What Spraining My Ankle Taught Me About Comparison

Oh, you know, just chillin' on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

Oh, you know, just chillin’ on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

 

This past weekend, I did something silly. I tried showing off.

Now you might be thinking, “What’s silly about that? Tons of people do it.” Certainly this is true, especially in this age of social media. Everyone tries to show their best lives when no one is perfect. This leads to the cause of showing off: comparison.

That’s what I did this past weekend. I was at a friend’s house, and we were waiting for tea water to boil. While doing this, we did what any other self-respecting group of adults would do: tried to see how high we could kick.

We were in the kitchen at the time, and all of us wore socks on this slippery floor. This didn’t really register for me until later. A friend kicked pretty high, and I thought, “I kickbox. I should be able to kick at least that high!” So I tried. And the room spun.

Before I knew it, I was on the floor, with my left foot and ankle in quite a bit of pain. I saw several pairs of hands trying to help me up, but I needed a moment. I needed to get the strength to deal with the impending shot of pain that would result from getting up. I needed to orient myself in the kitchen. I also needed to deal with my embarrassment.

Why did I do this? I thought to myself. What in the world did I have to prove?

My ankle hurt for the rest of the night. The next day, I couldn’t walk on my foot, and I became worried, wondering if this injury might take weeks to heal (According to my illustrious Google research, a sprained ankle can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to heal. That’s a HUGE time window! Seriously, it’s almost “waiting for the cable guy” worthy…). I hopped around my apartment whenever I needed something and tried to make as few trips as possible. When my ankle started feeling a little better, I limped around, sometimes hopping because of a sudden shot of pain.

So why tell this story? To illustrate a point. We are hobbled when we compare ourselves to others. Had I just marveled at the fact that my friend could kick pretty high, I could have enjoyed a pain-free night and weekend. How many times do we compare ourselves to someone else’s looks, success, art, writing, etc, and feel inferior? How many times do we walk around feeling sorry for ourselves because we can’t do what “so and so” does?

This helps no one! We all have something unique to bring to the world. (*cue sentimental violin music*).

You have nothing to prove. You’ve got your own style, your own flair, your own flavah, so own it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there a moment where you caught yourself comparing? What did you learn from the experience? Is comparison still a struggle (it still is for me!)?

 

 

The Stages of Grading, as Illustrated by Gollum

Left: How I look in front of the classroom; Right: How I look when grading Image courtesy of Tumblr

Left: How I look in front of the classroom; Right: How I look when grading
Image courtesy of Tumblr

I recently stumbled across this article that pretty accurately describes the stages of grading. It is loosely based on Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief.

A while back, I actually collected a few images of Gollum with expressive faces (because that is what I do in my spare time) and decided to whip that up into a blog post. For your reading pleasure, here are Michelle Greco’s stages of grading, or what every teacher experiences when reading mounds of crappy papers.

  1. Students turn in freshly printed (though probably not proofread) papers in front of you. You are hopeful that, unlike last time, you will not leave these to the last minute to spare yourself from a glut of student writing.

    So doe-eyed. So naive. Image courtesy of Reddit.

    So doe-eyed. So naive.
    Image courtesy of Reddit

  2. You know you should begin grading…but you still need to finish that show on Netflix. Also, when was the last time the bathroom had a good scrub? This isn’t procrastination, it’s super productivity.

    Note the similarity in naivete to stage 1. Image courtesy of Giphy.com

    Note the similarity in naivete to stage 1.
    Image courtesy of Giphy.com

  3. You finally begin. And then you come across the first typo. Then the second. And then you read the sentence, “The two fictional short stories…are two great stories to compare life lesions,” and you know it’s going to be a long slog.

    Image courtesy of parismatch.com

    Dear God, why? Image courtesy of parismatch.com

  4. A student makes a logic jump in his or her argument that defies all rules of time and space. (Alternately, “You keep using that word/argument. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”)

    Image courtesy of filmicgames.com

    Image courtesy of filmicgames.com

  5. Can it be? It is! A well-written student paper that makes a solid argument!

    My precious! Image courtesy of geocaching.com

    My precious!
    Image courtesy of geocaching.com

  6. If you have to read one more sentence beginning with the words “this shows that,” “in my opinion,” or “this relates back to my point of…,” you may just run screaming for the hills and never look back.

    "I said don't compare and contrast! It's on the syllabus!" Image courtesy of cgw.com

    “I said don’t compare and contrast! It’s on the syllabus!”
    Image courtesy of cgw.com

  7. A student writes a paper so terrible that you can freely fail it. You feel no remorse for the easy grade.

    It is a fair decision...yet so diabolical. Image courtesy of motheringthemanic.com

    It is a fair decision…yet so diabolical.
    Image courtesy of motheringthemanic.com

  8. You are two-thirds of the way done. So close! …And yet, so far.

    Image courtesy of theathleticnerd.com

    Image courtesy of theathleticnerd.com

  9. You’ve made it. You were bloodied, bruised, and beaten senseless by the gross misuse of language and reason in all those papers, but dammit, you have risen from the ashes triumphant. Now for some ice cream and a nap.

    Image courtesy of pophangover.com

    Image courtesy of pophangover.com

If We Were Having Coffee…Winter Edition

No picture of me with a drink today. I'm sniffly :(

No picture of me with a drink today. I’m sniffly 😦

(Not sure what this series is about? Check out the first post here!)

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I’m not quite ready for school to start. For as much as I enjoy teaching, the holiday break didn’t quite feel like enough time. Perhaps this is because I was sick through most of break (see above photo) and am still trying to get over whatever it is I have. I had my first day of class this past Thursday and am happy to report it went well. This week starts the real grind with assignment sheets and keeping up with reading and grading.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that Poetry Monday is on a hiatus. My poetry well is experiencing a bit of a drought. I started Poetry Monday because my cup was full, and I had so much to share. Now I’m struggling a bit, so I’m putting it on an indefinite hold (though I’ll reassess at the mid-year point) to fill my well again. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing other fun things on Mondays (and other days too).

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I just wrote a letter to a friend. And it felt awesome! I think letter (or card) writing is a long lost art. Sure, people do it during the holidays, but what about the rest of the year? I vote we bring back snail mail somethin’ fierce!

I’d ask you what you thought of letter writing. I’d also ask when was the last time you wrote an honest-to-goodness handwritten letter.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that so far, I’m doing OK with my New Year’s resolutions. I think trimming down the number of goals has a lot to do with it. My goals also focus on areas of my life I really want to improve rather than on areas I “should” improve. Perhaps my favorite goal to work on thus far is daily meditation. I find I look forward to this practice. Who knew sitting still for a few minutes each day could be so rewarding?

I’d ask you what you hope to accomplish this year.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I want to offer one or two writing e-courses this summer and am nervous about it. The usual questions pop up (What if no one signs up? What if people sign up but don’t like it? etc). I’d tell you that I’ve been pushing those thoughts aside and have been trying to move forward.

I’d also tell you there was a way you could help me form these courses. I’ve prepared a short, eight-question survey to gauge interest in these types of courses as well as collect stats on the type of content people would love to see in a writing e-course. Interested in giving your two cents? Take the survey!

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that my life has all the marking of an adult life, but I still feel like a kid. I’m married. I have a somewhat steady income from my freelance work. I pay rent. But I’m always silly! I don’t know…I guess I figured that at some point I’d feel like I knew what I was doing. I’m actually just enjoying playing….that seems like the real me. I feel like even when my husband and I decide to have kids, we’ll still play. Perhaps that’s a big part of what parenting is: showing your kids how to play well at life.

I’d ask you if there was a moment that really made you feel like an honest-to-goodness adult.

Now it’s your turn! What would you tell me if we were having coffee?

The Upside of Grading: Funny Student Typos

Sorry for the crappy quality, but I have to make sure I don't show students' names.

Sorry for the crappy quality, but I have to make sure I don’t show students’ names.

As a professor, one of my main duties is grading papers. With five classes, that averages to about 100 hundred papers, give or take, for any assignment. While I love reading student responses, grading and slogging through the slush pile is exhausting and can be tedious (and sometimes a little painful). I realized I needed to make it more fun somehow. So, I started tweeting funny typos (with the number of papers I grade, they happen often!). After tweeting them for about two months, I figured, “Why not share them with my blog audience as well?”

So sit back, relax, and laugh:

“The family charges everyone that came to see him, which leads Pelayo and his wife to become extremely wife.” (How do you become extremely wife? Is it like being Betty Crocker?)

“He looked like a normal man without any freaky fetuses, but ended up being a necrophiliac.” (I probably laughed for five minutes after reading this one. By the by, this is a response to Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, in case anyone was curious why fetishes—umm, I mean fetuses—were brought up.)

“The two fictional short stories…are two great stories to compare life lesions.” (That’s an unpleasant visual…)

“She goes and buys some men supplies and arsenic.” (…what are men supplies?)

“She lacked quilt…[because] she will kill again.”

“Behavior also has a hug role in the case of a serial killer.” (The softer side of serial killers.)

“They’re people we call our family, friends, and collages.”

“…Garcia Marquez makes the readers question if the old man is really an angle or not.” (The real question is if the old man is really obtuse or acute.)

“I literately have given up sleep to watch Dexter.” (Giving up sleep poetically? I’ve done that.)

OK, I couldn’t just end the blog with typos. Every now and then, students are really freaking awesome and say things I just have to document. So to end the blog, here are a few amazing student quotes (that were typo free!):

“Without fiction, life would be plain and to the point. Nothing creative and magical would exist.”

“Poetry is pretty darn cool. It’s like drawing with words.”

“Just because you guys both like listening to The Smiths and eating Razzles on a Friday night does not mean you have found ‘the one.'” (This one is probably my favorite!)

Conversation with a student, in which the student is trying to understand the “Significance” section of a research proposal:
Student: Say I’m writing about the difference between peanut butter and jelly. Is the “Significance” part where I would say that peanut butter is better than jelly?
Me: Yes, it would also be where you state why knowing that peanut butter is better than jelly would be helpful for the sandwich field.

Want to keep up with the hilarity/awesomeness of my student’s typos? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

One Second Every Day – February

Here’s the second month of my One Second Every Day project. This month includes my trip to Philly, lots of sleeping, and my roommate using our vacuum cleaner to make a point.

The song in the video is the acoustic version of Hanson’s “Mmmbop.”

(Curious as to what this project is all about? See the first post.)

Looking Ahead: My 2014 New Year’s Resolutions

Fireworks

‘Tis a new year, hence new goals.  As mentioned in my 2013 resolutions wrap-up post, last year’s goals, more than anything, served to show me what is really important in my life. As a result, I’ve tweaked the focus of my resolutions and broke them up into two categories: Reading Goals and Creative/Lifestyle Goals. Here’s hoping this new format keeps me focused this year.

Reading Goals

1. Read 5 classic books
I’ve recently realized that there are a lot of “classic” books that I was never assigned in high school or college. I’d like to catch up on reading I feel I’ve missed out on.

The cover of the first edition of Adventures o...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term “classic” can mean many things, and there are tons of classic book lists out there (seriously, just google it). I’ve come up with my own list to pick from, which is sort of an amalgamation of those I found online:

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
Dracula – Bram Stoker
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
My Antonia – Willa Cather
Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
The Crucible – Arthur Miller
The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Two Towers – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Return of the King – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
The Trial – Franz Kafka
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Tubman
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

2. Read 5 books I already own

I totally failed at this very achievable goal last year. As an attempt at redemption, I’m giving it another go this year.  I posted all the books for this goal last year, so instead of posting them again, here’s a list of some books I added to my shelves in 2013:

Cover of "The Endarkenment (Pitt Poetry S...

Cover of The Endarkenment (Pitt Poetry Series)

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened – Allie Brosh
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Herland – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Endarkenment – Jeffrey McDaniel
We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

3. Read 10 books on my “To Read” list on Goodreads

This particular list has grown quite a bit in the last year. I have 450 books on my Goodreads “To Read” list. I came so close to finishing this goal last year so, much like the previous goal, I want to try it again.

4. Read and review the ARCs (both digital and hard copy) that I’ve received in the past two years

I keep requesting ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of books, and publishing houses continue to graciously give me free copies. And I have yet to crack one open and review it. I’m actually pretty ashamed of this fact, so I want to play catch up by reading and reviewing all of the ARCs I’ve received since I first began requesting them two years ago.

Eve and Adam – Michael Grand and Katherine Applegate
Zealot – Reza Aslan
Trying to Be Cool – Leo Braudy
The Diviners – Libba Bray
Back to Christmas – Dennis Canfield
The Tragedy of Fidel Castro – Joao Cerqueira
Dukkha, the Suffering: An Eye for an Eye – Loren Christensen
Empty Mansions – Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
Matters Familiar – E. G. Frabricant
Love & Math – Edward Frenkel
After Visiting Friends – Michael Hainey
Hunted – Elizabeth Heiter
The Psychology of Twilight – (Eds.) E. David Klonsky, Alexis Black, and Leah Wilson
The Devil You Know – K. H. Koehler
Defy – Sara B. Larson
I Love My Slow Cooker – Beverly leBlanc
Sugar Hill: Where the Sun Rose Over Harlem – Terry Baker Mulligan
Doing Harm – Kelly Parsons
Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey – (Ed.) Lori Perkins
The Last Stratiote – LeAnn Neal Reilly
Lost at Sea – Jon Ronson
With or Without You – Domenica Ruta
The Shadow Society – Marie Rutkoski
A Conspiracy of Alchemists – Liesel Schwarz
Love Water Memory – Jennie Shortridge
Hokey Pokey – Jerry Spinelli
Son of a Gun – Justin St. Germain
Growing in Wisdom and Love: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation – Susan Stabile
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – Catherynne M. Valente
You Got to be Kidding! – Joe Wenke

5. Read the four Gospels

I’m really bad at reading the Bible. This goal is my attempt to bring spirituality into my resolutions by incorporating something I already love to do: read. I think the Gospels are a good place to start since they are a manageable amount of content to cover in one year. Plus, I think the research nerd in me will love diving into lexicons and concordances in conjunction with the readings.

Creative/Lifestyle Goals

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Spruce up my full-length poetry manuscript to send out to at least two fall book contests

The two years of my MFA led up to this manuscript, and I think it’s time I dusted it off and took it for a spin. I haven’t sent out my full-length collection since 2011 because I didn’t think it was ready. If I don’t work on it, the book never will be.

My writing has changed quite a bit since I graduated three years ago, and I’d like my collection to reflect that. I’m not looking for my book to be earth-shattering or print ready. I just want it to be a collection of poems I’m proud to put out into the world. I’m giving myself until the fall to send it out because that means I’ll have the summer to work on it. This time frame also gives me enough time to save up submission fee money.

Lastly, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with contest entries, so I gave myself the very low-key goal of submitting to two fall book-length manuscript contests. The more concrete and realistic the goal, the more likely I am not to be overwhelmed.

7. Send my chapbook out to at least five contests

This is a tweaked goal from last year. I wanted to publish a chapbook last year, but then realized there’s no way I can predict that. I can make publishing a chapbook a goal for years and never cross it off because I can’t control whether my book gets picked up or not. However, I can control how much I submit the chapbook. As a result, I’m going to give myself a number and stick to it.  This number, much like the previous goal, is very low-key and manageable. And, hey, if my chapbook gets picked up this year, even better!

8. Acquire a full-time teaching gig

This goal is a more “grownup,” practical one. I’d like a full-time job that allows me to be creative and have free time. Teaching is great for that. Last year, I sent out quite a few teaching applications. I hope to reap the fruits of these efforts this year.

9. Work on a piece of art every other week

 

English: Paint brushes Deutsch: Pinsel

English: Paint brushes Deutsch: Pinsel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This goal is another tweaked repeat of last year. I tried to work on art each week, which proved to be a bit too hard. Art is still very important to me, and I want to make time for it, so I’m setting a more realistic goal for myself. Hopefully, the amount of time I dedicate to art will increase as the year progresses and I learn to manage my time better.

Note: “Piece of art” here is defined in very broad terms. I’d like to work on a project related to the arts (poetry, painting, mixed media, jewelry, sewing, video, etc.) once a week.

10. Blog at least twice a week

I’ll do it this year, I really will!  I know I may fall off the wagon a few times, but I hope to post twice a week more often than not.

11. Pay off one of my two major credit cards

Here’s another “grownup” goal.  Being in less debt will make me happy, so I’m setting a goal for it, even though it isn’t as exciting as getting my hands dirty with paint or ink.

 

One thing I know I will constantly be reminding myself of in 2014 is that while goals are nice, the journey is just as important. I also tend to be super hard on myself sometimes. So, as I mentioned in my teaching post, I’ll also be practicing being kind to myself. Be kind to yourself too in 2014.

What’s one resolution you’re making in 2014?

