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Wait and See

In the next couple of weeks I begin the final leg of my college journey.  This is my last year folks and that thought brings me profound happiness as well as some fear.  I kind of feel like, once I graduate, I need to ‘put up or shut up’ so to speak.  My plans are still kicking right along of being in Korea next year teaching English while getting to spend time with the family but wouldn’t you know it, life likes to throw a wrench into the cogs of my life just to see what I do with it.

My time at Evergreen has been amazing and while I can never go back to the person I once was, I did discover the ‘new’ me, so to speak, and she’s not too shabby either.  (Smaller swagger.)

Because of course, while I make plans to leave the country, I would meet someone amazing. (Of course, I would.) I’m torn between going ahead, seeing this through maybe just see what happens and dealing with the inevitable heartache that’s going to happen or stop seeing him entirely to not have to deal with it. I just don’t know.  A year is a long time but something tells me that time is going to fly.

What’s the saying?  A life lived without love isn’t worth living?  Moving on.

I would really like to take my creative writing to the next level this year and see if I’m capable of publishing a short story.  I have a couple of finished pieces that I need to try to find homes for and see what happens.

I was also wondering what the gaming scene was like in Korea, it’s been described as the new gaming mecca (although I don’t know precisely why) and if anyone here is really doing any reporting on those events and if I wouldn’t be able to fill a niche that way.  I’ll help that I’m fluent.

The last four weeks have been a whirlwind for me with meeting Beaux, PAX, preparing for my last year, trying to get some writing done before classes begin again (I’ve been a little distracted) and other assorted events that are coming up. (Yaoi-Con! What?!)

I’m just going to take it one day at a time and see what happens.

and the wheel keeps turning

In keeping with tradition, I thought I would post another ‘milestone’ post marking my birthday, I’ll be 33 years old this Sunday and if possible I’m happier now than I was last year.  My life just keeps getting better and better, it probably isn’t much in the larger scheme of things but when I think back to where I was a couple of years ago, it’s huge.

I’m about 3 or 4 quarters away from graduating, it will be a happy day once I got my degree because it means I will be able to leave my current job (for one) and also because it means that I’ll be able to move to Korea.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but I hadn’t really told anyone other than my sister.  I’ve still been keeping it largely to myself and some select friends and I’ve mentioned in on Twitter but I miss it there.  I miss my grandmother and due to her health concerns, she isn’t able to make the flight out here.  In addition to healing from a broken hip, she also suffers from depression and I want to spend some time with her before the inevitable happens.

Another reason is that I just need to get out of the States for a while.  Don’t get me wrong, I also love it here but there’s been a constant feeling of tension in me, being here.  I don’t know how to describe why, fuck, I don’t even know why exactly.  At least not well enough to articulate coherently.  There’s just been a persistent refrain running through my mind for the last couple of years of, “I need to leave for a while. I need to get away for awhile.”

My sister posits that when I leave for Korea it will give my mother the excuse she needs to also come to Korea and stay indefinitely.  Poor Dad.

The rest of this year is shaping up really well and I can’t wait for the summer.  Washington summers are so completely fab! ^_^   There’s my summer writing course with Nancy again this year which she’s entitled, “Writers Paradise” and I’m much more prepared this for it; last summer my experience was akin to drowning.  I’ve achieved an uneasy relationship with my inner critic; we’re learning to live with each other, there are some days where it takes over and wrecks more havoc than I would like to admit but there are also many more days that I can quiet it with a resounding ‘thwack’ to the balls.

The only aspect of my life that really makes me unhappy is at work.  I don’t like what I’m doing; I don’t like the mindless minutiae and tedious repetition.  I don’t like my coworkers, which I’m pretty sure that their aware of.  Sometimes I watch them and I wonder if it’s me that’s the weirdo and that they’re the ones that are normal.  They make me feel like I’m back in middle school, the actions are the same: group bathroom breaks, playing with each other’s hair and makeup, flirting with all the delivery guys and the constant cycle of hurt feelings because someone didn’t invite someone somewhere, or didn’t let them apply their makeup, or braid their hair, etc. blah, blah, blahbbity, blah. What drives me insane is that the cycle repeats every day, it’s like I’m in my very own personal circle of hell.

What keeps me sane is talking to my friends and sister and walking around with the knowledge that I will not have to endure this much longer.

Working here has also given me an appreciation for the ladies I follow on Twitter or the ones that I meet at PAX.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an appreciation for girly things (i’m browsing bloomies for shoes as we speak) but I’m sorry I can’t talk about it all damn day! There’s other stuff that occupies my gray matter, like world news, or what books are out or what books I’m reading or better yet, what games I’m playing.

Enough.

So needless to say, I’m happy.  What I really need to work on right now is cutting down my gaming time and spending more time reading or writing.

Three events that I’m looking forward to this year is my trip to NYC to see my sister in June. I’ve seen NYC in Christmas and New Year’s, it’ll be nice to see the city when it’s warm out.  Bing keeps telling me to wait to buy a ticket, I’ll wait another day and then buy anyway.  PAX Prime in September… and oddly enough, I’ll be attending Yaoi-Con in October with my best friend Carmen in San Francisco.  Why I’m going to Yaoi-Con is another post for another day (but oh yeah, am I going to be taking pictures!).

So good things are happening this year and I hope that when I check in next year that things are even more fabulous.

slice of life

Two vignettes.

Just another place

I moved to Lawton, Oklahoma in the middle of my 4th grade year, which was pretty typical, begin the school year in one state and end it in another. Oklahoma was all flat prairie land as far as I could see. Roads dotted with buffalo chips and dead prairie dogs. Mountains the size of molehills. The neighborhood was nothing too special; I lived on the corner of Mission Blvd, there were kids in almost all of the houses surrounding mine. First day of class jitters, they always happen and the ritual is the same. I stand in front of the class, while the teacher asks me where I’ve moved from, I reply and then I smile and grit my teeth as she butchers my name and introduces me to the class. I can hear tittering and I try to ignore it and walk to my desk.

During recess, I’m walking around the softball field watching the different groups of kids around the yard. Who looks the most approachable? There’s a group of girls next to the swing set, I casually walk over and a tall chubby girl with brown hair turns to me and smiles. We exchange hellos and names, she turns back to the conversation and I stand just outside the circle listening in.

A crime has occurred in the woods directly behind the school. A young girl, of same age, had been raped and killed the body discovered just last week. They delight in retelling the story for the newbie and I pressed forward morbidly curious. Do they know who did it? I ask. The police are interviewing her family members but they don’t have any suspects but we know who did it. Who? I ask. There’s a homeless guy who lives in the woods, he did it. We’re going to go look for him after school today, wanna come? Sure. For some reason it made perfect sense at the time.

Things left unspoken

I’m sitting on the floor of my best friends bedroom. I’m flipping through some teen magazines that I’m not allowed to have. Music is playing in the background and Joy’s sitting on her bed. Her mother pops her head in the door and briefly says, hi. She disappears. Joy tells me that her parents are getting divorced and she tells me why; her dad has been touching her. We’re 11.

I’m sitting on the floor of my living room; I’m sitting right in front of the television playing videogames. My friend Sandy is sitting cross-legged beside me watching, waiting for her turn. Outside the sun is beginning to set and my mother comes in to tell us that it’s getting late. We plead for just a little bit more time and are granted a one hour reprieve. Sandy tells me that she doesn’t want to go home. When her sisters not there her uncles bother her. Her sister has left for the weekend. She makes me promise not to tell. We’re 13.

I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom. There’s music playing and I can hear the sound of my roommates moving through the house. I’m typing on my laptop and responding to some friend requests on Facebook. I find out Joy’s newly married with a 3 year old child. She’s happy and we reconnect. Sandy’s a single mother. Her oldest child is 19 years old.

PAX Prime, hurray!

3 day pass, check.
hotel reserved, check.
time off approved, check.
carmen & tjada on board, check.

it’s a go!

Essay – The Flat World (WIP)

(This essay is a work in progress, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state of public education in the United States, so much so, that I’m writing an essay about it for one of my classes but it’s also a way for me to exercise my writing.)

Linda Darling Hammond in The Flat World and Education outlines how the inequities in the American school system harm our children and our future as a democratic republic. The book discusses what we must do, in practice and in policy, to provide more equitable education to American children, she also looks at where were we are now and how we got to where we are now. By using information about education systems and statistics around the world and comparing them to the United States comparatively ranks with the world, she also looks at how shifting federal policy changes in education have produced the vast inequity in education that we see across America today.
 
The world is changing, and as Tom Friedman, author of The World is Flat, has demonstrated, it is becoming increasingly flat. Globalization is changing everything about how we work, how we communicate, and, ultimately, how we live (3). Hammond explains through her studies of other countries that have been adapting to the increasing globalization by concentrating their efforts in increasing education for their citizens and adopting education strategies that move away from the static rote memorization factory model of school to a much more flexible, dynamic model that supports complex knowledge and skills needed in the 21st century. And it’s working, East Asian and Western European countries are consistently outranking the United States in high school graduation rates, college completion rates, in addition to outpacing us in math and science achievement.
 
In the 2006, Program in International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States ranked 21st of 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in science and 25th of 30 in mathematics (9). PISA is a system of international assessments that focus on 15-year-olds’ capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. It’s administered every three years, data collection for 2009 happened from September to November 2008, the results will be published December 2010. The reason why the PISA results are so important is because it doesn’t just gauge what students know but also how they apply what they know to real world applications.
 
While the United States ranking in the PISA studies are often cited in mainstream media as a national disgrace, there are some critics that disagree with the interpretations of those findings by arguing that the PISA doesn’t actually measure what students know. Tom Loveless, a Brookings Institution scholar and member of the U.S. Advisory Board to PISA argues that a key failing of PISA is that “it does not measure what kids have learned in school.” Why? Because PISA is written by progressives who want to make math instruction more relevant to the real world and emphasizes mathematical reasoning more than calculation. Loveless, who refers to himself as more of a traditionalist, critiques that you can’t reason well without mastering the fundamentals. He dislikes the traditional approach being referred to as “shopkeeper” math and remarks “like it was old fashioned to try to compute anything.” He prefers the other major international test, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which he says aligns more closely with the way U.S. students are taught.
 
In the 2007 TIMSS results, the eighth graders in United States ranked 11th of 36 in mathematical and science scores. TIMSS focuses on the mathematics and science achievement of students. The assessment draws its content directly from the school curriculum and is designed to assess how well students have learned what they have been directly taught.
 
I don’t see how a direct comparison of the two international tests is at all comparable; if anything, I see the two as complementary. Clearly, we’re not doing such a bad job at teaching the fundamentals but there’s a significant disparity between the learning and the application that I find interesting. The problem I have with people who argue for the traditional mode of instruction is that the conversation is usually predicated on “if it worked for me and my forefathers, than it should be good enough for everyone else forever.” And as Hammond eloquently argues, we’re not living in a time where just “knowing” is good enough.
 
Historically public education didn’t take off until after the Industrial Revolution, with the invention of various machines there wasn’t enough people in the workforce who could read, write and cipher. Some of the first public schools were opened primarily to educate the workforce and to create better workers for the factories. I still here that same rhetoric from some of our politicians, that all our students need are the three R’s: reading, writing and a’rithmetic.
 
The math disparity in the United States really affected me as a young student during one of my many moves. Due to being an Army brat, I had to move a lot, the average time I spend at a school was about 2 years, it was usually a year and a half. As a result, I had the opportunity to experience the array of public school systems the United States had to offer in Louisana, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Washington.
 
In my sixth grade year, I moved from Lawton, Ok back to Seoul, S. Korea and was enrolled in an English speaking private school in Uijongbu, Liberty Christian School. While it was a Western school, they had modeled their academics on the Korean curriculum which means I went from learning long division and multiplication to being introduced to geometry, advanced algebra and beginning trigonometry. I came in about halfway through the school year and by the time it ended, technically, I had failed Math and there was some talk about holding me back a year however my parents promised that I would be enrolled in a summer school program and be completely caught up by the beginning of my seventh grade year.
 
So, I spent 3 months, 5 days a week, catching up on a wealth of arithmetic. That next school year, seventh grade, I had sufficiently caught up and we were learning advanced trig/beginning calculus; before that year ended I was caught up in a another move which took me to Horace Mann Jr. High in Tacoma, Washington where I completed seventh grade, since I was coming in almost at the end of a school season there was no more room in the seventh grade math and science classes and so I was placed in the eighth grade classes, where they were learning beginning algebra. It was if I had come full circle.
 
However, the United States isn’t really moving in that same direction; while our wealthier schools are able to enjoy progressive teaching techniques and access to the information that moves a student from high school to college; the schools that are operating in our inner cities and rural areas are operating with appalling deficiencies and are currently acting as feeders into either our criminal justice system or adding to our growing class of the working poor.
 
Hammond’s argument especially brings her points together when she outlines what some of the effects of our education inequalities have wrought us. In an increasingly technological world, some of the most desirable jobs are ones that require an advanced degree in math or science and what’s even more is that most jobs today require at least some knowledge of computers and how to use them. And yes, you can save your pennies and go buy one for yourself but there’s a difference in someone using a computer recreationally and someone whose consistently forced to use one with certain expectations from teachers that lets you use certain programs and requiring you to learn and do certain tasks that all pertain to a shared use knowledge.
 
She highlights the growing demand for workers with an H1-B visa, which is the visa that is used to bring specialized workers into the United States, used primarily by the software industry to fill computer programming, computer engineering and coding positions. The common criticism that I hear about big software companies hiring non-American programming workers is that either these companies are just not looking hard enough for American workers or that their underpaying the foreign workers to get cheap labor. As someone whose been involved in the computer programming industry, that’s just not true. American college graduates with degrees in computer engineering are typically hired before they graduate. While there may be a lack of jobs within certain tech sectors in this economy, such as network administrators, graphic designers, etc., there has never been a lack of work for computer programmers and engineers. We complain about the practice of hiring foreign workers but do nothing, in practice, that would fix the problem.

This problem also addresses a critique of the international assessments’ that’s frequently asked, “Is it fair to compare our students with international ones?” And it’s a fair question, different countries have different educational models, other ways of tracking their students, differences in student populations, etc. But with our ever shrinking globe, for all intents and purposes, these international students are their peers. In an increasingly global marketplace, you’re not just competing with your national peers, not when companies go out of their way to recruit international workers.
 
The phrase that Hammond uses, “lack of investment in American youth” really hit home for me. Lack of investment also connotes, at least to me, lack of trust, lack of worth. We spend more money in the processing and housing of our criminals than we do in our education system. We spend $44 billion annually on corrections. High school dropouts cost the country $200 billion in lost wages and taxes. In the current economic climate, that’s money I think we could really use right now.
 
Hammond ends her first chapter on a very hopeful note, she lists some ideas of what we can do to create a system of education that’s equitable to all children and goes into detail further in the book. She lists such things as secure housing, food and health care, supportive early learning environments, well-prepared and well-supported teachers, and standards, curriculums focused on 21st century learning goals (26) among others. What’s heartening is that there are people and schools across the country who are actively trying to achieve those goals: The Harlem Children’s Zone, Michelle Rhee, the Washington DC Superintendant of Schools and countless other charter and magnet schools in addition to the faceless teachers that go to class everyday and work hard at connecting with their students.
 
President Obama has revealed recently in his budget outline that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) would be undergoing a major overhaul and abandoning the goal of 2014 for every American child to achieve academic proficiency and replacing it with whether students are graduating high school “college and career ready”. While the new goal is vague, it can at least be worked with unlike the former. We can’t wait for partisan bickering to end or keep looking to the federal government to solve our problems, it has to the communities that band together and decide what they ultimately want for their children.
 
While I have a belief that the United States is in need of some type of national standard, I really believe that the inequity has to be dealt with an a much smaller scale, the federal government can only do so much. We have a tendency in the United States to go for the easy, one size fits all solution and if someone falls outside of those boundaries then it’s up to them to work harder to overcome them. That might even be a workable compromise, if most of our kids were being adequately served for the education system and it’s clear that it’s not. Another piece of ‘folksy’ wisdom that’s espoused is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; well, it’s becoming increasingly that something is ‘broke’ within our education system and if we don’t take the time to seriously address them; we’ll continue to lose more and more kids.
 
 

The Philosopher Kings

I watched a documentary tonight called, The Philosopher Kings; the synopsis, which I’ve taken from the website:

In search of wisdom found in unlikely places, The Philosopher Kings takes us on a journey through the halls of the most prestigious colleges and universities in America to learn from the staff members who see it all and have been through it all: the custodians. This thought-provoking, feature-length documentary interweaves the untold stories of triumph and tragedy from the members of society who are often disregarded and ignored, and seeks out the kind of wisdom that gets you through the day and the lessons one learns from surviving hard times, lost loves, and shattered dreams.

From the producers of the multiple-award winning Flight from Death, The Philosopher Kings gives us the opportunity to learn from eight incredible individuals whom we would never have otherwise taken a moment out of our day to acknowledge.

It introduced you to 8 people who ordinarily aren’t seen or heard. We have, as a society, certain stereotypes and assumptions about the people who clean up after us and this documentary does a very good job of challenging those assumptions. After the film, there was a brief Q &A, and what was interesting (at least to me) were the comments that some people felt manipulated by the documentary. That while the personal stories of these individuals were very compelling, people felt that it was disingenuous to portray them as content with their lives. The editors must have some agenda to promote because surely they couldn’t be that happy with their lives, could they?

I thought it was fabulous that there was no narration in the film. All of the words that you hear come directly from the participants and their individual stories are compelling like the story of Josue Lajeunesse, a janitor at Princeton University, he works there nine hours a day and then he departs to his second job, where he drives a taxi, at night. He sleeps on average of about 3 hours a night, at which point, the cycle repeats and he does it all over again the next day. He uses his earnings not just to support himself, he sends money back to Haiti to support his children and his extended family. On top of that, he and his brother have embarked on a project to help bring fresh water to his father’s remote village in southern Haiti. The people in that village have to walk 35 miles away to obtain fresh water, because of that they are also unable to farm their own food. They’ve been partially successful and have worked a temporary solution but the goal is to build for a permanent one and a solution that will not only service his father’s village but the surrounding ones as well.

To say that it made me check my privilege at the door is an understatement. The film reminded me of Studs Terkel’s own research into the nature of work, the films “findings” lined up with what Terkel seemed to find in his own investigations. That people who we deem to be the “lower classes”, the invisible people that we take for granted that make our lives better and who we would be lost without, really resist identifying themselves by their jobs and that they make their meanings and make a conscious effort to interact with the world outside of their jobs.

Packaged in between the words and the stories of the people, were the social issues that they had to deal with: Melinda’s mother slipped into a coma because of a hospital error, she remained in a coma for eleven years before she passed. Melinda would have preferred that she had died. Luis was in a terrible car accident that cost him his arm, he was in a coma for a month. The other driver had no insurance and wasn’t employed with a family of his own. Corby works at an art institute that by all rights, he would have fit right in with his independent artistic pursuits. Why didn’t he?

And despite their personal pain, they call themselves lucky and are still able to look at the world with hope and wonder. Who am I to judge what’s supposed to be “normal” to their situations? Why are we so suspicious in our assumptions and what is it that makes us automatically assume that their stories aren’t genuine?

We have a problem within our culture to “otherize” everything. Our mentality is almost always a binary of us vs. them, and “they” always seem to want what we have or is doing something that is threatening to us, “their” intentions are never good and we’re always just protecting what’s ours. I don’t see this philosophy as being particularly beneficial for us as a country. People can (and do) make the argument that outside forces are whats tearing the country apart: Islamic terrorists, China acquiring all of our debt, giving aid to other countries, to just name a few. I disagree with that particular theory, I think we’re tearing ourselves apart and in the end we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

The mantras that the various custodians lived by were very simple in words but extraordinarily difficult in action and yet they seemed to have found their keys to contentment. So many of us are so hopelessly lost that we can’t even recognize what contentment with our lives even means, we just know that we haven’t attained it yet and just want more, more, more.

Anyone interested in social justice work, class and socioeconomic conditions in the US or if you just really enjoy a well made documentary would really enjoy this.

The Coming Year of Games!

So, I’ve been noticing that quite a number of people have been posting games that their looking forward to in the coming year. Nothing against that, but I keep seeing the same games over and over and over again and they’re all of the games that are really obvious like Bioshock 2, Mass Effect 2, God of War 3, FF XIII, etc. I don’t have a bone to pick with those games, hell, I’ll be picking most of them up but they get so much press as it is, it’s a given that most people are anticipating those titles but I wish someone would create a list that’s a little bit more balanced with games that also come from the smaller game developers. So, I figured I would make my own damn list, these are some of the games that I’m looking forward to this coming year:

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom– Feb. 17, 2010
Yakuza 3– March 31, 2010
Strange Journey – March 23, 2010
Fragile Dreams – March 16, 2010

The Sometime in 2010 releases:
Naughty Bear
Deathspank
Super Meat Boy!
Shank
Limbo