Procrastination (But I Digress)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dogs, Oh My

Sally got a new dog. She and her husband, Jim have lived in their apartment for 30 years and they are not allowed to have pets, but Jim talked to the manager and pointed out that after 30 years maybe an exception could be made. Jim had a stress related illness and then incredible trouble with his employer for wrongful termination. He has been in litigation and out of work for years. It's been an awful ordeal for both of them and the stress has been overwhelming. I understand that the trial is over or very close to being over. I haven't heard any congratulations, so I don't think they won or maybe its still not over. Anyway, Jim walks into the office yesterday calmer than I have seen him in years with the most adorable young dog I've ever seen. Belle. She is a beauty too. Sally said that the first night they had the dog was the first night that her husband slept all through the night in years.

Spoiler alert--I do not like dogs or cats or any animals. I did not pet Belle (and don't think that Jim didn't notice--he obviously loves that dog and I could see on his face that he didn't understand that I wasn't kissing the dog at his apparent invitation, but I digress). I have a dog. HER name is Link (as in Link to my heart--her full name--Marisa named her when she was 13 or so). Even though the dog is a girl, I think of him as a boy--a messy, dirty, stinky, hairy, annoying, barking boy. I do not like my dog (but to be fair--I don't like ANY dogs). I do not kiss the dog or anyone else that kisses the dog (you would be amazed at how often the babies will kiss the dog--once was disgusting enough). My dog is very old--probably 13 years old. When ever he walks really carefully, like he is in pain, I give him extra food, make sure he has his medicine and pay attention that he has a nice warm bed and I think, yay, he's almost dead. The darn dog always rallys. I think that in this weird dance, he's staying alive because he thinks, maybe, maybe he'll get me to love him. Yuck. Sounds a little "1984".

But the kids do love that dog. Oh they barely take care of him, but they love him. The reason that I was convinced to get a dog in the first place was because of middle school. I really hated middle school when I was a kid and Marisa had to change schools and leave all her friends for middle school, so that when we moved again I really felt like I had to make it up to the kids--jerking them from one school to another. Every one said that dogs make the best friends--they bring joy, blah, blah, blah. Noisy, messy, smelly, disgusting poop making machines in my opinion, but I digress. So we got a dog. The kids love that dog. They played with him endlessly when they were younger. He was right there at the door whenever they got home to give them unconditional love. Mission accomplished. But now the kids are older. The dog is still a pile of hair and stink. I do not like animals at all.

So meeting Belle yesterday reminded me of how important animals are to humans. I am very happy for Jim and Sally. Thank goodness it is not me. I hate dogs and cats, but I am very sorry Erika. You have to get Jackson a dog. It is the right thing to do. You should do it now so that the darn dog will die just as Jackson is ready to go to college. I'm just saying.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Piano Test Part Duex

This was a tough one. We needed to have prepared a song that I did not know. Oh, I know the notes and even the order and the beat--it has been ringing through my brain for weeks--I practice over and over and over. But I never really get it. It is not coming. I've broken the song into segments, into little tiny morsels. It does not come out well. Every single time I've played it, yuck. But we were having a test. I have to do well on a test. How hard can this be--it is one page of notes and the notes are all in the key of g. This is not difficult stuff. Except apparently for me.

The instructor called on my first--FIRST. I didn't even get to warm up while other people went first, well, except that I got to class a half an hour early to practice of course. I did my scales. Fine. I did my chords. Fine. I did my inversions, but with my nerves I forgot the last one and had to pick around for it. She showed me an easier way to do the fingering (as though I will actually remember it the next time--she is trying to teach me something during a test!!). Then I labored through Camp Town Races--not my finest moment, but it was quickly over. And it was time for the Bagatell--song from hell--the bane of my existence. Nothing to do, but jump in. I banged away at the keys and hit most of the right notes in the right order, not even close to the right tempo or consistant speed, but before I knew it, it was over. I leaped from the stool to go back to my seat and one of my classmates was clapping for my performance and I shot her a death look--do not clap for that disgusting performance. The instructor called me back to get my grade sheet and complimented me for playing well overall. (At least thats what I think she said--the ocean was roaring in my head the way it does when you are really nervous or embarassed about something).

I got an A. At first I lost all respect for the instructor, but then I started to listen to the other students in the class. OMG. In the end, I had to admit that I would have given myself an A also. The bar is reeeeeeally low.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How Now Brown Cow

I feel like the characters in "The Graduate" at the end of the movie sitting at the back of the bus. I was so excited that the health care bill passed, but now I wonder, what exactly passed. We've heard a lot of stuff that was supposed to be in the bill, but what actually made the cut. There is no public option, boo hoo. Insurance will now be mandatory, ok, I guess. I'm a big girl, I know nothing comes for free. Is that going to be like car insurance? Will my rates go up if I need surgery? Do I get a no smoking discount? Will they be able to ask if I smoke, since they can no longer refuse to insure me even if I smoke? Is this going to make it easier for smokers or more difficult? Has this been an elaberate sceme by the insurance company to scam me? I always feel that if it sounds too good to be true it probably isn't true. Don't get me wrong, I'm estatic that it passed--ANY reform is long, long overdue, but how will this affect ME, Al Frankin.

I heard on the radio a small business owner stating that there are tax incentives and deductions that go into effect right away that will be a big help to small businesses. Three years ago this was the most that I could want from health care reform, so that is a very good thing. But then the concept of a public option was dangled in front of me (probably to make conservatives feel better about accepting something less than a public option--haha, silly politicians). Now I miss the public option that I had never thought of before.

My conservative friends claim that there will now be long, long lines at the doctor's office. I'm hard pressed to view that as any different from before, since I have routinely waited and waited and waited whenever I've gone to the doctor. My general doctor doesn't have any appointments for three months. When I had a really bad cough, it was going to be a week to see my own doctor, 2 days to see her partner, but luckily there was a cancellation to get me in the next day (thank God it wasn't a more serious malady coughing my lungs out and pucking). The "lucky" cancellation doctor turned out to be rather a jerk, but I digress. I'm not seeing the dire predictions of terrible service as anything I'm not already living and paying through the nose for the privilege.

But I know down to my toes, that nothing is free. I am thrilled that my nephew with his pre-existing condition and most likely an independent consultant type of career in graphic design is going to be able to get health insurance. But how much will it cost. Now that everyone has to have insurance, there are a whole bunch of people in my house who cannot afford health insurance. If it is now required, where are they going to magically get the money to pay for it.

As sure as I am of death and taxes, I know that the insurance companies are going to get paid and they are going to make a profit. That is a given. Now we will see if I can afford it.

P.S. Now maybe congress can take a breath and deal with estate taxes--that law is in turmoil and nobody seems to care. yikes. Do not die this year--I'm serious. It will not be pretty.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Teaching is FUNdamental

I enjoy teaching, mostly I'm sure, because I love the sound of my own voice. I love the "ah ha" moments and I love being the "know it all." I enjoy the comraderie with the students and I enjoy the comraderie of other instructors. And they pay me. What's not to love?

OK, I can do without disrespectful students. I can do without downright rude and mean students. I can live without doing the same lesson over and over and over, because many students miss class, because I just can't make it that important to them. I am disappointed when students do not get the lesson either because they lack the skills or interest. I am disappointed when their product is substandard. I am disappointed when I see wasted talent and lack of effort. I am disappointed if I fail to turn on that light bulb every single time.

Yes, the cons outweigh the pros, but they pay me. And so, I show up twice a week to teach my introduction to law class. This semester I have only three students. I was sure that the class would be cancelled, but it is not. One of the students needs this class to graduate and all three seem committed to staying in the class. Teaching only three students is both a dream and a burden. When only one shows up, I can't very well move forward in my outline, because the majority of the class will be behind. When all three show up, I need to move diligently through my outline to catch up. It is not easy to lecture three students--when one's eyes glaze over, it is hard to miss and go on. When another tries to do his other class homework, it is difficult to miss. Therefore, it can't be easy to be one of the three students either--no where to hide. No down time in a two and a half hour class after school.

So I am pulling out the stops so to speak to really make this a win-win. I have the drive and I have the skills to make this class beneficial to these three students. My challenge (and I choose to accept it) is that each of these three students, while all smart, all learn very differently. One student is terrific at writing. His essays and sentences are wonderful, but his recall of facts and his attention to detail are terrible. It is like he doesn't hear anything that I say. He did the worst on our test (mostly recall from lectures), but he is leaps and bounds the best writer. When I call on him in class, he does get most of the concepts, but he is pretty slow on the details.

Another student is terrific on details. I can easily call on him at any point in class and he is right on the topic with the correct answer. He brings a wealth of outside knowledge on current events and he can easily apply the concepts. He scored almost perfectly on the test (rather rare in my class, since I make the test deliberately difficult), however, he is a terrible writer. His essays have been almost frighteningly bad. If I hadn't seen him write them myself, I would never have believed he wrote them. He is so great at details and listening and recalling, but he is very poor at expressing himself in writing.

The last student misses the most classes. He is very poor at the test, very poor answering in class and I can't tell what kind of writer he is, because he fails and practically refuses to write anything. I have rough drafts, but he sits and procrastinates actually writing the final draft of anything because he says he wants it to be perfect. I've made them all read aloud and I have his rough drafts, so this is not a problem of basic skills. The place that he shines is in making arguments. When we debate, he surprises me with insight. During my lectures, he never volunteers a response, but he will often ask relevant and insightful questions. When he is in class, he is thinking and he's very smart, but I can't get him to write or care at all about the details.

So I have forced the writing side of the class to force my two not very good writers to hone their skills, but in the meantime, I can't make enough busy work for my really good writer who flys through the assignments.

My plan is to strive to balance the class to play to each student's strenghts and work on their weaknesses. I really hate busy work, but we are going to try it. I am going to have them write out the vocabulary words and definitions, but they will have to put the vocabulary words into chronilogical order (I have them alphabetically) so that they will see the pattern of events while reinforcing the details. Next, we will debate, but the topics will be closer to the vocabulary. In the past I've always used traditional debate topics (death penalty) or silly topics (best tv show), but now I'm going to go to the concepts: Do these facts prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt? Are these facts aggravating circumstances such that a harsher penalty should be applied? Are these facts mitigating circumstances? Argue these facts for the defense--for the proscecutor. Do these facts support probable cause? Argue for and against. And then we'll do another essay on the topics we've just finished debating--they will have a wealth of details and can work on the basic skill of writing. Oh this is going to be so much fun. And they pay me.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Sweet. I had a test in Piano. I was not prepared. I mean I practiced--a lot, well, as much as I could stand anyway--scales and Oh Suzanna are pretty darn boring after a while. Any way, I didn't feel prepared, because I couldn't play the songs perfectly. I know the difference between playing well and just playing the notes in the right order. I could play the notes in the right order, but I definitely do not play well.

So we were having a test. You would think that wouldn't mean much to me--I mean this is a piano class. My salary does not depend on a grade. I do not care if I pass this class (actually, you are only allowed to take the class four times, so if I fail, I might be able to stay five? semi-logical). I do not care if I play as well or more poorly than the other students who I feel I have nothing in common with. But it was a test. I am genetically programed to want to win and win big. A failing grade would never do no matter how inconsequential it would be to my everyday life. I must pass, but more importantly, I must do well, but more importantly, I must succeed.

When Oh Suzanna doesn't come off for me in practice for the umptinth time, I resign myself that I might only get a C or a B if I am lucky. I focus on my strengths--my scales. I have been practicing scales for years and years as that was the last lesson from my piano classes some 25 years ago. I am really good, nay I say, I am excellent at my scales. Well right hand anyway. Left hand is good, but maybe not quite excellent. But in class we must do both scales, both hands together. Not excellent, not even very good. I would have to give myself a fair on my ability to do my scales with both hands together. I practiced and that did help. I am improving. We also have to know chords. Piece of cake. I never learned about chords before--actually pretty interesting. I can do them and the instructor lets us only do the left hand--much easier.

But me, I don't want fair, I want a miracle. I go to class early and practice, practice, practice. There are about 15 people at my level in the class, so I do not volunteer and I (with headphones) mimic each person coming up to do their test. The first person--really excellent. I will not be the star in this class by a long shot--drats. The next person--very good. I am starting to worry that purhaps I should have gone back to piano I. The next person--just fair. Hope starts to spring--at my very best, I can beat that person. Another and another and another. I am starting to hope that my performance will blend nicely into the fair catagory. Of course, I still want the miracle, so I practice and practice and avoid eye contact to delay my test. But it comes.

The key action is rather heavy on the grand piano in class where we will take the test. I go right through the scale trying not to think, but to just rely on finger memory--my fingers are very well practiced and do their job, but the key action is throwing me and some notes do not play evenly. Strike one. Next are the chords--I know this, but I do miss one note. Must be nerves. Finally, I must play Oh Suzanna. Dreading this moment. Go slow I tell myself--hit all the notes--go for form when you don't have substance. All good advice.

It is over before I know it and the instructor is handing me a paper with notes for each section and an A- next to each section. A-!! While I am doing cartwheels in my head, I try not to lose all respect for the instructor who is obviously deaf and doesn't know anything about the piano if she just gave that pitiful performance an A-. I am so ridiculously thrilled at the A- that I diligently start on my next assignment "Camp Town Races." I will never complain about Oh Suzanna again.

P.S. The last part of the class was performances from the workshop students. One played his own composition--fair, nothing to write home about, but he composed it himself. That's something. The next was very good--sweet even. The next was playing Claire de Lune. I love that piece. That piece is the reason I want to play the piano. That piece is my ultimate goal. I am going to learn that piece and play it forever and that is all I will ever need to be able to play on the piano. I am so excited to be able to hear it being played with the music right there. The beginning is beautiful, really, really beautiful. And then, not as well. And then, not very good. As he got further and further into the piece, his playing deteriorated and I realized that is what I'm going to sound like trying to play that piece. Huh. Food for thought. While I learn "Camp Town Races." Doo-da, Doo-da.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hero or Nickname for Richard?

I'm sorry Jon Stewart--I love you, Man, but can't you see the beauty in the stand that Bunning (who knows how to spell, not me) took in the Senate? [In case you are someone who did not see Jon Stewart this week, he called Senator Bunning a nickname for Richard--yes, Jon Stewart has a bit of a potty mouth, but he has to sell that beer to stay on the air.] Anyhoo, Nancy Polosi just admonished the house that they should do what is right and not what will get them re-elected. Bunning is just one guy against the tide of public opinion, against his party, against the unanimous vote of the Senate, filibustering to ask the simple question--HOW WILL WE PAY FOR IT? That is a great question, because I thought we were paying unemployment insurance to pay for unemployment checks for a period of time after we were laid off from our jobs. I can do math the same as the next guy, but I'm pretty sure that there is a finite amount of money available in that insurance fund, so when those benefits are extended again and again and again, I'm right there with Bunning--HOW WILL WE PAY FOR IT? Oh, and again, call me stupid or a nickname of Richard, but I thought the really high federal taxes on my gasoline paid for road repair jobs. I'm driving a toyota that makes me really nervous when I hit a pothole and my electrical system goes haywire for a second, so I feel like I have a vested interest in getting those potholes fixed. I know that I'm part of the problem, getting such great gas mileage that I'm paying less taxes overall for my gas, but again, just thinking about the math--there's still a lot of money being allocated to this project. So if Bunning doesn't know where the money is coming from, I have to ask myself "would my beloved government spend that money for something else (war in Iraq) and use it all up so that they had to borrow to replace it when it was needed?" Being a rational human being, of course the answer is yes.

Being a cynical human being, I understand why congress is voting to extend unemployment benefits to over 1 million people looking for work--that is quite an army of people who will become as desperate as any Haitian looking for fresh water and food after the earthquake. Looting is scary, but I'm right there with Jean Val Jean stealing bread to feed his family. And I can understand extending road work projects whether you have the money or not, because lets face it--that is the most salient thing the government does for us on a day to day basis. War is far away. Crime happens to other people. Securities regulation--I don't own any stocks, please. Nope--pot holes. Right here, right now, everyday--don't mess with my car.

But I have to ask myself: How will we pay for it? Thanks Bunning. Good question. [Yes, since I'm a democrate, my answer is different than yours, republicans. Are we almost done with that war thing? I really want us to put a few dollars together to hire electrical engineers to regulate the hell out of the car company that sold me a deathtrap. Deregulation is a dangerous ponzi sceme, but I digress.]