Archive | June, 2010

The status of the work

25 Jun

I’m drenched in philosophy at the moment. It has to do with the class I’m currently involved with – Educational Psychology – where I have to write a paper and give a presentation on “the benefits of philosophy in education.” That is no easy task because philosophy is something that has somewhat drifted out of the public discourse in education the past few decades, overtaken by the need for hard data in scientific models that include such recent programs as No Child Left Behind. I am struggling with the concept of what education means (philosophically) in our society and where its place should be in a democratic society. Some of these thoughts can be found in a previous blog about Plato and the soul.

But aside from philosophy at the moment, I have to say that my word is apparently no good. To the two possible readers of this blog, I had, when beginning this endeavor, promised to write a blog every day for a month. That has woefully not been fulfilled. I suppose, and this being a central issue in my life, that I should give full consideration before agreeing or jumping into something as arduous as coming up with a topic and then writing coherently (or at least somewhat) about it every day. It seems that between being sick after my return from Europe, and trying to move and get situated and settled in Missoula, and now being full immersed in a graduate course, I have not had the time necessary for the blog. In other words, the complete upheaval of life has gotten in my way of writing (per usual). But also! I must admit that I’ve been reading some of my second novel again, trying to get back into the groove of finishing the rough draft this summer. Or at least finish most of it. So in that respect, the blog comes second to the novel. Wish me luck with that. I may also be writing for a paper in Missoula, of which will keep me sufficiently involved in other stories as far as my writing is concerned. Of course I will not give up on the blog, and this is far from the last post. So to my handful of readers, I will talk to you again soon – but the blog-a-day marathon has, not surprisingly, at the moment anyway, been put on the backburner. Back to philosophy, but perhaps wondering this time why such a beautiful summer day has to be wasted from the inside of a classroom and behind a pile of books. Have a good weekend.

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On flirtatious signals

24 Jun

We all give them, whether consciously or not. Take tonight when I was walking into a store and a girl who saw me approaching, smiled and then tried holding the door open for me, she let it slip close on accident and upon trying to grab it open again said, “Oh, sorry!” I said, rather automatically, while smiling, “Oh, you’re fine.” I was trying to imply that it didn’t matter whether the door closed or not, but realized, after saying it, that perhaps it came out as more of a flirt. Did I subconsciously say that because I saw her checking me out, because I secretly like the attention? Who wouldn’t like that attention? That is one drawback for me in moving to a new city, and this has happened in the past, one becomes somewhat more addicted to interaction and affection. This is not surprising given the sudden drop in hanging out with friends, seeing and talking to family, and other various social activities. Otherwise known as being holed up in an apartment that seems foreign; and where the only course of decent communication happens via a telephone, one can seem to become a little lonely, or desperate. But I’m not talking sex or anything like that, so please don’t misconstrue that conception. Though in other parts of this apartment, there are two people who are enjoying the various body parts they have been endowed with.

Moving on, I’ve come to notice that conversations intended to spark some kind of interest between two strangers are definitely fictions of the cinema. Besides, all we seem focused on now is online dating. Why look for someone at a bookstore, or talk to the person next to you? You don’t even know someone is standing there next to you because you’re too distracted wondering if anyone has responded to your online profile.

This blog is titled, “On flirtatious signals,” and so I shall dive a bit more deeply into that area. Going back to the example above, I know I’m not the only one who gives off flirtatious signals or who makes subtle, tacit signals known (is that irony?). There are many of us who are sending signals, mixed or otherwise, that we are not intending to send, simply because we’re lonely and long for the attention of a compatible soul; and again, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with any kind of romantic bend. But what if it did? Or what if you are aware you send signals but do nothing more? Wouldn’t that be a form of torture for the other person involved? I quite think it would be.

It is here where I’ll stop this particular blog. I feel words are failing me and I’m losing the point, of which one I might never have had.

On the point of living

23 Jun

“What is the point of living?” one might ask. Certainly, one has known someone who has asked that question. Another similar-veined question posited is, “What are we here for?” Of course we can’t say with any certainty the answers to those questions; but we can get approximate as much as collective thought and our own consciousness allows. Plato said, “The noblest of all studies is what man is and how he should live.” Scientifically speaking we know what man is. Man is a composition of bones, muscles, flesh; man is a mammal capable of analytical thinking; man is, fill in the blank, but these miss the point philosophically, and with what we’re primarily concerned with at the moment.

We should turn to education, a monstrous creature that is concerned with pumping out ‘civilized’ robots who are content to earn money for food, shelter, who can, with any luck on school geography and socio-economic status, read and write proficiently, but who are lacking in morals, wisdom, reason, logic, mature thought and spirituality. Students who have no idea about what Plato terms ‘the good life’; of course we’re not thinking of ‘good’ in such modern, narrowistic views, but rather, the true virtue of the soul. We, as a society, and especially with education, should be asking the tough questions, What should people believe about life?, How should we live it?, In what state of society can the good life be best lived?, How can we create such a state? Or, even a more simple, less idealistic (aka beginning) approach would be, With all the technology, how can we have a better quality of life?
We have technology, we have vast, deep knowledge, and we work more than any civilization in history. We are depressed, lonely, isolated. We kill ourselves over money and fame. We have no sense of direction, so we ask ourselves, “What is the point of life?”

Our education system is pounding out educated zombies of, what I call, unlife; people who mistake knowledge for living; people who are ill equipped to deal with the destiny of humanity. This has consequences and those lie in the politics of the day. As Sir Richard Livingstone says so purely, “Our political thought is admirable so far as it goes: but it approaches its task from a narrowly intellectual angle, as though only adequate knowledge and exact thought were needed. Unfortunately, the problem is also, and predominantly, moral and spiritual.” Perhaps if our politicians focused on the latter two, we could have avoided a number of demoralizing actions, among many other things, in past presidential administrations. Those words quoted above, by the way, were written in Britain almost 70 years ago; funny how some things parallel. The past, however, is done, some souls are destroyed, the good life gone; but we can yet save the soul of future generations, and restore some concept of what ‘the good life’ is all about. But first one should probably read Plato’s Republic and then begin by asking the following question, How can I restore my soul and, or, keep it alive? But perhaps I ask too much, so back under the rock I go.

Jose Saramago

18 Jun

I was informed today that my favorite author, and a seemingly all-around genteel, intelligent, and humane man, Jose Saramago, died today. Though he was 87, he was, in my mind, and no doubt his, too young to leave this earth. The world will be robbed of his words of wisdom. However, one must not think like that. As we have decades of his words, we have articles, books, blogs and speeches. His words, to consider and weigh each and every one, would take a lifetime alone. We, this world, are lucky and fortunate to have had a Jose Saramago. Sure he had his faults, but there is nothing wrong with that. He believed in this idea called humanity. He worked toward a better future, not just in his work, but in his political actions, his associations, his foundation. I am in the midst of reading Saramago’s latest nonfiction book titled, “The Notebook”. It was written not even a full year ago, in fact, some of it was written last August. In the book he discusses his mortality. Jose Saramago had previously died and nine hours later they resuscitated him back to write many more blogs and another book or two. It appears that this time he won’t be resuscitated. Though I’ve read many Saramago books, and encourage everyone to read at least one, I have many more to go. Though he never knew of me, I knew of him, and his life, words and work, are more than enough to make me feel that all is not lost on our species or on me; we could use a few more Saramago’s in this world. Thanks for everything, Jose Saramago. Your blog, to which I translate almost every other day, your books, your strength and determination to face death, with your dear Pilar at your side, are ineffable to me. I look forward to the many more hours we will intellectually share. Rest in the peace you deserve.

Sickness

12 Jun

When I said I was going to write a blog every day, I didn’t account for the fact that I might actually get sick and have a headache that would make staring at a computer screen, let alone typing something coherent, all but impossible. I am still not better, and though much better than last night, I am somewhat pushing myself to write this. Frankly, I’d rather be sitting on my bed with my eyes closed. The doctor said I had a sinus infection, so nothing too serious. Though I can’t help but think that if we didn’t have modern medicine, could this sinus infection, which has somewhat ravaged my head, ears and lungs for a week, continue to reek havoc on my body until it all but shuts down and I no longer have concern for life. Or perhaps, it wouldn’t kill me but maybe make a month or more of my life miserable and bed-ridden. Human scientific advances, no thanks to religion at all, has made it possible for us to have the level of comfort we think we humans have always been afforded. On the flip side, human advances have caused us to become slaves to jobs, always thinking of the quickest fixes, which are almost always, of lesser quality, and, in regards to health, usually more harmful. I have an army of medicines and the fever has broke, not too late either, as I start my career as a master’s student on Monday in Missoula. The housing situation is still a bit up in the air, but there is a nice place I’m applying to. The girl says that she’s not too quiet. I smiled and knew something good was to come. In other quick news, it was my mother’s birthday today. She has one year left until the half-century mark. Perhaps it’s not too early to start planning her blow out party. I promise that future blogs will be of some decent thought; in the meantime, I am going to leave you with a quote on this rather beautiful Saturday night, “Let yourself be led by the child you were.”

Different Directions

10 Jun

Today my brother moved out. He took with him his belongings sans a horror of a cat and headed east toward Bozeman where he’ll be interning (with pay, a luxury to which I can’t claim) at a site some miles out of town where they are studying the planting of carbon dioxide within the earth. That is my complete knowledge on the topic. Today, however, was spent on this end, looking for an apartment: day four. I had two apartments that were going to work and both were taken. What I didn’t realize is that the best was yet to happen. Not only do I think I’m getting my dream apartment, it comes with my dream apartment complex, and I’m teaming up with a freshly-planted Californian roommate on it. He likes micro-brews; I like singing loudly. With any luck, and some fortune from the goddess of such, Fortuna, I will land this place tomorrow on what is quickly becoming my routine of driving to Missoula.

Speaking of singing loudly, what is it with postings for roommates that state in such quantity, “I’m a quiet person, looking for the same.” Or as someone just wrote me, “I’m a boring, quiet person.” Well, great. You sound like someone I want to live with. Every time someone tells me their quiet, I get a mental picture of a plush arm-chair with a heavy-eyed man sitting there falling asleep. The problem here is that I’m not quiet. I never have been and it’s just not a personality trait I can consider part of me. I blare (good) music, and sing my heart out to it; I dance in my living room and run up and down my hallway. I run to my car even. Frankly, walking gets old. I hum while eating cereal. I talk to myself. I think out loud and have sudden outbursts when I’m happy. My laugh could shatter eardrums and my simple smile talks. In short, I’m a quiet person’s worst nightmare. Of course, the difference is, I don’t throw ragging parties and I’m not up until the wee hours of the night being loud. Actually, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open past twelve. Night is my quiet time; but by day, I’m loud and full of life. It’s a secret that not many know – except those disgruntled past roommates. But who wants to room with someone who blatantly admits to being rambunctious and overly energized (aka loud)? I know I wouldn’t. So when someone writes me saying, “I’m a quiet person looking for the same.” I reply with, “What a fortunate coincidence, I’m quiet too.” Deep down I know there’s more loud people like me.

On money, teaching and graduate school

10 Jun

I’m not happy. At all. I was happy – yesterday. But I’m not happy today. I was very close to getting an amazing two bed, two bath apartment I discovered yesterday in a wonderful community. I called on it again today to follow-up and ask a few more questions but was met with the unstilted words that it was rented as of this morning. Their next one won’t be available until July 2nd, and for someone who starts their first graduate class on Monday, June 14, that poses considerable difficulty. The only option that will potentially allow me a place to live by Monday is to go into a two bed, one bath place, with a six-month lease, with a girl whom I really don’t know anything about. But that’s okay. But really, I’m not extremely happy with things as my heart was set on my dream apartment that was stolen from me this morning. I will get there soon though.

I have a degree in English, essentially, and it’s as worthless a degree as ceramics. Ceramics, for all I know, might even be more worthwhile. So I decide, as any well-trained citizen would do, to apply to graduate school in an area I like. This happens to be teaching. This area, while I am creating happy, well educated citizens, also gives me some time to write. It seems a win-win.

Graduate school is utterly expensive. The numbers don’t add up to me. From browsing the list of open teaching positions, the base salary (for MT), aka starting, is approximately $24,000. Some positions are higher, others lower depending almost solely on location. But in order for me to be “qualified” to teach, I must complete two years of graduate school at roughly $3,500 a semester in tuition X four semesters. But for me, there are also three summer sessions at about $2,000. This is not including insurance or books. So let’s say I can get my actual masters for 20K. That’s not bad. Not too bad at all. Of course, we’re back to living. I’ve found that in order to live in a decent place I need to have a roommate and still spend 500 a month. Missoula is expensive. Twenty-four months times five hundred is twelve thousand dollars. Not including food or entertainment, as well as other expenditures such as gas and car repairs, I’m already past thirty thousand dollars. Remember the starting salary here in Montana? So in order to teach, a profession that seems to be something of a charity act already, I need to go into a debt of at least 32,000 dollars. But that’s not true. Regardless of wishful thinking, I am not that wealthy, so, bring on the student loans! Of course I’m hoping for subsidized, I don’t even want to think about unsubsidized loans, and by the time I graduate and have to start paying interest, things start really adding up. I am already working for over a year for free on the actual degree. So how long will I be chained to educational debt in order to pay on the interest of the near 30,000 student loan? This all seems absurd. Add to it, the fact that apartments do not reflect any actual value and in this economy. One would think there would be some reality inflicted into equations of rent. And why do almost all rental companies seem shady? Is it part of their business model? But I digress back to my main point: where’s the common sense in anything anymore? If one were to stop and think, one would quickly be saying, “This makes absolutely no sense.” I could rationalize a bit more the idea of going into debt for a law degree or medical, because the rates they charge seem to pay off loans rather quick. But teaching? Teaching elementary students in Montana?

It almost appears that quality teachers aren’t wanted. To this end, I propose something European. Here in Montana let’s say, we should have governmental grants or scholarships to financially help students with the career choice of teaching. The scholarship should be awarded almost automatically, with unequivocal force, to any student who declares to spend their life, or even part, teaching the state’s youth. Sure it should have some stipulations, such as, by receiving this grant, you agree to teach for a period of x years in Montana. If you don’t fulfill your teaching obligation, you have to return the grant. It’s simple and it’s something to get quality teachers in Montana without strapping them with needless debt in a profession where the ceiling barely touches 50-60K a year – and that’s after thirty years of recess duty; thirty years of shaping the future of this state, country and by extension, where this country will stand among the world. Teachers really do shape the world and we give them no incentive to do it effectively.

I find a bit of hypocrisy in the fact that almost, without waver, every would-be politician, as well as their elected counterparts, state education as one of their fundamental issues to address and change. Yet the only change that happens is the continuous loss of funds and further budget cuts. Perhaps those elected politicians who stated ‘the need for quality education’ as one of their issues while running can step up and begin to work toward that end, and this is the perfect beginning, for to get quality education you need quality educators. And frankly, because I have to go into the same amount of graduate debt regardless of chosen profession, I may consider going into law. The world needs another lawyer anyway, right?

But those politicians and CEOs of academia know something: a secret that I am about to divulge. Everyone who becomes a teacher doesn’t choose that career for the money. We do it for the fact that we can make a difference, for the fact that we can brighten a child’s life and illuminate it as well, and yes, there’s a difference in those. We become teachers in tacit protest of the world of greed; because we don’t need millions when we can connect with a child. Can a lawyer say that?