Wednesday, December 17, 2014

So, no one is going to argue that teachers aren't important, BUT

Teaching in Korea has monumentally shifted who I am as a teacher, educator, role model, and, frankly, human. Now, wait, before you roll your eyes and gag a little bit (or after, let’s be honest), just, just hear me out.

I came to Korea after teaching in the Wisconsin public school system a little tainted by the politics of education, but still ready to change the hearts of all the students I met. I had Howard Gardner in my pocket and Nancy Barbiaux* in my ear; I was ready for anything. 

I walked into my classroom on the first day ready for anything. By day five, I realised how woefully underprepared I was to teach English as a language. As the days, months...ahem...years went on, I've fallen into a rhythm. I know different tricks to help kids remember superlatives and participles. I also know when to throw up my hands and say, "I have no idea why though and crow rhyme and through and blue rhyme, but not though and through. English is a crazy language." I know that. 

Let's get one thing straight before I flip everything on its head, teachers are important. We need teachers to supplement parental education. We need teachers to talk to when we're too scared to talk to our parents. We need teachers to... We need teachers to... I could write a litany of why we need teachers.


Sometimes, adult tendencies cloud teachers' perceptions. For the past two days, I've walked into my fifth grade classroom with a rock solid plan. I had detailed directions written on the board, on a powerpoint, on the paper itself. I still had kids asking, "What are we doing?" This is fine, normal, and all too real for my fellow educators. However, I also have several kids who, regardless of what I can do in my limited Korean and/or all of my teacher tricks, do their own thing despite my meticulous planning. And, that’s fine, too.

What I have loved most about these two days has been the ingenuity of my students—of what they do despite my guidance. My students have found better ways to play a game I designed. They have sorted out who goes first, second, third, and fourth with little tattling. They challenge each other to play the game efficiently. They think critically. 

As much as teachers bluster about critical thinking modules and objectives, we really can’t teach it. We can’t teach someone how to think. We can show them, give them everything we have, use all the tricks written in all the books, but we cannot open someone’s brain and link the neurons together to turn on that light bulb. So, when that light bulb pops and crackles, starting dim, we can encourage, praise, and watch the wonder that happens when the watts grow and a student “gets it.”

These past two days have been incredibly humbling for me as a teacher. As a human, I thrive on helping and teaching…and knowing that I do it well. So, when this realisation snowballed from, “Wow, that is a really intriguing way to approach that obstacle” to “Oh, man, my students just schooled me in learning,” I was flustered and questioned the way in which I’ve approached education for the past five years. 

But then, I sat back and recognised that when my students can work independently as they view, attack, and puzzle out problems, that’s when I’ve made it. Obviously, a teacher should never stop learning; you never “make it.” But, it means that my students feel comfortable enough in the environment to try new things, stumble, and succeed with the support of their friends and teacher surrounding them. And, isn’t that what teaching is all about? I lost myself in “school” and “education” for a moment. But, now I am back elbow deep in experience and learning. Teaching must be a relationship in which all parties work together to better each other. There really should be no other way.  

*Nancy Barbiaux was my 10th grade AP World History teacher, Forensic Speech coach, and, later, friend. She is one of the most influential women in my life. She taught me more about teaching, patience, and loving your students more than any other person. Ever. Basically, on a scale of one to an entire Starburst pack of "red ones," she is pretty high up there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

So, I feel conflicted.

June 7th, 2014, I took to the streets of Seoul with joy in my heart. My home state just leagalised same-sex marriage; I strutted through Sincheon at my very first Gay pride parade. We listened to a woman sing, “Let it Go,” which has been rumoured to be a bit of a gay anthem of letting go of the restraints that we and society put on ourselves. I found myself in the company of thousands of like-minded people. We began to march the short 1.5 kilometer route filling our bellies with beer and laughter. Everyone anticipated the post-parade drinking, partying, and dancing.

We pulled up short—a temporary delay. Perhaps one of the floats had some issue with the tinsel or flags. After about 15 minutes, a friend and I walked towards the front of the parade to see a Christian group sitting in the middle of the street, prohibiting the legally sanctioned parade from moving forward.

This sit in went on for hours. I, as a Christian also queer woman, struggled between feeling ostracised from one group because I was a part of another. This is, of course, not a new feeling to anyone who claims both queer and Christian identities, but I felt an anger that reached a point I had not yet experienced. It scared me.

I responded with the only way I knew how; I talked to the people sitting down. I didn’t move when the police told me to simply because an older Korean wanted to sit down and protest in a space that I had claimed as my own. I told the police officer that I had the same right stand here as she does to sit, perhaps more because I was there for twenty minutes…waiting and watching. I stood peacefully countering their out of context Bible verses while I was pushed, shoved, sat upon, had water thrown on me, etc.

That was my response to dealing with it. One of the greatest women I have ever met had a very different response. She shouted (in Korean) about this injustice, about their ignorance, about the way the police protected the Christian protesters and bullied the LGBTA parade participants.

The next morning while she and I ate Thai food, we talked about how we felt about our personal responses and the other person’s responses. I told her that I envied her passion, and that I felt embarrassed that my response to anger is passivity and words. She countered with my ability to keep a level-head and wider picture in mind when I am angry. She was Malcom X; I was Martin Luther King Jr.—neither one more right than the other. We’re both fighting for the same goal.

I know my personal beliefs. I know that if I were in Ferguson, MO right now I would be peacefully protesting. I would be heeding President Obama and the Brown Family. With the information I know (from non-partisan US and Global news sources), I am infuriated with the outcome of the Ferguson trial. I do not know how the jury came to their decision, nor will we likely ever find out despite releasing the testimonies and evidence. But, in this aftermath, we have several options in how we respond. I plan to follow the “Let’s not just make noise; let’s make a difference” philosophy of Michael Brown’s family (Bennett and Burman, The Atlantic).

However, a man for whom I hold a lot of respect has posted about this, too. He brings up many valid points in that peaceful protests have become “cliché and commonplace,” with which I agree. I would also like to add  to his argument that some police officers respond to peaceful protests as threats to society (pepper spraying at UC Davis; tear gas anywhere). How can we stand by this passively? How can we allow this behaviour to happen while our hearts are still beating and our brains still functioning? Where is the breaking point? When is it enough?

Ergo, I am conflicted. Everything in my bones screams for justice. Yes, Mike Brown stole cigars. Perhaps, he punched Darren Wilson. I do not know what happened. But, I cannot shake this feeling that there had to be another way. There has to be another way. Since Michael Brown’s death, more and more articles have surfaced about needless or accidental killing of people by police forces. Yes, I understand this is a tactic to whip everyone up in a frenzy, yet I don’t necessarily think it is wrong. I don’t like demonizing our police force. There are so many men and women who proudly protect and serve. Yet, we, as a country, need to also address the corruption, racial, and social profiling that happens all the time. We, as a country, need to be heard. We’re not just prattling children for the police and government to deal with. We have valid concerns about how our police use their weapons. We have real issues with civilian gun violence. We’re living in a shoot first, figure it out later society by which I cannot abide. Treating violence with violence is not how we’ll succeed. But, sitting-in and passive movements may not be the answer, either. We need a “both, and” approach to this. We need to work injunction with one another to bring about necessary change.   We need Malcom X's passion and Martin Luther King Jr.'s peace. We need both.

However you choose to respond to the Ferguson outcome, please do so with education and purpose. Ignorance and recklessness cannot, will not win this war. I’m not sure what will.

Monday, November 17, 2014

So, I am a super graceful human being

One: Back Story

My sister is one of my best friends. We had some rough patches growing up, but we always sorted it out. I think one of the few times my sister got legitimately angry for more than a day was when our dad said that I was more graceful than she was (he meant in a specific context, but that part was unclear at the time). And, she had every right to be upset. The only time I was ever graceful in my youth was when I was mid-air after jumping from a diving board. For those few seconds twisting and flipping, I was a gosh darn swan-gazelle: a swazelle. Any other second of the day, I tripped, slipped, slid, toppled, and was generally a hot mess.

I would like to say that growing into my limbs and becoming an adult has helped with my balance and body awareness. But, that really just isn’t the case. Just today, I literally hit three different kids in the face because I didn’t know where my body ended and theirs began. It was just soft taps, but alarming contact nonetheless.

Two: Real Story

So, for the past several months, my roommate and I have had a lovely houseguest. I have really enjoyed spending time with him and having that brother-like relationship I always wanted. However, with having more people living in the house and Rufio seeking more attention, I hadn’t been alone in ages. So, when I went to Seoul to visit my cousin, I decided to go up a day early, spend some time in a JimJilBahng (spa/sauna/JJB for the rest of this writing), and soak in silence and mineral enriched mountain water.

I got to Seoul, walked all over Kingdom Come to find this specific JJB about which I’d heard great reviews. After about forty minutes of walking, I found that it is about three blocks directly behind Seoul Station and the googlemaps app sucks.

I checked into the spa and changed out of my travel wear and went downstairs to frolick in the tubs before they closed for the night.

I effing love baths.

After a quick bath with a bunch of strangers, I changed into my pyjamas, went to the sleeping rooms, and found a cozy nook in which I snuggled with my book.

In the morning, I woke up late and had to hurry to meet my cousin. I had to shower because when I go to sleep with wet hair, I wake up looking like a glorious lioness, which is fine for some occasions, but not for cousin meeting.

So, I showered quickly, and left the rooms with all the baths.

(Sidenote for anyone not in Korea: When you are in the showers/baths you are nakey-no pants and the towels you’re meant to use are the size of a postage stamp.)

I walked to the drying area and toweled my hair like you would a puppy. I vigorously dried my arms, and bent one leg to rest on the other. As I patted down my knee cap, I felt my notoriously awful balance quiver. Oh no, I thought. This will be problematic. 

And, there was no stopping it.  

I tumbled ass over tea-kettle, naked, in public…onto another human being.

One more time:
Ass. Tea-kettle. Naked. Stranger.

I profusely apologized while extricating our limbs, repeating, “Oh, my god. I am so sorry. Oh, my god. Mian habnida. Oh, my god. I am so, so sorry.”

The only thing this tiny woman said throughout this whole encounter with giant eyes about two inches from my own, “I’m fine. Thank you. And, you?”

I helped her up, then ran away as fast as I possibly could. I mean, how else do you respond to that? I had no idea. No pretext. Nothing. I just left. There is no recovering from that. I just couldn’t even.

So, my hope is that someday I will learn how to not be a bumbling Magoo. But, lesbihonest, that future for me looks pretty bleak.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

So, I guess pirate socks are for boys.

a.k.a. Why I am an unapologetic feminist.

Last spring, I soap boxed about language opening dialogues that work towards change. Guess what, reader type humans? There was incredible discussion, support, dissent, and debate throughout the comments section on my facebook post and messages. This is exactly what I wanted. It was great!

Yesterday, I sported my blue, striped, pirate socks, much to the confusion of some students. One little girl looked at me and said, “Kathryn Teacher, you’re wearing boy socks.”
I looked down and asked, “Why are these boy socks? Am I a boy?”
“No?” she replied, a little shy. “But, they have pirate with knife, and that’s boy socks.”

Thus cracking open a giant can of gender stereotypes and behavior worms. As a pretty left-leaning social liberal with a fairly conservative moral compass, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this conversation. In this much belated installment of gender discussion, I would like to articulate how boxing our children into gender binaries so young is harmful and why we need feminism to break these social constructs.

It bothers me that children cut themselves out of opportunities because they don’t want to cross the lines that separate genders. And, it bothers me that adults not only allow this mentality, but feed into it. This hurts all of the boys and girls and girls who are boys and boys who are girls and everyone in between.

When discussing gender stereotypes, it is important to address the children’s behavior, because most young children make gendered choices subconsciously. Yet, those who break away from the binary are often readily accepted by their peers but shunned by the adults. We, as adults, must take a step back from what we were taught. As a child of the 90s, I was in this malleable period where progressive folks used green and yellow (or…maybe just Green Bay Packer fans?) to outfit their children’s bedrooms as opposed to the iconic pink and blue. However, I was also raised in a time where activities and even classes were pretty rigidly divided along gender lines. As adults, we must recognize our upbringing and decide if we want to perpetuate it or if we want to change it. There are many organizations that call all the genders to work alongside one another to create equality.

Gendered activities surround us. In the book I use in my after hours tutoring, we learned about hobbies, which featured model airplane building, collecting cards, beading, and painting. The photos used to help teach showed pictures boys building and collecting and girls beading and painting. When I asked about what my students like to do, my girl student said, “Well, I like to build, but that’s boy. So, maybe I like beading?” I collected my jaw from the floor and talked to both of my students about how they can choose any hobby regardless of if they are a boy or a girl. I explained that there is no such thing as a boy activities and girl activities. There are only activities that you like and activities that you don’t.

Right now, Korean schools often funnel boys into sports and science club classes and girls into dance, drawing, or English classes. However, I see hope in the eyes of one of my students H—A—. She refused to run in the girl’s relay race for Sports Day. She knew she was faster than the boys, and she wanted to race them to help quicken her time. The school, surprisingly, allowed it. On the day of the race, she was stretching with her friends (girls), but when it came time to run, she lined up with the boys. In the end, she didn’t win, but she also didn’t lose. She challenged herself, and she was so much prouder of a 5th place (out of 20) finish than she would have been with an unchallenged 1st place finish.

It is imperative that we praise and encourage our students to diverge from the gender norm. By raising our children to question, research, and disregard gender stereotypes, we raise a generation to look for discrepancy and work to fix it. It is also important for us to support our children’s activity choices even if/when they fall on the traditionally girl or boy spectrum. I hope that H—A—and other young girls continue to push boundaries as they grow up. It would be such an amazing uprising if all of the young women in this country and all countries found, explored, and utilized their voices to dismantle the patriarchal society in which they’d been raised.

Progress forward is a long and arduous process. However, more women and men are stepping forward and proudly claiming feminism, dismantling the idea that we’re all a bunch of bra-burning, men hating, bull-dyke lady lovers. There are, of course, those types of feminists, but they are by far not a majority. But, really, the focus of feminism is the raising up of women, not the bringing down of men. Ms. Emma Watson, the United Nation’s Women's Goodwill Ambassador, made a fantastic speech calling men to work with women in a program called #HeForShe.

For feminism to work as a movement and an ideology, we, as men and women, must change our behavior, our thoughts, our ingrained ideas of masculinity and femininity and impart that change onto our children. We must end slut-shaming and victim blaming. We must teach all of our children that beauty lies in both strength and sensitivity. We must teach them that “like a girl” does not equate to “less than a boy.”

When my niece Q’Jawsie Kathryn Marie Botsford Phelps is born, I’m going to send her all of the truck, dinosaur, monkey, ballet slipper crazy onesies that Korea has to offer. I want to teach her how to use her voice—how to giggle and cry, shout and laugh, burp the ABCs and sing like a gosh darn angel. I want her to grow up in a society that shows her that she has value as a girl but more importantly as a human.

This is Katie, signing out.       

PS My niece’s name will not actually be Q’Jawsie. Although, I might call her QJ regardless of what her name will actually be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

So, Sorry, I'm Not Sorry: On Learning How to be Unapologetic

Scene One: Friends Apartment
Friend: Wow, you apologise a lot. Are you sure you’re not Canadian?
Katie: I know. I’m sorry. I am trying to stop. Sorry.
Friend: ….

Scene Two: At the Gym
Trainer: Hey, Kathryn, good job today. High five.
Katie: Thanks. Oh, sorry, I’m sweaty.
Trainer: It’s gym. You don’t sweat, I did not good job.
Katie: Oh, yeah. Sorry.

Both of these things occurred in the past month. Scene two not even 20 minutes ago.  Seriously, Katie. Get it together.
I have proudly touted the label “Unapologetic Feminist” for a while now, and I really need to think about what being an unapologetic feminist means. My next blog post (which will be coming to you by Sunday evening) is entitled “So, I guess I wear boy socks and sports are for males: On being an Unapologetic Feminist.” I have been working on that puppy for a couple of months to make it say exactly what I want it to.
But, then these things happened, and I tail spinned into this weird place of not knowing who I am, what I stand for, and where I place my ideals. There are, of course, alternative factors that aided in this quarter life crisis, but that is neither here nor there. And, I will not get to all of those big questions in the next 557 words. But, I will certainly be teasing them out over the next month. But right now, I have this need to sit down, punch my writer’s block in its big, dumb face, and sort some things out.
An unapologetic feminist is one who is not sorry for feeling strongly about gender equality in the work place, in the home, in political spheres, and also anywhere on this planet. On the surface, I am absolutely an unapologetic feminist. I definitely think women should not have to fear being cat-called or harassed simply because they have breasts and a vagina. I also think that women should be more involved in the politics surrounding their bodies and be able to educate themselves without fear ofbeing shot.
However, on a deeper level I am not an unapologetic person. I apologise all the time. I apologise for things that are not my fault. I apologise for things that are my fault. I apologise for things over which I have no control. I apologise for apologising. I don’t know if I apologise because I am a woman, or young, or if I honestly think that I am the only one responsible to shoulder everyone else’s burden.
I don’t think it is because I am a woman. I have known men whose “Sorrys” roll off their tongues like “I love yous” or “Pleases.” I know women who apologise appropriately. And, there are women from whom I’ve never heard an honest apology. So, I don’t think that my issue is necessarily a gender issue.
I don’t think it is my age either. I don’t think this is something out of which I will ever grow. I hope to study it, and see how I can change it. But, I doubt it will ever go away.
I am going to bet my marbles that it is because I feel responsible for everything that happens around me. It is exhausting. I feel responsible for my friends' reactions to me. I feel responsible for problems in the workplace. I feel responsible for other people’s opinions.
And, I don’t know why.
I was talking about this earlier this week with a dear friend. I feel responsible for other people’s happiness. I’m sorry for any blip that may have affected their joy. That’s it. That is why I am sorry. Holy Bingo, light bulb!
By feeling responsible for other people’s happiness, I not only shelve my own needs to help others, but also I take away their opportunity to find and cultivate their own happiness. This is extremely problematic. I will definitely work this.
            This is not to say that I will stop apologising for things that are deserving (e.g. I am sorry I ran into you at full speed while you were trying to catch that disc; you should absolutely call a foul or Sorry I kicked you Rufio; you were sneakily coiled near my feet because you don’t know how to handle human contact). But, I am going to try to stop feeling responsible for others and apologising for things over which I have no control. If you interact with me at all, please help me in this. I don’t often ask for help; it isn’t in my nature (another problem, I know.) But, really, please help me in this. I would really appreciate it.


Monday, June 16, 2014

So, Tom and Lucinda cross into the woods.

So, Tom and Lucinda cross into the woods

     Tom and Lucinda crossed the river and follow the tree line into the woods. The damp grass from last night’s rain squished under their feet. Tom found his favorite tree, and began to climb. He climbed until he could see the forest spread beneath him. The verdant treetops were a field of broccoli, and Tom was a giant.

     “I am the king,” he cried. “And you are my subjects.”

     The tree’s waved their applause. Birds greeted him and a squirrel sat at his side, an attentive squire. Lucinda brought him a flower bud filled with rainwater.
Tom raised the flower, “A toast. To the kingdom.”

     “To the kingdom,” Lucinda chimed.
Tom looked down as he heard a bark at the base of the tree. Climbing down a few branches, Tom saw Christopher with his front paws on the tree trunk and his back paws ready to jump.

     Tom scrambled down the tree, “Oy! My trusty steed! I knew you’d not forsaken me.” Tom leapt from the final branches and landed lightly on his feet. Christopher bowled him over. “That was some water Lucinda gave me.”

     Christopher barked his agreement. Together they played until dusk. As the sun faded from the sky, Christopher faded. The last beams of daylight flickered, and Tom said, 

     “Good night, buddy. I love you.”

      Christopher gave one last bark, and Tom stretched as night settled in around him. He watched as the stars blinked their eyes open. He waited there until Sirius rose in the sky in hopes of celebrating one more dog day of summer.  

The end. (Click here to go back ONE option)

So, Tom and Lucinda follow the river.

So, Tom and Lucinda follow the river

     Tom and Lucinda walk along the banks further than he had ever adventured. The leaves and water harmonized a perfect melody. As they continued, the water crescendoed as the leaves decrescendoed. Tom and Lucinda stumbled across a waterfall.  

     “Wow, this is so cool!” Tom exclaimed. “Christopher would have loved this.”
Lucinda fluttered her wings, “I have something to show you.” She blinked twice. For a moment, the river stopped flowing. The waterfall hiccuped and resumed its incessant thundering.

     “Go ahead, walk through it,” she encouraged him.

     Tom closed his eyes as the droplets washed away any fear or anxiety he’d had. When he opened them, he saw a familiar friend sitting on the ledge.

     “Christopher!” He lost his footing on the mossy stones. But, Christopher beat him to the spot, and Tom fell into a puddle of puppy and moss. “Christopher, I can see through you. What kind of trick is that?”

     “A pretty transparent one,” Christopher guffawed.

     Tom stopped petting Christopher, “And, you talk?”

     “I guess,” he shrugged. “I love you, you know.”
     “So, this isn’t forever?” Tom asked.

     “No, it isn’t forever. But, it is for now. I am so excited for you to keep having adventures. Promise me, you will keep having adventures?” Christopher licked Tom’s face and head butted him.

     “Okay, Christopher. I promise.”

The end. (Click here to go back ONE option)

So, Tom sees heaven.

So, Tom sees heaven.
     “Wow! Holy smacks!” He shouted.

     Through the looker, Tom saw a dense jungle. The trees played side by side with the river running through it. Criss-crossing branches held hands and the water splashed up to keep them cool. Something fast darted across the Looker’s limited scope. And, again it crossed his vision, a little closer this time. In no time, the beast was right next to Tom. Looking down through the Looker,  Christopher sat patiently a his heels waiting for an “Up” command.

     Tom exclaimed, “UP!” and Christopher pounced on him attacking his face with wet puppy kisses. Other animals crawled out of the jungle to the clearing. Christopher brought forth each of his new friends. They greeted Tom, nudged him, and went back to their spots. After the last giraffe introduced himself, Christopher barked once. They broke formation and started traipsing about in groups of three or four mixing species and creating quite an animalistic cacophony.

     Tom and Christopher left the clearing to find some peace and quiet. “I guess you did okay, Buddy.” Tom said. “Do you like your new family?”

     Christopher growled his approval, but then nudged Tom’s leg assuring him that he was the favorite. Tom rested his hand on Christopher’s head and said, “I know.”

     Scratching Christopher’s ears, Tom looked into his eyes and said, “You better watch out for jungle cats. They are way bigger than the ones we have at home. Got it?”
Christopher barked once and licked Tom’s face.

     “Adventure on, Christopher. See you soon.”

The end. (click to go back ONE option)

So, Tom sees and alternate universe.

     So, Tom sees an alternate universe.

     “Wow! Holy smacks!” He shouted.

     Through the Looker, Tom saw the cavern walls awash in pink and orange hues. His own hand trembled and shook; purple waving in front of his face. Lucinda’s previously pink hair shifted into tawny, and the water moved at a slow, red pace. Swinging the Looker around to investigate his new pirate ship, a grumble bounced off the walls of the cavern. Out of the corner of the looker, a giant bronze statue leapt up from the water onto the deck. “Christopher in Bronze” wagged his mighty head. He shook off the water, and as he did so, the bronze turned to fluff. In a moment’s time, Christopher stood in front of his owner with his tongue lolling. He jumped on Tom and started licking all over his face.

     Christopher pulled back and rested his maw on Tom’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Tom. I miss you, too.”

     Tom, surprised, responded, "Christopher! You can talk?"

     "I can talk. I can jump. I can do ballet if I really wanted to."

     Tom exclaimed, "This is the best thing ever! I love this magic looker."

     Christopher barked, "Yeah, it is pretty cool. Can we play pirates now?"

     "Of course," Tom said, as he winked at Lucinda and turned the steering wheel to set off on a new adventure. 

The end. (Click to go back ONE option)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

So, Tom and Lucinda follow the stream.

     So, Tom and Lucinda follow the stream.

     Tom and Lucinda walk along the water. Tom playfully splashed in the water stirring up muck and mud. The little fish darted away from his feet. He gathered a handful of mud and drew warrior paint on his face.

     The stream changed course into a river. The current strengthened, and they crossed the river at a dam. Tom stopped and sat down with his feet swinging over the edge.

     “This is where I found him,” he breathed.

     Lucinda sat on his shoulder, “Found whom?”

     “Christopher. It had been two minutes since I saw him, so I ran along the bend in the river, just there. There was a girl spitting and coughing on the bank. And, then I saw Christopher floating down the river. I checked to make sure the girl was okay then ran down to get him. She said she had fallen off of the dam, and Christopher leapt from the bank to save her. He took her to the bank. She pulled herself up from the rocks. He tried to do it, too. But, but but he slipped and hit his head. We got to him, but it was too late. He was a hero. And, everyone knew it.”

     “Wow,” Lucinda tapped his ear. “You must be proud though.”

     “Mostly just sad,” Tom wiped his hands on his shorts. “Let’s keep going.”

So, Tom and Lucinda go to the caves.

     So, Tom and Lucinda go to the caves
   “Well, on windy days like today, we’d go to the caves. Our pirate flag flies really well,” Tom climbed through the trees and brush to get to the rocky foothills. He plotted a course up the side of the mount-lette and began trekking the narrow winding path. Lucinda floated near him, encouraging him.

     They reached the mouth of the cave system and crept through. They toed deeper into the belly of the mount-lette. Lucinda’s iridescent shoes glowed in the darkening tunnels of the cave. Tom skipped across the packed earth and stone.

     He stopped just short of the edge and started touching the walls as if he were trying to read them. “Ugh, this was Christopher’s job. He always knew where the packed stones stopped the loose ones starte—ah, here we go.”

     He jimmied the rocks just enough to open a small window through which he folded himself. Lucinda glided through without hesitation. On the other side, she saw Tom splashing through an ankle deep pool of water in a cavern that reached towards the heavens. A patch of light shone through the top of the cavern, where it seemed like there just wasn’t quite enough rock to cover it up.

     Tom galloped toward a giant stone shouting, “Ahoy, ahoy. All paws on deck. Hoist the anchors! Ahoy. Ahoy.” Lucinda zoomed after him.

     Tom raised the sail as the wind tunneled through the opening in the ceiling. It whipped about as Tom shuffled from port to starboard and bow to aft checking all the things one must check on a pirate ship before an adventure. “Take the wheel, Christoph—“he shouted. “Oh. Um, Lucinda. Do you know how to steer a pirate ship?”

     “No, but I can try,” she responded. “First you need that thing you look through. What’s that called?”

     “A monocular? A scope? I dunno. I always called it a Looker,” Tom shrugged.
      Lucinda flew over the water, “Okay, I will make you one.”

     “Be careful, there is a drop off to, like, a zillion feet.”

     Lucinda scanned the water. She listened to the slight trickle as the shallow water joined the deep. She spied a large leaf floating on the water, snagged it, and rolled it into a tube. Then, she ran her fingertips through the water turning it bright blue and green. Dipping each end of the leaf in the glowing water, she whispered, “That should just about 
do it.”

     She hurried back to Tom, and sat on his shoulder, “Every good captain need a Looker.”

     Tom hesitated, but peeked through.

So, Tom turns left at the puppy.

     So, they turned left at the puppy

     turn left at the puppy. The puppy is me. Do you get it? Let’s adventure.

     Tom shook his head and reread the inscription. He ran his hand through his hair, hoping to scratch sense into his brain, “Onward, I suppose.”

     Tom and Lucinda turned left heading east back toward the grocery store. Tom stopped short as they passed the ice cream shop. He walked in and ordered, “Could I please have one scoop of blue moon ice cream and a baby cone of vanilla for Christopher.”

     “So, that is a single scoop of blue moon, and a baby cone for, umm, Christopher?” the clerk sadly asked.

     “Yes, please. Christopher loves—loved—oh, um. I guess just a single scoop for me,” Tom hung his head.

     “What happened to the girl he saved?” the clerk asked.

     Tom’s sad smile shifted, “She is doing really well. We are going to be in fourth grade next year. She comes to my house to play sometimes. She is really happy that Christopher could help. I am sad, but happy. Sadhappy. Do you think that’s okay?”

     “I think you can feel whatever you feel. You are a good friend. She is lucky you and Christopher were playing near the stream that day,” the clerk smiled as she prepared his ice cream.

     “Yeah, she is real lucky. Christopher is not as lucky,” Tom’s breath caught. “But, he is in my heart. And that is good right?”

     The clerk smiled as she gave him his ice cream, “Very good. Good luck, Tom. Have a better day.”

     Tom left the ice cream shop and walked along the outskirts of the city. He followed the dirt roads to where the town snuggled up to the forest. Tom and Lucinda took in the natural beauty around them.

     “Where shall we go from here?” Lucinda asked Tom.

     “Well, some days I like to follow the stream, but I don’t go past the dam. Or, I go up the foothills and play in the caves. Where do you want to go?”

So, Tom turns right at the puppy.

     So, Tom turns right at the puppy.

     turn right at the puppy. The puppy is me. Do you get it? Let’s adventure.

     Tom shook his head and reread the inscription. He ran his hand through his hair, hoping to scratch sense into his brain, “Onward, I suppose.”

     After some time, Tom turned to Lucinda, “Where are we going?”

     “I don’t know,” she blushed. “But, I know it is somewhere good.”

     Tom ambled west toward the place where grass and woods melded into a no-human’s land. His breath caught as he paused on the threshold of the deep woods. Wiping at his eyes, he let out his breath.

     “He-he would always stop and sit right there. Like he was asking permission to cross,” Tom whispered.

     “Whom?” Lucinda tilted her head to the side, and sat on Tom’s shoulder.

     “Christopher. He would wait until I said, ‘Go get ‘em.’ Then, he ran around the woods trying to do everything at once. He would check on me every 60 seconds. You could set a clock by him.” 

     “Where did you two adventure?”

     “Some days we walked through the foothills up there and played pirates in the caves. Christopher loved looking for buried treasure. Other days, we followed this stream and played lava monsters in the mud. Mom didn’t like those days. But, those were Christopher’s favorite.”

     “So, where do you think Christopher in Bronze wants us to go?”

So, Tom follows Lucinda.

     So, Tom follows Lucinda.

     Tom and Lucinda weaved through the afternoon meandering this way, hopping that way. They traced a route back through towards the town square. The festivities celebrating his dog’s life dwindled to the last of the humans who were not really sure why they were there, but came for the watermelon spitting contest and fair games.

     Lucinda led him towards the statue of “Christopher in Bronze.” She snapped her fingers and script burned into his marble base.

     Hey, Human! You found it! There is a place I want to show you. To get there you must

So, Tom thinks he's dreaming

     So, Tom thinks he is dreaming.

     This isn’t some Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole. Clearly, this is a totally realistic interpretation of every day events. This stuff happens all the time. Reader, go back and follow Lucinda. C’mon, n00b.

     Just kidding, you do what you want. And, you’re not a n00b. You’re a lovely child of the human race. But, really, Lucinda has a much more fun story. Keep reading if you don’t believe me.

     Tom woke up in the middle of the night. Honking horns and iridescent lights blared through his studio apartment. And, he had no recollection of a dog named Christopher, a flying mini human named Lucinda, or the awesome adventures that they had.

The end. (Click here to go back ONE option)

Start over.

So, Tom goes on an adventure.

*We take a break from the regularly scheduled programming entitled: "So, pirate socks are for boys, and princess socks are for girls: a discussion on gender and behavior" to bid adieu to one of Korea's finest gentlemen. Mr. Caprikajajdhfgnica, you will certainly be missed by all.*

About a thousand months ago, I asked for ideas on short stories. And, my friend T has asked me about them every time I have seen him. So, as his going away gift, I decided to not write just a review, but a full on short story. BUT THEN, I decided that that wasn't enough for him. Instead, I wrote my very first Choose Your Own Adventure adventure. Please bear with me. Imma try to not eff up the hyperlinks, but I am sure there will be at least one. 

Tom, you are a hero among humans.


Take a _______ At The Puppy-- Idea submitted by Anonymous

     “Today is an auspicious day,” Reginald winked at the gathered crowd. “Today is the day we honor our most charitable member of our community. Today is the day we unveil a statue sculpted with such a likeness that our dear Christopher might have thought he was looking at a mirror. With no more pomp and much less circumstance, I give you the piece: Christopher in Bronze.”

     Cheers erupted from all corners of the square. Reginald dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief before grasping hands with the townspeople. Tom slunk through the legs of the adults with expertise. Soon, he was nose to nose with Christopher in Bronze.

     Patting the sculpture’s head, Tom whispered, “’Atta boy, Christopher. ‘Atta boy.” He kissed Christopher in Bronze’s snout and melted back into the summer’s day scenery. 

     The picnic was in full fledge. He dodged potato salad tables, hot dog grills, and games involving balloons and fish, though uncertain about their connectivity. Tom snatched one piece of watermelon cut exactly in an equilateral triangle, had the rind been a straight line. 

So, Tom stays at the festival.

     So, Tom stays at the festival

     “Tom, you’re such a brave boy,” one man said, ruffling Tom’s hair.

      A woman with a powdered face and pointy nails scratched his arm, “Thank you for sharing your dog. I am so sorry.”

     Moriah sidled up next to Tom, and held his hand, “Thank you, Tom. You saved my life. I’m real sorry that Christopher got hurt.”

     “Thanks, Moriah. I am glad that you are okay,” Tom sighed. “I just miss him, you know?”

     “Yeah, I know,” she dropped his hand and scurried away from him.

     Tom walked through the festival not seeing anything. It all blurred into colors and shapes. Tom’s teacher handed him a red slush drink. He took it without realizing and continued walking. He sat down on a bench and watched the festival unfold. His eyes drooped. Snap. He jumped awake to a small floating human hovering just above his nose.

     “Just what do you think you’re doing sleeping at a time like this?” this woman in a green body suit and pink hair chastised him.

     “Um, I don’t know. I was just—it is just so much,” Tom sputtered.

     “My name is Lucinda, and I am going to go on an adventure. Wanna come?” She rested one hand on her hip and pouted.

So, Tom goes home.

     So, Tom goes home.

     He scuttled home climbing fences, jumping ditches, and slithering through bushes. Reaching his backyard, Tom flopped down by the tree where a fresh mound of dirt covered his friend.

     “Hey Christopher, I got you some watermelon,” Tom ripped off a bit of the watermelon, dribbled the juice over the dirt, and pushed the fruit deep into the pile.

     The leaves played a shadow song on the blades of grass. Light and dark tinkled through the air—a visual wind chime. Tom looked up and saw a tiny human-like thing fluttering in time with the music.

     “Hi, I’m Lucinda,” she sang. “Let’s go on an adventure.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So, sometimes I get offended Part 1

This isn’t nor shouldn’t be news to anyone who has ever met me. Yes, I get offended quite easily. I would prefer those around me not to use derogatory words or actions. Usually, I open a dialogue as to why I have those feelings and how the two of us can come to an understanding. Less often, I snap and speak harshly toward another human.

This writing is the first step toward opening a dialogue discussing how language usage, gender norms, and behavior can create change. Knowledge is the first step toward social inclusivity, which strives to provide a space for all humans to feel safe. I do this in several ways: reflecting on my language and its effects on the listener; researching gender, queer, and sexual spectrums to best comprehend those around me; and incorporating this language and research into behavior that supports and respects humans regardless of ability, gender, or sexuality.

Language Usage
I can assume that if you are reading this, you are a human and use language to communicate. Your expressions may look, sound, or feel different from mine, but we all use them to express needs, wants, and emotions. Because I am only fluent in English, I will use that as my platform. In this section, I want to discuss several words, phrases, or connotations that really grind my gears. When I hear these words, I look at the person who said it, and usually ask, “Is that word the best choice to describe what you’re really feeling?” Or, “There are hundreds of thousands of words in this language. Is that the most thoughtful one you can come up with?” Or, seldom, “Your ignorance annoys me. Choose a different word.” These words span ability, gender, and sexuality. Every human has a right to feel safe in conversations and discussions.
A.    Retarded: I have pioneered for this word to be taken out of everyday vernacular for longer than I can remember. It has become a colloquial term for anything or any person that is not up to the speaker’s expectation. Basically, it suggests that humans with non-traditional learning abilities are “less than.” There is the argument that, “everyone uses it that way. It has lost the negative connotation, so it doesn’t matter anymore.” It hasn’t lost its negative connotations; there is often a note of derision when used. It does matter. By allowing this term, we look over the marginalization of a particular group of humans based solely on ability over which they have no control.
B.    Pussy and Man Up: As in, “Jeez, don’t be a pussy. Man up.” I’ve just started changing my use of this word due to an enlightened conversation with a friend of mine. Let’s just be clear; pussy is slang for vagina. By saying, “Don’t be a pussy,” one makes a lot of assumptions about vaginas and those who have them. It proposes that vaginas or females are beneath their male counterparts. It is like saying, “Oh, you’re scared? You must be a woman,” which sets up dangerous gender expectations for our future. In a separate, but equally important vein, “Man up” is derogatory to both men and women. It gives the listener a very clear idea of expectations for men, and what they must do to be a “man.” It also suggests that only men can be strong in both a physical or emotional way, and women cannot attain that strength. Ever.
C.    Dick: This is my newest one yet! I was talking with some folks on Saturday and it dawned on me that I can’t campaign for inclusive language that only targets my gender, orientation, or ability. Just as “pussy” declares that women are weaker than men, “dick” perpetuates the idea that humans with a penis are rude, impatient, or generally bad people. That is just a bold-faced lie. I have met at least one man-type human who wasn’t like that. 
D.   Fag or Dyke: It seems almost silly that I need to reiterate that this slur is hurtful and still very offensive. Often, hate drips from these words used to cause pain or condemn someone. In some countries, governments (e.g. Sudan, Brunei) enacted laws stating that death is the most suitable punishment for homosexuals. In many others, queer people continue to be second class citizens within the legal system. Conversely, some people use fag or dyke as an endearing term. This opens a discussion of reclamation, which suggests that people within the targeted minority group (e.g. homosexual men and women) can take a slur and use it in a positive way to show empowerment. I take umbrage with this because it greys the line between who can and cannot toss it about, “I’m not gay, but I’m an ally. I am showing solidarity in reclaiming it.” In my opinion, one cannot reclaim what was never theirs.

This is not meant to infringe your freedom of speech. You are welcome to use whatever words or phrases suit you. However, I would invite you to think deeply about your word choice. Imagine whom it affects or has affected. I encourage you to move gaily forward in your own discussions of language and inclusivity. Of course, if you have any questions or comments about any terms or ideas in this, please feel free to contact me.

Coming next: thoughts on gender norms and inclusive behavior.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So, here’s looking at the moon, Sister

I have been a wee bit out of sorts for the past two months, and my writing has been straight out of an acid washed, tape bound composition notebook circa 2004. I had a deadline in my brain when I woke up this morning that by the time I go to sleep, I will have produced something to post on the bloggity blog.

When I got home, I was all rarin’ to go on some recent feminist issue: a silver tongued soap box declaration of human rights. Rah rah rah. And, trust me. That will come in time. But, in my Skype conversations with my sister, I realize that there are more important things than pushing my incredibly biased agenda on you unsuspecting folks at home.

This past week, my sister, an elementary school music teacher (among a million other really awesome things), had a choir concert. As she was preparing for it, she told me about the theme and how excited she was to do “A Night at the Theatre.” All throughout high school, our house rang with show tunes and theatrical responses to paltry issues. I was eager to hear how the show went.

After a short conversation (technology did that thing that it stopped working at the exact moment you’d like it to work), she sent me an email with some videos of her concert. She said, “Check out…video one for a little surprise.” Right before “Somewhere Out There” from Fieval Goes West, she made an announcement to the audience about how for siblings, she only has me, her little sister, who currently lives in South Korea. And, we only can talk on Skype, but sometimes we say, “I’m looking at the moon, Sister” because when we’re both looking at the same moon, it seems like the distance isn’t so far.

And, that right there is the point of this. Of all of this. Distance in time and space when gauged by the  moon seems so minuscule, so silly. The same moon was there before I was born. It’s there now. It will continue after I depart this earth.  

Under this ubiquitous moon, my sister loved me before I was a feminist, before I was a teacher, before I was strong. She loved me through my terrible twos, my codependent eights, that awkward summer when I was 13 with braces, glasses, and a broken arm.  That awkward summer when I was 22 with…ummm…that awkward summer when I was 22. And, sometime between Backstreet Boys, pogs, and hair dye the bond changed from loving each other because "Mom said" to loving each other because we chose it.

The same moon that shown over us in our childhood, still peeks his head out now. He watches over us as we continue to grow—a constant charge in our ever evolving lives. And, I’m not sayin’ that because I live in the future I know all the things, I’m just sayin’ that I know that the world doesn’t end today. The sun rises with her as the moon rises with me. Tonight, though, it’s just a sliver, a bow shooting memories across the sky. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

So, I drank my last beer

“Wait, wait, wait, Botsford. You are from Wisconsin. That is basically your ambrosia. Your nectar of the gods,” you gasp, panicky, grasping for something real to hold onto--probably a rosary, the couch upon which you’re sitting, and/or a cold brew of your own.

Yes, I understand the irony. I think it is similar to when I told my folks I was a vegetarian. “But, but, Katie, what will I cook for you when you come home?” Cold fear crossed my mother’s eyes. Pretty sure my parents were more accepting when I told them I like to date the womyns than when I chose not to eat meat. Regardless, I digress.

I am choosing to do this for several reasons. I don’t really want to drink during Ultimate season. My body is my temple, blah blah blah. In addition, I cannot exercise for an extended period of time due to an injury, so I am trying to cut out alcohol and other foods that don’t really serve a purpose to keep my sweet bod in beach condition. Just kidding on that last part. But, I am trying to be healthier, and focus on paltry things like self-control.

ANYWAY, I would prefer not to publically discuss why I am no longer drinking right now, but that I am not drinking. I also wish to tell you a story about my last drink.

Once upon a time, there lived a fiery lass from a sleepy hamlet in the northern reaches of an emerald island. She thrived on adventure. Always climbing or running or moving forward towards bigger and better places. Her gallivanting nature brought her to the land of morning calm. She spent some time in the bustling metropolis then ventured south towards the ocean front. She traipsed about the beach chasing and catching flying saucers. She, however, had a secret magic. She made everyone around her a faster runner, a confident catcher. She focused her energy into changing those around her into stars.

People from near and far gathered in hopes of training with her. There was one such girl—raw and new—who was especially eager. Shy, yet anxious to please, she lurked around the lass in hopes of learning by observation. Soon, the two women became acquainted; then their acquaintance turned to friendship. The lass’s magic pulsed through their friendship making the girl into a better human. And, the girl listened, learned, and taught as well. Together, they journeyed towards better ways of living, of existing in their world.

After some time, the lass felt a tugging, a yearning to keep her feet moving. Constantly moving forward. Constantly growing in herself. She chose to leave the morning calm in search of passion and vigor. At a last, last, last going away dinner, the women shared a special soup, mandu, and mediocre beer—their favorite meal.

When the lass departed for her train, the girl didn’t cry. Not because she wasn’t sad. But, because she knew that the lass’s magic will continue to course through their friendship, and someday their adventures will again be in the same place at the same time.

The end.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that my last gamjatang with W seemed a fitting time to take a break from alcohol. She taught me to stop bettering myself for others, and instead try bettering myself for me. She walked with me on some pretty wobbly steps towards being a healthier human, and now it is my turn to also grow in myself under my own volition.

Thank you, dear friend. I will see you soon.