Why I’m Not a Singer

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My dad had a record or two or a collection of Marian Anderson’s songs and I loved listening to her alto/contralto voice. It was so rich and textured I wanted to be an alto and practiced my speaking so my voice would be lower and well-modulated. Singing in choirs and with my voice teachers, I was always put in Soprano I or II; once in a while, though, I would be put in alto when a strong lead was needed. No matter what my voice coach or choir directors said, I never thought myself a singer and I never thought I had the voice to sing, mainly because of a tape reel of us singing nursery rhymes–I was only 6 then–that my mother would play for visitors; I hated it because I thought my voice sounded awful and childish and weak. I envied and idolized singers in school with naturally powerful and musical voices but was always too shy to sing solo. I tried to audition once for the glee club but was refused; I did get to perform in a handful of musicals, mainly because they were school productions, but listening to others, I have admitted to myself, time and again, that there are many amateur singers far better than me.

When I was turned down by the glee club, my brother (with a powerful singing voice and, of course, my mother’s darling) was rehearsing for a musical. I met their voice coach, who somehow convinced me to sing a few bars, which led to chords and, before I knew it, she had convinced my mother to allow me to take vocal coaching from her and to join a choir she was putting together. In her words, I had a “lovely voice”. I could not believe it because I never really heard myself sing except on that awful tape with our nursery rhymes, but it opened up a small dream I had tucked away as a little girl. I soon found myself rehearsing after school and on weekends and, before I knew it, the choir was booked for a gala performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. (I shall post photographs when I find them.) We were all fitted for gowns (my first gown ever!) and I was excited, singing in Soprano I or II for most of the concert.

After our gala, we started rehearsing Christmas carols because we would be caroling for our sponsors and donors, who would host us (and boy, did they feed us!) as we sang for them and their guests. We went to around 4 or 5 different homes, each grander than the last, but that kept us on the road past midnight. Somewhere past 1 a.m., I was finally dropped off at home where I faced my mother’s extreme ire. She ranted about what kind of people stayed out so late at night, got angry at our directress, and forbade me from ever going to another voice class or rehearsal. I was devastated and disappointed and embarrassed all at once, because my fellow choir members would occasionally call and ask why I wasn’t attending anymore. I told them the truth, that my mother would not let me.

A couple of years after, when I was in university, I joined a youth ministry group which worked with communities and did a lot of singing, and I could stay out as late as I wanted because I no longer lived at home–at least most of the time. I joined several extra-curricular activities, including a dance company, the school paper, the math society, the forensics society, and a reading club that I formed, so I spent a lot of time doing all sorts of activities after school and late into the nights. I also sang, danced, choreographed, and co-directed a couple of original musicals staged by the scholars in the program I was enrolled in.

I occasionally picked up a tiny solo part in choirs but I always felt my voice disappearing when I was asked to sing. The one time I braved it was when my close group of friends and co-teachers in the high school where I taught decided to perform in a benefit concert before the whole high school audience. That brought the house down–the whole concert, that is, but not so much, I think, because we were accomplished singers (we had a couple of really good singers) but because the students had never seen us perform that way before! Besides that, I did sing a lot for my kids when they were little. I haven’t really sung in a long time and am often tempted to join a choir but for the time. I have far too many other things to do, as it is, so I am saying good-bye to my singing aspirations. I was more of a natural at writing anyway, so that’s what I’m sticking with.

And that, my friends, is my singing career in a nutshell.

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Switching Gears: A Teaching Life (Part III)

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When we immigrated to Canada, the plan was for me to pursue my career in writing and art. I had applied as a writer/editor and did not think to have my teaching credentials validated or certified because I had decided I did not want to apply for certification as a teacher. That was because somebody had sworn he would take any job at all just so he could support us in Canada and I would have the freedom to pursue my dreams.

It took a week for us to find an apartment, process our health cards, permanent resident ID cards, bank accounts, look for furniture, and buy a few things for the kitchen and house. Thank goodness the apartments had  water, a stove, and a refrigeratore already and we would not have to buy those. Even then, having to pay for an apartment in full for the next 12 months simply because we were newcomers seriously depleted my cash reserve, leaving very little to live on. The starving artist eventually found work at a popular coffee shop because that somebody who had sworn to work and support his family was not doing any job hunting. In previous talks, he had agreed to even live in the basement or over the garage and pay rent if we had a house, if only I would bring him along. I only agreed to get him a ticket because he promised to pay back everything, grab any job opportunity so he could support the family, and live over the garage. Also, my son refused to go with me if his father did not come along. That started some suspicions in me, but that is a whole other story. In fact, because he was not job hunting at all, I saw an opportunity to teach at the university and was given a 3-hour class for the fall the following year. His one-year deadline had arrived and he suddenly “found” a job but was unable to contribute anything for at least the next two months. Little did I suspect that he was making moves to disenfranchise me and build that high wall between me and my son. Long story turned short, I was forced out of my home in the dead of winter, forced to stay in hospital from the day after Christmas of 2008 to the 3rd week of January of 2009. Meanwhile, I began to make plans for my departure from the hospital and decided that the only and quickest way for me to earn a substantial living enough to support myself and my son was to get back into teaching. Thankfully, I had saved the bulk of my pay from teaching at university and survived on that and coffee shop work until my teaching credentials had been transferred and accepted and I embarked on my long career as a substitute teacher.

