Thursday, March 27, 2014

SOL: It's Okay to Smile

It happened nearly three years ago, but I still think almost daily about a moment--it should have been insignificant--between me and a man slightly older than my dad on the steps of the Administration Building nearly three years ago. 

I don't remember what I was doing there, if I was in the process of changing my name or if I was dropping something off there as a favor for my boss, but as I opened the door to leave the building, I saw a man, a professor maybe, heading my way up the steps. I must have been in a pretty good mood because I actually looked up at him as he walked toward me instead of quickly glancing up and looking back down at the concrete as I usually did when I came across anyone on campus. 

This time, I pressed my lips together and pulled the ends toward my ears and gave him a pathetic excuse for a smile. I don't remember the look he gave me, but I imagine it to be a kind and friendly smile, and he said a simple phrase before moving past me into the cool building: 

"It's okay to smile," he said. 

For some reason I needed that verbal permission to look people in the eye and give them a real smile. My original looking-down habit might have come from one too many faces meeting mine with blank stares, simply looking past me. Walking back down the steps of the ASB, though, my habit made a 180* turn, and I started to look into people's faces. It became a focus on my walks home--who could I smile at? Could I pass the permission to smile on? 

I still get people who pretend like I don't exist (I'm sure I do the same sometimes), and there are days when I'm not feeling quite social enough or just a little too stressed and I keep my face angled toward the ground instead. These days come more and more frequently toward the end of a semester. I'm realizing, though, that looking at the people I cross paths with and giving them a genuine smile that says, "Hi!" or "I hope you have a good day," makes me feel better, too. It's obvious and simple, but it's easy for me to forget. So now, I'm telling you: 

It's okay to smile.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

SOL: planning, preparation, performance, and second chances

I plan very effectively. Several of my professors have commented on this habit of mine, and I have been very proud. But in these past couple of weeks I have discovered that planning well and performing well are not the same things.

My sweet sister who just had her seventeenth birthday has the best English teacher in the world, at least according to her--one great enough to inspire her to be an English teacher herself. Every time we get together she tells me that she has a million ideas for her future classroom that she would be happy to share with me. Last Saturday we were shopping for her birthday (I, of course spent too much, while she got nothing) when I was telling her about a disaster of a lesson that I had taught the previous day on in-text citations. She said, "Oh, I'm sure you did better than you thought." When I told her she had never seen me teach, she reminded me that she had been in my audience when I videoed the lesson I turned in for the English teaching application.

Then she laughed. Admittedly, it was not great. I was nervous, I had never taught before, and I was teaching a boring lesson (that I had done my best to make not-so-boring). I hope I have improved. But I still felt a little pain--I think it's rooted in my desire to be great at everything I do.

I'm sure all of my English teaching buddies know how disappointing it is to spend hours creating a lesson that follows all of the guidelines that we have been taught, expecting it to go smoothly and the students to at least learn something, if not enjoy it, then get into the classroom and the lesson is enough for those students to want to poke their eyes out. This has happened for nearly every lesson I've taught.

It happened again two weeks ago with a lesson on in-text citations, surely not the most exciting topic. I had spent many hours preparing this 40-minute lesson, and I felt confident that it would go well, with an interesting response to a paragraph about American culture and masculinity that I was sure would spark some sort of debate. The students were bored out of their minds, and I came home defeated once again. It's scary that after teaching only six lessons in a classroom, I was ready to give up, change my major back to English, maybe not graduate at all.

The following Tuesday, though, I got an email from Becky asking if I wanted to come in and teach the lesson again to another class on Thursday. I asked her for revision ideas, and then spent the next two days revamping my original lesson plan, creating another handout and clearer instructions. The second time still did not go as well as I hoped, but the work the students did was noticeably less error-ridden and they were more engaged.

Sometimes teaching hurts. Most of the time I'm not prepared to accept elements of failure. And almost all of the time it's hard for me to see what I did well. I've heard it and said it a million times, but we all learn from our failures: it's our responsibility, duty, opportunity to get back up and try again when we're given a second chance.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SOL: Me Monster

As an English Teaching major married to a Chemical Engineering student, I spend a lot of time at home alone, reading, writing lesson plans, and procrastinating papers. One thing I was not expecting when I began to date Michael more seriously was how quickly my relationships with my girl friends would dwindle. Of course, when we finally get together over lunch at Guru's or Zupa's or even the Cougar Eat, we talk just the way we used to. It's the frequency of the talks, one every two or three months, that eats me. Girls, you know there are some things that just aren't the same when you talk to your significant other about them. Over the past three years, I have handled this seclusion on a scale of crying every night to basking in the peace and quiet. But now the peace and quiet has gone on too long. Something terrifying is happening to me.

