Archive for the 'Lesson' Category

Write to Know

(More writing about writing)

The refrain, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” has been running through my mind. I spend a lot of time thinking and reading on lots of subjects but, I don’t spend much time writing. The closest I get is chat conversations online. There is a part of my brain not content with consuming endless information. Conversations with people helps to relieve some of that cognitive dissonance I feel but, I know writing is important to the process.

Questioning

 Even when I agonized over almost every paper in college there was a part of my brain that knew that writing was key to understanding. I still think about the paper I wrote that addressed the question, “What is art?” because it was one of the most difficult papers I ever had to write. The more I wrote, the more I was able to see the flaws in my arguments and understand more clearly what I was trying to say. I think I came out of the paper even more confused about the definition of art but, it was a satisfying confusion after a long struggle with many different ideas and arguments.

I continue to try and commit myself to writing, even if it is for my eyes only, because I know without it my thoughts are ephemeral and incomplete, and reading subject to the faulty memory of the mind.

From There to Here

I was eighteen when I arrived at Mary Washington and I was ready for a new adventure on my own.

But leaving one place for another does not mean you leave who you are behind, a lesson quickly learned. I spent many lonely nights walking the streets of downtown Fredericksburg wishing I was somewhere else.

Sometimes during those late night wanderings I would stop at the top of one hill near the school. From the location I could stare up and see the lights of dorms and eventually the light of the new bell tower. It was from that spot I could see how the school sat high upon Marye’s Heights. I would stand there, in that spot that gave me the view of campus that was so vastly different than what the up close view impressed upon, and stare at it imagining I was somewhere else.

Night Lights: Campus View

Much time has passed since those late nights and now when I do walk it is rarely in the same painful stupor that pushed my soul to roam the streets.

I have not moved that far from my first new home in Russell Hall. I’ve been in other dorms, other off campus housing and now in an apartment on the slopes of Marye’s Heights. It didn’t occur to until a week or two after I had moved in but, I now live in apartments that sit near the spot where I spent so many nights staring up at the school. This realization held a weird narrative beauty. How strange it is that I now live on the hill that so many nights had seen me wish I was not living at all. If my life were a novel this would be the moment in the story where the main character realizes that the pain of the past had healed over, things have come full circle. Life isn’t perfect (is it ever?) but, I am thankful for those odd moments when the narrator in my brain makes me take note of how I find myself in the same location. It is in those moments that I realize what great distances I have traveled.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Ascending On Beautiful Foolish Arms

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Thoughts have been flowing through my mind so rapidly the two weeks. End of semester, end of year, end of decade reflections. Life, perhaps slowed down by the winter chill, holds still for closer inspection. I see the grieving, joy, anger, peace and more that this semester, year, and decade has wrought. I do not live my life perfectly but, I strive to be better (don’t most people feel this way?). I’ve come to learn “all experiences can be positive if you learn and grow from them…no matter how bad they may seem at the time“. If you choose to learn from your experience it means being honest and taking the blame for what has gone wrong, maybe it is an age thing or a generational quirk but, this is a hard lesson to learn, “we tend to try to avoid pain generated by the knowledge that were not doing the right thing”. That pain is often felt when I take a look at my grades and is preferably ignored having my choice. Part of it is rebellion against all the years of formal education where all people ever asked about was my grade rather than asking what I learned. The other part of the pain is lack of focus and having to learn to suck it up and do what needs to get done even though I don’t particularly enjoy it (or agree with it). School is the irritating grain of sand in my oyster shell.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by bgblogging

I have had many patient Teachers in my life who showed me the way rather than shoving the answer down my throat. My stubborn nature thoroughly rebels against being told “how I should do x,y, z”. These thoughts always seem to bring me back to my father who “taught by his actions. He showed me how to live…He showed me how to work…He showed me how to die. He didn’t tell me how to do it, he showed me”. I am my father’s child. More than any other lesson in my life, the lesson of my father motivates me to demonstrate in action what I believe. And when I am not at peace I know it is because I am not living my life rightly. I often come up with excuses to avoid the truth but, as soon as I acknowledge the truth the peace returns. I know what I must do.

Sometimes I just want the answer but, like Dorothy, I know I must learn the answer for myself. You could tell me the melting point of wax but, I much rather have the tools to craft my own wings to fly towards the sun and discover the melting point of wax for myself. I do not aspire to fall from great heights like Icarus but, sometimes learning the truth for yourself includes broken bones. And maybe I have more broken bones when it comes to school. School magnifies my flaws. Succeeding in school requires several skills I have resisted developing  (some skills have been resisted for good reason others out of bitterness and laziness). I know what I must do.

Maybe I am just tired of a world that insists on giving me advice on everything, like horoscopes with their vague general statements, empty words. I am not discounting words of wisdom by any means but, I am overwhelmed by the myriad of talking points this world throw at me. I have to wonder, if we silenced the talk for one day what would we discover?

Teach Me Meaning Making

“We’ve got information in the information age. But do we know what life is outside of our convenient lexus cages?”
-Switchfoot ‘Gone’

All of this is a plea, a desire, a timid question, and confession.

Why has it taken so long for school to teach me meaning making? The how of pulling at information and weaving it together in a deeper understanding.

I have grown up in a world that is over-flowing with information and has taught me few skills on how to filter it all. Maybe I was born at an inconvenient time, a point in history where the world is working out what it means to have almost the whole world at our fingertips.

Post-Katrina School Bus by <a href=Through years of excessive information I’ve grown an intolerance and my palate for the rich taste of knowledge has grown dull. Yes, there can be too much of a “good thing”. Even when information is served in a unique way I’m often too jaded to savor it or care. This is not intended to be an excuse or a whining cry of a “net-gen” student, but an attempt at an honest confession by one 21 year old. I’ll admit to being an under-achieving student, the bane of some professors existence and yes I do regret not working harder in some classes. I’ll also admit I often don’t care when a professor tests me on pure information, on my ability to regurgitate, because those tests are almost always easier than other options and require little engagement from me.

How do I reconcile my belief in education and real school and my praxis that seems to rarely reflect that? Why do I even care when I could slide by? Why do I want to take the “long way around”? It makes no logical sense in the setting of school. I do not play by the rules of the game and suffer for it.

I do not want to conform to the patterns of this world, I want to be transformed through the renewing of my mind through a different model of thinking and learning. Teach me meaning making and I can go forth and do more than just be a passive observer. I can’t do this on my own though, this adventure was never meant to be a solitary journey. I am meant to be a caravanista traveling through time with you, measuring time and being measured by it. I want to do something of value in this short time span we call life. Is that too much to ask for?

Life Is An Interesting Narrative

As I was reading through new blog post on the UMWblogs site, I found this one titled “A Story Everywhere”. Right away the title has my attention and at the first line I am hooked:

“The simple truth of the matter is that people fascinate me.”

The post is a brief story about the author’s interaction with a cashier, named Dawn, at the Giant. I recommend reading it, it is not too long, and it manages to fit a lot into a short post. Here is just an excerpt:

I was thinking about Dawn, my Dawn, my fast cashier, and her life in New Mexico, and ’how did she end up here?’ and ‘why would anybody want 4 loafs of bread at once?’ In that moment I realized for the first time that Dawn had a story. She had hopes, dreams, fears; she became real to me, more real than our autopilot interactions of the past 6 or so months.

The author brings it home at the end with:

My experience today with Dawn served as a simple reminder that everyone has something to say, and perhaps something to teach you. We as artists(or individuals) can never stop learning. It is the single most fundamental and necessary part of our art; we must always find new ideas in people, and learn from them.

I love moments like this and when someone can put it into words well I soak it up in all its extraordinary ordinariness.

So in the spirit of ordinary moments I will briefly share something that happened to me a few months ago that I recalled while reading the previously mentioned post.

It was back in the fall semester when I was in a real deep funk. I went to my car to drive around and maybe stop at the store, but mostly I drove so I could have a private place to feel frustrated and defeated. While I was out I stopped at the Walmart and I silently walked the aisles looking for something I can’t remember. As I was standing in the the school supply aisle a lady approached me. She did not speak English very well, but she asked if I could help her find school supplies for her child. She pointed to the list that she held, indicating what she needed to find. Despite my mood, I willingly obliged to help her find the items. After I would pull the item off the shelf I would point to what it was on the list so she could diligently cross it out. When we had finished and we parted ways I could not help, but wonder about the women I had just helped. How long had she been in the country? What must it be like to struggle to find school supplies for your child because you don’t know the language of your new country? Many thoughts were racing through my head and because of that moment I felt grounded again. I was connected to the world around me, a world that is far more complex then my small little existence.

One Year

Since the other post today was for kicks and took me all of 10 minutes to do, I thought I’d write about something else too. Also I give early warning of sentimentalism too.
Its been exactly one year since Steve responded to an e-mail I sent him after the end of my first semester in college. The e-mail I sent him was depressing and apologetic (I was feeling both)  and I had no idea what to expect back (if anything).

The response was nothing short of eye opening, it is hard to believe I was hearing some of these ideas for the first time. There was nothing grandiose about it and it was just what I needed at that time and what propelled me to explore further.

I hope I don’t embarrass him by doing this, but it was a defining moment for me that year and I am forever grateful for that. Here are some of the lines that I remember re-reading again and again, they structured a lot of my thinking when I was first toying with the idea of the life of the mind:

“While we divide college into courses and semesters, those are somewhat arbitrary divisions. The learning needn’t end when the semester is over.”

“The point of real education is to learn how to make sense out of the world, which is a lifelong goal. College is merely the beginning where, if we’re successful, we learn how to go about it.”

It also gave me comfort to know that when he was in college it took him a year before economics really started making sense to him. When you feel like the low man on the totem pole knowing people that are higher up have gone through the same struggles it gives you hope.

So thank you Steve I owe you one, next time lunch is on me : )

Why Wait?

I should designate a certain day of the week where I give myself permission to rant on my blog, just so I know I am controlling the volume of my craziness.

Anyway so this rant is about the whole waiting game that people seem to play. For brevity sake I’m just going to focus on college students playing the waiting game. In high school we looked forward to getting to college to have freedom to do what it is we imagined college students do. Now as college students we play a similar waiting game as in high school.

I’m sick and tired of people complaining about classes (I’m not exempt from this complaining) and waiting for the big test to pass or the semester to end. I will even be as bold to say that as students we are expected to complain about it, no one ever says it aloud, but it is just the assumption most of us live by. I also think that it is this unspoken expectation that creates a barrier between students and real learning. From what our friends, family, and the media tell us college is about other things. No one mentions the life of the mind, that is for nerdy professors who like to impress everyone with their obscure knowledge about their specialty. And so we are patiently waiting out the storm. Even as a society people seem to live for the weekends. In my opinion living for the weekend (especially as a college student) is ridiculous, you are missing 5/7th of your week (thats about 71%). When do you plan on living? In college students are lucky to have the kind of freedom to have a relatively flexible schedule. College is a unique environment unlike anything else we will ever experience, yet we focus on other things, even ignoring the reason colleges where created in the first place.

What are we waiting for? There are multiple answers to this and a lot of the responses are along the lines of “in the future I’ll have the time to do what I want”. Again college is just treated as a bus stop on the way to brighter future (and that future is most uncertain). You make plans, but then life gets in the way. I wonder if students took the time to think about where they were, the here and now (and not just the weekend parties), if they would realize how poorly they were treating the present and the opportunities that would never present themselves again.

So why wait? I hope to keep asking myself that question over the semester? If I feel I am waiting, what do I think I am waiting for? And is it realistic?

/End rant

A Thing of Very Great Value

For Christmas my brother gave me a copy of “The Meaning of it All” a book containing a series of three lectures Richard Feynman gave in April of 1963 at the University of Washington. Here is an excerpt from his first speech titled “The Uncertainty of Science” and although he is talking directly about the field of science Feynman knows how the application of this lesson reaches far beyond that.

“And it is of paramount importance, in order to make progress, that we recognize this ignorance and doubt. Because we have the doubt, we then propose looking in new directions for new ideas. The rate of development of science is not the rate at which you make observations alone but, much more important, the rate at which you create new things to test.

If we were not able or did not desire to look in any new direction, if we did not have a doubt or recognize ignorance, we would not get any new ideas. There would be nothing worth checking, because we would know what is true.”

Feynman later speaks on the importance of having the freedom to doubt and the struggle to be permitted to doubt. He does not want us to forget the importance of doubt and recognizing ignorance, he even “demand[s] this freedom for future generations.” Sure we have doubt and an abundance of ignorance, but I feel far too often I don’t use it to seek a new path or ask more questions. It is far more often something to be ashamed of or a way to complain without taking any action.

If we are to believe what Feynman says than we must accept “…doubt is not a fearful thing, but a thing of very great value.”

Lessons I Need To Remember: On Writer’s Block

I’ve had occasional spots of writer’s block, everybody does, but this semester I experienced one that I did not know how to deal with.

Late in September this writer’s block started to make its appearance. I was not only busy being stressed about having less time to get school work done, but all the sudden it seemed I had nothing to write about or when I did write it sounded like garbage. It didn’t bother me too much at first, I’ve handed papers in late before and it didn’t turn into a problem. But then it started to spread to all my classes and suddenly I had several papers that were late, it was a virus slowly killing my grade. The most I could seem to muster up was a paragraph and a comment on a blog post. I could not write about anything at great length, I felt I had bits and pieces sitting in my brain, but I couldn’t build anything with them. Even in English class where I had to write a paper about myself I was coming up with nothing, is that even possible?

Why was it so hard to write about anything?
Why didn’t anything sound right?

As time went on I became increasingly gun-shy (or is that pen-shy?) and an endeavor I once enjoyed was something I had come to really abhor. Had I become such a perfectionist that nothing I wrote was as good enough?

Steve always being the concerned mentor was helpful and honest. “What is Nike’s slogan?”, he would ask. “Just do it”, I would respond knowing all to well he was right (how annoying). I’m sure those of you who follow me on Twitter were subject to many tweets of complaining (thanks for not blocking me). The nice thing about twitter is that I could also receive helpful advice from people. For instance Sue Fernsebner pointed me to a website that contained the following quote:

“Commit yourself to the process not the project. Don’t be afraid to write badly, everyone does. Invest yourself in the lifestyle not in the particular piece of work.” -Frank Conroy

So I’ve been trying very hard to write. Even when I have felt that every sentence I was writing down was crap I’ve kept trying. Somewhere along the line I had convinced myself if it wasn’t going to be great it shouldn’t be written at all and of course that is mostly complete rubbish.

Maybe not everything I am writing is worthy of a gold star, but that isn’t the point. I should be writing for myself. If I want a random post about my love of CSI why not go ahead and do it. I can no longer just keep this blog dedicated to those “golden ideas”, I don’t want my blog to be like that at all.

No one has a perfect life and why should my blog make it seem like I think I know all the answers, I am certainly do not. I’ve just got to blog in the way that works best for me, and be ok with that.

There will be a time for posts that require a slow blogging approach and there will be time for a more “bavatuesdays” or “Bill’s Stuff” stream of thought of just getting what you need to say out there. Both foster conversations in their own way.

Just blog it.

Lessons I Need To Remember: On Over-Scheduling

There has been a long period of silence on this blog, much longer than I ever intended. Ideas have floated in and out of my head and have never quite reached digital paper. My schedule (and my approach towards school work and perhaps even life) this year is vastly different than the one I had last year and I have had to come face to face with many of my own flaws and insecurities; just the sort of problem you don’t want to have be dealing with in your sophomore year of college. So with a cup of Earl Grey tea and setting myself in the “Jim Groom Work Position” (feet up on the desk if you are not familiar) it is time to do some dissection. There is a lot I want to say (or ramble on about) so I plan to break this up into multiple posts that are loosely tied together. And I also need to remember that I can blog for myself.

My freshman year of school I intentionally kept my schedule open. I didn’t take a campus job or really get involved in any clubs. I wanted to make sure I would give myself enough time to be able to meet the demands of a college level classes. So I ended up having a lot of free time on my hands. It conveniently went along well with my work ethic of procrastinating because there was always time to get whatever I was putting off done.

Fast-forward to this school year. I now have a job as a student aide at DTLT about 10 hours a week (I really couldn’t ask for a better job), I babysit in the morning twice a week, I am a Young Life leader (that takes up about 10+ hours a week), and somewhere in between that I also go to classes. Not that I necessarily prioritized being a student last, but somehow I forgot to figure in work outside of classes into my schedule. About a week or two in the fall semester I started to realize I was in way over my head. Also considering I had always dealt with procrastination by leaving my schedule wide open, I had run into a glitch in my system and I was sinking fast.

Logically, I could have (and maybe should have) cut back on some hours at work or better structure my time so that when I had free time I was putting it towards something productive. Being of the stubborn nature (as my cousin once told me) I didn’t want cut back on the commitments I had made. Going to work is something I look forward to and I didn’t want to have to cut back on something I enjoyed. Secondly, babysitting has been an escape from having to think about me, it is a time to distract myself from a lot of the worries that tend to drag me down. Three hours can feel like an eternity (both a good and bad thing) and sometimes I come back to campus feeling like I have been living a completely different life (it is weird, I know). In addition, a large part of my time has been spent being a YoungLife leader. That in itself has its own set of occasionally unpredictable hours and has been stretching me in directions that completely take me out of comfort zone, which, of course is both scary and thrilling. After going through all the things that I was interested in what I found left of my list of things to do was “be a student” and how boring and unattractive did that seem against the other things I was doing.

What all this over-scheduling really made evident was how my study skills among other school related skills were rather poor. I wasn’t able to keep up because I had no work-flow or real effective method for studying. My approach to studying had always been going over notes the night before or, more likely, an hour before class. I have a pretty good visual and short term memory so it has been always been easy to pour out the answers on the test before it all disappeared down the drain. That sort of method was exactly what I wanted to avoid this semester, but I realized I hadn’t thought of another approach to replace it with. It is not pleasant to realize that in my sophomore year of college that I’ve never really had an efficient or dynamic plan for academics and the method I had now was no long sustainable. I’ve always been to busy playing “the game” to actually come up with ways to actually learn well.

I’m already making sure that next semester is not as jam-packed as this semester and that I have an actual plan of action for acquiring the tools to be a better learner. My grades have taken a hit this semester, not that grades were ever a motivator for me in the first place, but it is still disappointing considering the enthusiasm I had at the start of the school year. So, despite desperately wishing that I had not been so busy this semester I have learned that when I am filled to the brim it is easier to see where the cracks are in my foundation. What was once a slow leak and a minor annoyance became a rushing stream of water that I could not ignore. It has forced me to take problems head on and in that way I am thankful for this experience.


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