#411: The Raven

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On my desk, perched next to the lamp and beside the personal business cards, a raven sits. It’s not a fancy statue, and it’s not full of elaborate feathering and design. It’s just an all-black raven, that I’m pretty sure Alex bought for me from Target once a long time ago. The fact that it’s not a fancy or incredibly intricate design is part of what makes it special; I like to think the raven is simple and clean, a reminder of my English literature days and my ambitions toward becoming a college professor one day. It reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, of course, but it also reminds me that I can’t give up on who I used to be, or who I want to be today. There is more out there for me to do, and the raven is there as if to say, you better make sure you’re doing everything you can to achieve your dreams.

This might all sound ridiculous, and it probably does, but sometimes small tokens have large meanings, sometimes unintentionally. They just acquire those meanings over time.

Recently, I moved the raven closer to my desk, so it serves as a more obvious reminder to me. That way I don’t forget it as frequently. It’s always there, and I’ll always remember its presence. I like to think that the raven wanted to come closer because it noticed I was losing my way a bit. Alex and I had talked about that a few times, just about how I need to focus more on my professional ambitions and not lose my way on who I want to be, whoever that is. I don’t know what it is currently, but I know that I need to get there sooner or later, whatever it takes.

#203: The Editor

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When I was in college, I spent some time as an editor of a literary magazine, called Montage. Quinnipiac isn’t exactly known for having a robust liberal arts program, but the professors and students work together to make the most with what they have, producing great content regardless. I had some amazing, incredible English professors in my college years, professors whose knowledge of various subjects inspired me to achieve more. Looking back, my desire to eventually get my PhD in English comes from having had such a fulfilling experience with the professors I had at Quinnipiac.

Being a Quinnipiac student afforded me the opportunity to be the poetry editor of the literary magazine, though, and I’m grateful for that. From this experience, I was able to grow as a leader and as a thinker of other people’s writing. I learned to give feedback in a constructive way, and I had fun having conversations with my peers about other people’s writing, particularly some of the stories and poems that were sent in over time.

Being an editor means looking with a critical eye. It means reading for content, reading for quality, and reading for enjoyment at the same time, or separately over multiple readings of the same stories and poems.

The work that the editor-in-chief put in far outweighed whatever I was able to muster, though. She had to construct the magazine from scratch in a program on her Mac, and I went back afterwards and offered feedback on everything. I looked to make sure the margins were correct, the paragraphs were spaced evenly and equally, and no words or grammatical mistakes made it into the final copy of the magazine. Sometimes, people’s writing towed the line between grammatically correct and artistically interesting. You have to make do with what you have, though.

#79: Reading

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Reading, it turns out, isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay. But harder than it looks, motivating a bunch of students to read when they don’t want to. It doesn’t come simply.

When I began my most recent job as an instructional aide (or literacy interventionist) at a local charter school, I knew from the beginning that I’d be taking over a reading group and leading them through grammar, comprehension, and language studies. I knew that the students would have low motivation, that they’d need a helping hand to guide them from start to finish. That’s where I come in. My job is to motivate, to excite, to instill a passion for reading that pushes them through the rest of their Humanities courses and into a lifetime of literature loving.

But how possible is that?

In anticipating the reading group, I thought to plan some fun activities, games with prizes, and worksheets. I adapted Taboo, a classic adult card game, into a more school-friendly version and printed out the cards for us to use. I also adapted Would You Rather? and wrote up an interest inventory, so that I would better understand where students were coming from, where their interests lie, and if they like reading but just don’t get how to read. I modeled Taboo for them, which helped them figure out how to describe the words in front of them.

When it comes to reading, not everyone is interested. Not everyone becomes a lifelong reader after exposure to an excitable teacher. More often than not, reading becomes a part of someone’s life when they make the choice to read. When choice is hung over someone’s head and denied from them, it’s no wonder reading tends to have a reputation for being boring and solitary.

#76: Doubt

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I doubt whether my clothes fit well, I doubt whether my hair looks good, I doubt whether my personality is likable enough. I doubt the sun shines in the morning when it’s supposed to, and I even doubt when I’m supposed to go to bed. But most of all, professionally, I doubt my lesson planning work. What I need to focus on more is trusting my instincts, and if something doesn’t go well, trusting that I can make up for it the next time, or improve from my mistakes. I’m so afraid of making mistakes sometimes that I prevent myself from making them; I shield myself from error by copying the work of my peers or mentors instead, trusting that they have better ideas than I do. There’s never a time when I’m not wishing another person had done this before, but better, so I could copy them and be rid of the anxiety of having to be accountable for my own ideas. It’s an easy, affordable way of avoiding accountability, which is not very good.

But let’s make this a positive and productive blog post. I don’t want to mire in negativity forever. I think I have a lot to offer as an educational professional, it’s just a matter of unleashing that potential appropriately, actualizing it in just the right way. If I need to go to college again to figure that out, then so be it. If I need to stay here for awhile first, then so be it as well. Doubt is a terrible infection, and I need to overcome it one way or another. My ideas aren’t as terrible as they seem in my head; it’s just my self-critical ways acting up. Self-esteem is a tricky thing.

#75: Hearthstone & Teeth

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Careful! There’s a fire burning above here, for some reason. It has no relation to today’s blog post topic, “Hearthstone & Teeth,” it just showed up under the Free Photo Library for the search term Hearth. I guess it works.

Hearthstone is a video game I’ve put tons and tons of hours into, probably more than I ever should have. It’s kept me occupied on study abroad trips, on Michigan plane rides, and after pesky orthodontist appointments. While I was abroad for six months in London, I spent a lot of my free time playing this game, as it had just released and I wanted to grind out games with my Control Warrior build.

But I also remember when the game first came out in 2014 as the year I got my wisdom teeth pulled. The release of the game’s closed beta — a pre-release copy of the game, with no strings attached, that you have to have been sent a “beta code” to enter — coincided with my wisdom teeth, actually. Maybe the beta came out in 2013, then. Either way, as I explained, a beta code is hard to get. Famous video game streamers on Twitch were offered codes in exchange for streaming the game, so that it would attract the attention of the general video game-playing audience. (Twitch.tv is a website that people stream playing video games on. It’s a massively popular site, where the highest earning streamer earns over $1 million a month.)

Well, I remember coming home from my wisdom teeth appointment, feeling super numb all over myself and in no mood to entertain anyone, and after opening up my email on my phone, I saw a message: “Beta Code for Anthony!” How cool of a coincidence is that? It blew my mind at the time, and I remember spending the next few days of numbness and frustration building decks and trying out all the cool new strategies available in this special card game.

I realized after writing this that I didn’t spend much time talking about Hearthstone itself, just its personal relation to me. Maybe I’ll talk more about the actual game in another post. So, don’t be surprised if it makes a return coming up.

Where Are You?

Where are you,
where are you,
where are you

Love, I have and share
To an extent unknown
Love forever

Locked up, tired,
Dehydrated and underfed
Sad, crying, moaning

Where are you,
right now?

Are you okay?
Are you nervous or scared?
Claustrophobic in there?

Don’t be afraid,
We still love you
We always will

F Word

Crumpled up piece of paper
found in the trash between
lunch periods,
between gum-stained homework
and block erasers
an outline of a small hand,
all five fingers, one extended
further upwards than
the others,
and a message in all caps,
scratched out in pencil,
still legible despite this
it says, “Mr. D” and then
trails off, landing
somewhere indistinct and disgusting
and vulgar and depressing
and most of all, sad,
to think someone thought this
up, put it into reality, and
threw it out, unable to face
the consequences of
sharing it in person,
face to face,
I would’ve cried if that
had happened.
I would’ve

#73: Water Castle

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We’ve got to beat the water castle. We’ve got to beat that damn thing.

Let’s talk about Mario games, and their addictive multiplayer possibilities. Though I prefer other platformers over New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe, such as DK: Tropical Freeze, it’s been a worthwhile purchase and a fun addition to my collection of Nintendo Switch titles. It’s provided us with hilarious moments, goofs, and gaffs, and it’s another adventure for Alex and I to complete together. Because it offers six playable characters with different properties on their jumps and power-ups, the game allows you to choose to play at your own speed. Certain characters are easier than others, such as Toadette and Nabbit, and they help players like Alex (who aren’t experts in Nintendo platforming games) gain some familiarity with the controls without intimidating them much. The feature is smart and adds a level of accessibility to the game, similar to a carefully crafted lesson plan including ample differentiation for all players and participants. It’s similar to how Mario Kart 8 Deluxe added the rail feature, preventing karts from falling off the edges with an easy button press on the options menu. We also split the price for this game, so it feels like a group purchase, rather than me buying a game and hoping Alex likes it.

But the water castle. Ugh, the water castle. When this post goes up, hopefully we’ve beaten the damn thing by now. I might write another post later about this game, to provide some updates for people who care. But at the present moment, we are struggling to beat the damn water castle, because we haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and beat it together. The current plan is to finish it tonight (Thursday evening), despite all odds.

#72: Passing Knowledge

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“Passing knowledge” is knowledge that’s good enough to pass, but not good enough to help. It’s knowledge that reflects more on effort than on ability; if you put in more effort, you might exceed having just a passing knowledge on a subject. But when it comes to a person’s ability, their skills, it’s different. Ability sets us apart, in some ways, but effort is the difference between a skill ceiling and a skill floor. What happens when you don’t have any effort, though? What happens when your motivation falls through, and there’s nothing left to push you forward?

I have a passing knowledge of a few subjects: carpentry, contracting, and the works; Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake; sitting and looking occupied while not being occupied at all; and exemplar pet training, petting, and grooming. Alex credits me sometimes for knowing the perfect spot to pet a dog to get them to like me, even though it’s the same spot every time (right behind and under the ear, bonus points for both ears simultaneously.) I don’t have an expert’s knowledge of any of these subjects, but I know enough to get by. That’s passing knowledge.

It’s easy to think thoughtlessly about certain subjects: math, science, quantitative literacy. It’s easy because, after a period of time, you give up on trying. You doubt yourself so much that there’s nothing left but doubt.

I worry, sometimes, that I only have a passing knowledge of subjects I should be an expert in: teaching and English. It’s a constant worry that bothers me when I fail in something, that I secretly am not as good as I need to be. I know I have sufficient knowledge, but there’s always a part of me that doubts myself, exacerbating the issue.

Book Review: “A Confederacy of Dunces”

Two nights ago, I turned the last page on a novel I had picked up months before, A Confederacy of Dunces. I bought John Kennedy Toole’s book after I read the first chapter in Waterstones Piccadilly, and since then I had been reading the novel off and on. Ever since I finished reading, the book has been stuck in my mind and a multitude of critical possibilities have been transposing in my head. Here’s what I thought about A Confederacy of Dunces.

duncesAs you can see, the book has a bit of a weird front cover, but it displays the story fairly well. The main character’s name is Ignatius J. Reilly, and he’s a really funny fellow, though he doesn’t realize it. He’s ignorant of how he appears and ignorant of how his appearance affects others’ perceptions of him. He’s got a big brown mustache, an obnoxious green hat with two flaps on the sides, and an enormous, bulky body. Keep in mind, this book is a clever case of satire. The author uses humor and wit to debase certain characters or actions, to poke fun at them, to criticize their ignorance, and Ignatius, the baffling protagonist, is the most ignorant of all. Satirical books can be self-aware of their satirical nature, and this is seen mostly when outside characters condemn the behaviors of the characters being satirized.

A Confederacy of Dunces takes an interesting perspective on satire, as it places an extraordinary character — in this case, Ignatius — in countless extraordinary situations. The extraordinary frames the entire novel, even though the setting is mild. The main character is a medieval man stuck in a modern world. His favorite book is The Consolation of Philosophy by the Roman philosopher Boethius. He speaks with a high-level of vocabulary, but his hold on the modern world is tiny. He regularly visits the local movie theater in New Orleans and bemoans the actors and actresses’s abilities and the fictional events in the films aloud. Essentially, Ignatius is that guy, but he’s also charming in a very human way. His character, despite seeming so one-dimensional, occupies a great deal of space both literally and figuratively in the bustling world of New Orleans, and his actions in the novel’s exposition have boundless effects on the relatively normal people around him.

But what about the book’s title? First of all, the phrase “a confederacy of dunces” originates from Jonathan Swift’s writings four centuries prior to this novel’s publication. Swift is known as one of the premier satirists of his time, and he also wrote Gulliver’s Travels, another satirical novel. The title explains Ignatius’s mindset.

Four stars!