Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Embraces Technology?

I have had a tendency to be attracted to techno-geeks in my life (I mean that in the most affectionate sense), which is ironic because I have spent most of my life as a resister of technology. With the exception of the cell phone, I spent my twenties annoyed with my computers, unable (unwilling) to fix anything electronic that might have been broken. And let me tell you the story about when my ex-boyfriend got me (himself) one of the first MP3 players for my birthday. I watched him fiddle with it and load the twenty or so songs by his favorite artists it could hold and thought, 'Yeah... not so healthy.'

It's been a slow evolution, but in my late twenties and now early thirties I have begun to change. Again,the irony is that I started to embrace technology after I quit working at one of the biggest technology companies in the world. Maybe it's because technology makes my life as a teacher so much better (my previous school didn't have overhead projectors in every classroom, and it was enough to send me into nervous-breakdown status most days), or maybe it's because we've come a really, really long way since my first computer, a PowerMacintosh 8200. Either way, I think it will be cool to tell my children stories about how, back in the olden days, Mommy stored her college essays on a floppy disk.

Yet, while I've begun to embrace technology, I have remained the cheap bastard I've always been. This poses quite the dilemma, and one of the many results of this has been that for the last year and a half I have had a super-ultra-way-cool Blackberry phone that did not have internet service because I didn't want to pay for it. Why get a Blackberry if you're not going to use it for email, L would constantly ask? I can't answer that question. I can only tell you that I don't know how the people at AT&T sleep at night.

This week my contract was up, and I finally caved. I decided I wanted an iPhone. I have played with them and secretly coveted one for some time now, and when I called about the service it turned out that I could get unlimited data and more daytime minutes for less than what I've been paying per month on my Blackberry. And because L is a techno-geek and lover of gift-giving (the difference being gifts that I actually want), he bought me the best one Apple makes.

The iPhone isn't a cool as I thought it would be-- it's cooler. I don't just like it. I love it. I have spent the last three days loading cool apps, fiddling with my calendar, looking at Facebook updates ('Look-- it's doppelganger week!') and other colossal wastes of time. Last night I said to myself, 'I don't know how I possibly went so long without one of these things!'

Which has brought me full circle. A woman in her thirties embraces technology, sure, but at what cost? What happened to the self-righteous woman in my twenties I was, the one who saw people spend hours at the technology store and think 'Jeez, get outside for awhile, will you?' I like Wikipedia as much as the next woman in her thirties, but do I really need it at my fingertips every moment of every day? At what point did my wants become my needs?

One of my focuses for this coming semester with my Seniors is the question, 'At what point does technology go too far?' It doesn't help that I will spend the next few months reading and discussing books that tackle that very question, most of which imply that we have already passed the point of no return when it comes to technology. I guess the question I'm wrestling with is whether or not the positives of technological advancement outweigh the negatives.

Maybe my students, people who have never known a world without cell phones, will shed some light for this woman in her thirties. In the meantime, I'll be searching for an app for that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Holds On for Dear Life

In my teens and twenties, it would be fair to call me a friendly person. I liked making new friends and I enjoyed befriending other friendly people. But something changed in the last few years. I don't want to socialize. I don't want to talk on the phone. And I don't, for the most part, want to make new friends. It could be that a woman in her thirties is too old to keep up with the harrowing social schedule of her twenties, or maybe it's just the fact that I have approximately 10-15 minutes of quiet time per day, including the time I sleep. It's all that dreaming I do.

Nowhere is this more true than on an airplane, where I follow one rule and one rule only: SHUT UP. I don't talk to the person next to me, not even to smile and nod and acknowledge that we are going to spend the next few hours in close quarters. I hate people who talk on planes, I hate people who snore on planes, and I hate people who eat potato chips on planes. Don't these people know that three hours of quiet time are beyond golden for me? (Ironically, I don't mind the screaming child. That's what earplugs are for. It's the adults that exhaust me.)

On my most recent flights to and from Pleasantville, I have used the quiet time to plan my units and listen to books on my iPod. I don't just get work done because I'm trying to appear busy and avoid conversation, I work because I am actually afraid of flying. With all the flying I've done you'd think that I'd be comfortable with it by now, but the physics of a 900,000 pound object hurdling through the sky at 500mph is just not something I can wrap my head around. So I stay distracted, enjoy the quiet, and land refreshed.

