No, Really… If you could do anything….

I ran into this TED Talk the other day.

And even though it was nested in among such gems as “Your Vagina is Not a Car,” a highly intellectual search for hidden meaning in Kubrick’s version of The Shining, and assortment of official and unofficial music videos, it stuck with me.

If you ask teenagers what they want to do when they grow up, about 80% of them say they want to be one of three things: Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers. (Well, I think it said engineers. I’ve dated enough of them that there’s a semi-permanent censorship bleep over the word.)

And if you then ask them No, really, if you could do anything in the whole world you wanted, what would it be?

Uhm… well, about 80% (of the total, not just the Doctors, Lawyers, and whatevers) change their answer.

Okay. So 4 out of 5 people –already, in high school–are planning on doing something other than what they really want to do.

Or maybe… they have no sense of how to get from where they are to where they want to be.

I find myself looking around at the people I know–and people I think of as successful–and wondering which one is the happy one? If I have five people lined up, which one is doing what they actually want?

Remember that lecture from college? Look to your left… look to your right… One of those people won’t be here by spring.

This is more… well, add in the person in front of you… and behind you… and all four of those people will be spending their lives doing second-choice jobs in pursuit of stability and money.

And maybe I am the happy one. Maybe, even though I haven’t reached my goal–the fact that I’m still in motion counts for something.

Maybe the fact that I haven’t arrived at a destination I never wanted to get to in the first place matters more than I think.

And either way, so I’m in a job I don’t love, but somehow, maybe… I’m a little less alone than I thought I was.

After all… if 4 out of 5 people could do anything–anything in the world they wanted–it wouldn’t be what they are doing.

Gifted Children, Education, and Abuse

I spent a lot of time locked in the library, when I was a kid.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean visiting the library, or absorbed in reading at the library, or gee, I was one of those kids who always begged their parents to take them to the library.

I mean locked in.

As in, dumping me in the school library was my teachers’ solution, when I didn’t fit their curriculum, or was inconvenient.

As in, I still remember a couple of days when I was allowed to come downstairs and watch Letter People with the other kids.

As in, I was six years old and checking for fire escapes, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back out the way I got in, and I wasn’t sure anyone would remember I was there. A lot of times, they didn’t.

I was locked in.

Because I was smart.

And in a weird way, this was presented as a privilege. No one was telling me what to do. And I was the only child in the school who had free access to a computer… books… their time.

I certainly learned more than I would have, if I’d spent the time watching Letterpeople and handing out papers because I was the only one who could read.

And it didn’t occur to me to tell anyone, because it didn’t occur to me that what was happening wasn’t normal.

Of course, I didn’t belong with those other kids.

I wasn’t really a child, after all.

I just finished watching the movie “Gifted,” and I have now been crying on and off for an hour.

I think it was supposed to be a happy ending.

The kid goes home (following a brief stint in you’re smart foster care), and gets to attend university classes AND regular school. And… uhm… the father-figure winds up in a relationship with what I would describe as a semi-abusive grade-school teacher.

Seriously? You’re making that woman a permanent fixture in your kid’s life, and it’s supposed to be a happy ending?

She was vile.

You know the teacher who tries to humiliate a kid in front of the whole class just to make them shut up? Yeah. That’s the one.

And somehow, the fact that the kid is smart, and the abusive teacher failed to humiliate her somehow turns that teacher into a shining exemplar of the educational system, and a suitable romantic interest.

She was so awful, in fact, that later on, when she’s having a conversation with a minor, minor, minor character in the hallway (do NOT blink while the pretty black teacher is on screen) my response was hallelujah, Miss Honey has arrived. She will fix this.

Nope. Thirty seconds, and she’s gone for good.

The film was all full of such snazzy tropes as the kid’s aptitude and interests **just happen** to be exactly the same as mom’s, grandma’s, and even the (blue-collar by choice, but wow, he’s smart) uncle’s, and gee, it’s in the kid’s “Best Interest” to develop whatever they’re talented at, because after all, don’t exceptional intellects really belong to everyone?

Spoiler alert: No, my brain does not belong to everyone.

I don’t really care that what I’m capable of could bring the world more happiness, more money, more understanding of the universe as a whole.

What makes me happy is farting the alphabet while eating breakfast cereal.

There is no noblesse oblige.

Society is not entitled to the fruits of my misery.

It’s not even entitled to the things I enjoy.

Think about it. Somewhere out there–somewhere in a quiet town of a thousand–there’s a mechanic who locks the windows and pulls down the blinds, and works on a Millennium Problem.

For himself.

Because he wants to.

And someday, when he finishes, he’ll throw the papers on the fire, and go to sleep, content in the knowledge that he solved it.


Next Time, I’m Choosing the Movie

Recently, I was dragged out, kicking and screaming to see Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk.

I may have mentioned before that World War II movies are not my thing. Every last gram of interest in the subject was wrung out of me in high school (During a time when Every day was a World War II Anniversary of some sort. Did you know that today is the anniversary of the day that FDR got body lice off Stalin? We have a six-hour documentary.) We won’t discuss how much of my “education” involved staring at television, but suffice it to say that I have hit my limit.

Short version? Dunkirk is basically Das Boot played in reverse with a few extra airplanes thrown in for color. Somehow, it still manages to maintain that depressing “all is futile” ending. (Okay, by overshooting a couple of good ending points, and following the characters back to where the school kid who’s accidentally killed when he hits his head on the way to Dunkirk is highlighted in the papers as the “hero” of Dunkirk. We’re all just fighting for propaganda, boys and girls.)

So, I watched the movie, and then I spent the rest of the afternoon tracking down YouTube videos of various Rolls Royce engine sounds. (‘Cause there’s a point in the film where one of the characters cheerfully ignores–doesn’t even look up– an airplane at an unknown distance and an unknown altitude because he’s just that sure… from the sound… that it’s a Merlin and not a Kestrel. I have a lousy ear, but I wouldn’t bet my life I could tell the difference.)

Have I mentioned that I love the internet?

All said and done, I didn’t hate the movie, but I wouldn’t watch it again, either.

Everyone knows the best war movies are the ones with half-naked Spartans in them.

Penthos Does Piraeus, anyone?

Unlearning What They Done Learned Me in School

One of my (many) leftover hangups from grade school is a terror of red ink. Something about those pencils they used to give us. A shuffle of papers later, and you’re grading somebody else’s work and hoping against hope that you don’t have to flunk anyone, and that you didn’t do anything too humiliating, yourself.

So, I don’t edit in red ink. I’ve actually heard that teachers have taken up correcting papers in non-red colors, because it’s less traumatic. (No, sweetie. They’re not traumatized by red ink, itself. They’re traumatized by you.)

I also write in pencil or colored ink or… ya’know… my own blood… because I’ve been trained to take those things a lot less seriously than blue or black ink. Blue or black ink is the domain of very, very carefully re-copying your work so that it will be perfect when you turn it in.

I spent so much time doing this (because I never got to perfect) that one day in Junior High someone told me to make copies, and I sat down and copied the paper–by hand–five or six times so everyone could have a copy.

The response was horror. I meant… make copies in the office. On the Copying Machine.

That thought certainly never occurred to me.

To this day, I pick up a pen, and that same old perfectionism kicks in. Hello, inner editor.

The list goes on. Yellow or pink legal pads. Something with color to it. Blue. Green. Whatever. Never proper loose leaf paper. Still has to be college ruled, though, because the wide ruled reminds me of remedial classes, and makes me doubt myself. (No, really. It’s very simple. The less space between the lines on your paper, the smarter you are. That’s the rule, and it’s in my head.)

Lets just call them “quirks.”

What about you? Any school-based peccadilloes?

Dreams Without a Sell-By Date

I was talking to a coworker… or maybe this is a theme, and it’s just suddenly becoming obvious… But, it was one of those “At my age” conversations. So, here she is, in a job that she hates, coming off the last job that she hated, and which finally just hit the boiling point. Just couldn’t stand it, anymore, so here she is… And she was basically saying… what else can I do, at my age? (Her age is older than I am, but probably still about an eternity from retirement.)

The thing is, she had ideas. None of them are really things she’s passionate about, and most of them are things that you probably should be passionate about, if you’re going to make them your life’s goal. But they sound better than here, and why not?

Oh, yeah. That’ right. At my age… There are geographic factors, too. Kids, grandkids. Family in the dying little town we live in. We’re all good at finding reasons not to jump. Not to face the unknown.

The truth is, I don’t believe either one of us should count on our current job being here for long. Definitely not until I retire. Probably not even until she retires. And it’s really not that great a job to begin with. More of a devil you know situation.

Not everybody gets be an astronaut when they grow up.

And most kids… we pump them full of the kind of dreams that do have sell-by dates. How many years do you have to become a baseball player? I mean… you might spend your eighties tossing a ball around with the Senior Sluggers, but you’re never going to play for the New York Yankees. No, not even way out in left field. How long before you lose your chance to be a rock star? Do you even want to be President of the United States after you’re old enough to buy a beer?

Writing is different.

You can actually do that, regardless of age or geography for as long as you’re interested in doing it.

You can be better at eighty five than you were at twenty five.

There’s a lot of value in the idea that I can still make it, even at my age. Even at her age.

And I can make it doing something I’ve always loved.

I’m still working toward that goal.

In school, I got a lot of That’s Nice, dear… Have you considered this assessment-indicated career in forestry and wildlife management? Certainly more than anyone suggesting that writing could be a career path in itself.


Name The Crime

I ran across a headline in Jezebel (not my usual reading) yesterday.

“After Body-Shaming a Fellow Gym Patron, Dani Mathers Will Be Tried in Court”

Body Shaming?

Well, don’t get me wrong. She definitely did that, too. (Allegedly, but in an already admitted it in an online video, and apologized, but really doesn’t want a record kind of way.)

But what she’s being tried in court for is taking a picture of a naked 70 year old in the gym locker room and posting it to the internet.

Let’s put it this way: if she’d said the woman was “hot” instead of the nasty thing she did say, she’d still be on trial. And probably for a sex offense. The DA delivered a nifty sermon on the evils of body shaming, but in the end, that’s not what she’s charged with.

The media likes to do the same thing with “bullying.”

“Bullying” can stretch all the way from not eating lunch with someone through harassment, and assault. Most of the time, if “bullying” hits the papers, what we’re really talking about is a concrete, nameable crime.

Sometimes, it’s lots of crimes.

You can sit and count the crimes in the articles that announce the “bullying” victims’ eventual deaths.

We could call this kidnapping, or false imprisonment, or assault or battery, or any number of things. We can name people who went to prison for the same things. If someone did it to an adult, they’d call the police, press charges, and name the crime by name.

But if the crime is committed in a school, we have a tendency to find the euphemism. Bullying. He was pushed (assault) into the women’s restroom (kidnapping), held there against his will, (unlawful imprisonment). Let’s call it “bullying.”

Let’s call the principal instead of the police.

Let’s keep it out of the papers until someone is actually, literally, dead.

Let’s fudge over the reports and the details, so no one can really be sure how often something like this happens in the school their children go to. You didn’t really want valid statistics on that in-school crime rate, did you?

And why on earth would the principal have any obligation to report these things to the police, in the first place?

It’s only a crime against minor children.

Oh, that’s right.

It’s a crime against minor children.

The next time you see a story that says something like “Bullying Victim Commits Suicide”… NAME THE CRIMES. Chances are pretty good that an adult would have called the police months or years earlier.

And if you have children, make sure they KNOW that these are crimes. Not just so they’ll understand the impact doing things like that can have on their own life, but so that if they are a victim, they’re able to walk into the principal’s office and say, “I’ve been assaulted, and I need to call the police.”

Sometimes, a stern talking to just isn’t the answer.

The punishment for assault–for kidnapping–for unlawful imprisonment–for any number of things that get waved aside as “bullying” isn’t that you don’t get to go to the winter Snow Ball.

A-to-Z Challenge: Content Management System

A content management system is basically a computer program that manages content, and typically the content of a website. So… well… WordPress springs to mind. There are plenty of choices out there.

So, once upon a time, I had some grade school teachers who decided (or possibly were told) that computers were the wave of the future. And since they were teachers, clearly this meant that they would be teaching computers/programming/technology-a-plenty.

The not so obvious flaw in this thinking was that they did not actually know anything about computers/programming/technology-a-plenty.

So… about that…

The school board procured lessons.

By which, what I mean is a series of “programs” that were intended to result in a specific and recognizable outcome. So, if it was Christmas, you were programming the computer to draw a Christmas tree. If it was Valentine’s day, you’d be looking for a heart. And so on.

These programs would be handed to you–no assembly required–on a Xerox handout, and you would type them verbatim, letter by letter into the computer while the 4th grade teacher (A former Marine who raised twenty-seven of her own children on nothing but MREs and Communist tears) loomed over you, waiting for a Christmas tree to appear.

One typo… anywhere, and the result would be either a blank screen or a shamefully lopsided Christmas tree. And of course, you would have to find that typo in a page of code that neither you nor the teacher understood.

Suffice it to say, I learned how to type.

I probably wouldn’t have learned to program at all, ever, and let’s be honest, after an introduction like that, I would have been perfectly happy with that arrangement.

I wound up building my own content management system later on, when I came up with a reason to do it. (Apparently, Christmas trees that would take twenty seconds with a crayon are not particularly motivating.)

I didn’t have any idea how big the project was before I was actually doing it. If I did, I probably wouldn‘t have done it. But I had an idea, and I couldn’t find any out of the box software that would do what I wanted, and besides, how hard could it be?

Yes, I hear you laughing.

Maybe “hard” isn’t quite the right word. Maybe “big” is better. It’s a long project, and you work on it a little bit at a time, until it starts to do the things you want it to do. You learn as you go along. You learn the things you need to know, so there’s a lot more motivation to do it.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Field Trips to Nowhere

When I was a kid, school field trips were a matter of piling into cars driven by “class mothers” and going… somewhere… There were usually about eighteen kids in my class, and yes, that includes the year that was 5th and 6th grade combined. (Well, we only had three 6th graders!) The thing about “class mothers” is that they were actually, well, you know… mothers. And they had known us… most of us… since preschool, and longer, if you happened to be related, or went to the same church.

We had really good field trips, back then. You could go anywhere that was vaguely educational, and reachable in an eight to ten hour day.

Military cemetery. Historical Society. Museum someplace down the interstate. Up the side of a really big hill out in the middle of nowhere. You weren’t going with a stranger. You were going with someone your parents know well enough to know that if you don’t come back,  they had a darn good reason.

It was good for discipline.

Case in point… That time we had to stop on the side of the interstate to tell the new kid he’d better buckle his seat belt right now. Because the class mother knew my parents, and she knew (redacted and redacted)’s parents and our parents would let her take their kids to (really fun, life-altering activity) some other time. She didn’t know new kid’s parents.

Seat belt buckled, followed by complete silence, and even strikingly good posture.

Messages From the Bathroom Stall Door

I used a public restroom, today, and I snapped a picture of the stall door. Someone has written the words Suicide Club on the stainless steel in electric youth pink. I don’t know if it’s a plea for help, or a bid for attention, or just graffiti referencing a movie or manga. And I don’t know who wrote it. The response–also anonymous–reads, “Please get help. This, too will pass.”

Do you care? 

Yes, I care.

Women use bathroom stall doors as bulletin boards to communicate the things they wouldn’t or couldn’t say in real life to a person with a face. They talk to each other. Two way communication. Private. Anonymous. Deniable. No, I didn’t ask about that. I was just taking a dump.

The first real message I remember reading scrawled across a stall door was in high school. I must have been fourteen or so, and fairly sheltered. I was still getting used to **profanity** and sex was just something kids who smoked and drank did. That first message–in its entirety–read, “Someone in this school eats pussy, and it’s not a guy.”

Word for word. Cunnilingus, Lesbianism, and… someone actually wrote the phrase “eats pussy” in a public place.

At the time, I thought of it as graffiti written for the shock value.  Maybe… maybe I believed what it said was possible. And maybe I did look around and wonder for a second or two which girl it was.

But that message wasn’t meant for me. I read it as a piece of mindless gossip. Someone else might have recognized it as a confession, or an ecstatic shout of connection. And someone might have shouted back, or given a quiet sigh of relief.

I saw the same message (different words) in college, and by then, I did recognize it. The very last stall in the university’s “historical” women’s restroom was the “Lesbian Stall” (Labeled on the inside, black sharpie) and maintenance sanded the stall door down twice a year to remove the accumulated conversations.

I had something to write, then, and I didn’t write it, but the idea that I could have, and that someone would have answered… it mattered.

I’m afraid my bisexual boyfriend is only with me because he wants children, and because he doesn’t have to come out to his father, if he marries a woman.

I hit the ground hard with that one. I’m shaking, a little, and if I think about it long enough, there’s no doubt I’ll cry. Question for the stall door.

And there have been a lot of stall door questions from a lot of women, since then. A lot of topics, and a lot of secrets.

The stall door a safe place. A strangely self-moderating place. The “community” routinely scratches out unacceptable responses. And there’s almost always an answer.Whole threads of conversation, back and forth. Or solitary encouragement. Yes, I care.

Coding as a Foreign Language

Florida’s fine senate has approved making computer coding a “foreign language” that will fulfill the 2 years required to get into Florida’s public university system. The kids would be able to take coding instead of a foreign language.


I took foreign languages–of a human, organic variety–in high school. More of them in college. I taught English as a Foreign language (briefly) after I graduated.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I value language.

In fact, when I started coding (not this website), I chose my first computer languages based on their similarities to human languages I already knew.

There’s a lot of overlap between human languages and computer languages.

But they’re not the same thing.

In an ideal world, I’d argue that it shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, and that every child should do both.

But we’re not living in an ideal world, and even high school kids are mortal.

I absolutely believe every child should have the opportunity to learn computer languages. And they should also have the opportunity to learn human languages. They should probably dabble at least a little in both.

But with more and more information in the world, it doesn’t surprise me that they’re beginning to split off into specializations  younger and younger.

The question that I have here… is how you ensure that children are on a path they have the enthusiasm and talent for, rather than the one their parents or the school system feel is important, right now.