Teaching at a Canadian university for one semester was a bit of a culture shock. I had trained and taught college/tertiary school students who had come from all walks of life, and I had delivered many workshops, seminars, and training sessions for participants who were professionals and some even as old as my mother or older. I had rarely found students who were averse to receiving feedback–what we were calling “constructive criticism” since the 80s. Managerial experience gave me the knowledge and tools to conduct 360-degree feedback so that students could get the opinions of everyone and share their own as well. That did not sit well with the majority of students, nor did my requiring them do some readings, research, and reports as well as delivering demonstration lessons, since they were supposed to be a practical methodology class. I had already expressed my alarm to my dean that none of the students in my class had taken the theory course that should have been a requisite to the methods class I was teaching. I was told to do my best, so we had to include teaching theories to the practice. You can imagine that neither area could be fully explored. Worse yet, their evaluations of me indicated that the top 3 comments were they found that being given feedback or criticism of any sort in front of their classmates embarrassed them; they had expected me to teach them “everything she knew about teaching” the subject; they had expected me to fill every period with 3-hour lectures. I could only wonder what sort of teachers they would turn out to be if they did not learn by exploring and experimenting, by discovering things for themselves, or by learning to take criticism–they could not take it in a safe place from their peers, how were they to take any criticism from the 20-30 or so students in each class they handled?

After subbing whenever called and working late shifts at the coffee shop for 3 more years, I was called to interview at a prominent language school, where the pay was sadly low compared to substitute teaching or even public school teaching. I quickly discovered several unpleasant facts, including the fact that there was not much chance for pay increase, the work was uniform, and, once more, politics in an academic setting was present. The good thing was that the school provided teachers with TESL training and certification, which is how I acquired my certification. In fact, I was so motivated that I completed my training in 2 months and tested with a demo class in the 3rd month to earn my certificate. Sadly though, the school downsized and one of the newest hires, became one of the first let go.

That gave me the opportunity to get back to subbing, but because calls were extremely scarce and far between, I needed to avail of my Employment Insurance while writing more. That was when I finally wrote my first novel and the road to fulfilling my actual dreams was materializing before me. An unfortunate accident at the end of January 2013, however, made it very difficult to sub, or do anything else, but I still had to because I could only get so much from EI or from insurance payments, which ended after the 4th month. While all this was going on, I learned of a program supporting people on EI establish a business. I decided it would be a good time to embark on launching myself as a business. I attended some training in May, had my business plan written and completed before July, and registered Art ‘n’ Words Studio & Gallery in early August, 2013. For one year, I devoted my time to establishing my business, growing my network, and creating products.

Because my business was only slowly growing, I went back to subbing in the fall of 2014 with very few calls because I had been out for over a year, picked up a city job in winter and had it extended to spring, the next year, then struggled through summer until I could sub again in fall, at the same time taking in contracts and small jobs for my business. In the year of 2016, I picked up another full-time job that had me doing office work, which was good but also  gave me very few opportunities to sub. My contract lasted 10 months and by Christmas, I was relying again only on odd jobs. I was fortunate to be selected to manage a large event in January, which gave my finances a boost, then back again to subbing and business, as well as a few hours tutoring for the LDAPEI. I had also picked up a few students who needed private tutoring in writing, and and that sustained me until a friend informed me that the local college was hiring ESL teachers. I jumped at the opportunity and was hired in November, then recommended to teach as a sessional with a different department. I accepted the sessional position, the was recommended again for another sessional position with a different department. Because I enjoyed teaching ESL to newcomers, I accepted a night class twice a week, but gave it up after a semester because my body could not stand the pain of staying on my feet the whole day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with only an hour’s break for lunch and a couple of hours of tutoring between day classes and night classes. My first sessional position lasted a semester; the second position lasted three semesters, then I was let go with the advice that my teaching would be “best suited to university students or high school students–with a more academic focus than students in trades, or newcomers”.

At first, I could have taken that as an insult, because it was, in a way, since I had been able to adapt my teaching style to just about any group in any walk of life; from undergraduate students to professionals looking to improve their skills or learn something new.

On retrospect, I looked at the whole attempt to secure a more regular teaching position as futile. In the first place, I have become extremely light sensitive and noise sensitive after the accident, not to mention experiencing intense back pain that made it almost impossible to stand, let alone walk in different situations; I also have a recurring sharp or dull headache from my concussion. Since the accident, I have had some physiotherapy, but only when I did not have to work–which made it difficult because I had to work most of the time. I have also been on a cocktail of medications for the pain and, for a while, depression, besides other physical conditions needing maintenance meds. Teaching in a public school situation was difficult because the noise would numb all my other senses and I would go home after a day’s work and crawl into bed and still hear the shouting of children.

Another thing that was totally discouraging about teaching in college here was that the majority of students did not seem to care about learning. They did not have the passion to absorb as much as they could from every opportunity offered to them. They did not want to spend time doing research or discovering things on their own and wanted everything served to them on a silver platter. They did not have the basic skills necessary for writing, let alone research, so teaching any form of higher communication became a struggle because they were expected to acquire so much in so little time. Moreover, I discovered only in my 3rd semester that I was not expected to give them assignments to do outside class because they spent 40 hours a week in class–totally unheard of in the Philippines! So they had to learn everything in a packed curriculum within the 30 to 45 hours allotted to each course that I was handling. My learning curve was practically vertical, as I had to implement and deliver set curricula using materials I had not prepared and I had very little time to absorb. My stress levels had risen considerably and I spent all my waking hours not spent on my other jobs just planning the delivery of lessons and trying to figure out the intent of previous instructors with incomplete syllabi and incomplete knowledge of the whole situation. Thankfully, I was working with a team that was mostly very supportive, sympathetic, and helpful. Besides all that, I had to deal with students who questioned my knowledge and expertise–while I had the knowledge and expertise in some things, I was not aware of the methods of implementation, which included an online self-directed course using a textbook company’s software, which worked differently for Macs (which I use) and PCs (which the students used)–hence results would be somewhat different. Also, since I had never used that proprietary software before, going through the course was a first for me and I had to rush familiarizing myself with it even as the students were working on it. Another course used software that was somewhat different from software I was familiar with, hence teaching with the software was an ongoing discovery for me–which the students did not look upon kindly.

For the first time in my life as a teacher, as well, since everyone was on a first-name basis, I experienced an unbelievable amount of lack of respect and hostility from some students, who also tried to influence other students to ignore me and attempt to complete the requirements on their own. I dreaded certain periods so much because I was constantly wracking my brains trying to modify methods and materials to accommodate all their needs and make the learning more pleasant, but enough people had expressed dissatisfaction and even anger that I felt I was always tiptoeing on eggshells. Even if I had class or two where students behaved more maturely and were more intent on learning but neglected to complete their work on time or completely, the discomfort from the other classes overpowered any comfort I could gain from students who sincerely were trying to do their best and learn or relearn a few things.

I was so traumatized by the time it was all over, but I still considered offering my services to the first department (and even sounded off the manager), or I could return to teaching newcomers ESL. Then it struck me.

Why was I trying to chase a career in teaching, which could be so fulfilling and then again not? I knew that no matter who my students were here in this tiny province, they would lack the foundational skills that make a successful college or university student. They lacked respect for education or teachers. They lacked the skills to learn successfully in any situation. They lacked the skills to communicate successfully and effectively in any situation. They lacked the attitudes that make a good learner and rather than look for what (new) things they can do, they spend the time complaining about what they can’t do. Not to mention so much hostility from a student who had sent me over 50 email messages in less than 4 months who became abusive when that student was not getting what that student wanted.

Looking back on the educational system, I have decided that I am happy and fulfilled tutoring student for the LDAPEI because I know I am truly helping them and what they learn and achieve is sometimes phenomenal. I am happy and fulfilled from tutoring private students, teaching or coaching them in writing or art. My Saturdays are filled with private students who come to my home one after the other, and who leave with new or improved skills and knowledge. My summer is productive and busy with enough private students and tutoring to fill several hours of lessons, with enough hours left for me to write, paint, and spend time with a senior friend whom I take out of her nursing home at least once a week, more if there is a concert or other show we can watch. My business as a writing and art tutor is thriving. Best of all, I have absolutely no stress, except when I tell myself I should enforce deadlines for my writing. For the first time in years, I have become truly happy about the work I have chosen. I can breathe easily and relax. I can choose what hours to meet my students and I can choose my students! Lessons are more of mentoring and coaching than teaching a large group.

I have also been teaching as a volunteer instructor at Seniors College for 4 or 5(?) years now and for the past two years, have been teaching literature. We read classical and contemporary stories and writers, analyze them and savour the exercise of looking a characters, plots, and themes from different angles. I do not need to tell my senior students to start working nor do I need to motivate them to speak or analyze the stories or even to read ahead for the next term. They attend because they enjoy the mental exercise, the appreciation of literature, and the broadening of perspectives and horizons as we push the envelope with sometimes very difficult or complex writing, and a sizeable group returns term after term, year after year, looking forward to the next author, the next stories, the next class.

Unless the educational system changes, teachers who are passionate about teaching are climbing an uphill battle. Unless educational managers fully back and support their faculties, they will stifle professional growth, educational freedom, and a have unhappy, abnormally stressed teachers. Unless college students are given sufficient time to learn through exploration, research, and discovery, they will continue to demand spoonfeeding and free passes, the way they were socially promoted throughout their K-12 lives. Unless social promotion is removed, all students will continue to be pushed upward and ahead even if they have not fully grasped the knowledge and skills needed for the next level, or mastered the skills and knowledge taught in their current levels. Unless teachers are given the freedom to mold classes and curriculum according to their teaching styles and the students’ learning styles, they will remain ineffective and stressed from trying to fit themselves into a defective system, look for shortcuts to delivering lessons and teaching skills, and eventually lose their passion from being like round pegs forced into square holes. Unless students learn that failure is part of learning, as is hard work, communication, exploration, research, and discovery, they will never appreciate the value of education and never gain lifelong learning skills.

I will not go back to teaching in a regular classroom in PEI and, possibly, anywhere in Canada because there is so much broken and wrong with the system and still the powers that be play at politics and ignore the need to change, which will only grow more each year, thereby making change more difficult.

I now have the time to write, to create art and crafts, to share my knowledge and mentor those who truly want or need to learn.

I am a writer and an artist and a mentor and I will be so to my last breath.

 

Where goes the Philippines?

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I cannot be silent. Although I now carry a Canadian passport, I cannot deny my roots. I think what is happening in the Philippines and many other places around the world is both sad and alarming. The rise of populist leaders such as Duterte has followed on the wake of the leadership model of the admittedly most powerful country in the world. Leaders of nations have no business using their positions and powers to express, practice, and propagate their personal views, particularly when they are “elected” leaders–and I put that word in quotation marks because I sincerely do not and cannot believe the majority of any country would want such a leader in place.


The Philippines has been through hell and high water and several generations have fought and lost country and lives seeking freedom and independence, first from the Spaniards, then from the Japanese, then the Americans, and then from a home-grown dictator. All that only to suffer the indignity and crassness spread around by an uncivilized boor who likes to call himself President.


Granted, Filipinos as a nation are known for their extreme patience and tolerance, their politeness and meek nature, their come-what-may attitude and slowness to anger. The poverty and harshness of life of the majority force them to bow their heads and persist in eking out a living from the dregs of first world nations. The mantle of morality imposed by centuries of Spanish and religious rule might have imbued virtues and values that are unmatched by other nations, but that also compel the masses to bow their heads to the yoke of oppressors and silently endure the indignities heaped upon them.

The Filipino woman has been insulted, demeaned, and raped by Spain, Japan, America, and other nations that see them as willing victims, and by Filipino men like Duterte, who does not even pretend to be moral, polite, dignified, or educated. Shall we continue to accept his insults and offer the other cheek until our faces are swollen and our bodies ravaged so that we are thrust naked though fully dressed and forced to parade before men of his ilk? Have we so little respect for ourselves that we act like attention-starved naive schoolgirls hungry for the compliments of rapacious men?

As a nation, are we not complicit in his rape and pimping of the Philippines if we do not stop him from allowing any other nation to walk all over us and disregard our sovereignty? Fellow Filipinos, no matter where you are in the world, no matter what nation or flag you now pledge allegiance to, there is no denying where your roots first sprouted. It does not mean that because our lives are more bearable, our futures more secure, that we should completely forget where we came from. Was it not our revered hero, Jose Rizal, who said that whosoever does not know where he came from will never reach his destination? The very same sentiment applies to all the younger generations of Filipinos who have forgotten the sacrifices of their ancestors, their parents, and their grandparents; who have forgotten the bloodshed, the raping, and pillaging of our country and our people through graft and corruption; who have forgotten how our people, our morals, and our riches were bartered and sold to the Americans; who have forgotten how our dreams and aspirations were hijacked and held hostage by wealthy individuals and voracious corporations that bled us of our money, our sweat, and our futures; who have forgotten the meaning of sovereignty, independence, and pride. How can anyone continue to sing the national anthem or pledge allegiance to the flag and really mean what the words say? Even that is mere lip service to the true meaning of the words.

If this tack Duterte is nudging the Philippines towards sees his desired end, whatever that is, we might as well change the words of the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance because there is no way in hell I will lay down my life for China or pledge allegiance to it. Duterte must be made to recite, memorize, understand, and embody what the Philippine national anthem and pledge of allegiance declare. And in case anyone has forgotten the words, I add them here as a reminder of what Filipinos are beholden to.

Lupang Hinirang
(The Philippine National Anthem)

Bayang magiliw
Perlas ng Silanganan,
Alab ng puso,
Sa dibdib mo’y buhay.

Lupang Hinirang,
Duyan ka ng magiting,
Sa manlulupig,
Di ka pasisiil.

Sa dagat at bundok,
Sa simoy at sa langit mong bughaw,
May dilag ang tula
At awit sa paglayang minamahal.

Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y
Tagumpay na nagniningning,
Ang bituin at araw niya
Kailan pa ma’y di magdidilim.

Lupa ng araw, ng luwalhati’t pagsinta,
Buhay ay langit sa piling mo.
Aming ligaya, na pag may mang-aapi
Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.

THE PHILIPPINE HYMN

The English Version of the Philippine National Anthem (Translated by Camilo Osias and A.L. Lane)

Land of the morning,
Child of the sun returning,
With fervor burning,
Thee do our souls adore.

Land dear and holy,
Cradle of noble heroes,
Ne’er shall invaders
Trample thy sacred shore.

Ever within thy skies and through thy clouds
And o’er thy hills and sea,
Do we behold the radiance, feel and throb,
Of glorious liberty.

Thy banner, dear to all our hearts,
Its sun and stars alight,
O never shall its shining field
Be dimmed by tyrant’s might!

Beautiful land of love, o land of light,
In thine embrace ’tis rapture to lie,
But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged,
For us, thy sons to suffer and die.


Patriotic Oath of the Philippines


Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas, aking lupang sinilangan,
Tahanan ng aking lahi, kinukupkop ako at tinutulungang
Maging malakas, masipag at marangal
Dahil mahal ko ang Pilipinas,
Diringgin ko ang payo ng aking magulang,
Susundin ko ang tuntunin ng paaralan,
Tutuparin ko ang mga tungkulin ng isang mamamayang makabayan,
Naglilingkod, nag-aaral at nagdarasal nang buong katapatan.
Iaalay ko ang aking buhay, pangarap, pagsisikap
Sa bansang Pilipinas.


English Translation of Pledge

I love the Philippines, the land of my birth,
The home of my people; it protects me and helps me
Become strong, hardworking and honorable.
Because I love the Philippines,
I will heed the counsel of my parents,
I will obey the rules of my school,
I will perform the duties of a patriotic citizen,
Serving, studying, and praying faithfully.
I shall offer my life, dreams, successes
To the Philippine nation.

Thoughts on teaching and learning

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I have spent so many years of my life teaching and, while there have been challenges, none have been as challenging as my most recent experience. I can’t say it’s because of the difference in the overall culture, because I grew up in a very western-like setting and a very cosmopolitan city that is far more advanced than where I am now. Perhaps that could be the reason, and yet I have found such a different attitude towards learning and education here than what I have encountered and know of among cultures in the eastern hemisphere.

In the east where I grew up, education was valued highly. Good education was a privilege, because not everyone could afford it. Nonetheless, nearly everyone wanted to go get an education if they could, and for the middle and higher classes, that meant paying whatever families could afford to go to a more prestigious private school run by a religious organization. Private schools meant learning all lessons in English, which was recognized as a huge advantage. Private schools also meant more progressive curricula and more adequate educational support systems, from textbooks to laboratory and sports equipment. Private schools competed with each other to achieve the highest status because that brought greater recognition and graduates thereof were in demand. Public schools suffered because of lack of funding, poorly paid and poorly trained teachers, and overcrowding. As a result, few public school graduates made it through college or attended mediocre colleges and diploma mills just so they could join the workforce as blue-collar workers. The rest joined the workforce as contractual labourers, farmers, fishermen, house help, and the like. Even training for skilled trades cost more than the average person could afford, so many workers remained unskilled labourers.

Here, education seems to be taken for granted, not only in the public schools, where many children feel they are being forced to attend and would rather not go. I wonder if that is because it is seen more as a right than anything else, and because the government strives to ensure everyone receives an education. Even when they enter a college for technical or vocational training for which they pay a considerable sum, they seem to treat it as a right rather than a privilege. Could that be why many students, as a whole, are more demanding and less inclined to be motivated to do any work on their own? Because if it is seen as a right, is there a general feeling that education, skills training, and knowledge are owed to them rather than something they should work hard to acquire?

That attitude could be a huge problem and a barrier to learning simply because the students expect knowledge to be handed to them on a silver platter. I had that feeling when I taught a class at university for one semester, and the students gave feedback saying that they expected me to lecture them 3 hours straight, which would have been the whole period; they also expected me to teach them everything I knew about teaching–which, by then, was over 20 years of collective teaching experience at all levels, from preschool to university, including professional training and development. Worse yet, many of them did not like the process of delivering demos and receiving 360-degree feedback because they felt they were being embarrassed in front of their peer. My thoughts were that if they could not receive criticism from peers, what more of their students when they would be working as teachers?

In my most recent experience, I have received feedback saying that students did not appreciate having to do research or self-directed study. Also, I learned they were not expected to do much homework or assignments outside of classroom hours. They had 40 hours a week of class time with no real study periods. It seems like a lot of cramming of a lot of information in very little time. I know that where I came from, universities and colleges were regulated in regard to the maximum number of hours of coursework students could take each semester, which would be 24 hours or a maximum of 8 classes each week. That way, students would have 16 hours to absorb any new information, research, and complete assignments. They would also have time for extra-curricular activities. After all, we want well-rounded graduates, don’t we? All that this cramming does to churn out graduates as quickly as possible is spit them out half-baked.

Another thing some students did not appreciate was not being given key search terms for researching in the Internet, or even having to research on the Internet. Research is a skill we develop little by little, from being a beginning reader to one who looks words up in a dictionary, from being a novice Internet user searching for music, videos, and games, to the Internet user who appreciates and takes advantage of links, wiki references, and information databases. The Internet has made research so easy, allowing users to enter anything from words to questions and spitting out hundreds of thousands of search results. The sophisticated user will know how to narrow the topic down to very specific questions, or cast a wider net by searching for keywords. Who determines the keyword? Certainly not a tertiary-level professor. By the time students are at the tertiary level, students are expected to be discerning enough to figure out what keywords and questions to use when researching a topic. Unless they have never worked with computers or search engines (even if they don’t know what a search engine is, they most likely have used one if they have used computers and gone on the Internet), there is no reason a student can’t figure out how to search for a topic, given a question to answer.

I could go on and on and create a dissertation-long blog entry, but I will stop here and explore these ideas further another time. Until then, au revoir.

To Reach the Unreachable Spot

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Have you ever seen Baloo the bear in the The Jungle Book movie scratch his back? He just about goes crazy finding the perfect tree with bark of just the right roughness, or maybe protruding branches, to rub his itchy back on. That image brings to mind a young man I used to work with at a Tim Hortons coffee shop, who utilized the corners of walls or posts to scratch his back, which seemed to frequently plague him with itching. (Is it just men who so frequently get itchy back? Perhaps because of their propensity to grow hair there?)

That brings me to examine the myriad and most effective ways to relieve that unbearable itch.

The most obvious way, naturally, it to be like a bear and find a post, wall, or doorknob against which you can rub your back. That is really handy when you’re alone in a place where there isn’t much you can use. If you’re not alone, you can, quite obviously, simply ask another person to scratch your back for you. Not that very many people are likely to oblige, though. That would really depend on your relationship with that person. (Just as a warning, strangers are less likely to oblige and might take offense, look at you strangely, or do more than just scratch your back, if you know what I mean.)

The next best way would be to find an implement long enough to reach that unreachable spot. Quite often, a pen or pencil will do the job nicely. Don’t forget to use the non-writing end of the pen, though, or make sure it is capped. Ink isn’t always easy to get off your skin, and if you had to bare your back, for whatever reason, people might wonder at your unusual tattoos and try to figure out which prison you got them in, or if you had a very bad tattoo artist. Pencils don’t write quite as easily on skin, so it doesn’t matter which end you use. The pointy tip is generally more effective. However, it does matter if you’re wearing a light-colored top. Pencil marks on that don’t rub off easily. To be safe, just don’t scratch with the writing end.

You can also use a ruler, which is longer and good for that itch which is somewhere dead center so you can reach it with neither the overhand nor the underhand scratch. Rulers are also better for taller people with longer backs. You get the picture.

One of my personal favorites is a paint brush–not a house painter’s wide brush, but rather the artist’s long, elegant paint brush (such as I prefer to use). The handle tips are very effective for scratching that damned spot, although, I have been known to sometimes have multi-colored hair in the back of my head.

Around the house, you’re more likely to find all manner of implements besides pens, pencils, rulers, and paint brushes (but the last only if you happen to be an artist, of course, or have a child in the house with a handy paint set with a brush that hasn’t disappeared under a couch or fridge or some other inconvenient piece of furniture or appliance you can’t reach under). Thinking of children, you could use their little plastic bows and arrows (if they have a set conveniently lying around) or assemble a Lego tower (again, if they have enough pieces you can find). Rummage around your closet and you could use a hanger or a mop or broom handle, depending pretty much on which closet you’re rummaging through. A long-handled shoe horn can also be very effective.

Cooks, chefs, and other kitchen workers have a distinct advantage because their cooking implements are generally close at hand. They have rolling pins (too round, sometimes, but will do in a pinch), whisks, wooden spoons, mixing spoons, cooking forks or turners, and knives (completely inadvisable). The best tool, however, is the pasta spoon or fork or ladle–you know which one I mean. It has perfectly curved claws that scratch as well as a hand–often better, because it has more fingers! It’s infinitely better than a garden fork or clawed hand rake, which tends to have a shorter handle and might be covered in soil. Just make sure you dump the pasta (or serve it) before you use the pasta server. Of course, if I saw a cook do that, I wouldn’t be likely to finish my dinner or ever eat that cook’s food again!

Whether it be a lowly pencil or a stainless steel pasta server or a fancy long-handled tangle-removing hairbrush, if it aids you to reach that unreachable spot, to scratch that impossible itch, no matter how itchy, no matter how far, then you have found the perfect spar!

*****

(Written while a student was writing an essay describing five unusual ways to use a pencil.)

On the Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee controversies…

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There is nothing wrong with saying it like it is. There is no reason, however, to be offensive, abrasive, insulting, or rude. Some people just didn’t learn their manners. Some people just don’t care how what they say or do affects others. Some people think they sound smart and good and sassy, which is not really smart or good. Some people think they can get away with saying and doing anything they want because of their social status, wealth, or popularity.
 
I am so glad people are calling them out on their behavior and taking action. It’s just showing the world that we don’t have to listen to people who are loud and bullies. We don’t need to listen to people who are insulting or offensive. There is enough negativity in the world. There are better, more tactful, and subtle ways to get the point across. Let’s stop feeding our children and grandchildren with this permissive acceptance of what really is crude and low-brow entertainment.
 
Do we really want to live in a world where people exchange expletives in normal discourse? Where people barrel ahead, do what they want, and get what they want just because nobody wants to be their next target? The world does not need bullies. Many of us would have grown up with greater confidence and more spectacular achievements if we were not bullied in childhood.
Take it from someone who was bullied throughout her childhood.

Why did Health PEI Board of Directors resign?

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This article was in the local news today — http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/news/local/updated-entire-health-pei-board-of-directors-resigns-over-concern-with-government-direction-212349/

 

Okay, first of all, this article says the changes will align Health PEI with other systems across the country; second, the changes will increase accountability within the health care system; third, they will create stronger linkages to community; fourth, they will clearly define roles and responsibility for both the ministry and the health authority. I don’t see how any of that is bad. No healthcare system should be isolated from the people they serve; no healthcare system should exist without great accountability, since our lives depend on it; no healthcare system (or any other system) should operate without clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

While MacBeath thinks Health PEI has done a phenomenal job in creating a single and unified health system for the island, that does nothing for the actual delivery of health services. Ask any islander who has sat in the emergency waiting room for anywhere from 3 to 12 hours before being seen by a doctor or even a nurse; emergency room intake clinics with only one in operation; emergency room doctors being caught asleep instead of attending to patients; emergency room staff chatting or doing things other than attending to patients, while patients wait to be seen; patients with critical symptoms who are sent home; patients who are unable to make an appointment with their family doctors without having to wait anywhere from one week, if they are fortunate, to three weeks, a month, or even more if not — usually, by then, the conditions patients need to consult their doctors about could have worsened considerably or disappeared; islanders who still do not have a family doctor despite having grown up on the island; family doctors who do not listen to their patients’ concerns and dismiss them summarily without even checking them; the conspicuous lack of specialists; the inability to keep emergency rooms open 24/7 all over the island; the inability to be admitted into a nursing home or long-term care facility without a waiting list; the absence of dental care for all islanders; the limited vision care; the lack of mental health professionals; and the list goes on — as far as I am concerned, these all sound like gross mismanagement and an inability to deliver quality services worthy of a first-world nation, in which case it is a good thing the board has resigned.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect and admire doctors for their skill and their service. I grew up around hospitals and physicians in a third-world country where I never had to wait more than an hour, at the worst, in an emergency room in a private hospital where my health insurance covered everything; where I could see my family doctor on the same day I showed up at the clinic; where specialists were not difficult to find or access. I’m not saying that system was perfect, because most health care was private, and what was provided by the government was equally excellent if difficult to access because of the sheer density of the population being served.

I am fortunate to have a caring, concerned family doctor–I am fortunate that I already have a family doctor! I am fortunate that I have not had to be a frequent visitor to the emergency room, and the few times I had to go on my own, without being brought by an ambulance, I had to wait no more than an hour before an intake nurse saw me and only somewhere between three to six hours before a doctor saw me.

I wonder how doctors and nurses can take an oath to heal and serve yet tolerate this appalling lack of quality service or even selflessness that is needed in their professions. I wonder why it is so difficult new doctors or doctors from out-of-province to set up a practice here. I wonder why some doctors are able to tuck away over a million dollars in salaries and vacation once or twice a year, leaving patients without anyone to see. I wonder why booking with some specialists has to be done up to a year in advance. I wonder why islanders even have to go off island to see certain types of specialists. I wonder why there is an ambulatory clinic where you can’t just ambulate in to be seen when you have the time or the need for attention to something that is not an emergency. I wonder why we can’t communicate directly with our doctors by email — they don’t even give out their email.

If copying the systems in other provinces brings us up to the standards of other provinces so that ER waiting times can be cut down to an hour or less; so that every islander has a family doctor; so that ERs are open 24/7 all over the island; so that patients always see their health service professionals genuinely concerned about their health instead of idling away time while ER patients wait; so that triage procedures are followed; so that we have all the specialists we need on island; so that every member of the healthcare system is accountable to the islanders , whose taxes pay their salaries; so that hospitals are operated with absolute efficiency and no complexity — because the best management system is that which makes the complex seem effortless and simple, rather than cumbersome and difficult. If the health care system is delivered by the government, then by all means, it should be directed by the government. Why should they resist improvement and change, when it is crystal clear to every islander that it needs improvement and change? A mass resignation like this shows a lack of concern for the community they should be serving.

Let them be reminded of the Hippocratic Oath they swore to, which, nowhere, says that they should enrich themselves, vacation in southern countries, limit access to their services, and allow patients to wait hours on end suffering varying degrees of pain, discomfort, and anxiety from simply not being attended to.

A Modern Version of the Hippocratic Oath

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Diatribe over.

What’s in a Name?

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Last week, I included the poem, “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer and referred to him as “she/her”, for which I sincerely apologize. I have so many female friends named Joyce that my mind automatically assigns the feminine pronouns to the name. In the same way, I have so many female friends named Evelyn, we forget that it is a male British name, immortalized by the writer Evelyn Waugh. The practice of naming children since the second half of the 19th century has become extremely complex and confusing. Prior to the 60s, people used traditional names in traditional ways. Boys were Robert, Peter, John, or William; girls were Linda, Rose, Marie, or Sarah. Well, sure, there were more names, but the names used were also traditional names, many of which had been used in previous generations. When the 60s floated in with the world-wide flower power, hippie lifestyle, and love generation, people began naming their children after nature, like Daisy, Amber, Hawk, and Rain, or after virtues such as Hope, Charity, and Love. After that, international names became more popular, following the rise of certain celebrities. It did not take long for people, looking for originality, to put a twist in the spelling of traditional names, followed by the invention of names or adapting names to suit the opposite gender, which, by the way, is really common in cultures where the simple change of an ending changed the gender of a name. By the 80s, baby-naming books included popular names from around the world, and the options have been growing in leaps and bounds. Since the 1990s, the trend has been to use gender-neutral names and Ashley, Lindsey, and Leslie have become highly popular, along with dozens of permutations in spelling: Ashlee, Lindsay, Lesley. Many surnames have also became popular first-name choices, such as Branden, Morgan, and Regan. I have subbed in classes where there were several Jaimes, both male and female, pronounced “Jay-mee”. In the Spanish-speaking world, Jaime is pronounced “Hai-me” with a short e and is a masculine name, the Spanish equivalent of James. Multicultural exposure in the western hemisphere has also presented parents with more child-naming options, and besides French, Irish, and Scottish names proliferating in North America, parents are looking to Russian, German, and Spanish names to adopt. So what can you find out about a person through their names? Nowadays, it’s safe to say, almost nothing, because who knows what Morgan’s gender is? Nonetheless, if you are choosing names for your characters, it’s safe to do a quick name search for popular names from each year to match your character’s dates of birth as well as place of birth. Let’s just say it’s not likely to have a North American born in the 50s to be named Shakira.

Valentine’s Day Again, or Love and Other Emotions

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You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love.
~ Ernest Hemingway

Valentine’s Day is around again and, while that might not mean much to some people, it certainly means something to the masses victimized by commercialism. At the very least, it’s a good time to reflect on love and its accompanying emotions. Yes, love afflicts people with various emotions, depending on the situation. When we fall in love we are elated, feel joy, happiness. Sometimes we become obsessed with the object of our attentions and we end up despairing,  miserable, insecure, and uncertain if the attention is unreciprocated. If the one we love loves someone else, we become jealous or envious, which can lead to anger and rage. When we lose love, we go through sorrow, grief, despair, and misery all over again. When our love is reciprocated, we become excited and exuberant. Clearly, love is one powerful emotion that floats us up to cloud 9 or has our heads in a tizzy. No wonder people celebrate Valentine’s Day. It brings the promise of so much more than just chocolates and roses. It reminds us what it is to be alive.

Imagination is enhanced by inspiration and, usually, the best inspiration comes from being in love. That’s probably why literature is littered with so many love poems, songs, and love stories. Love and courtship have certainly been the motivation for countless historical events, giving rise to a couple of eras when the subject of literature revolved around the themes of courtly romance, chivalry, love, and beauty. Even outside those eras, there has been no shortage of literature dwelling on similar themes. However, I believe imagination is likewise enhanced by any other powerful emotion. A great deal of writing has emerged from anger and rage, fear, despair, grief, depression, and joy. Inspiration certainly is not limited to what only those emotions evoke—humans are afflicted with myriad emotions in varying intensities and writers take advantage of that. Writers are moved to express the infinite nuances of each emotion in countless ways and fill millions of shelves with the whole gamut of emotions pouring out of millions of characters that entertain and—yes—inspire the reading world.

Writing Short Stories: Beginning with Character

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In my short story writing classes this year, I started a new approach that’s working wonders. We started with creating the main character, the protagonist and giving that character a problem. I’m going out on a limb and saying that’s all you really need: a character and a problem. You might wonder how that becomes a story. The story comes from how that character reacts to the problem. Usually, you’d think a character with a problem would want to solve the problem. Not all the time. Sometimes, characters will try to avoid the problem or ignore it. Or they will try to get rid of the problem–not necessarily solving it–but hiding, disguising, or pawning it off on someone else. Does that sound familiar? That’s because that is exactly what people do when they’re faced with problems: they try to solve them, avoid them, or get rid of them. There is a requirement before you can even write how your character approaches the problem: you need to know your character intimately–possibly even more than you know yourself. You need to know your character’s traits, which I identify as physical, psychological, and professional. Remember, not all traits are ideal–just because nobody is perfect. All human beings are complex and have one or more shortcomings, flaws, or faults, and this reality should reflect in your characters. Physical traits include all physical characteristics, down to crooked yellowing teeth and a mole on the left elbow. Psychological traits include personality, emotional profile, even personality types. An easy way to get general psychological traits is using zodiac personality traits or look at personality profiles based on different tests (Enneagram or Myers-Briggs are easy to find). You can also include habits and preferences, similar to a slumbook — favorite color, favorite song, favorite clothes, favorite movie, favorite food, and all other favorites as well as any particular dislikes. Professional traits don’t necessarily mean your character is a professional. This is just a way of describing what a character does–and professional can simply be a housewife or househusband, student, or retired navy captain. After identifying your character’s traits, you need to create a biographical history, a background, family, friends, associates, milieu. You need to know where the character grew up, lives, works, studied. You need to know what your character has for breakfast and where he or she gets coffee. Finally, you need to examine your character’s motivations: Why do they do what they do? Why do they think, act, speak, or feel a certain way? What makes them happy, sad, angry? What are they passionate about? Only when you know how your character feels and thinks will you be able to write how your character will react, what your character will do when faced with a particular problem. Then you will have a story.