This weekend, coming home from California, I found myself sitting next to a man about my age (man?) and his very, very pregnant wife. The flight was so turbulent at the beginning that I couldn't write my notes and couldn't concentrate on my book. I tried to freak out silently, but when his wife knocked an entire cup of water all over her tray and herself I couldn't ignore it in good conscience. My offer of some napkins led to a conversation about this being her fifth pregnancy, my neighbor being a PE teacher at a local school, and aren't the prices of homes in California just outrageous?

It was hard to be annoyed that I had struck up a conversation when the people I was sitting with were so darn nice. When the turbulence ended my neighbor said, 'It's so nice to meet you,' and his wife said, 'I'm so glad we found a way to be distracted through the turbulence', and I said, 'yes, yes, all of that', while putting in my earbuds.

Another hour in the flight, we hit another patch of turbulence. The kind that illicits screams. The kind that has the pilot come on the intercom demanding, 'Flight attendants, sit down and buckle your seat belts immediately'.

It's hard to say what goes through the mind of a woman in her thirties at a time like this. In fact, I'm sure there is little thinking at all. What I did was pure instinct: I threw my hands around the arm of the stranger next to me and buried my face in his sleeve.

When the turbulence stopped, the moment of extracting myself from my neighbor was not unlike a sitcom. I lifted my head slowly and looked up at the man who I had just molested and his pregnant wife who was watching me with an I-don't-quite-know-what-to-say-right-now look.

'Sorry,' I said. 'I- just- um- scared- earplugs- normal- really...'

There was an awkward laughing period, some joking about how I could 'feel free to hold on to him whenever I wanted', but the damage was done. I was that girl- the one who had embarrassed herself on an airplane and would star in their stories at cocktail parties for some time. And we still had an hour of flying to go.

I almost called this entry 'A Woman in her Thirties Makes Friends with her Neighbors', but who am I kidding? The story would be so much funnier if I hadn't said a word to these people, if the man's wife didn't have any prior knowledge of me before seeing my face buried in her husband's arm, if I had to spend the final hour on the plane wondering if the pregnant woman was going to jump me when we landed. As it was, I spent the rest of the flight watching Flight of the Concords with my neighbors and laughing at the same jokes together. Who knew?

So I guess a woman in her thirties doesn't have absolutes. She doesn't follow hard and fast rules about anything in life-- not even when it comes to flying. And when it comes to surprises, she doesn't fight the urge to hold on. She reaches out to whoever is closest to her, and silently finds comfort in the turbulence.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties is Tested

It is no secret that I am math challenged. Math was always a struggle for me in grade school, and I maintain that I wouldn't have passed high school Trig if I hadn't spent the entire year behind J, who allowed her tests to creep a little to the left so I could take a peek (thanks again, by the way). K always has a laugh at my expense when we are out to dinner--she knows me so well that she can actually see my brain checking out when the subject turns to the bill. When other people are telling me how much I owe, I am usually in my happy place in my mind.

(Here, in case you're interested:)

(In my defense, I see the same look pass over many of my friends when the subject turns to Billy S.)

Since I moved states recently I must also be re-certified as a teacher here. Apparently the testing I took in California, the $18k in tuition I paid for my credential, and five years teaching experience I have does not qualify me for reciprocity in Minnesota. Today I went through my first series of tests, the PRAXIS basic skills test, which is one of two I must take in the next couple of months. It is identical to the CBEST I took and passed in California, and no, I'm not bitter.

PRAXIS I is composed of three parts:
Reading- Sweet
Writing- Cakewalk
Math.... Gulp

A woman in her thirties is a realist, so over the holidays I bought a book with sample questions to help me study for the math portion. I took the CBEST so long ago that I have no recollection of how hard it was, so I thought I'd assure myself a few good nights of sleep and freshen up. When I scored my sample test, I got 173.

You need at least a 172 to pass.

