Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Love Letter In Care Of My Employer's IT Department

To whom it may concern:

I say "to whom it may concern" because I'm not quite certain whom it may concern. I'm fairly certain that the IT department knows, as it is responsible for carrying out your decisions. However, being that this is __________________, it's entirely possible that your decisions are filtered through so many layers of bureaucracy that the IT is ignorant of your existence. Perhaps, like the good angel portrayed by Al Pacino under the name John Milton, you prefer to keep your influence subtle and understated. In which case, I beg the IT department to forward this as best it knows. If the IT department itself is responsible for these policies, it may be wisest to remain silent; my love for the person in question is quite abundant and probably best enjoyed from a safe distance.

First, let me say that I appreciate how difficult your job is. So much lies within your purview: ensuring student safety, intellectual integrity, and above all wise use of time in an era where that horrible demon, the Internet, provides so many temptations to degradation, dishonor, and dissipation. Why, if you didn't block Wikipedia from student access, they might copy/paste info from it at school rather than at home! Worse, they might actually begin to research at school, starting in the familiar place, rather than giving up and googling whatever comes to mind. Indeed, this is so important that I understand when my own access is similarly blocked. I'm sure I'll find a detailed dissection of the differences between film and book elsewhere. Nothing makes me happier than seeking information and clicking on a link that leads immediately back to your "Blocked by ______" page - as per "student policies". It makes me feel so warm and fuzzy, knowing you think of me just like a student.

I'm also glad for the numerous blocks on "adult content". Heaven knows, high schoolers will never find a way to find pornographic material on school grounds as long as you block such sites as Cracked. Although it may sometimes impede searches for clever, witty examples of literary, scientific, and historical note, it helps me rest more easily, knowing that students who want smutty material are restricted to the very active hacked file in our school's student directory.

Ah, but most of all, I appreciate the way you block timewasters like blogs. Who knows how much time and effort might be wasted if teachers were allowed to participate in social sites while on school computers? Yesterday, instead of participating in social sites, I was strictly limited to helpful educational sites listing logical fallacies in helpfully exhaustive groups. Not once in my two hours of searching for helpful information was I distracted by a social networking site. Alas, I was unable to complete (or properly start) the lesson with such a wealth of information and was required to retire home. From home, I resumed my search. Not thirty seconds in, I was led astray by a socially networked blog by a teacher who had a detailed lesson plan on exactly the topic I intended to teach, complete with handouts and materials which probably saved me two hours on prep work.

I'm so glad you help by blocking blogs and social networking sites. I'm so glad that I can post this, secure in the knowledge that this will be so difficult to access from school that it will probably never come to your attention.

Love and kisses,
Mouse

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Growing Pains

"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.
"Not because you are?"
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."

--from Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

I was thinking about this a lot last night at Bible study. We were studying the relationship between sin and grace. We started with a diagram that looked something like this:


On one hand, I have my awareness of God's holiness. On the other, I have my knowledge of my own sin. (These both tend to increase with time.) When one first becomes a Christian, the Cross tends to just barely bridge the gap. How could our understanding of God's grace exceed our knowledge of the gap between? For Christians like me, who converted at a very young age, the cross tends to start out very small. Unfortunately, sometimes it stays that way.


As time passes, the cross can seem to diminish in size. Sin not only fails to disappear after conversion - it growls and snarls and grows more rapidly than a hydra. God is not only as inaccessibly perfect as we had known at first - he is more so. And yet the cross too often fails to bridge the gap. So what do we do?


We fill the gaps artificially. We try to do good deeds - or have regular Bible studies - or pray - or something - to cover that extra gap between the top of the cross and God's holiness. We become increasingly dishonest - either with ourselves ("I'm not that bad") or with others. Oh, how very good I am at that last. I don't and wouldn't lie, of course. I just sit there uncomfortably silent when people ask for prayer requests when I desperately want prayer for x embarrassing spiritual problem in my life. (Note that I can't bring myself to specify a specific example even as I discuss the problem.) I just quietly despair as I compare my own lack of faith with my neighbors' faith. I can grow resentful of others' success and peace of mind; I can become peevishly convinced that everyone is a bunch of similar hypocrites anyway (or something like the world through the devil's mirror). It gets ugly.

You might notice how I flit around between "I do this", "one does this", and "we do this" in this post. It's because I'm still working through which applies where. Hey, let my confusion be reflected in stylistic confusion. One thing I wonder - is the fact that my first thought is of Aslan a sign that "Aslan" hasn't grown big enough for me? Have I failed to get to know him sufficiently in my own world? How can I get to where the cross is sized appropriately?

One thing's for sure: John 3:30. "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Is Right and What Is Easy

I find myself in an awkward position regarding the Church and social morality. Well, it's not awkward on all fronts: I find that any "Christian" agenda which fails to provide for the poor and despised in our society is no Christian agenda at all. That's simple. I can even feel a bit smugly (self-?)righteous in the "caring for the despised" category, because not everyone is able to see this obvious point. But in the field of sexual morality, things get complicated. Largely because I can see traces of smug self-satisfaction in both the major visible camps, traces I can see in myself whichever stance I take.

I have grown up in a conservative environment. I've long understood the arguments against abortion, and I agree with them. I've long understood the arguments in favor of limiting sexual relationships to a heterosexual monogamous context, and I cannot disagree with them. Abortion is bad because it kills humans. God created sex for a purpose, and that purpose is clearly outlined in the Bible. Fairly simple.

Unfortunately, it got more complicated when I encountered a liberal environment. I understand the arguments against-against abortion (few, I find, are simply "for" it), and I agree with them. I understand the arguments in favor of permitting sexual relationships in a variety of contexts, and I cannot entirely disagree with them. Abortion can save lives. I find myself disgusted by finding some "pro-life" arguments which show exactly the sort of misogynistic anti-choice logic which I had dismissed as abortionist anti-life caricature. (But I never would argue for the life of the fetus over that of the mother without the mother's consent!) (But some would.) (But I would never demand that an unviable fetus be carried to term at the risk of the mother!) (But some would.) (But I don't want to punish women for promiscuity by refusing birth control, demanding they raise the baby, while permitting the man freedom from judgment! That would be totally contrary to even the Law of Moses!) (But some would.) As for alternatives to heterosexuality (yes, alternatives plural, for those concerned about a monolithic "homosexual agenda") - well, here's where I get into the really murky waters.

It is easy for me to condemn the sins which tempt me little.

It is easy for me to condemn the sins which I have buried in shrouding denial.

It is easy for me to condemn the sins which, condemned, still permit me to maintain my familiar lifestyle.

It is easy for me to condemn the sins which permit me to pretend love and Christian concern.

It is easy for me to condemn the sins which permit me to hate my enemy, curse them that curse me, do evil to them that hate me, and pray against them which despitefully use me and persecute me.

It is easy for me to condemn the sins which permit me to hate my neighbor as I hate myself.

I find that it is easy for most Christians to do these things. We want to take bold stands for Christ and stand for the right thing in despite of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, but we want to do so at the least possible cost to ourselves. History demonstrates that Christians have always been divided sharply when the time came to choose between right and wrong. I will be the first to point out the large role of the Church in abolition - but other members of the Church used the Bible, with more ease, to justify slavery, because abolition would involve change, discomfort, and an admission of sin. I will be the first to point out the large role of the Church in the Civil Rights movement - but other members of the Church used basic common sense to show how "unnatural" such indiscriminate Christian brotherhood would be.

I cannot take the liberal step of assuming the heterosexuality issue is identical to these previous issues. I cannot say that that which is inborn is inevitable. But I can and must note that conservatives have long declared homosexuality (let alone other sexualities) so impossible that it is invisible in much of the conservative community. It's one of the easy sins of the "other". Abortion is redefined as the lazy, cowardly, or callous slut's easy way out, and becomes one of the easy sins of the "other". So, conservatives: how do we know the Lord's will on sexuality is more literal and obvious in the Bible than His will on slavery or racial mixing? And every frickin' person debating abortion: how do we know the point at which the cells transform into an independent human being? Because those who assert the answer without considering it are less concerned with human rights than with the rights of the human they choose to like better.

