Friday, October 30, 2015


In the animal kingdom, it's the male who's usually more flamboyant and decorative, the female who's drab and dull. So why is it that with humans, it's the women who are expected to adorn themselves, be on display and maintain certain standards of beauty?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Knowing where to go

Facebook: Awesome crowdsourcing for answers. Sometimes even more effective and efficient than google.

(In other words: I have smart, experienced, and talented friends!)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

T is for time

I sometimes feel that there is not enough time for me to do all I need to do, want to do and think I should do. The three are often mutually exclusive: for example, I need to mark essays, I want to make jewellery, and I think I should spend more time reading! I often feel like I'm getting tugged in three directions at once.

Maybe it's even harder for me because I'm interested in so many different things, and I'm not very good at focusing on several things at once. The result is a few months spent focusing intently on jewellery (the results of which are plastered all over this blog post!), the next few months spent reading all the time, then another few months doing something else, and after one or two other detours, finally eventually coming back to jewellery. Things get left on the back burner each time I turn my attention elsewhere. I left my dining table covered in beads for three months while I walked around everywhere with my nose stuck in my Kindle!

Some things I want to do or think I should do for work:

  • Finetune that rubric
  • Read up on techniques of teaching critical/creative thinking
  • See if there's a more effective method of teaching inferencing and other reading skills
  • Come up with ways to provide more scaffolding for the research project
  • Put together lists of 'essential idioms' to be taught each day/week
  • Figure out a way to help students practise said idioms
  • Improve lesson plans to get the lessons more structured
  • Consider how to incorporate music into the lessons
  • Read up on how to help students increase vocabulary
  • Set the final exam paper
  • Splice audio tracks for the listening skills final exam

...there are probably other things, but I've forgotten them for now.

The other thing I want to do is to fix up my official website (not this one). Been sitting on the domain name while the darn thing has been supposedly "under construction" for at least five years. When I attended a conference for work last week and presenters pointed us to their websites, I was reminded of mine. If I'd had mine set up, I could also have put stuff there and pointed people to it; it would have been like a sort of portfolio. The problem was I've never found a template I liked; I did eventually purchase a software that allowed to engineer my own template, but it still wouldn't do the exact things I wanted. I recently read somewhere that we should launch at 80% because the thing is never going to be perfect, and if you wait for it to be perfect, you'll end up never launching it. That, from experience, is SO TRUE.

Fixing the website will again require time.

Meanwhile, my little nephew is not well and I wish I could be with him. I visited on Sunday. What he has isn't serious in the sense that it isn't life-threatening, but that doesn't stop me from feeling worried. He's always been a cheerful little boy, and I guess I feel sad at the thought of his spirits being dampened. But on Sunday he seemed his usual self, active and alert, which soothed my heart a little. I spent time with him and caught up with my brother instead of marking essays, which I scrambled to mark the next day. It was worth it, though. If I only have a finite amount of time, the people I love will come first with me. People matter. Work needs to be done but it can be done later. If I don't grab the opportunity and spend these pockets of time with my nephew, they will pass and I can never get them back. I already can't believe how quickly he's grown. He turns 3 today and I can still remember visiting him in the hospital on the day he was born! Seems like that was just yesterday!

Monday, October 26, 2015

S is for storytelling

Although Andrew Stanton was talking about storytelling in a movie medium (he was the scriptwriter for Toy Story, Wall-E, and Finding Nemo, among others), I think the principles he talks about can be applied equally to storytelling in written form. What I like most was what he said about wonder:

    Wonder is honest, it's completely innocent. It can't be artificially evoked. For me, there's no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling -- to hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. When it's tapped, the affirmation of being alive, it reaches you almost to a cellular level. And when an artist does that to another artist, it's like you're compelled to pass it on. It's like a dormant command that suddenly is activated in you, like a call to Devil's Tower. Do unto others what's been done to you.

He's right! Reading beautifully written articles, stories or books always makes me want to write. It awakens something in me. It's like the author's words rekindle a dormant flame; I'm reminded what words can do, and the desire to contribute something equally beautiful to the world arises from within.

The following quotes from the talk are notes for my own reference :)

  • Storytelling is ... knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings.

  • Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.

  • "Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story." ... that is probably the greatest story commandment, which is "Make me care".

  • ...what all good stories should do at the beginning, is they should give you a promise. ... A well told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshot and propels you forward through the story to the end.

  • ...the audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don't want to know that they're doing that. That's your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you're making them work for their meal.

  • The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience.

  • ...all well-drawn characters have a spine. And the idea is that the character has an inner motor, a dominant, unconscious goal that they're striving for, an itch that they can't scratch. ... And these spines don't always drive you to make the best choices. Sometimes you can make some horrible choices with them.

  • ...change is fundamental in story. If things go static, stories die, because life is never static.

  • When you're telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term? Have you constructed honest conflicts with truth that creates doubt in what the outcome might be?

  • A strong theme is always running through a well-told story.

  • The best stories infuse wonder.

  • Use what you know. Draw from it. It doesn't always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experiencing it, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core.


...literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form.
--George Saunders, My Writing Education: A Time Line

Sunday, October 25, 2015

O is for online dating

I've been trying online dating off and on since 2009. I finally decided to quit last year, disabling my OkCupid account and removing my profile from, reminding myself that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results (a quote famously attributed to Albert Einstein).

I don't have any good reason for signing up on OkC again, which I did three weeks ago, about a year since I'd bowed out of the scene. Totally new profile, this time with a profile picture that actually shows my face clearly, instead of the previous one which gave a side profile view. But it seems to be working differently for me this time around--then again I'm a different person now and at a different place in my life... and I'm approaching this online dating thing differently now.

In hindsight, I think one can't log into one of these sites with the expectation or even hope that you're going to find your soulmate. I'm not saying it can't happen, just that it's rare. I can only speak for myself: I invested too much hope in it, then got frustrated and discouraged when it didn't work. When a guy stopped writing, I'd wonder why and second-guess myself: Was it something I'd said? Did he not like something about me? Should I have presented myself differently? But at the same time, I was constantly judging them: Were we compatible? Did he have the qualities I want in a partner? Could I live with a guy who was like this?

I think it's an unhealthy way to approach a potential relationship. It's like not being interested in the guys for their own sake, but only as a means to an end. Everything said and done has some ulterior motive; you don't want to know who he is, you just want to know if he ticks all the checkboxes on your list and fits the nice little box labelled "significant other". You can't enjoy the friendship or connection that's developing, because you're always jumping ahead inside your brain and evaluating and analysing.

I also discovered that when you want so much for something to happen, you risk losing yourself. You want the guys to respond favourably to you, so you're full of anxiety. You overreact to what they do or don't say. You read too much into the silences--how long they take to reply emails. You second-guess what you write in reply. It's... exhausting.

This time around, I'm a great deal more relaxed about the whole thing. I feel more centred inside and I'm enjoying the connections I'm making, without attaching a great deal of expectation to them. I can be myself, be honest, without being haunted by the debilitating fear that I might be inadvertently destroying my chances with someone by doing so. Unsurprisingly, it's been a much more rewarding experience so far!

Friday, October 23, 2015

N is for new definitions

A guy recently told me that he admires what I'm doing because "teaching is a noble profession". And I know this is a common perception, but I can't for the life of me figure out why teaching would be any more noble than, say, being a doctor or a nurse. They help people too, don't they? What about customer service representatives and sales assistants? Or receptionists and tour guides? Or... you know where I'm going with this.

But even more than that, I feel like a fraud when people say this to me, because I don't think of what I do as anything noble or particularly admirable. My main goal was to do as the proverb says: "Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." I wouldn't be teaching if I did not enjoy it, so my choice is entirely self-serving!

I sometimes feel that we need new definitions. So what if teachers are "moulding the next generation"? We need mechanics and plumbers just as much as we need teachers. It's just like how some people snigger at geeks for being awkward and "uncool", but what happens when your computer gives you the Blue Screen of Death? Or your hard disk crashes and you lose all your data? Or your printer just won't print? Whom do you call in a blind panic? Why, precisely those IT geeks you were so disdainful of.

I feel that everyone has a role to play and we all need each other. Why hold up some professions over others? Is my office cleaner's job any less noble than mine because she vacuums our floors, empties our wastepaper baskets and scrubs the restrooms? Her work is more demanding than mine, yet she is one of those I privately term 'the invisible ones', people often overlooked or taken for granted. People who quietly do their jobs with dedication, but are rarely recognised for it or even thanked. Yet we rely on them in so many unconscious ways.

The polarisation that comes with stereotypes is equally bad. At a conference early this week, I was listening to one of the presentations when it suddenly struck me how unfair we have been to a certain ethnic group in our country. This ethnic group is often considered lazy or incompetent, but at the conference I met so many teachers of this ethnicity who clearly worked hard at their job and were good, dedicated teachers, seeking to improve their skills and discover the best ways to help their students. I came away with a new respect for them, and a reminder to myself never to take stereotypes at face value.

One's job, one's skin colour... these things do not define who we are inside. My job is part of my story, as is my ethnicity... but they are not the ONLY stories, and may even be the least important ones.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Two lightbulb moments in as many days

Was writing an email to someone, talking about my work, when I wrote this:

    There's always so much to do, and I'm always looking for areas and ways to improve my teaching. It has to be something that is useful and practical, which will benefit the students. I think that's why I like teaching so much -- I'm continually challenged to innovate, so I'm constantly learning. There's no one batch of students quite like the other. They have different needs and a one-size-fits-all approach would never work.

It was a lightbulb moment.

Writing never challenged me that much; it comes easily, maybe too easily. It was fun in the sense that I was constantly meeting different people, and I did learn both about them and from them, but it was so touch and go: a single interview and I was unlikely to ever meet them again. There was no continuity and no challenge to better myself, to hone my craft. Newspaper writing style is pretty standard, and no one gave me feedback, suggested ways of improving my writing, or even talked with me about interview techniques, beyond the very basic stuff.

Teaching gives me both continuity and challenge. I see my students every day for a period of 10 weeks, and I'm trying new things all the time, thinking up new ways to convey various concepts to the students, experimenting to see if there's something I can do to spark greater understanding or retention. I taught one subject for four years before my boss moved me on to another, but even after teaching the same thing sixteen times (four semesters a year), I was still not satisfied and had plans in the pipeline to change certain approaches or try certain activities in the classroom. 
There's no chance of being bored or remaining static. I'm constantly innovating, and it's exhilarating. 

*      *      *      *      *      *
           Each time I resigned myself to never hearing from him again, he would write.
           "Are these dates?" my friends would ask.
           "They're datelike," I would answer, referring to Jonathan as my imaginary boyfriend, my insignificant other, my friend without benefits.
           Thirteen months of suboptimal dating passed. Several times I announced I couldn't see him anymore because I had feelings for him that weren't reciprocated. That went nowhere. If he looked (in my opinion) stricken, I would take it back.
           Finally, we had words, harsh ones, via email. He said I made him nervous, that I wasn't his girlfriend, that I was deluding myself. I asked him not to reply to my hotheaded rant of an answer.
    --Elinor Lipman, Taking a break for friendship

This, I could identify with. I've been there, wanting too much, maybe even pushing too hard, so I know how it is. You have to read to the end to know how her story went; needless to say, it does have a happy ending, and it made me smile.

But more than that, it gave me another lightbulb moment: For years, people have been telling me love will come when I'm not looking. I used to scoff and say, "How could I not look?" But now I think this refers to your state of being. That you're in a place where you're calm, relaxed, heart-whole, able to be yourself and to accept things as they are, to enjoy the now without continually getting ahead of yourself or anxiously second-guessing yourself.

You need to let go, let go of that dream, of that hope, so that with it you also let go of that anxiety which winds itself around you and constricts you and causes you to do and say things which you would ordinarily not do or say, to the point where you scarcely recognise yourself any longer. You need to stop trying so hard to make it happen and just be. That's the best version of you, the one who's comfortable in her own skin.

So it's not that love will come when you're not looking, but it's that you should not grasp your dreams too tightly in your hands, for you'll end up strangling love.