Even I know that's just barely squeaking by. I am terrified of failure even more than I am terrified of Ann Coulter, so I spent the last two nights studying useless (yes, USELESS) information. I tried to put out of my brain that I have never, never once needed the Pythagorean Theorum for anything, ever, in my entire life, and tried to memorize my flashcards. Poor L quizzed me last night, and here's a little snippet of how it went:

L: How do you find the area of a circle?
Me: Um... Pi R squared.
L: Are you sure?
Me: No.
L: How do you find the volume of a cylinder?
Me: Length times width times height.
L: No.
Me: Pi D squared over R.
L: You're just making that up.
Me: Stop judging me.

Like that.

This morning, at the testing center, I sat in a room with about 100 other teachers and people hoping to be teachers. While I went over my flashcards for the umpteenth time (I remember thinking once that 'umpteen' was an actual number), I noticed people around me. Reading novels. Texting. Yawning. Sipping Starbucks. I was the only one worrying, from where I was sitting. Damn you people and your ability to remember how to multiply fractions, I thought.

The math portion was an hour, and I'm not going to lie. It did not go well. Even the invigilator, the one paid to sit there and say nothing, noticed that I was a stress case. While I was able to spend the last fifteen minutes of the reading and writing tests picking Daniel hair off my jacket, I spent every God-loving millisecond I had on the math portion. And if I had to guess the ratio of the number of questions I am confident about to the number of questions I guessed at... oh, who am I kidding? I have no idea what the ratio would be.

I left feeling defeated, and a woman in her thirties does not feel defeated easily. I texted L something along the lines of wanting to throw myself into oncoming traffic, and he texted back, 'You did your best! No biggie if you didn't pass! You'll just take it again! MP (which is our code word for "I love you")'

And I thought to myself that, often, a woman in her thirties is tested. She also gives tests, without even being conscious of it. And LB, for staying up late with me and going over math problems, for loving me even though I am confused by decimals, for making me feel today that I have a head cheerleader in my husband, I'm pleased to announce you passed. MP

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties is the Simon of Snowmen

When the snow falls in Pleasantville, the snowmen pop up. Here are a few from my most recent walk with Daniel. I've decided to have an Iron-Chef-meets-American-Idol-meets-My-Twelfth-Grade-Classroom approach to the judging. Please keep in mind that this assortment was found within a one-block radius of my home.

Contestant #1: BuddhaThere is something quite... holy about this snowman, isn't there? It's something about his enormous belly and slight tilt eastward, as though reflecting upon The Holy Land.

Creativity: B
Style: B
Resemblance to "The Enlightened One": A

Contestant #2: The Leaning Cat of Pisa

It took a few minutes, but I did finally realize that this is supposed to be a snow cat (see the pointy ears?) Unfortunately, the wind must have knocked over his right paw and that look on his face is downright...feral.

Creativity: A
Style: C
Ability to inspire me to make a snow dog of Daniel: A

Contestant #3: Why So Serious? I'm not going to lie-- this little guy has got me thinking that the creators might want to consider hypnotherapy. Its not just the cyclops look that it's got going... it's the red dye that stains the entire face when you get up close.

Creativity: B
Style: C
Resemblance to the Joker in The Dark Knight: A

Contestant #4: It's a BustI've been waiting for a few days to see the creators of this snowman finish it, but today it dawned on me-- it is finished! Clearly, this is a sculpture inspired by Venus di Milo herself. The face changes in different lighting, but in this photo I most definitely see George Washington. Don't you?

Creativity: A
Style: B
Ability to make me miss KC: A

Contestant #5: Senor TradicionalButton eyes. Stick arms. Tall, nearly straight posture. Senor Tradicional is the epitome of the old fashioned, well-dressed snowman.

Style: A
Creativity: C
Ability to accessorize: A

Contestant #6: GigantorOne of our friends is convinced this snowman isn't real. But it is. And it. Is. HUGE. I keep waiting for the creators to put some accesories on it, but maybe golf club sized carrots and pillow sized coal are a bit hard to come by.

Style: A
Creativity: B
Gigantism: A

If a woman in her thirties must choose, she must be fair. While I liked all the snowmen I saw today, I must say there's one snowman I like even better. And he looks a little something like this: