how precious time really is and how too often we waste it.

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Continue reading

the assimilation effect

Happy Cindo de Mayo!! Cheers! Err . . .  I mean, Salud! Err . . .

Oh, wait. You mean, that was yesterday? Ohhh, crap.

(Ugh, I have a headache! And who are you? And where are my shoes?!)

Lol, okay, so the above did not happen to me this morning. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I celebrated Cinco de Mayo. I’m not much a tequila drinker, and I’m too much of an introvert for rowdy parties. My idea of a wild night is running and looking for household items at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s. 😂

That said, while I was out running and looking for household items at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s (yes, that’s really how I spent Cinco de Mayo), I couldn’t help noticing how busy Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant in West Knoxville was until late last night. American’s sure do enjoy celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day!

Oh, wait. Say, whaaa? You mean that’s not what Cinco de Mayo is about? Continue reading

we’re just a little unwell

Gone are the days of face-to-face interaction, when being social actually meant talking to someone — in person.

I have this love-hate relationship with Facebook. Some of you know what I’m talking about. On the one hand, it allows me to stay in touch with friends I’ve made at various points in my life around the globe. I have friends from grade school, friends from abroad, friends I’ve made blogging. With some of Facebook’s newer features like the “Calendar,” I can discover local events I wouldn’t otherwise know about, including races to participate in and concerts to attend. It’s fun to watch my friends’ kids grow and neat to see what people are up to.

That said, Facebook can also be a terrible thing. It can be a time suck, a comparison trap, an excuse for and detractor from “real” relationships, and an overall waste of life. It’s “On this day” feature sucks at differentiating between good and painful memories, and sometimes it makes me feel plain old. It’s been EIGHT years since such-and-such? I swear that was just yesterday!

I haven’t ever delved into Instagram or Tumblr and haven’t spent much time on Twitter. At some point these platforms just seem like another thing to check, another waste of life. Sadly, I think I’m going to become one of those “out of touch” middle-aged people who’s still blasting Matchbox 20 like they’re cool when it’s actually Drake who’s popular now.

Oh, and of course there’s that whole discussion about how much of our personal information Facebook has — how nothing in our lives is private anymore . . .

Countless studies have been done showing the negative effects of social media on people and society, and yet it’s apparent social media isn’t going away any time soon. I have no idea how I’ll handle social media if I ever have kids. When I was in school, a boy had to call and talk to my DAD in order to get a hold of me after school. These days, I don’t even have a landline!

And so, am I nostalgic for the “olden days”? Maybe a little. My friend Sam posted this music video online the other day. Matchbox 20 released “Unwell” as a single fifteen years ago. Sheesh. The funny thing? The song’s message is just as relatable now as it was back then, if not more so. Some things never change.

These days I try to keep my time on facebook and other social media to a minimum.
What about you? What’s your relationship with social media?

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*Images Institute Al Islam and Study Breaks magazine

the REAL problem

(Hint: It’s not guns.)

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A post by Florida Teacher of the Year Kelly Guthrie Raley has gone viral in the last 48 hours. In it, she cites mental health, violent video games, and “horrendous lack of parental support” as being at the root of America’s gun problem.

“Until we as a country are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support . . . (Oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it — violent video games, which take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives — as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves — we will have a gun problem in school,” the sixth-grade language arts teacher wrote.

Raley herself hunts and grew up around guns. “But you know what? My parents NEVER supported any bad behavior from me,” she said. “When I began teaching twenty years ago, I never had to worry about calling a student’s parents and getting cussed out, told to go to hell, or threatened with a public shaming — all because I was calling out their child’s behavior. Something has got to change.”

 

The below video is an example of the disrespect many teachers in U.S. classrooms face today.

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Interestingly, at the same time parental support has decreased and problems like the ones Raley mentions have risen, the use of social media has increased. People around the world can converse more easily now than ever before, and it’s telling that, rather than increase tolerance and understanding, this communication is doing quite the opposite.

Take any article posted on facebook as an example. If you check out the comments section, you’ll see complete strangers verbally attacking one another — simply for having a difference of opinion. This is true for people of all backgrounds and religious creeds, all ethnicities, and all sides of the political spectrum. And, quite frankly, I find it disgusting. And painful. Why are people so rotten?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re “right” or “wrong” on an issue. What matters is how you treat others and approach the debate.

