Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Angst



There has been something about having a 5 at the start of my age that has sent me into a perpetual state of reflection, anticipation, and pondering. The result of all of this is a deep understanding of, and perhaps even welcoming of, the condition of angst.

Human beings, as far as we know, are the only living creatures who ponder their own death before it happens. Yay, humans!

I always knew, of course, that I would die someday, but the angst is recent. I can't say that the pondering is entirely recent. You may recall that I previously confessed in a blog post to contemplating suicide as a teenager, but this pondering that is linked with a complete understanding of the complete and utter erasure of my being is certainly recent.

In a conversation with my son, Tony, one day, we talked about a church member and mother of one of his friends who was battling cancer and had very little time left in this world. We contemplated how we might feel if we were faced with this certain end. He said something that was so profound to me that it was possibly the catalyst for my angst. He said,

"I'm not afraid of dying, I'm afraid of not being here."

Now that, my friends, is exactly where I'm at. I've never been afraid of dying. My dark teenage thoughts were encouraged to linger because of that. My family raised us in an atmosphere of open discussion about the realities of death. We contemplated it whenever a relative would die. We all thought we were so enlightened because we were not afraid. I truly wasn't afraid of death, I was more often afraid of the process of dying - how hard would it be, would it be painful, etc.

Once Tony voiced the more terrifying state - of not being here - I haven't been able to shake it. I sit in my house now, typing this, and looking around at the life that I have and how precious it is, and how beautiful my children and grandchild are, and all that I have to look forward to and then it rushes at me. The angst. The sheer meaningless reality of human existence.

I photograph headstones as a volunteer for Find A Grave and sometimes when I'm standing over that stone, I try to imagine the person interred there. What did they sound like? What was their favorite thing to do? What foods did they hate? The stone doesn't tell me. The dates tell me whether there is likely to be anyone alive still who could know, but in the end, enough time will pass for all of us that nobody will still be around who really remembers us.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)
Angst.

The writer of Ecclesiastes had it. We don't even know for sure who he was. Even if we do think we know who he was, we don't know what he sounded like. We don't know what his favorite thing to do was. We don't know what foods he hated.

Angst.

It can either paralyze you or empower you. When we are truly aware of the limited days we have, we can become depressed and fearful or we can feel a drive toward making our lives count for something.

I'm choosing the latter. While I can get teary-eyed when I'm filled with angst like I am today, the condition itself calls for action. I begin making plans. I start thinking about goals. I cheer myself toward making a difference in the world (and by world I generally mean my corner of it).

And I write.

Because, that is one thing that could tell somebody 200 years from now who I was, what I found to be most important . . .

and maybe even what foods I hated.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Memories: Re-Imagining the Rain

A very large part of the person I am today originated in the year 2002. In January, my baby who was just over a year old, was diagnosed with cancer. I had separated from my husband a few months before, I was unemployed and attending university, and I had two other children at home, ages 5 and 3.

Through that year, I encountered more challenges than I ever had before, or ever have since. Struggling through the end of an 18-year marriage, dealing with the realities of poverty and single parenting, and existing as a person whose child was battling a life-threatening illness was daunting and difficult. If I ever say anything that makes it sound like it was easy, I'm covering for you so that you don't have to feel bad about it. It was hard. Add to that an ex-husband who didn't help, a church family who deserted me eventually for whatever reason (I'm told that my ex was telling them stories that made them not want to be there for me), and my own father dealing with a heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery, which left my own family barely able to be present for me, and you have the very definition of hardship.

The good thing about hardship, though, is that when we endure it, when we focus on positives, set goals, and pull ourselves out of it, we have embedded a certain trait into our psyche - one that will define how we approach every single challenge from then on. This little thing is called grit.

At the time, though, grit was the last thing on my mind. Often, I would come home at night from school or the hospital feeling alone. Many times, while my children slept in their beds, I searched, begged and pleaded for strength. Sometimes this was in silent prayer, but often it was in the form of song.

Music is a big part of my life. I mentioned another song in the blog post "Amazing Grace" which has profound meaning to me, and for sure, that song was sung often while I rocked my son to sleep in those hospital rooms. However, when I was at home in those moments when I was barely hanging on, there were two songs that I would sometimes play over and over, singing as loudly as I could without waking up the children. After two or three repeats, I would move from my deepest desperation into a complete sense of empowerment.

The songs were "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me and "Bring on the Rain" by Jo Dee Messina. The combination of these songs reminded me of the two powers I have within myself to encounter and defeat any difficulty that comes my way.



"Bring on the Rain" reminded me that my life was going to be experienced in the way I chose to experience it. Whether I decided to focus on the negatives and have a negative life or whether I chose to embrace the positives and know that negatives are just another part of the whole adventure, was entirely up to me.



"I Can Only Imagine" invoked a power beyond myself. The power that God provides and which always has been and always will be there for me. The power that has overcome the world. My God has my back. He always has and always will. Sometimes outcomes are not what I want them to be, but I can always know that whatever those outcomes are, God will have my back. He had it in 2002 and revealed himself to me in so many minute and infinite ways.

Still today, the sound of those songs brings back memories, tears, and a renewed sense of empowerment. They are a reminder that rain can be seen as a storm or as a giver of life.

The choice is yours.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Best of both worlds

I have always loved pie. My favorite is strawberry rhubarb, or cherry, or pecan, or pumpkin, or chocolate, or .... You get the idea.

Last year, I found a recipe that helps me not have to decide which pie to eat - it combines pumpkin and pecan (and chocolate if you add chocolate chips). I made it last year and loved it so I'm making it a tradition. This year, I decided to make it pretty.
Yum!



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A wish come true

I always wonder about celebrities and the differences between their public persona and reality. I had the opportunity to find out for myself over Easter weekend when my family traveled to New York City.

To explain, let me share a bit of our story. In 2002, our youngest son, Nathan Griffin, was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. This is a very aggressive and very rare soft tissue cancer. Nathan had just turned a year old when we was diagnosed. He spent the second year of his life in and out of hospitals, fighting for his life through surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Over the last 14 ½ years, he has undergone additional surgeries and dealt with the side effects of so much therapy at such a young age. Last year, I was called by the mother of a boy who we met all those years ago and she told us that she had nominated Nathan for a wish through Make-A-Wish. Make-A-Wish is an organization that grants wishes to children who are battling or are battling a life threatening illness. Nathan could not get a wish when he was going through chemotherapy because of his age, but he did qualify last year as a survivor.

Nathan’s wish was to meet the cast of Saturday Night Live. He had to be 16 before SNL would allow him to attend a show, so we waited and were so excited when our wish granter, Dennis Baird, called us and said our trip had been scheduled for April, 2017.



Over Easter weekend, Nathan, along with David, myself, and two of our other children, Rene and Tony, were flown to New York City to see a live taping of SNL. We felt so special when the limo pulled up to take us to the studio. After the show, we got a backstage tour and then almost the entire cast came out to give Nathan hugs, talk about theater (he is a big-time theater kid!), and sign the cue card from the cold open that says “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”. We were all amazed and a bit in shock. Next, one of the producers told us there was one more person who wanted to meet Nathan. Nathan’s biggest dream came true when Jimmy Fallon (who hosted the show) came out of his dressing room, along with Harry Styles (the musical guest). All of the celebrities who visited with Nathan were so down-to-earth, friendly, and truly interested in him. Jimmy spent a long time with Nathan, teaching him his signature moves and learning Nathan’s from him.





It was a magical evening as part of a beautiful weekend that was all planned and paid for by generous folks who donate their time and money to Make-A-Wish. The organization does wonderful things for children who have had to deal with so much more in their young lives than they ever should have. We are forever changed by the experience.

If you are looking for a way to make a difference in the life of a child, consider donating your time and/or money to Make-a-Wish!


It's a soup night!

David and I have been trying to lower the number of carbs we eat and we have discovered some very tasty dishes! Lately, the Dallas weather has actually been just chilly enough that we have used the excuse to make soup at least one night each week. Tonight, we made a fish chowder that was super good!



One of my favorite things about this chowder is that, like most chowders, you can really drop whatever you feel like into it. I'll post the recipe I used for tonight's chowder, but feel free to mix it up with different kinds of seafood or other veggies!

I usually use tilapia or cod in this but tonight I didn't have any, so I used imitation crab instead (which is usually pollock or some other kind of whitefish, so it worked). If you are trying to keep processed foods out of your lineup, you probably won't choose that route!

I used flour to thicken the soup, but I think I would change that next time around. The net carbs on this dish is 16, which isn't too bad, but I think I could have gotten it lower. Also, if you are looking for lower calories, you could double the evaporated milk instead of using the heavy cream.

Here is the recipe for tonight's soup - enjoy and let me know how yours goes!

Fish Chowder

320 calories per serving, 8 servings
16 net carbs

Ingredients:


2 T. butter
1 large onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 medium white mushrooms, chopped
4 cups fat-free chicken broth
8 oz. imitation crab meat (or white fish)
12 oz. cooked salad shrimp (or other seafood)
6.5 oz. can chopped clams
1/4 tsp. Old Bay TM seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can evaporated milk
12 oz. heavy cream
1 large head cauliflower, diced and steamed (if you want this in a hurry)
8 oz. clam juice
1/2 cup flour
2 oz. bacon pieces (optional)

Steps:

  1. Melt butter in stock pot. Add diced onions, celery, and mushrooms and saute until soft.
  2. Add chicken broth. Heat on medium for 2 minutes.
  3. Add seafood and seasonings. Stir. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add milk, heavy cream, and cauliflower. Stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
  5. Combine clam juice and flour in shaker. Pour into stockpot and stir.
  6. Heat until thickened and hot throughout.
Enjoy!





Thursday, January 26, 2017

Denying the reaction

I have not been really vocal outside of my immediate family and friends about the struggle I've been experiencing over the last year, and more deeply since November. I've done a lot of thinking these last few months and realized my silence, and the silence of millions of others like me, is partially to blame for the surreality we are living today.

My initial reaction, whenever I ponder a little too long on this, is a strong desire to retreat. To escape into the wilderness. To make real my strongest dream as a teenager, which was to move into a cabin in the mountains and never be seen again. Seriously. That was what I wanted. I even wrote that down my senior year and put it in a time capsule. I laughed when I read it years later after the time capsule was opened.

I'm not laughing anymore.

An introvert has the advantage of having lots of conversations happening inside their head at any particular moment in time. It is not a conversation with lots of voices, or a conversation with others, but rather a conversation with our own self. Living in solitude, then, is less stressful for me as it might be for others who need social interactions. Don't get me wrong - I would not be able to live in solitude indefinitely, but a monthly or bi-monthly trip into town for supplies would be enough to get me through the next month.

I could not leave my family, though, and that is what keeps me here. That, and something my pastor said to me when I talked to him about this pull. He said that he had no doubt that living in the woods would be what I needed, but it wasn't what the world needed. He said that if I did leave society, I would also be taking Elaine, and everything she contributes, away from society.

I don't have any illusions that the world, or even my local community, would miss Elaine that much. I don't believe that I hold within my brain the gift of something big. I do see his point, though. By running away, I would not be facing the challenge. I would not be joining forces with the brave folks who stayed behind. I would be doing nothing to make things different for anyone but myself.

Can't get much more selfish than that.

So in this blog post, I am making it official. I am denying the instant reaction and sticking around. I am focusing on what I can DO, rather than how I can COPE. I am being VOCAL instead of being SILENT. I am LOSING some friends and I am MAKING new ones.

I know that I will be labeled because I live in a society where labels are the first thing to come off a welcome wagon. I've never been such a part of this society that labels stick.

I apologize in advance for those labels littering the ground behind me as I brush them off my shoulders.

I know that some people will tolerate me, but think differently about me. I expect it, and I acknowledge that is a part of their defense mechanisms - handed to them in small doses by society from the day they were born.

I apologize in advance for not giving a damn what they think.

I know that some people will feel threatened by my opinions, as they are threatened by others like me.

I will not apologize for who I am.

Peace.

Friday, July 22, 2016

What I've learned about Pokemon Go and why you should care

Unless you've been living under a rock or have opted out of 21st century technologies and all forms of media, know that there is a game called Pokemon Go that has taken over the free time of people of all ages.

Pokemon Go is a game that can be installed on mobile devices. The game uses the GPS from the device to provide players a view of their real world with an overlay of their game character (avatar) and the items and creatures to interact with. The object of the game is a little complex and it depends on the person playing it what they might say the whole point is - it is either to collect all the Pokemon, to defeat other players in the Pokemon Gyms, or to pass time.

As a 50-something educator, mother of five, and sociologist, I decided it would be short-sighted of me to not invest some time into the game to figure out what the big deal is, what are future implications in society, and how does this translate in the classroom. I received some disapproving glances from friends and strangers, high fives from teenagers, and hugs from my children during my experience as a player.

This article will divulge the basic information I have gleaned as a player and ideas I have for how this information could transfer into either future research or changes in practice, regardless of what line of work you are in. It was not a scientific study, so everything I am about to write is anecdotal, but still worth pondering.

The Players (called Trainers in the game)

The first thing that began to emerge for me were four distinct categories of players:


  1. Teenagers: This was the obvious, and largest group. These kids started playing it because everyone else was playing it and continued because of some motivation that became apparent to them (which I will discuss later in this article).
  2. Older teenagers and young adults: This group doesn't game as much as they used to, but the lure of their childhood favorite game was strong. One day, when my son and I were headed out for a Pokewalk (you have to actually walk, a lot, to play the game fully), he grabbed his old Nintendo DS and put all of his Pokemon games in his pocket (which he had dug out of storage the night before), and played Pokemon on his DS while we drove to where we were walking that day.
  3. Adults who already walk a lot or spend time outdoors: A lure is set out at a Pokestop by a player in order to attract more Pokemon to the area. Lures help all players, not just the person who put it out, so players tend to congregate in those locations. In those locations, I could always find folks who were out walking their dog AND playing Pokemon, or smoking cigarettes because they were not allowed to in the house AND playing Pokemon. I even saw a postman walking his route while playing Pokemon.
  4. Parents: As a mom to five, I realize the extreme surprise that came with the first day a teenager stood up and said "I'm going for a walk." Our large yard has been unused for the last 15 years and trying to get the kids to go for long walks has been out of the question. Last week, my 15 year old walked over 3 miles with me in 100 degree weather without a single complaint. Moms and Dads are seizing the opportunity to reconnect with their children during family Pokehunts.
The Motivations

When I came across groups of people at a lure, I had the opportunity to talk to some. I found that there are different motivations for people who play the game. This is the piece I was really interested in. My burning question was "Why would THIS game take hold of the world so quickly, and how can I leverage that to forecast what it might mean to our future society?" Again, I began to see some distinct motivators that people would sort under:

  1. Playing a game: This is the obvious motivator. We have become a society that doesn't like downtime. Whether we are waiting for an elevator or for a red light to change, we believe we have to be doing something and for some people, a game is that something. Remember Candy Crush?
  2. Collecting things: After playing the game, this is where I have fallen. Even though I feel like I have experienced the game enough to begin to answer my question, I still play a little. There is something in me that must obtain as many Pokemon as I can. I'm a collector of things. It makes sense that would translate into this augmented world. In speaking with others who are playing, I find that the collecting motivation crosses all age groups.
  3. Competition: Along with competition for Pokemon generally, the game includes competition for control of gyms. Defeating and thus controlling a gym doesn't really do a lot - except that everyone who sees the gym while your Pokemon is controlling it sees both your Pokemon and whatever name you've given it and your avatar. There is a little bit of recognition there, although nobody knows who the players really are. For this aspect of the game, players are required to affiliate themselves with one of three "teams". I am Team Mystic (blue) and have been a little amused by some people who first ask me what team I'm on before they will give me tips or answer my questions.
The Misconceptions

Something I didn't set out to observe, but which happened accidentally, was how people who aren't playing Pokemon Go perceive people around them who they believe to be playing. Since the game began, we have all seen increasing numbers of people outside walking and more groups of people walking or lingering in places. We also have seen more people walking while holding a phone in front of their face . . . or have we? I have been asked if I am playing Pokemon Go while I was reading an email in the parking lot of Starbucks and while I was texting my son to remind him to put out the trash as I was waiting in line at the grocery store. These compete strangers who would never have spoken to me otherwise, felt empowered to smugly ask "Are you playing Pokemon?". I have to say I was a little bit offended. I was reminded of how I felt when smart phones first came out and I found them to be the most convenient way for me to take notes when I was listening to a presenter. I was called out in the middle of a presentation for texting during his speech. As all heads turned to look at me, I held up my phone and said "this is all I have for taking notes, would you like me to stop listening to you?"

Another misconception is that it is dangerous to play Pokemon Go. The truth is, it is dangerous to do anything without planning and being aware. If a lure is in a shady part of town and an area that easily hides potential criminals, why would you stop there? Included in the "dangerous" aspect is the misconception that all Pokemon players are so busy watching their phones that they are walking in front of traffic, off cliffs, etc. The truth is, people have been doing stupid things like that since the beginning of time. I would guess the same percentage of people are going to not look both ways before crossing the street playing Pokemon as there would have been reading a book, talking on the telephone, daydreaming, etc. I would still like to share this campy video a nearby Police Department made to warn people of the dangers of not paying attention while playing Pokemon:


Why Should I Care?

Now that I've discussed the observations I've made, I want to say this: It is vitally important that everyone pay attention to Pokemon Go. I'm not saying that everyone needs to play it, but I am saying that everyone needs to be culturally literate enough to understand what the game is and think about what it could mean for our society and for their work. Here are the things it has made me think about:

  1. I don't know if Pokemon Go itself can be sustained. The "new" will wear off eventually and the truth is, the game doesn't have enough to it to keep people enchanted with it. I do understand the power of the corporate world in our society, however, and realize that there are most likely some planned additions/evolutions of the game already written and waiting to be pushed out to eager players. There are things that aren't in the game that surprise me, like the ability to see other players on the map, or request assistance from other players.
  2. Implications for businesses: 
    • Some small businesses, such as restaurants, have already capitalized on the game by setting lures at nearby Pokestops. I wonder how long it will take before businesses have the ability to pay the company to place a Pokestop at their business and even pay a monthly fee to have a continual lure placed there.
    • On the flip side, businesses have already realized potential security issues and nuisances caused by lingering players. Some government facilities experience people trying to convince them to let them through secure areas in order to get to elusive Pokemon. Other businesses complain that people are loitering in their lobbies, taking up space that is meant for paying customers.
    • An interesting development is happening where local governments are hosting Pokemon events. My town is having one next week for three hours in the evening at one of the city parks. There will be lures set at all the Pokestops in the park, vendors, food trucks, and lots of people. This type of event is due to someone stopping the griping about people lingering and figuring out a way to leverage it to their advantage.
  3. Implications for education:
    • When school is back in session, students will be using precious bandwidth to keep their game going. Campuses will need to make plans now for how to handle the extra demand.
    • There is a new divide between teachers who have not become aware of the implications of Pokemon and students who have. I hosted a group of young people from my church last week whose conversation turned to the game. When they started declaring what team they were on, I said "Team Mystic!". There was a pause in the conversation as they all looked at me. One boy said "You play???" and the girl next to me raised her hand and gave me a high-five, as she was also "blue." From then on, I was not an observer in the conversation, I was included in it, even though I didn't talk much. In the classroom, just knowing enough to seem like you care about something your students care about goes a long way toward establishing some cred with the kids, and cred goes a long way toward establishing those very important relationships with them.
    • Wouldn't it be wonderful if our students could get as excited about learning your content as they did about learning how to play this game? I'm not advocating for integrating Pokemon Go into your curriculum, although some teachers and librarians have already figured out how to do so. I'm advocating for you to understand the motivations and how those could translate into your classroom. For example, collecting things seems to be a giant motivator across all groups - coming up with a system in your classroom where students can seek special cards or badges (not just achievement badges) and in the seeking, they learn something new, could begin to turn your classroom into a place where students are eager to seek, wonder, and explore.
  4. Implications for society: For this part, I put on my forecast practitioner hat and begin to wonder, "What does this translate into years down the road?
    • Do we have other games like Pokemon Go that appeal to the MMORPG players of my day? Do these games evolve into a sort of a Second Life experience, which was ahead of its time?
    • Does this move our whole society out of obesity? As people explore their surroundings in a physical and augmented world, does the tendency toward sitting and snacking get lost and we all become healthier? Does this result in a booming outdoor adventure market?
    • Is there an increase in deadly skin cancer as a result of people talking longer walks than they realized and not using sunscreen? (I'm serious)
    • Do technology companies device better batteries that charge on renewable energy sources in our environment or recycle the heat from the phone back into usable power?
    • Does corporate America find this as a new way to control our exposure to products and services and sway our opinions? Do politicians?
    • Do we all wear nifty, lightweight glasses that give us immediate and constant augmentation of our realities?
    • Should I buy stock in Nintendo and Sony as everyone is reminded of their old gaming favorites and flock to buy them again?
    • Do teenagers, who are having a hard time finding jobs with the high number of adults filling the jobs they previously could get, begin selling their services as surrogate players? I can drop my mobile device off in the morning and Tommy can take it and 20 others in his backpack while he is walking all over town, hatching eggs? Occasionally, Tommy sits in a park and captures Pokemon on all the devices, being paid per Pokemon, the rarer, the more expensive.
The list can go on and on. I have not even begun to strategically consider what this means to our future society. This article is a first step in that process.

Have you considered Pokemon Go? What might it mean for your line of work?