Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Respect Your Elders

I am officially the oldest person in my Japanese class. I walked in Tuesday to this conversation between some of my classmates who discovered that they had gone to the same high school.

Class of 2007 girl: I thought you looked familiar! I went to Blah Blah Academy too. I was in student government. I graduated class of 2007.

Class of 2005 guy: I was class of 2005. Man, now I feel old.

Me: Whoa, I feel really old. I’ve got 10 years on some of you guys!

Luckily, I have one classmate, Page-san, who wasn’t born after New Kids on the Block went out of style. Good thing for us that the Japanese culture teaches respect for elders.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Less is More

Sorry I've been away for so long. Or as I can now say in Japanese, Shitsudesu shimashita. I can even write that in fancy Hiragana characters now!

Since I wasn't crossing as many things off of my to-do list last semester with my convenient Tuesday/ Thursday teaching schedule with nice long weekends, this semester I decided to test out a theory of mine.

The more time on my hands, it would seem that the more time I would have to pursue all sorts of interests- fitting in some more yoga and gym time, reading, blogging, finding ways to save the world, etc. However, in reality, since free time was in abundance I found myself feeling like I could always do it later. Kind of like the Spanish maƱana syndrome.

So my theory was this: the less free time I have, the more likely I am to fill it up with more productive and worthwhile than catching up on daytime TV. So this semester, I took advantage
of the #2 perk that comes with teaching for the university system (#1 of course being summer and winter break between semesters). For every credit I teach, I can take 1 for free. So along with the 4 classes I am teaching I am also taking Beginning Japanese and another grad class about conducting classroom research.

The results so far? If the they were playing in the Superbowl, it would be a really close game between super productive and really freakin' tired. In fact, I think I've already gone into overtime.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Back to School

Well folks, this is the last week of my winter vacation since the Spring semester starts up on Tuesday. I've had a good long time off so I really can't complain.

The greater part of my week has consisted of burying my nose in my textbooks to prep for the coming week. I've been reading textbooks on my couch, reading textbooks at Panera Bread, reading textbooks in the comfy chairs at Borders and reading textbooks at the gym while bobbing up and down on the elliptical machine and attempting not to throw up.

I'm teaching 4 classes this semester. One is a grammar class, 2 are experimental CALL (computer assisted language learning) classes and the fourth is an advanced reading and writing course using short stories and poems in American literature to help my students develop their English skills (can you tell I've just been writing course objectives?). I'm really excited to teach from the textbook I'm using for the reading/writing class. It has a great collection of works and really thought provoking exercises and writing prompts but its really in depth and I underestimated the time it would take to read and prepare for the class.

Tonight I just looked over what I've finished prepping for the week/semester and I am feeling much more at ease with my level of preparation, but Monday of this week I was freaking out, brain on massive overload and in the poetry vein I wrote some haikus, mostly just as a distraction from reading. Maybe some of you teachers who want the summer to stretch on forever can relate.

Words crammed in my ears
the deafening echo of

Textbooks are so long
Why did I wait 'til so late
to read them? F*&%! S&%$!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Speech Not Given

This is a post I started before the holidays and finally finished.

Last Friday I got to dress up in my cap and gown (and fancy polyester hood this time!) and walk across the stage to accept my Master's degree. After all of the pomp and circumstance and speeches were done, the 2 + hours of reading the names of the graduates began so I had a lot of time to think.

It was one of my goals last year to speak at my graduation. However, as the deadline for speaker applications loomed this October, I let myself get wrapped up in creating midterms and lesson plans, grading essays and preparing to teach a new class that began at mid semester. Along with all of those excuses, maybe I let a little fear creep in too. As I let the deadline slip past I was disappointed that I hadn't pushed myself to submit something. I eventually made peace with myself about it, but if I had spoken, here is what I would have said:

Beginning a new chapter of your life is at the same time exhilarating and terrifying. We reflect on the choices we have made and the choices that will shape the rest of our lives. We ask ourselves again - What am I supposed to do with my life? Is this really what I'm supposed to do with my life? Am I on the right track? What if I know what I want to do but I'm not the best at it yet?

Questions like these can be the cause of many sleepless nights. Cues in society have taught us to believe that every person is born with a dream and singleness of purpose that is the key to our fulfillment. Think about the movies we watch - Indiana Jones is always searching for ancient relics, Bridget Jones wants to get her guy. But we don't think about the fact that movies need this single purpose to drive the plot and that the extraneous real life details get edited out. If we don't know, if we have our doubts or uncertainties or setbacks, we feel like we've got some kind of manufacturer's defect. Its hard to look at someone like Oprah Winfrey and picture her having to warm up to the idea of hosting a talk show because she was considering a career as a lumberjack or professional figure skater. But people who feel that they have a "calling" to do something in life may be the exceptions rather than the rule. The path to achieving your personal ideal of success and fulfillment is often paved with difficulties, mistakes and rarely has a linear or neatly marked path.

Earlier this year I went to a book group convention to hear one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, speak. At the end of the panel discussion the moderator turned the mic over to the audience for questions. One attendee asked, "Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?" Though seemingly simple, I thought that this was an important and telling question. I believe this person was really asking for confirmation of a more important question about herself - "Am I supposed to know what I want to do? Am I supposed to have some calling or epiphany? What if I've missed it? What if I don't know?"

Elizabeth and author Sara Davidson answered that they had been creating worlds with their pen and paper from a young age but Po Bronson , author of five books including What Should I Do With My Life? (which I got 2 copies of for Christmas) and a regular contributor to prominent newspapers, magazines, television and radio gave a surprising and somewhat relieving answer. As a kid, Po was in his words, a "math guy." His high school teachers told him that his writing was messy and unintelligible it wasn't something that came easily to him. It wasn't until late in his college education that Po wrote a letter that was published in his college newspaper. With graduation looming, many seniors were terrified at the thought of having to know for sure what they'd be doing the next year after college. Many students were comforted by his essay titled "Being Po," which is what he quipped that he'd be doing in the next year.

There's Po in the middle at the Book Group Expo

Po was buoyed by his classmates' comments on the essay and felt a faint whisper of possibility that he was actually a good writer. It wasn't a big epiphany or booming voice from above bestowing his purpose on him like some of us expect. Just a whisper. A hint.

After that experience, Po went on with his life. He finished his course of study in economics and over several years spent crunching numbers and doing, in his words, "mind-numbing" jobs, he decided to trust that whisper and gradually honed his skills as a journalist and storyteller. He has since written five books translated into eight different languages, articles for the New York Times, Time, New York Magazine, NPR Morning Edition and has appeared on Oprah and many major morning shows. Although it wasn't a career he instinctively knew he was supposed pursue when he was 5 years old, he eventually learned to listen to the whispers and wasn't afraid to fail on the way to being good. Or maybe he was and just did it anyway. As it turned out for Po, those subtle whispers of possibility paid off and took him some place wonderful but totally unexpected.

So if you haven't had your whole life planned out since you ditched the Spiderman undies or training bra, learn to listen for the subtle clues in the world around you. Don't discount a calling just because its not obvious, loud and clear. Be open to the unexpected opportunities life has in store. As Norman Vaughan says, "Dream big and dare to fail," and listen to the whispers.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are

I am very excited to see that the hit counter for this blog has tipped past the 500 mark (and only half of those are me checking in throughout the week, I swear!). So thanks to all of you for stopping by and reading. And on that note, this week is national de-lurking week in the blog world (thanks Nanette at Say It Don't Spray It! for the info) so if you've been reading please leave me a comment to introduce yourself and leave me a link to your blog or website if you have one. I love getting a glimpse into other people's thoughts and lives.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Transformation Vacation

Before Paul and I left on our trip to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago this summer our friends and family were intrigued. After all this was not your typical vacation.

“You’re going to walk how many miles? For fun? Why?” they asked.

The trip we were undertaking involved walking nearly all day for five and a half weeks under the hot Spanish sun, braving bugs and blisters and waking up at 6am and sleeping in creaky old bunk beds with a room full of snorers. We had to carry everything we needed on in our backpacks. This might sound like a nightmare for some, but from the first time my friend Matt told me about the Camino I felt a magnet-like pull to take this journey. Besides the fact that I really wanted to visit Spain again, I was seduced by the idea of taking on something that was difficult and outside of my comfort zone. I liked that it was something Paul and I could do together and wondered how it would shape our characters and bring us closer together. There was a big allure to having hours at a time to think while walking through parts of the country that not many people ever get to see and by the prospect of meeting new friends from all over the world.

I have always been of the opinion that the trips worthy of spending those hard-earned vacation days on are those that have the potential to change you in some way. For some that means quitting your job to vagabond around the globe for a year, building an orphanage in Kenya, bringing books to children in Cambodia, following the path of your ancestors in Norway

or hiking an ancient pilgrimage across Spain. For others, place can be secondary to the people involved on the trip. Some find themselves transformed after undertaking even a small activity that pushes them outside of their comfort zone.

While some of us would be perfectly content selling everything we own and zigzagging across the globe, I think it’s important to note that the search for change and growth can manifest itself in totally different trips for different people. Transformational travel can also come from spending 24/7 with your husband or parents or best girlfriends, meeting someone from another culture for the first time or discovering how much different other parts of the world are, yet how much they’re the same.

If I think back to the most memorable trips I have taken, the moments that really stand out are not those spent sitting by the pool or taking an afternoon nap (although these activities might represent a huge paradigm shift for people who are on 24 hours a day and rush to answer their crackberry at 2 am). I think about the things that have expanded me as a person. Things like the meals I shared with new friends from all different countries on the Camino, taking that first step backwards to rappel down a waterfall in Costa Rica, learning to navigate the streets of Washington, D.C. all by myself, walking 31 kilometers in one day with a killer foot injury, learning to ski after being completely terrified with the encouragement of Paul and my brother and sister-in-law, drinking new wine straight from the barrel before it was released to the public, growing closer to Paul after understanding more about myself, or trying octopus cooked in its own ink after mistakenly ordering chipirones instead of champinones.

Want your next trip to be a transformation vacation? Here are some tips.

Think back…
to your favorite travel moments. Ask yourself what made them special. What do they have in common? Did you try something new? Face a fear? Get to know the person or people you were with in on a different level? Get totally lost in a new culture? Live out a dream? Think about the ways you can you incorporate these types of experience into your next trip.

Challenge Yourself to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
This can be anything from finally deciding to try out an adventure sport –bungee jumping, hang gliding, white water rafting, rappelling to visiting a place where you don’t speak the language. If you always travel solo, bring along a friend or family member. If you don’t have travel companions, so what? Take the leap anyway.

Put Your Personal Limits to the Test

These can be physical limits, mental limits or social limits. Hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu. Pick up your backpack and hike the Camino de Santiago. Climb a mountain. Bike across Europe. Stay in a tiny cabin with your whole family and toys that make noise for a week. Talk to the people around you. I like to choose trips where I can share the experience with new people. People can enrich your travel experience much more than place. If you are really brave, give Couch Surfing a try. If you are the kind of person who needs constant noise and stimulation, go someplace that challenges you to become comfortable with silence and meditation.

Go ahead, act like a kid. Being somewhere new can let you reconnect with that uninhibited, uncensored part of yourself. Eat 3 scoops of gelato for breakfast in Florence. If your heart screams, “I want to ride an elephant!” do it! Sometimes instant gratification can be fantastic.

Sometimes you don’t know how significantly a trip or experience has changed you until you take the time to meditate on it and write about it.
Keeping a journal or a blog can commemorate your experience and be a much more meaningful reminder of your journey than a miniature statue of liberty tchotchke. If you aren’t a writer you can still keep a reflection journal in other ways. At the end of the trip make a play list of all of the music you listened to on your trip that will trigger memories. If you are an artist, keep a sketchbook. My husband is an architect so he keeps a sketchbook with him on trips and draws the layouts of the buildings we stay in or sketches the old beautiful churches. He’s built up a really special collection over the years that triggers detailed memories for him.
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