How else are you ever going to gain any real insight on an issue? How else are you going to find solutions? Or, if you’re not there to understand and fix the problem, how else are you going to convince others that you’re right? Not by calling them names, I can assure you.

And also, your children are watching.

The truth is, we’re a broken nation, and the only way to fix our problems is to take a good look at ourselves. No, stricter gun laws won’t fix America’s problems — we need a miracle for that (or a million of them). But if we made it just a little bit harder for just anyone to pick up a gun and do god-knows-what with it, it could help save us from ourselves.

divided, we fall

I don’t want to write this post. I’ve already written it — several times. But here it is, relevant again . . .

 . . . But, no! I’m not going to write this post. I started it last night, but I just can’t finish it. I can’t re-say what I’ve already said . . .

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But how can I stay silent?

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United, we stand. Divided, we fall.

Americans are united in the belief that mass shootings on U.S. soil need to stop. We are divided about how to stop them.

And so they keep happening.

And so people keep dying.

And so madmen keep shooting.

And so the story keeps cycling.

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The facts are these: The United States has more guns than any other nation. We also have more gun-related crimes, homicides, and deaths. We do not have more mental illness. (Don’t believe me? Check out this New York Times article. It shows the stats better than I can.)
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But crazy is crazy. If it’s not guns, it will be something else.

That’s not what the statistics say. If there were fewer guns, there’d be fewer deaths. Period.

But I won’t give up my right to protect my family!

No one’s asking you to give up your right to protect your family. They’re asking for laws to keep AK-15s away from the people who would hurt your family.

But I like to hunt and target shoot. I won’t give up my guns.

Did you hear what I just said? Here’s another way to look at it: Why would we require someone to pass a test to drive a car but not to own a gun?

But I don’t trust the government. The government is trying to take away our guns.

Really?! President Trump didn’t even mention guns when he addressed the people of Parkland on Thursday. And beyond that, that’s beside the point. The point is that PEOPLE ARE DYING BECAUSE OUR SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING. Period.

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The below video from CNN shows disturbing footage of the Florida shooting on Wednesday. I cried watching it, but it needs to be seen. The fact that American law allows individuals to buy AK-15s before they can buy a beer is INSANE.

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But I’ve already said all this, and I don’t want to say it anymore.

I’m tired of the fighting on the Internet. I’m tired of the cruelty and bigotry. I’m tired of the pain . . . I’m tired of it all, and so the very last thing I’ll add is this:

I’m currently in grad school because I want to become a teacher. And when I become a teacher, I would GLADLY die to save the lives of my students if ever I needed to. But quite frankly, I’d rather not die for them. I’d rather live for them, AND HAVE THEM LIVE, TOO.

Wouldn’t you?

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This video is well-done. I think most people would say today: We’re ready to talk about it.

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I’ve posted this video by Trae Crowder before. It’s relevant now, too.

for the love of marketing

Happy Easter!

Oh, wait. You mean . . . That’s still six weeks away?

Oh, thaaaat’s right. We skip from one candy holiday to the next here in the States. It’s Valentine’s Day before New Years, Christmas before Thanksgiving, Halloween before the 4th of July. At least that’s what it looks like in American grocery stores.

The average American eats 22 pounds of candy per year. This is despite increasing evidence of sugar’s negative effects on literally everything, and I have to admit, I’m as guilty as any. Recently I’ve swapped frozen bananas for ice cream, but I still can’t get through a day without fruit snacks or gummy bears.

It’s a sad fact, really, and something that I want to change. In Taiwan (where obesity is the exception, not the rule), people prefer red bean and green tea desserts and typically find American desserts too sweet. This isn’t a biological difference. It’s trained. And it’s marketing. Candy is both the first and last thing Americans see when they enter and check out at grocery stores, and as numerous medical reports and TED talks will tell you, virtually all processed foods are created to be addictive rather than nutritious.

So what are we to do? What can we do? It all comes down to personal decisions. Marketers aren’t going to change their tactics (and products) until we as consumers don’t buy them anymore. It’s also about challenging the status quo. Just because Hallmark said you should buy expensive valentines and candies for your child’s class doesn’t mean you actually should. Simple cards with smiley faces are just fine. They last longer, and they’re healthier, too!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

who needs grammar?

Okay, I (unintentionally) started this conversation, and now that I did, I might as well finish it.

I didn’t have time for a longer Christmas-related post on Friday (I’ve been negligent, I admit), so I posted my “friday funny” instead. It was a silly image, perhaps — with the CIA stepping in to correct a person’s grammar — but there is a larger conversation here that’s been bothering me for some time.

Since moving to Knoxville I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking for furniture on online yard sales through facebook. The online yard sales are a sort-of new and improved version of Craigslist and make it easier than ever to communicate with buyers and sellers. That said, they’re also a place where people frequently “show their true colors,” so to speak, and I’m never quite sure what to expect.

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In addition to online sales, there are also online “watches.” The below examples come from a stolen bike watch in the Bay Area.

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Say, whaaa?? Some of the above are simple spelling mistakes — perhaps the person was rushing, no biggie — but in others the grammar is so bad I have no idea what the person is saying. In these cases, I can’t help but wonder, “Do they know how confusing this is?”

Now, of course no one is turning these ads into their English teacher — I get that. What concerns me, though, is the connection I see between these and a larger societal trend that attempts to devalue and even make fun of correct grammar. I myself feel self-conscious when posting on facebook because I like to write full sentences and use punctuation. This is not the norm in online communities where short-handing and emoticons reign. After all, who needs “you” when you’ve got “u,” or “Way to go!” when you’ve got “👍“? (And, for the record, I see people of all ages writing in short-hand like this. It’s not just a millennial thing.)

But really, it’s no big deal, right? As long as you get your point across, who cares?

You’re right. It doesn’t matter — until college graduates don’t know how to put together a resume or write a cover letter, or until the lack of an oxford comma costs a company millions.

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(For the full article, click here.)

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The societal trend towards — I’m not even sure what to call it: illiteracy? ignorance? obtuseness? — is complicated and points to a number of factors, no doubt. Certainly our highly flawed education system and lack of government funding play a role, but I believe it’s more personal than that. I think it’s a trend we all choose to recognize and participate in or reject on a daily basis, and that it’s consequences are far more reaching than we realize.

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But then again, what do I know? I’m just a girl perusing online yard sales.

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Big eyes. Big smile. Wonder. Seeing the world and its endless possibilities for the first time.

There is nothing purer than a child’s innocence. Kids “get it.” They “get” what this life was supposed to be like — beautiful and fun. Last night in the locker room after my swim, I listened as two junior high school girls giggled about cute boys in a row of lockers nearby. Their lives seemed so simple, so free of worry.  “Don’t lose that, girls,” I whispered inside my head. “Don’t grow up.”

But grow up we all must. There’s no getting around it. And while this video attempts to criticize society for the conforming it forces us all to do, I can’t help but remember my time spent in elementary school classrooms. What is the line between squashing a child’s individuality and giving them the tools they need to succeed in life? What can we as adults and teachers do to better our society for our kids — and ourselves, too?

I won’t give it away, but I love the dad’s actions at the end. ;)

rage against the machine

Do not be gentle in this, the great fight.
Rage, rage against those with little sight.
Rage against the machine.

In 2015, the Gun Violence Archive states that there were 53,711 gun incidents in the United States. 13,507 of those incidents resulted in death. In 2016, the number of incidents rose to 58,700, with 15,084 resulting in death. Thus far in 2017, at the time of this writing, the number of gun-related incidents and deaths is 54,610 and 13,775, respectively.

That’s a lot of (unnecessary, avoidable) deaths.

To get away from numbers, though, let’s look at headlines. “Missing Illinois bartender found shot dead.” “Toddler finds gun, accidentally kills playmate.” “White cop shoots black man during regular traffic stop.” I am disturbed every time I look at the news. People die from gun wounds EVERY DAY in the United States.

And yet we are silent.

We are silent until a mass shooting in Las Vegas takes place, and then suddenly the whole nation is up in arms. DO SOMETHING!! we cry — for a little while. We are angry with our government for allowing madmen to obtain guns. We are angry that these killings keep happening. But, really, we are tired. We are tired of the headlines. We are tired of bad news. We are tired of our own troubles, and, truthfully, we don’t want to give up our guns. We don’t want to do what it would take personally to eradicate the gun problem in our nation.