10 Lessons I Learned from Teaching

English: Sahab Library

English: Sahab Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s five days until Christmas, and while most people are thinking of presents and family, I’m rejoicing that my finals grades are in!

This semester was both the hardest and most rewarding for me. I taught five classes at two different colleges. It was a juggling act, and the past four months have felt like a crash course in time management and interpersonal relations. Now that I can look back in retrospect, it was totally worth it (in fact, I’m teaching five courses again next semester).

As with all experiences, I’ve learned a lot this semester, which marks my year and a half of teaching.  Here are the top points:

1. Be specific – Students forget things. Students can be dense. And you have to remember that this is, most likely, not a student’s only class.  There’s a lot to keep track of for both you and your lovely horde of 18 year olds, so make it easier on yourself and be specific. Let them know exactly what’s expected. If they break the rules, most will be good at admitting it. And be prepared to repeat yourself…a lot.

2. Know your students and yourself – One of my main goals at the beginning of the semester is to get every one of my student’s names down.  Knowing them makes students feel like you care (and makes it easier to call them out when they’re being silly 😉 ). As the semester goes on, you also get to know your students, their limits, and your limits. You’ll know which students try to get away with murder and which are just having a bad week. And you know when you just can’t accept another late paper because if you have to grade one more grammar-mistake-riddled assignment, you might just run screaming from the building.

3. It’s not you, it’s…no, it’s you – Some students (no matter how hard you try) just won’t give a shit.  Don’t take it personally. Pour your heart and resources into those who do care and who will listen to you.

4. Sometimes, you just have to commiserate – This might sound callous, but after a hard day of not one student listening/understanding you or a lesson plan flopping or a hard night of grading, you just need to sit in the teacher’s lounge and blow off some steam with colleagues. Sometimes, those you teach with turn out to be the best therapists and problem solvers.

5. Most likely, you study harder than quite a few of your students – I know I do. And it gets frustrating. “You mean I spent three hours prepping for this lesson with an additional three hours to catch up on grading, and you didn’t even take fifteen minutes to read the three-page essay for today?” Yeah, it happens. But you keep on trying your best. (See point 3).

English: The main reading romm of Graz Univers...

6. No one told me there’d be a paper party – I knew there’d be lesson planning and grading, but paperwork? I find myself constantly putting reams of forms in the “interoffice mail” bin. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps. Will my description feel spot on if you are a teacher? Yes.

7. No one gets into teaching for the grading – I love being in front of the classroom. I love hearing what my students have to say. I even (usually) love reading what they have to say. But evaluating it all? Not so much. Though I do have to say that www.engrade.com makes my life infinitely easier by calculating all my grades. It’s a wonderful free resource (Hint for all my fellow teachers!). Hey, I’m an English professor. You do the math 😉

8. Teaching is like a zombie (it wants your brains) – Hours of lesson planning and grading can be all consuming. You will emerge from a long night of this and only be able to communicate using unintelligible grunts. Which brings me to number 9…

9. Be kind to yourself – Not all classes will be winners (i’m speaking of lesson plans here, not students). Some days, it will feel like all the work you are putting in is futile. Don’t beat yourself up, and, most importantly, take “you” time (because you will get burnt out). Take a weeknight or a weekend for yourself. Put the folder of papers and stacks of books away, get a bowl of ice cream, and marathon your favorite show (if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, go outside, see the sun, and, perhaps, even have a drink or two). Students can wait another few days to get a paper back. They really won’t mind, and they’ll appreciate having a well-rested, good-humored professor to show for it.

10. You get around to some students, even if it takes a while – I know I’ve griped quite a bit about students not listening or turning in assignments late. Every job has it’s rough moments. I got into teaching because I love it. I love diving into literature texts and discussing the serial comma. I love having discussions and answering students’ questions.

I love it even more when students answer each other’s questions, showing me that they “get” it. I love it even more when a student who only wrote in sentence fragments at the beginning of the semester can now making a cohesive argument. I love it even more when I get an e-mail from a student telling me that I made English bearable and even a little fun. That is why I do what I do—for even, just a moment, to show them the power of the written word. It sounds like some idealistic notion out of a work of fiction, but it does happen…and, for me, it makes the journey worth it.

If you teach, what wisdom do you have to share?  If you are (or have been) a student, what do you wish teachers knew?