In high school, I considered myself the good listener--it was one of my redeeming qualities. I would spend hours driving around American Fork or up the canyon, even up through Alpine, while my friends while they talked about their lives. (Unless you were Quinci. Dear Quinci, I'm sorry that I did way more than my fair share of talking without listening. But I am really grateful for you.) Boys. Girls. School. Drama. Religion. Family. The Past. The Future. I listened to it all, nodding my head, bestowing pieces of sage advice before inviting my dear friend to continue. I loved it because of the connection I felt to those people, because of the love I could feel growing through understanding. It was my identity.

I've lost that part of me and I don't know where to find it.

I had noticed it before, but last week I finally had an experience that grabbed hold of my backpack and wrenched me around to face the truth. I ran into Jessica at the library as we both dropped off our library books, and she asked me the question. The one that opens the floodgates of my unorganized words upon any unsuspecting individual who I can see actually cares.

"How are you doing?"

These days, once my mouth opens, it takes a while to close. We walked out of the library, past the Wilk, down the steps, up the sidewalk, and when we reached the point where she would go left down the hill to her apartment, I would go right, across campus, to mine, I suddenly realized that I had not given her the chance to say a word.

Two hours after I got home, I seriously had no idea what I was saying to Jessica or why. And honestly, I was shocked by my behavior. Four years ago this would never have happened. Somehow, though, in my lonesomeness, the Me Monster inside has wriggled its way out of its cage. [If you don't know the reference, do yourself a favor and watch this clip:]

At least now that I'm conscious of my narcissistic tendency, I can watch out for the times when the Me Monster escapes--usually it is preceded by a large assignment that gobbles away the time usually spent on the phone with my mom or unwinding with my husband. Other times, though, I open one thought's door and it's lurking in the closet wearing a fang-y grin. I'm still looking for patterns, so don't be surprised one day if a Me Monster pounces when you ask a simple question.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

SOL: A Bruise

I've got a bruise. You can hardly see it, a light oval stretched across the very top of my hip bone, but it's still tender to the touch three days following the incident. As soon as it happened, I knew I wanted to write about it, but I've associated too much embarrassment with it for the past 72 hours to start. Now, though, I'm feeling a little bit of pride set in. It's the perfect storm to write my slice of life--equal amounts of pride and embarrassment.

This semester, I needed to add one more credit to my load; I decided to go for two of the easy Student Activity courses.

"No sweat," I thought. But these beginning volleyball and self defense classes are harder than I expected. I sweat.

In self defense, we're still learning some basics a couple of weeks into the semester: separation, hits, kicks, etc. Wednesday, we're practicing separation with both arms. (Push off the attackers jaw or hips, then use that momentum to step back with one foot. I'll teach you sometime, if you want. It's empowering.) Our demonstration attackee just went into the MTC that very morning, so the teacher is asking for a volunteer--"a small volunteer," pointing at me and several other classmates. Who knows what kind of attack he'll be demonstrating on me? He hasn't gone easy on the girls who have volunteered earlier. I raise my hand, and I can't help feeling like Katniss as I walk bravely to the front of the room.

He immediately picks me up in a fireman's carry, walking around with me on his shoulder to show the rest of the class what this might look like (like the picture, there, but neither of us are in fatigues, nor am I a man with a buzz cut, he's not carrying a machine gun, nor is there smoke in the room). He moves my arm from across the front of his chest, around his head, and tells me to push off his face. I do so. The other girls are giggling. Then, he says, "Move your hips side to side and try to get off. Create space between us." He sets me down, then without much warning, he's coming at me again. When a man twice my size whom you don't know very well starts yelling, "Come here, you!" and starts to pick you up, adrenaline kicks on a little bit; life's a bit of a blur. As soon as I'm over his shoulder, I start throwing my hips back and forth, and within three seconds my hipbone makes serious contact with the side of his head, right around the ear, and he's on his knees, saying, "Okay, stop. That's good." He looks up at me and the rest of the class, which has tightened the circle around him. "She got me good, just about knocked me out. So, this technique is effective, right? A knocked-out attacker is an easy one to get away from. Find a partner and practice." You can bet I make profuse apologies, but he laughs it off.

Class ends, I'm tying my tennis shoes, and my teacher walks over. "My ear still hurts," he says. I try to apologize again, but he stops me, "It's a compliment! I have never been hit that hard by a girl in my entire life, never been that close to getting knocked out by a girl. I'll have to tell all my classes about this. Nobody who knows me is going to mess with you." He's been teaching this class and others, like Ju-Jitsu and karate, for fifteen years. And I, the wimpy lightweight, was the first to bring him down.

Monday, February 3, 2014

SOL: Avoiding Questions

Throughout the past couple of weeks, I have read several blog and Facebook posts about the insensitive questions people ask. As an individual who spends a significant amount of my thought-energy on avoiding making people feel uncomfortable, I take these advice-giving posts very seriously: basically, be very careful about what you say to someone who is married, single, dating, engaged, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, a parent, childless, religious, atheist, conservative, liberal, feminist, masculinist, etc., etc., etc.

I still believe it is very important to consider the implications of the words you say and the questions you ask.

After many years of feeling this way and acting accordingly, though, this belief has translated into avoiding any type of question which could make any person feel uncomfortable in any way. Consequently, I know a lot of very surface-level facts about the people I care about, and very little about the soul that lives underneath.

This weekend, Michael and I hung out with two of his sisters and some other friends from their high-school days. Toward the end of our laughter-filled evening at Blue Lemon, Ronnie said, "Aly, I don't know you very well. I would like to change that," and started asking me questions. They were hardly deep questions--mostly, "If you came home and had no homework, what would you do?" (Note to self: I need some hobbies other than reading. I couldn't answer that question. But that's a post for another time.) and "Marry, date, or dump: Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth"-- but it got me thinking. At some point I'm going to have to stop being so worried about offending someone that I can actually get words out of my mouth and start building up the relationships I've let go of because of my fears. All weekend I found myself nearly asking more personal questions, then holding them back. It's interesting how questions bring about connections; both are things I've been missing.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

First Slice of Life (SOL): Dots

In my Teaching Composition course this semester, one of my professor's goals is to help us to consider ourselves as writers. Me? I'm not a writer. Aside from this blog and the extremely rare journal entry, I don't think I have written anything aside from school-related assignments since I was in third grade. And school-related writing is like pulling my own teeth out (even this blog post is yet another attempt at procrastination; I will avoid writing any type of educational theory paper for as long as possible). I'm pretty positive this needs to change, but I'm still working on my plan of action. The first step, though, is this. One of our assignments is to write six short Slice of Life essays at some point throughout the semester. It's for school, yes, but it is much more personal and relatable than Vygotsky, Bandura, or Dewey. At least it's a start. Before I finally get down to what we're all really here for, I have to share this quote by William Henry Channing that exemplifies what Slice of Life is all about: 

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury; and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasion, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.

I wonder how many common moments like this one, how much of the happiness my life, I have forgotten because I was too tired to write it down in my journal before I went to bed, or I don't have a picture or video or Facebook post to remind me. 

I've probably made the four-hour drive from Provo to Idaho Falls and back a half-dozen times, but this time is different. I'm a passenger this time, sitting in the middle seat with my husband on one side and my nearly-eighty-year-old grandmother on the other side. 

Grandma just got a hand-me-down iPad from my aunt, and she's looking for apps. Oh, have we got the game for her. Dots. "A Game About Connecting," as the developers call it. If you have any type of smart device, you've probably played it before, too. (If you haven't, don't start. When you jerk into consciousness three weeks later, you'll have lost all your friends, no longer be enrolled in school, and be nearly starved to death.)

It's embarrassing to admit, but for at least four of the eight hours of this trip, we play Dots, passing it to the person on the right every sixty seconds. At about 9:00 PM, only two hours to home, Michael decides that it's time to coach Grandma--her slow progress and a score of sixty is no longer cutting it for the Dots aficionado. 

"Red square! Bottom left!"
"Double tap that blue one... the other blue one."
"Green square! Top!"
Now Michael has both his elbows on my legs, leaning across the seat so he's right over Grandma's game, giving her directions with the intensity of an NFL football coach. 
"That's the ticket, Gayle, that's the ticket!"
"Blue square! Bottom right!"

In the end, it's too much for him to bear, and he's literally doing everything but connecting the squares for her. Grandma and I share a glance, then we're grinning, giggling, laughing, squealing.

I've lived five houses down the street from my grandma and grandpa for most of my life. But until last night, no one had ever told me my Grandma Gayle's childhood nickname: Giggles.