Summer Break in Photos (Part 2) or Maybe I Should Call it In Perspective . . . I Don't Know . . . Titles are Hard
So I've taken at least one photo a day since I walked out of Bellevue West High on the last day of school at the end of May. I already shared with you my first week's worth of photos here. I'm not going to post all the others I've taken since then because today is day 60 and I've taken a lot. I am, however, offering up this link in case you are interested and aren't already a member of the Instagram party. I am going to share a few at the bottom of this post. I mean, come on. It's what I do. Most importantly though, I am reflecting upon what taking these photos has triggered in me.
Above all else, it is an understanding of just how awesome summer break is. It's something, I'd wager, many adults tend to forget. I mean, first and foremost, it is long. It's not as long as Phineas and Ferb would have us believe, but I'm at day 60 today and still looking forward to a few more weeks off. This sort of thing is unheard of in modern America where people work far, far too much. Taking notice of the number of days I actually do not have to go into work, has a powerful effect. It is a relevant activity that causes me to realize a few things.
I love my job, like, so much.
There are parts of it I despise. Sure. In a perfect world I wouldn't have to do anything but sit on my back porch, grill, drink beer, and watch the world spin by. In a not-quite-as-perfect world I would be making enough money writing so I didn't have to do anything else. I'd be Stephen-freaking-King. But I'm not him and if all I did was sit in my backyard my kids wouldn't eat and I'd run out of things to grill.
So I teach.
I spent from the ages of 15-25 doing many, many unproductive things (see my idea of a perfect world above). I started a family at a young age and I have mouths to feed. So after graduating college I found something I knew I enjoyed and could do well. Standing in front of a classroom, teaching students new understandings, helping them create art . . . that is simply amazing. The summers off are, of course, a fantastic perk. They aren't what led me down the path of education but they are definitely not going to lead me away from that path either.
Summer break is a big deal, yo.
Yes good teachers work hard the rest of the year, really, really hard. Many of us spend far in excess of the 40 hours a week required by the rest of the workforce . . . except doctors, lawyers, restaurant managers, small business owners, etc, etc. who all also work 40+ hours a week. I'm all for teacher rights and I support my profession to no end. However, the cry that we work more than 40 hours a week as though this is some kind of unique trait these days is simply erroneous. I have a legitimate problem with how much Americans work (not just teachers)--us Americans working our damn lives away, it's awful. But that's a different post.
So, so many people work more than 40 hours a week. Those people do not get summers off.
We do. It is a big deal. It is. Deal with it.
We must make it count.
I work through it. For instance, this summer, I taught an online course at UNO, which I am again teaching this fall. Also, I am in the process of restructuring my filmmaking and design classes and coming up with new rubrics for yearbook and video yearbook. I meet with my editors about the direction of the 2014-15 yearbook and video yearbook. I do some independent research on filmmaking and photography. In short, I take the time to better myself as an educator. But that's not all!
Relaxation is key.
Since we get these summers off we must make them count. Like I said above, we must use them to become better teachers. A teacher that is not also a scholar, is no teacher at all. That said, we must relax. Summers are a cosmic gift and we must use this gift wisely. For my part, I take advantage of the free time to sleep in, go to the pool, relax, drink, and soak up summer the way I did as a child. I enjoy it and I make no bones about it. I will enjoy it until the day I quit teaching. Every year this helps me become a better teacher. Having this down time, these few weeks to simply do nothing educational, is worth so much more than most of us realize.
Let me say this again. Summer break is a gift. Taking advantage of it is my right as an educator. In today's political climate, being a teacher can be stressful in ways that have nothing to do with what is actually happening in the classroom. Summer is our one chance to let it go. I have no trouble letting it go. I do things I enjoy. I write, I submit stories to publications, I spend time with my children hanging out at the pool, playing with my dogs, visiting my grandma, wandering aimlessly on my motorcycle with my dad on his beside me, eating (and drinking) unhealthy summertime snacks, going to concerts, and generally enjoying my lack of work.
To prove this, here are the aforementioned photos:
What?!?!? You can't say that, Stueve! It's offensive and rude. Your wife is a lovely lady with a lot going for her (the least of which is her marriage to you). She's intelligent, she's beautiful, she has a full-time job, and she gave birth to two amazing children . . . . Why would you call her crazy?
Let's consider it a term of endearment. I mean, I think we're all a little crazy. Some people get crazy over comic books. Some people get crazy over football. Some people get crazy over video games. Some people get crazy over stars . . . . I could write all day about the things people get crazy over. Some of these crazies are fine and happy and their craziness doesn't hurt the rest of their lives. Some . . . not so much. I'll let you decide which is which . . . .
I like to think my wife is in the former, not the latter. She is crazy for working out. She loves it. This doesn't hurt the rest of her life. In fact, if anything, it probably makes her more productive and alive. She is, in no uncertain terms, an athlete.