I know, it's a set of tired, tired debates. But I worry that the divide in the Church is largely along the lines of what is easy for each side to declare right, and therefore making it possible to make what is easy = what is right. And what is right is rarely the same thing as what is easy. And the right way to determine what is right in a heated debate is rarely the same thing as the easy way to determine what is right.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Regarding the London Riots and Responsible Society

This was posted as a series of tweets by Tony Evans of The Times around noon British Summer Time today, and really struck me with truth. (Thanks to JoshR commenting on this interesting Mightygodking article for bringing it to my attention!)

First off, I don’t know what’s best. But this is what I do know. Unlike most of you, I’ve fought with police, I’ve thrown missiles at them, I’ve kicked in shop windows and looted stuff. I was born into an area that people told me was full of ‘the dregs of society’. I’ve been young, poor and angry. I’ve felt there was no opportunity in life and all that stretched in front was a bleak, penniless future. And I know that most people with happy, fulfilled lives don’t go on rampages of violence. I also know that successive Governments have put the pursuit of wealth ahead of maintaining a sense of community. When you’ve been told there’s no society, why would you care about other people? When you see the bankers nearly destroy capitalism and still get their bonuses, what do you think of personal responsibility? The key is making people believe they have opportunities in life, not opportunities to loot. And maybe the money spent intervening in a civil war in Libya would be better spent on schools. I could go on, but most of you have made up your minds. You get the society you create. Enjoy it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

AD- Ooh, Shiny!

I’m fairly certain I have ADHD – or, as a friend taught me to prefer calling it, ADOS (Attention Deficit – ooh, shiny!).

One of the things that most helps me to make sense of the rapid-fire thoughts in my brain is writing. Although I cannot string together five coherent thoughts in my brain, I can keep track of five coherent sentences (if only because I can reread what I’ve just written). Parentheses and dashes figure prominently, if only so I can interject – wait, I was supposed to put some crazy random idea there, but honestly the trees outside aren’t that random and attempts to write a stream of consciousness have generally been disastrous.

If there were a god of ADHD, it would surely be Mercury, the ever-changeable god of thieves, travel, and messages. And sometimes medicine. And pranks. And athletes. You get the idea. Mercury, the origin of the word for "mercurial", unpredictability, and the element once known as quicksilver...

Quicksilver-thoughts
Droplets rolling, roiling, pairing, parting
Never-still never-same – patterning poorly
Irregular, unexpected
Interjected
Accepted, rejected, undetected
Beautiful impossible shiny fishes slithering away
Flipping flippantly fluidly ungraspably
How does one order?
How can one make them line up straight and neat
Like iambs marching meekly in a row,
Not one undone, not one left incomplete
Each clearly placed just where it ought to go?
How does one trim the tangled skein of knots
To show a web of tidy tied-up thoughts?
And then the volta's early, out of place
Throwing off the rhythm and the rhyme
Uncertainty comes running on apace
Off-kiltering the slightly twisted line
The yarn unravels, raveled at the ends
Fibers fraying every which-a-way
The rhythm falters, breaking as it expends
Fails the ordering, all thought gone astray.
Empty
Gone
Ashes, dust, decay
Order drives quicksilver thought away.

That poem, by the way, makes more sense if you’re familiar with the sonnet form. (English teacher here; English class is, at least, good for helping you understand an English teacher’s metaphors!) The lines in between “How does one order?” and “Empty” are a warped sonnet. A classic sonnet is fourteen lines, each line in iambic pentameter (iamb: da-DUM beat; pentameter: five such beats) and following a fairly rigid rhyme scheme (multiple options here). The two most popular sonnet forms, Petrarchan and Shakespearean, both usually have a volta, or switch in tone, toward the end. The volta is usually after the eighth line or twelfth…

I miss the classroom.

This is why I’m a teacher, employed or not. I find this stuff so incredibly interesting, I can go on for ages.

And I adore sonnets. It’s doubtful I’ll ever consider myself a poet, but the organization of thought is wonderful.

And this whole post I’m typing in Word in my car on the way home, and I’ll probably edit it heavily before posting, but sometimes… sometimes it’s necessary to think out on paper. Even if thoughts come in ADHD-disorganized fashion. Squirrel!

Note: Didn't end up heavily edited at all. Although I did do a bit of fact checking; on what, I dare not reveal. ;)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Magic Chord Progression

This is a real digression from my usual blog topics, and given my readership (limited, I believe, to various friends and relatives countable on fingers and toes) I'm unlikely to get any useful new info, but hey...

I love playing around with music. I've even written a song or two. And yes, most popular music is very limited in chord structure. (Have I scared you with the words "chord structure"? It will get more technical. Perhaps now is the time to bail out.) Most songs use the same three or four chords in any of the dozen different major keys. Being a keyboardist first and foremost, I tend to think of them in the key of C: C, F, G, maybe some Am or Em action, D7 if you want some variety... but you can get a lot of mileage out of just C, F, and G if you can get the song in that key.

Despite the fact that there are only a few chords, however, the potential variety of chord progressions is pretty good. "Rock Around The Clock" has F C G and a final resolve to C on its famous chorus (averaging to one chord per line - and yes, I transposed it), while "Blowin' In The Wind" just repeats CFGCFGCFG on its verses... I'm sure that there's a technical term in music theory for these patterns, but the point is, same chords do not equal same chord structure. Same chord structure is much rarer.

I don't know when I first noticed the magic chord progression, but it was some time before I wrote my first proper song. In Roman numeral notation, it goes vi-IV-I-V - in the key of C, it comes out A minor - F major - C major - G major. And it's my theory that songs with this progression are inclined to Awesome.

It's in the chorus of "All You Wanted". It's in the whole dang song "Save Tonight".  It's in the verse of "Lord Have Mercy". It's in the chorus of "My Savior My God" and "Defying Gravity". It's in the chorus of "Our God" and "Better Than A Hallelujah" and "One Of Us".

The feeling is just one of moving from smallness to greatness, wavering between pain and indescribable joy. And I love it.

So, if I have any readers with whom I have not discussed this ad nauseum in real life: can you think of any others? And can you think of any which somehow fail the Awesome criterion (except possibly on the basis of lyrics)?

ETA: How could I have forgotten "Save Tonight"???

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear Prospective Employer

Dear Prospective Employer,

I'm looking for a job. I'm looking specifically for a job teaching the English language (such as is useful for students with a working fluency already) and literature published in the English language. And your school looks like one I'd really love to work at. I can't say how badly I want to work there. Or else your school looks like one I'd tolerate working at in preference to giving it all up to become a stock trader. (I hate complicated money issues, competition, and regular risk-taking. Stock trading rates below digging ditches on my potential job interests.) Sadly, I can't tell you if you're merely tolerable, and if your school is one I love, the praise sounds like flattery. There's no winning there.

Of course, I can't tell you why I'm no longer at my last job; I'm not too clear myself. The only thing I'm clear on is that it wasn't my choice, and I'm pretty sure you don't want to hear that. Not sure you want to hear that "I'm a potentially amazing teacher if I get some help in these areas", but it's true. I have a ton of assets that I can bring to the job. I'm just not entirely self-sufficient.

But you don't want to hear that, do you? You want to hear about my exquisite perfection as a potential employee. You want to hear about how great I am, how flawless I am, etc etc. And I guess I could brag on myself some more. Thing is, though? I'm much more aware of my faults. I spend a lot more time worrying about them.

But enough about me. Let's see what you want to know. Sadly, those of you who fall into the "love" category have not told me much; all I know is what the "tolerable" folk want to know: