Sunday, March 23, 2014

On religion.

So, Fred Phelps died this week.

Am I happy about that? I suppose. But not very, because the church he created (and apparently from which he was excommunicated last year) lives on. George Takei had a good take on it; to summarize, he suggested that love always triumphs over hate, in the end. And, more generally, I think it was Mark Twain who observed that there can be people whose deaths aren't to be celebrated, but aren't necessarily appropriate to feel sad about. Phelps being gone fits that bill pretty well.

The Westboro Baptist Church is an extreme flavour of religion, of course; its extreme-ness is why anyone talks about that particular, tiny congregation in a nondescript part of the US at all. But, religions find their way into a lot of corners of our lives, either through overt displays/rituals/symbols/practices, or though more subtle ways like the idioms in our language ("god forbid...").

The more I think about the whole concept of religion -- blind faith in something you can't prove is there, rituals that go back thousands of years that have weird and nonsensical meanings, rules that defy logic -- the more ridiculous the whole thing seems. It's a waste of time. I used to think it was interesting to think about different religions, and I guess it has a bit of a value in terms of historical curiosity, but these days that's fast losing its appeal.

Maybe part of it is because I'm actively seeking out a significant other, and in this town you've got a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds, and a lot of 'em belong to cultural groups that have a lot of rules, and a lot of those come from religion. (Full disclosure: I find a lot of different women attractive. Haven't always, but this place tends to open up your eyes.)

I am a member of the following groups:
  • males
  • white males
  • straight white males
  • straight white males who are passably Christian-ish
  • straight white males who are passably Christian-ish with an education
  • straight white males who are passably Christian-ish with an education who are employed
  • straight white males who are passably Christian-ish with an education who are employed in an occupation that is near-universally respected
To quote Louis CK, "you can't even hurt my feelings!" As such, there aren't a lot of explicit "rules" I have to follow in my day-to-day life. I can kinda do whatever I want, and that's pretty bitchin'. I wish more people had the freedoms that I have, and, boy-howdy, does religion (in some cases) handcuff some people.

(I used the phrase "passably Christian-ish" because I was raised in it, but don't consider myself Christian anymore, but can speak most of the lingo and am familiar with the general ideas, some of which are actually quite nice.)

But, just think about what we could do as a world if we just stopped thinking about religion, giving money to religious organizations, paying attention to who fucked who over, thousands of years ago. Who's specially-chosen, who's not. How much you have to cover your head/face/body in public. Who has a historical/divine right to certain places. Wasting time sitting on uncomfortable seats/kneeling on rugs/burning incense in shrines/getting up early/fasting/whipping yourself/going on missions to far-flung places/and so on.

The moral of the story is that it's Sunday morning, and Sunday mornings are for sleeping in.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Grad school vs the Nine-to-Five Grind.

A recent acquaintance of mine is a PhD candidate at a university here in Toronto.

Full disclosure: I have a master's degree in educaton from Queen's. Getting this degree was ridiculously easy (save for my unhelpful thesis advisor, but that's another story; I could've done a project instead of a thesis and that point would've been moot). And, I'm sure that other graduate degrees range from (a.) a little harder to (b.) much, much harder than what I had to go through.

But, there are some things I'm certain of.

If you have a regular job, it will grind you down. You will likely not be able to go out and party on Friday nights, because all you will want to do is crawl into bed by 9:30. This means you get one night a week to yourself, really, so you'd better fucking make use of it.

Again, I didn't have the most difficult time in grad school, but fundamentally, it goes like this: if you don't have a lot of fixed time where you're supposed to be somewhere, that means it's all up to you as to how you arrange your life. And that's what grad school largely is, no matter if your program is easy or hard.

ECB, former frequent-commenter to this site's predecessor, had a hell of a time in grad school. Her program was bitchier than eight bitches in a bitch-boat. But, y'know what, she had (or, more likely, made) time for her friends. Why? Because she's a competent human being, that's why. Stand-up dame, that one.

So, when someone comes cryin' the blues -- ohhh, poor me, I'm so hard-done-by, grad school is soooo much work -- I'm a little sceptical. (Especially when this person has spent her entire life submerged in academia, and has only briefly held any semblance of a 9-to-5 gig.)

Hell, when I was doing my MEd, there were people there who had come straight out of either a BA/BSc, or had done their BEd and went straight into the master's of education program, and had the same complaint. They were in the same easy-ass program as I was! And, one of my colleagues -- who I don't believe ever finished the MEd, startlingly -- once told me that, even in his undergraduate experience, he'd never handed a paper in on time. Ever. Not once. And was continuing that streak in his MEd career.

The moral of the story is that people need perspective, and need to stop complaining when they actually have it fucking easy.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm an ironman.

No, I'm not talking about my blog-writing prowess -- although, y'know, I've had a blog stretching all the way back to late 2004 -- I'm talking about my record of sick days at work.

I started teaching in the fall of 2000. I took a sick day about 3 years ago. And I took another one Tuesday. (Oh, there have been days I've been away -- workshops, field trips, funerals, weddings, master's thesis stuff -- but we're talking about actual sick days here.) Boy-howdy, did I need it.

I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that, at 3:15am on Tuesday, working up the strength to type up lesson plans for my classes, and email them into the school, was no small feat. I lucked-out because all three of 'em could do something fairly independently, which is actually kind of a rare thing in my subject area. So yeah, I didn't feel quite so bad about that.

Here's the thing, though. When you're not there for the day, you don't really know who you're going to get in your place. You assume they're going to be about 30% competent, for a variety of reasons:
  • There have been times when you neatly copy handouts, sticky-note the hell out of stuff, leaving detailed directions... and when you come back, you find the same neat piles of stuff, sticky-noted, with directions... exactly where you left them. The dope didn't come and get your stuff, and your kids sat there and dicked-around the whole class.
  • The person who came in was just flat-out crazy. You've heard rumours that such-and-such a person was a little off their rocker, and you know kids exaggerate whenever possible, but the stories they tell when you get back can't possibly be made up by them.
  • Maybe they saw the stuff the kids were looking at and thought, "Hey, I can teach that!" So they go off and try to teach the kids, usually with one of the following outcomes:
    • they do it in a totally different way than you would, and/or they do it entirely wrong and screw up the kids and you have to spend the next two days undoing all the damage
    • the kids see a supply teacher and immediately flip their brains into, "pff, it's not the regular guy, I ain't learnin' shit" mode
Now, don't get me wrong. It's a tough gig, coming in for someone who has routines all set up, knows their personalities and knows who should NEVER be sitting beside who, and has a general idea about where the class is going.

But, having supplied for a bit on the tail-end of my leave a few years ago, a lot of it has to do with how you approach the students. I found a good attitude to take was something along the lines of, "Look, this isn't optimal, and I know I'm not who you were expecting. But, we've got some work to do; I'll help you get it done, and if we get finished, we'll have some time to chill out at the end."