I, however, am not. I mean, I workout roughly three times a week and I go for walks. That's pretty much the extent of it. I tried the T25 program about a year ago and it was painful. But, I'm 36 after all, going on 37. A man has to do a few things to stay in shape (especially when he drinks as much beer and eats as much junk food as I do). But working out doesn't get my endorphins popping. It doesn't make me happy to be alive. In fact, I hate it. It's a necessity of modern life, but it isn't one I like. So, against my better judgement, I did a session of my wife's Insanity workout with her.
I'm pretty sure I died a few times while doing it. The kicker too, is that I can't even do a good chunk of the workouts in Insanity because they involve bending knees. I have a condition known as Patellofemoral Syndrome. In laymen's terms, it means I have trick knees. Still, by the end of the whole thing I was a filthy, hot mess. I was panting. I'm pretty sure I was bleeding. My knees hurt, even though I didn't do anything with them. I was sweating so much I looked wet, especially my hair. Basically, I was broken. That's what the Insanity workout did to me, it broke me.
I recovered. Obvs. I'm writing this, aren't I?
I've always known my wife is an athlete. It's clear. I've always respected her for it. Yesterday morning I realized I haven't respected her enough for it though. This shit is hard and she does it just about every single day.
It's what she's crazy about. I'm sorry. Let me correct that. It's the other thing she's crazy about. I'm totes the first thing.
I'm from the Quad Cities, USA. While I wasn't born there, I spent enough of my formative years traipsing around those river towns to claim them as my hometowns. That said, there is a lot to love about Omaha, NE--where I live now. In many ways, it is my new hometown. I like Nebraska, a lot, but there is one thing missing.
The Quad Cities does this one thing better than any other place I've been (and I've been to several places in this great nation of ours). That's the motorcycle wave. Those of you who don't ride might not be privy to this social construct. Luckily, it's easy to explain. The motorcycle wave is a quick, usually low, wave from one motorcyclist to another as they pass each other. It's a small, simple gesture of solidarity that always occurs when I'm riding in the Quad and I see another person on a motorcycle.
Always. Without fail.
It may not seem like much, but there is power in it, there is community. It doesn't matter what kind of bike a person is riding, the person's sex, skin color, age, appearance. None of that matters (as is the way it should be). It is an unwritten (well, not anymore I suppose) code of brotherhood. The motorcycle wave tells riders that we're all in this together. We're all braving the dangers of the road to enjoy the freedom of a motorcycle. On some level, we understand each other. That's what that wave is about.
Here in Omaha, and the many other places I've been on my bike, that friendly motorcycle wave isn't as prevalent as it should be. It's not gone. It's just not always there. That's sad. In the middle of summer, at the height of motorcycle death season (which is the height of motorcycle season) that simple wave says a lot to fellow riders.
I need to see more of that when I'm out on this:
Shakespeare said it best when he said:
All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
I know Willie Shakes (that's what I like to call him--we're tight like that) said it best because this passage has been copied, paraphrased, and interpreted more times than I can count. Oscar Wilde's take on it is my favorite though: "the world is a stage, and the play is badly cast."
For me, this passage from As You Like It means we all play pretend through the ages of our lives. We wear masks. There are probably a fair number of psychologists, historians, and poets who would agree with me. Probably. But that isn't what is important right now. This notion, a notion, mind you, that I understand on an analytical level, popped into my life the other night and made me take pause and begin to understand it on a more personal level.
I am an easy-going guy. As cliche as it is to write, I know it to be true. At least, that is the most prevalent mask I wear. It is a smiling mask, a Fool's mask. It is a mask that tells the world I am not worried. Even my words are a mask. "I've got this," is a phrase I can often be heard saying.
I grin. I twinkle my eyes (yes, I can do this). I skip off like some kind of magical woodland creature without a care. The truth is though, on the inside, I'm freaking out.
I'm always freaking out.
I'm worried about my children. I'm worried about my wife, my marriage, my job, my life, my age, my friends, my family. I'm worried about climate change and the bees and apparently now the bats. I'm worried about the apocalypse--asteroids in the sky, zombies, nuclear war, disease, famine . . . Did I say death? Today I learned I should be worried about the Supreme Court too.
Occasionally, this worry gets the better of me and a start to see things where there is nothing to be seen. I start to wonder if someone I love is hurt when there is no real way he or she can be hurt. I lose, even momentarily, my ability to rationalize. My ability to survive with this worry falters.
Then I do something stupid, such as jump to conclusions with no rationale. It takes someone, usually my wife, to point out that I need to relax. I need to see that I am, at least in this instance, wrong. It's rough. And I'm working on turning my outer calm inward. This, by the way, is not to say that all of my worries are illegitimate. I'll get to how I separate the wheat from the chaff in a bit. Keep reading . . .
It's strange then to think that I don't necessarily consider the mask I wear a bad thing. It helps me to deal with the worries life besets me with. Or maybe I beset myself with them . . . Either way, the great paradox is that, despite my worry, my mask helps me keep going. So the phrase, "I got this," isn't bullshit. My mask isn't a lie. Or I guess, more appropriately, within the lie, there is truth.
Because, guess what!
I do got this.
My great worries are nothing debilitating. Thus far, I have been able to handle them. I have a process. My first step is to separate the ridiculous fears from the legitimate ones. For instance, I understand that fearing for my family's safety when they are away is legitimate. I also understand that a zombie apocalypse is highly unlikely. While I may have nightmares about it, deep down, I'm pretty sure it isn't going to happen.
So the mask helps me not only contain this worry, but gives me time to decipher the good from the bad. Sometimes I make mistakes. Sometimes I project my irrational worry on loved ones. We all make mistakes though and after a restructuring of the mask, I am back to my old self, with my face comfortably ensconced in my mask.
Now, my only other concern is what mask I will wear tomorrow . . .
Last night I had a dream in which my kids and I broke into some secret computer/technology building in the middle of nowhere. It was some kind of secret government installation disguised as a tourist trap. I don't know why I know this. Dreams are weird. Anyway, we snuck into this place and stole, amongst a plethora of computer gadgets and doohickies, a backpack full of pastries. I was nervous the whole time. I kept wondering if we were going to get caught. I was especially terrified when we had to split up. The whole event was so vivid. I remember my wife dropping us off at the building. She had to take the getaway car away from the place so it wasn't on any of their security tapes. Though, there was no security stopping us from getting in because apparently the installation didn't need it. Getting in wasn't an issue with this nameless government computer conglomerate, getting out was. They had secrets to protect. I suppose it was one of those 'hiding out in the open' sort of things.
Anyway, we went in as though touring this amazing place, but you know what we were actually there for. And we did it. There were a few tight spots. Like once, when a security guard checked my bag (luckily all the stolen stuff was concealed). I remember thinking, quite seriously, "I wonder if they can kill me for stealing this stuff? I mean it's just thievery. People don't get put to death for that, right?"
It was a New World Order kind of deal though, so who knows what would have happened had I been caught. Though it is a bit foggy, I'm pretty sure we were in the near future.
When my wife was driving us down a long deserted highway and we were all eating pastries, I woke up.
It was, to the best of my knowledge, a happy ending.
Normally my dreams aren't this vivid. Normally, I'm only left with snippets of what happened here and there dancing through my mind like burnt pieces of paper. In fact, I've always been jealous of people able to recall, at least immediately upon waking, the exact instances of their dreams. I haven't been able to do that with much regularity since I was a kid. I don't know why. All I do know is that I was excited to see how real this dream still was when I opened my eyes. I could even smell the building! It was a plastic, computer-y smell. It was dry and artificial. When we were driving down the stretch of highway, I could feel the dry wind hitting my face. And the pastries? They were amazing.
I don't know what this dream means. I claim no expertise in this area. All I know is that the human mind is expansive. When you dream you are trying to tell yourself something.
So, internet, since I can't talk to Morpheus, please tell me, what the hell am I trying to tell myself?
Again, I'm a day late. Summer is really throwing me as far as days are concerned . . . .
There is so much I want to write about that I am having trouble picking one. It's been an exciting week nationally and globally, what with long standing senators getting ousted by Tea Party upstarts, an ocean being discovered below the earth's mantle or something, a habitable planet being discovered, California teacher unions being destroyed, Obama talking about gun control . . . again, Hilary Clinton going on NPR, this little bit of terrible happening . . . . It's been crazy.
But it's whatever.
There's always something crazy going on. There's always some politician doing something stupid or some scientist discovering something crazy or some lunatic killing some folks. I've learned it's the world we live in. I'm not saying it's all right (for instance, the lunatic thing sucks) but it's not all wrong (scientific discoveries are cool and who doesn't like it when a politician says or does something stupid?). Sometimes the news interests me. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I write about it. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I show photos or videos, sometimes I rant about teaching, parenting, comic books, writing . . . . I've even been known to do a review or two here and there.
I've been criticized because I have no theme on this blog. Some people have told me I need to stick to one topic, such as parenting or teaching or writing. Some have even suggested I turn this into a series of writing lessons like this one. They claim my blog would be more accessible and find a wider audience if people who visited it knew what they were in for every week.
Truth be told, those people who claim those things are probably right.
But it's whatever.
I don't know what this blog is about. If writing this blog were a game, it would be me tossing a football at a tire swing. Sometimes the ball goes through the hole, other times it hits the tire, and on occasion it bounces off the tree and hits me in the face.
But it's whatever.
The important thing is that I'm doing something with my voice on a regular basis. I'm putting myself out there. My thoughts on everything from pop culture to education are accessible to anyone with the internet. Some topics are serious, some aren't. So I'm going to keep my blog the way it is. I like that my words meander all over our cultural landscape.
In the end though, it really is whatever. I'll let Carl Sagan explain it.
See. It don't matter anyway.
I often hear of retired people getting bored out of retirement. There are other cases when boredom isn't the reason. It's need. When the retired live on fixed incomes, sometimes they absolutely need to find a part time job at Target or Costco or something. That, I understand. That makes sense. I don't like that we live in a society where many of our retired need to do that. That's not my concern today though. My concern today is with people who are so bored after they retire that they go back to the workforce.
It must be noted that these people tend to find jobs that are less strenuous--mentally, physically, and emotionally--than their former careers. Nevertheless, they are doing something. That's what I hear these RBTWs (retired back to work) say anyway. It's their rationalization for clock punching their golden years.
And I don't get it.
At 36, I am staring down the barrel of a long career. By the time I get to what is now considered the retirement age, I'm hoping we'll be living an average of 150 years. This means, naturally, the retirement age will go up. If I had the same mindset of the RBTWs who go back to work because they want to (not because they need to), I might be 100 before I can retire and go back to work because I'm bored.
That's what gets me. This idea that the only way to do something, to prevent boredom, is to go to work . . . . I can't wrap my mind around it. I do lots of stuff that has nothing to do with my day job. When I retire I'll be able to read more books, watch more television and movies, hang out with my family more. Or, frankly, just do nothing more.
I look forward to retirement. It's not that I hate my job or anything. I love what I do. When the day comes for me to retire though, if the gods are smiling on me, I will stay retired until the day I die, which will be at least a few decades later.
Okay. Real talk. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I don't know how my brain will work 30 years from now. I don't know all the decisions and motivations that turn retired folks into RBTWs. I'm no psychologist or sociologist. I only thought about retirement because I am a teacher and summer break got me thinking about my future. In fact, this post came to me as I was sitting in my backyard enjoying the calm climate and thinking to myself, "I wish this could last forever."
Also, I'm not easily bored. Here's why:
In all my summertime fun I forgot to post this yesterday! I really need a secretary!
When I was a junior in college--if I'm not much mistaken--I took a class called "Understanding Evil" or something like that. It was, strangely enough, worth religion credits. Since I attended a Lutheran College, I had to get some of those. Most of the classes they offered didn't interest me. There were several taught by priests or preachers or what-have-yous on topics as grandiose as The Old Testament, Jesus's deciples, and women in the Bible. While now I am sure I would have enjoyed learning about those, even if it was forced down my gullet as religion and not literary study, back then, I was none too intrigued.
But I do have faith . . . in something . . . . I guess it's faith in the fact that I'm really here. Evil is really hear. All I can do is the best I can do. That's all any of us can do. Maybe in that sobering fact there is a little bit of God.
I'm going to read all of these this summer. I planned it out today.
This is my brother-in-law's motorcycle resting comfortably in his yard on a pleasant spring day. I like to think it is symbolic of what my summer might be like.
My niece is a beautiful little girl, even when peeking at me from behind what appear to be bars . . . .
Suzee and I enjoy the warm sun and the cool air conditioner as we make our way across the fine state of Iowa for an impromptu family visit.
My summer break begins the second I walk out of the school. So I count the first chunk as a half day. Naturally, my first stop even before I find my way home, is the comic book store.
As the school year draws to a close, I feel it necessary to explain something about an adviser's life to my students, particularly my seniors.
It's a strange thing, to transition from classroom teacher to adviser. There is a sea change in your relationship with your students. You exchange phone numbers and talk with them on the weekend about the classroom, deadlines, filming locations, and the like. You go to school events with them to take photographs, help interview, set up cameras, etc. You spend hours after school working at computers, compiling files, filming, editing, writing. You work together a lot. In many cases, this lasts three school years.
When you work with the same students for three years to create a product for others to purchase, critique, and evaluate publicly, you develop a bond that is stronger than friendship. You share frustrations, you fight, you laugh. You build a wall around your group that others cannot break.
In short, you become a family.
Family comes in all shapes and sizes. I am lucky enough to have several. One of my favorites is the one comprised of the Bellevue West Publications Department.
I'm not good at expressing my emotions verbally. It doesn't have anything to do with some misguided machismo. I'm just better on paper (or on the internet I guess--this is the 21st century after all).
So know this, my seniors: I appreciate all the hard work you do. I envy your dedication to creating a product that will be both praised and blasted. To do this is to posses a bravery few could imagine.
Most importantly though, know this: I will miss you.
Thank you for being part of one of my favorite families and keeping me young.