By now most everyone has heard about the steps Australia and Japan and the United Kingdom took to curb gun violence on their home fronts. Australia did a huge gun buy-back program; Japan requires intensive training and testing to own a gun. The U.K. banned private handgun ownership and bought back tens of thousands of guns from its citizens. In Hong Kong, where I lived for a year, citizens were never allowed to own guns in the first place. I felt safe in Hong Kong. I don’t feel safe in the United States.

Since the Las Vegas shooting, though, what have people been talking about? Sure, there’s been talk about stricter gun laws, but we Americans have this tendency to focus on effects rather than causes. Just like we still take our shoes off at airports because of one incident years ago, I’ve heard more discussion about screening hotel guests’ luggage than I have about making it more difficult to buy guns since the massacre at the Mandalay Bay.

Notice that I said “making it more difficult to buy guns.” I didn’t say, “Do away with all guns,” or “Only law enforcement officers should have guns,” or “All guns are bad.” Having lived in the South for a few years and having made many wonderful friends here, I can easily see how guns and hunting, etc. are a big part of the culture here. What worked in other countries will not necessarily work in the United States. You can’t come in with sweeping measures that many oppose and expect to find success. But surely there is a middle ground we can all agree on? Surely the reasonable gun owners in the nation would be willing to make some concessions on the kinds of guns they need to own — and the process they’re willing to go through to get them — if it meant keeping a larger majority of our nation safe? If it meant keeping machine guns out of the hands of maniacs?

Because, if we’re not, well . . .

We have no one but ourselves to blame.

(And, also, I’m becoming an expat.)

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Below are a couple of videos I’ve posted previously on my blog talking about gun violence and the need for change in our nation. They’re worth the watch.

 

*Note: This post was originally written for my friend Sreejit, an amazing blogger who’s currently featuring other writers in his “Rage Against the Machine Month” on his blog, found here. He’s asked me to write a post for him many times, and I’ve never followed through — until now! Stay tuned for a tie-in to my last post next time. 

we’re the butt of the joke, and we don’t care

Please watch the videos as they are part of the post!

As a blogger in the United States, it would seem negligent to avoid the topic of the recent shooting in Las Vegas. Everyone wants to voice their opinion on that, right? Well . . .

Those of you who know me know that I don’t like controversy — especially here on my blog. It has taken me a few days to collect my thoughts. If I’m going to approach this topic at all, I’d better have thought things through, right?

This time, however, the more I’ve thought, and the more arguments I’ve heard for and against stricter gun control, the more hopeless I’ve felt. Even when presented with statistics proving the relationship between the growing number of guns and gun-related deaths in the United States, a large percent of the population still feel their rights are being violated if laws are passed to make it harder to obtain guns. Many of these people grew up with guns. Many shot guns in their backyards as kids. Many enjoy hunting. Many want to be able to protect their families if someone ever invades their homes.

Okay, I get that. I do. But what about the other side of the coin?

It occurred to me on a run the other night. I have this bad tendency to run later than I should, and it’s crossed my mind that someone could pull out a gun out and shoot me through their car window at any time. It’s an awareness I’ve grown used to, but it was something of an epiphany when I realized recently that, if I were in Australia, for example, this fear would be unfounded.

But the problem isn’t guns, people say. Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people.

Umm, exactly.

But even if you take away guns, crazy people are still going to kill people. They can use knives, bombs, cars, all kinds of other sh*t.

True. You’re absolutely right. Stricter gun laws won’t keep crazy people from doing crazy things. But, as was illustrated in the video at the beginning, there is no disputing that more guns means more deaths, period. Also, it’s interesting that driving is a “privilege” while owning a gun is a “right,” is it not?

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So what do I propose? I have no idea. I’m just tired of being laughed at. I’ve talked to a number of friends around the world who can’t understand America’s obsession with guns and denial of their harm in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. I also agree with an American friend who referenced The Onion on his facebook page recently.

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“This is an associated cost of the 2nd amendment and the culture that has grown up around it. So far, it seems to be a cost Americans are willing to bear. If that continues to be the case, at some point the calls for prayer, thoughts, and sympathy following yet another tragic incident of mass gun violence begin to ring very hollow indeed.”

I’ll close with a video from Trae Crowder* **, the “Liberal Redneck,” an up-and-coming comedian who’s making a career in Hollywood by playing off of his Southern roots. (I actually hesitate to do so. Studying Rhetoric has increased my awareness of the damage labeling does and the ways in which it perpetuates stereotypes and other negative phenomenons in society. It cannot be denied that stereotypes do exist, however, and Crowder contests pro-gun arguments from a perspective I cannot, as I have never owned a gun and originate from the “left coast,” “wrong coast,” and the “land of fruits and nuts” [a.k.a. California].)

 

*Interestingly, in researching Crowder, I realized he’ll be speaking in downtown Knoxville tonight and tomorrow night. You’d better believe I just bought my ticket. (There are some real benefits to living in a college town!)

**Please note that some may find Crowder’s language offensive. He makes some d*mn good points, though, and while I may not agree with everything he says, I appreciate his perspective.

 

p.s. You’ll only give an angel wings if you’re respectful of others’ perspectives in the comments section. 😂

 

 

 

don’t wait for perfect

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Restarting my blog at the same time I uprooted my life and started graduate school might not’ve been my best idea. Grad school is tough, and culture shock is real, people. (More on that later.) But, as Brandon Stanton said at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville a few days ago, I can’t keep waiting on “perfect.” Cuz perfect ain’t ever going to come!

For those who don’t know, Stanton is the creator of Humans of New York, a powerful photoblog featuring pictures and quotes from people around the world. Stanton started the blog in New York City in 2010 with a simple idea: Take pictures of people around the city; create a “map” of those people and where he photographed them. As the blog progressed, however, Stanton realized the map wasn’t necessary. What drew people to his blog were words.

Stanton started including quotes from the people he photographed, and then interviews. His following got larger as his stories got longer. (Currently it’s at more than 18 million.) He realized his blog’s universal appeal and traveled internationally to more than 20 different countries. He also did several series of interviews — with cancer patients, refugees, military veterans, and more — and from these, raised millions of dollars for cancer research and other charitable causes. Most recently he’s been working on a video series that builds on the same premise and is currently being released weekly on facebook.

Image result for humans of new yorkI started following Stanton’s blog a few years ago. It enticed me with its raw humanity. It clearly displayed everything I’d seen in Asia: No matter where you go, people are people. Stanton himself is also very down-to-earth, which has contributed to his success. During his performance last week, Stanton wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a zip-up hoodie as he shared the beginnings of Humans of New York and how he figured out what he needed to do. “I realized early on I was never going to be the best photographer,” said Stanton. “Humans of New York is not about photography. But what I do have is something many of the world’s best photographers do not — I have the ability to approach and talk to strangers.” (paraphrased)

Stanton shared several other great points that evening, which stood out out to me as applicable to both blogging and life. Here are just a few of them:

  • Don’t wait for perfect. Perfect never comes. Time is our most valuable commodity. If you’re meant to do something, do it now.
  • Don’t worry about your audience. If Brandon had worried about his audience when he started Humans of New York, Humans of New York wouldn’t have come to be–he would have given up long ago because success didn’t happen overnight.
  • Following your dreams means “choosing your work.” “People talk about following their dreams as if following your dreams means avoiding responsibility or getting to play all day,” says Brandon. “But no, pursuing your dream is work. Whether you want to be a famous musician or a well-known blogger or own your own business or travel the world, all of these things take time and dedication and hard work. The difference between it and other work is that you choose it.” (paraphrased)

Brandon’s talk left me in tears. In the past four weeks I’ve started this post at least a dozen times. I’ve had great ideas but “never enough time” to finish them. I’ve had paragraphs written down, but they were never “good enough” to share. I’ve had thoughts whirling around, but they were too fragmented to be “worthy.” It’s true that grad school is demanding, and starting over in a new city hard, but if I am truly going to “begin again”– if I am going to “choose my work” (here on my blog and elsewhere) — something’s gotta give.

So tell me . . . What’s your trick for accomplishing your blogging and/or life goals? Have you seen Humans of New York? What did you think?

 

(Below is just a sample of Stanton’s work.)

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“This better not be for a porno. I stopped doing those.”

“Okay, Mother. That’s enough.”

 

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“I prefer maritime laws to laws on land. Maritime laws only exist to guarantee safe passage. There are no loopholes or biases to favor more powerful vessels. Every ship is equal, and no one is more powerful than the sea.”

 

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“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

*As a side note, this image went viral in 2016 and Stanton ended up raising more than $1,000,000 for this boy’s school. You can read more about that here.

 

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“So do you do a different color every day?”

“No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found I was happiest when I was green, so I’ve been green for 15 years.”

 

Image result for humans of new york crazy subway you want to hear what just happened to me seizure

“You want to hear what just happened to me? I was in the subway station, and this man came walking by me. He seemed really angry and was talking gibberish and screaming about how he was going to kill anyone who talked to him. So I thought: ‘That guy’s crazy; I’m gonna keep away from him.’ Then two minutes later another young man walked by and collapsed right in front of me and started having a seizure. I bent down to help him, and you know what happened? The crazy guy bent down and said: ‘He’s having a seizure! Turn him on his side!’ I thought: ‘Wait a second! Weren’t you just crazy?'”

 

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“I want to build a bridge.”

“How do you build a bridge?”

“If you want to build a bridge it’s going to take a long time, and it might be hard because your employees might not be as interested in building the bridge as you are. You have to think about what kind of bridge you want to make. One type of bridge is a suspension bridge and another type of bridge is an arch bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge and it was built by John Roebling and his family, and that’s all I remember from the second grade. And the bridge has to be strong because the water can rise and push up the bridge. I’d maybe like to build a bridge in Wisconsin because there are a lot of people in Wisconsin who might not have bridges, but I don’t really know where Wisconsin is.”

 

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Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans of New York”

 

 

what man has made of man

what-man-has-made-of-man (2)I could go on.

With obesity rates skyrocketing in the United States, many people are asking, “Why?” Why are we fatter now than, say, fifty years ago?

Some look to fast food chains for their answer. “It’s all your fault!” they like to say. “You’re too cheap, and you taste too good!” Others blame more healthful foods. “It’s all your fault!” they’re apt to say. “You’re too expensive, and you taste like wood!” Some others blame traffic and a commuter lifestyle. “You take too long!” they often say. “You crawl along; you’re in my way!” And, still others, the weather. “By gosh, it’s hot. Too hot to go; I guess I’ll stay . . .”

Occasionally a bright-eyed individual will examine their use of time throughout the day. They walk when they could drive, move when they could sit. They actually enjoy exercise — or, at least they try to find ways to exercise that they enjoy. And they put their phones down. And turn off the TV. And have real conversations. And go outside.

They see more. And breathe more. And feel more. And live more.

Our bodies were made to move. When we render them stationary — be it by a desk job, TV addiction, video game, social media, or what have you — we compromise them, and our minds, and our lives.

One of my favorite poems by William Wordsworth sums up my thoughts well:

Lines Written in Early Spring

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
.
Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
.
The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.
.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
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For an (imperfect!) audio recording of this poem, click below.
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the busy trap

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Perhaps the problem isn’t “busy.” Perhaps the problem is the reason behind busy.

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There are people who have kids. There are people who have jobs. There are people who have kids and jobs, but, the fact is, the majority of our lives aren’t spent worrying about us. It’s spent worrying about others. Or money. Or food. Or _________.

And that’s the way it should be — to a certain extent, anyway. No one wants to be a narcissist. But there’s a part of us that’s important, too. We have to like ourselves, we have to accept ourselves, just the way we are, before all of the busy. We have to have goals for ourselves without all of the busy. Otherwise . . . the busy is just . . .

Busy.

Empty.

A cover-up.

A sham.

An attempt to hide what we really feel inside, which is, ____________.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my busy lately. Why am I so compelled towards perfection? Why do I feel better on a day I accomplish a lot than when I only do a little? Why do I seek to control my life when I know, deep down, that control is only an illusion? Why do I equate busyness with success?

011-Busy-is-a-Drug-webThe truth is: History’s movers and shakers have never been people who sat around. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa aren’t remembered because they thought about doing nice things for others. They’re remember because they did something nice for others . . .

But even movers and shakers need quiet moments of reflection. Even they need a reason for what they do.

And I think that that’s my problem, and maybe others’, too. I get so caught up in the busy that I forget what the busy is there for. I forget what I’m trying to accomplish and where I’m headed. I ignore the fact that, in trying to control my life, it’s actually controlling me. And then I wonder why I get discouraged in the process — why my goals seem so far away.

My busy is in the way.

Every life has a purpose. It’s up to us to find that purpose each day. I hope you don’t get caught up in the busy like I do. I hope you find a better way.

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Images: Google

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ungrateful and unaware

And what would you . . . ?

What would you do if a child from a privileged home couldn’t tell you what they were thankful for?

Not a single thing?

Yesterday on facebook, while browsing my news feed, I came across this photo and quote from Humans of New York. Humans of New York is a popular photoblog created by a man named Brandon Stanton. The site features portraits and interviews of individuals in New York — and around the world. While some have criticized HONY, saying many of Stanton’s interviews must be staged, most viewers love the site. I myself like HONY because, to me, Brandon has done exactly what I’ve been trying to do all along: Show that people are people. Continue reading

the world awaits

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In looking for jobs recently, I updated LinkedIn. In updating LinkedIn, I got in touch with old co-workers. In getting in touch with old co-workers, I got a job offer in Taiwan.

And I couldn’t take it.

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while now know how important travel is to me. I’ve often stated how much I miss living in Asia and how I can’t wait to return. My dream job would be to work for a nonprofit organization whose focus is international relief. I want to write to make a difference.

But why is travel so important to me? How can I make others understand? Continue reading

blessed

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The holidays are a wonderful time. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me. Oh, wait. I guess that was supposed to be Ho-ho-ho! — Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Or was it?

Something that’s always bothered me about the holidays is — no, not the materialism (although that’s part of it) — the focus on self. When I was a copy writer in Chattanooga, I wrote countless articles on depression around the holidays. The media paints Christmas and New Years out to be such a wonderful time of year, but what if it isn’t? What if you’re single and alone? What if your family lives a long way? What if a loved one just died, or money is really, really tight? It’s a well-known fact that shop-lifting rates go up around the holidays.

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A little girl begging at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Around my home, Christmas cards from friends always come rolling in around the holidays. Pictures with smiling faces and new babies and fall colors and fancy scarves beam from the refrigerator door. Sayings like “Blessed!” and “Wishing you and yours happiness throughout the holidays and the coming year” jump out at innocent passersby . . . And, as I look at these clean, painted faces, I wonder: Do they even know? Do they know how blessed they really are? Really? Continue reading

it’s a hard knock life

eldo-raleysI’m walking to my car in a Raley’s parking lot. It’s about 6 p.m., dark, and cold. I shiver as an icy breeze picks up. Why oh why did I forget my jacket?

Suddenly, I notice a woman off to the left. Her car is parked across a grassy divide facing mine. She’s at her car, like I am now, only . . . What on earth is she doing? The woman isn’t getting into her car but, rather, is pacing beside it. From trunk to passenger’s side, to trunk to — Nope! Nope! she looks at the driver’s side — passenger’s side. She looks angry. Safely inside my car now, I realize what’s going on, and, I’ll be honest, start laughing. The lady has parked her car a little to the left in her parking space. The truck beside her is parked a little to its right. The lady is about 100 pounds overweight . . . She can’t get into her own car! Continue reading

a simple life

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A home overlooking Lake Folsom in El Dorado Hills

It’s a simple life, an easy life,
in El Dorado Hills.
Where cookie-cutter houses sit,
on cookie-cutter hills.
Where all the people drive to work
in fancy, shiny cars.
And all the children laugh and play
and look up to the “stars.”*

It’s a simple life, a quiet life,
in heaven’s spot on earth.
With all the fences whitely washed,
and mothers giving birth
To little ones who’ll laugh and play
and look up to the “stars,”
and grow up doing just the same,
in fancy, shiny cars.

It’s a simple life, a little life,
the one we’ve bought and sold.
Where all that matters is our health,
our riches when we’re old.
Where nothing’s to be thought, of course,
about the world outside,
for all that matters is our own,
America’s our pride.

*Stars as in celebrities

For an audio recording of this poem, click here:

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Image: Google

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kick ’em when they’re down

red light2Warning: This post contains blood!

The other day I’m out riding my bike. I’ve just left my apartment and am headed left, towards the light. The plan is to turn right onto the main road and hit a few hills. I’ve been missing my bike! Trouble is, the light’s red and there’s a car there, also turning right. I come up slowly behind it, clicked into  my pedals but ready to click out, waiting to see what it does. The car starts to go but then stops, starts again and stops, and (those of you who are cyclists know where this is going) . . . Crash! I’d lost my momentum; I knew I was going to fall, and I did.

I toppled hard to my right, and even on the ground had difficulty getting out of my pedals. My left calf was smarting, but I didn’t pay it any attention. A passenger in a car waiting to turn left beside me had rolled down his window so that I could hear him laughing at me. I ignored him — didn’t look over —  and finally got upright again. The indecisive car had finally moved on and my lane was clear. I peddled on. Continue reading

what i got

sublimeIt’s mid-afternoon on Saturday. I’ve been home nearly a week and have only posted . . . once?! Big race is tomorrow (I’m running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco), and all I keep thinking is, “What do I want to say?” There ought to be a lot after my tripand there isbut all I keep coming up with is:

Life is . . .

Which then launches into:

“Life is . . . too short, so love the one you’ve got,
‘Cause you might get run over, or you might get shot . . .
Take a small example, take a tip from me:
Take all of your money, give it all to charity . . .
Lovin’, is what I got, I said remember that.
Lovin’, is what I got . . . I got, I got, I got.”

It’s the lyrics to a popular song by Sublime that came out when I was in grade school. It’s a song that’s a little bit timelessas in, it could have come out yesterday, the melody and beat are still so fresh in my mind. Not all of the lyrics are good, of course. But I find it interesting that even mainstream artists who talk about smoking pot and getting high keep coming back to the idea that life is short and love is all we’ve got . . . Continue reading

the best of the best

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View of New Orleans from my friend’s apartment

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This post comes as something of a surprise. I would have thought I’d be talking directly about New Orleans.

I arrived this past Saturday to a scene I’ve never really been a part of. No, no, I’m not talking about the music or bar scene. I’m acquainted well enough with both, though truth be told I rarely participate in either. (I’m a “goodie goodie,” remember? Drinking has never really been my thing.) No, I’m talking about the medical academic scene, or, more specifically, the ivy league medical academic scene.

My friend is an internal medicine resident at Tulane, one of the most highly regarded and selective research universities in the nation. Yes, she’s smart stuff, and I’m proud to know her, but I don’t usually think of her as such. To me, she’s just April, my best friend from forever, and that’s enough. All the rest is just fluff.

So at dinner the other night I was surprised as I was talking to another internal medicine resident, a friend of April’s, when he told me about his experience as an undergraduate at Yale. Continue reading

the most important thing

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Image by GMB Akash

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I’m talking to people tonight, only I can’t zone in. I’m listening, mostly — as they talk about addiction, alcoholism, denial, self-image, and self-harm. They roll their heavily made-up eyes as they puff on cigarettes and share that their 18-year-old sisters just announced that they’re pregnant and are “super excited” about it. “What do they know about being a mom?” they complain. Their own moms are addicted to heroin, and “Dad ran off with his secretary,” not to mention their 19-year-old boyfriends were killed in car accidents about two months ago. “His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He’d just graduated from AA . . .”

Some of them are old enough to be adults — they are adults — but they’re shoplifting like it’s 1999, and they too would rather drink than work on their recoveries. Never mind that they’ve been hospitalized because of their addictions. They are invincible, and, somehow, it’s everyone — and everything — else’s fault. “I have a personality disorder,” they say, or, “I don’t know. I just don’t know . . .” And they shrug their skeletal shoulders and cast bleary eyes to the floor and sigh.

And I cry a little inside as I look around the room at their faces, taking notes. They are all of them beautiful — each in their own way — but they are sick and cannot see what I see . . . Continue reading

the kindness . . . quota?

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”
John Lennon

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”
Mark Twain

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motherteresahelpingI’m listening to the radio on my drive home tonight and a prerecorded host message comes on between songs. “Here at Radio 94.7, we think Sacramento is pretty awesome. But what if every person in Sacramento did just one random act of kindness per month? How awesome Sacramento would be then? If everyone did that, Sacramento would be, like, the most awesome city in the whole country!” (Or something to that effect.)

And I was like . . .

Well, okay. First things first: Random acts of kindness equal good, so — yes, intentions are good — and effort does count, so — “Yay, 94.7.”

But then I was like . . .

“Per month?!” Whoa, people. Let’s not aim too high here . . . Continue reading