Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for queue

So now I have a whole queue of unwritten A to Z posts. They're unwritten not just on the blog but also in my head, which is another way of saying, "I ain't got nuthin' fer ya." This week just completely did me in and the only reason I managed Tuesday's post was because I had pre-written it the week before. I've been working flat out, sleeping 4 hours a night on average and generally doing a great imitation of a zombie. Braaaaaaains... gimme some braaaaaaains...

I swear teachers must be masochists because we like to generate more work for ourselves. Assigning the students homework means this homework has to be checked or marked later. If they don't do homework, I scold -- okay, I don't scold, I am nice, but I raise my eyebrows and give them The Look™ -- and complain to my fellow teachers: "Can you believe it? Only TWO STUDENTS did the homework today!" when I should really be jumping for joy because I'll have less work to do.

Anyway, on Tuesday I:
  • Taught 2 hours of class
  • Facilitated 1 hour of language lab
  • Finished setting one testpaper
  • Formatted two other testpapers
  • Renamed and uploaded audio recordings of the students' speaking assessments to the database

By the time I'd done all that, it was 7:40pm and I still had to mark the students' homework and prepare the lesson for the next day. Not complaining, but after this week I will bitch-slap anyone who dares to tell me teachers have an easy life!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for MBTI

I am an ISTP.

For those unfamiliar with the MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, what I just said probably just looks like a jumble of letters to you. ISTP? Do I have a lisp or something?

The MBTI instrument breaks down various aspects of one's personality and gives you an understanding of how you make decisions, gather information from the world around you, interact with people, and order your world. These four different aspects provide quite a comprehensive way of looking at a person and how he or she functions. I've found it extremely helpful in understanding myself better and realising why I am the way I am.

For many, many years, I tried and tried to make myself into a J (judging type). Now, when MBTI uses the word "judging", it doesn't carry the same meaning as it would in layman's terms; it refers to the way you prefer to order your world. The judging types like to have life all planned out. They follow rules and schedules, they love order, they want things to be settled and organised. They don't like surprises and they HATE working last-minute.

My parents are very neat and disciplined people, especially my dad. Oh the Js! They were always trying to instill discipline into me, and of course you have to admit that being organised and neat and disciplined are good things, things to aspire to. So I always wanted to be J and despised myself for not being able to be J; each time I failed as a J, I felt like a mess, the sort of mess that my desk has always been -- a terrible useless human being who couldn't get her act together. What is wrong with you? I don't remember my parents saying this, but I said it to myself all the time. You can't even do such a simple thing like keep your desk neat.

When, in 2010, I realised I was actually a P (perceiving type), the direct opposite of the J -- random, spontaneous, rather messy -- and that I had been fighting against my very nature all along, I was devastated. I wrote this:

    All I feel is grief, grief because I have to accept myself and how can I accept myself as a P when I think I ought to be a J? Yet how can I be a J if I was made a P? And then I realise how screwed up I am because I don't want to be a P, because I still think J is right and P is wrong, and no wonder I always feel wrong... I can't accept that there are good things about being P, I can't accept that P might be acceptable too... in my world there is no space for P.

I didn't realise until that point that I had never liked myself.

The P in me is the impractical dreamer, the artist, the pianist, the poet... all the unimportant things, the things that I had believed needed to be discarded in favour of Getting Things Done, things that wouldn't get me anywhere; things that were a distraction, a waste of time, that didn't really count. And in trying to be J these were all the things that had fallen by the wayside, swept away.

It was a friend who pointed out that we need both Js and Ps:

"Look at the clouds. Clouds are P. Look at the wind. The wind is P. Look at snowflakes. Snowflakes are P. Everywhere you see creativity and beauty, it's P."

I nearly cried.

"Sure, the process is J," my friend added. "The snowflake structure is very J. The water cycle is J. Water freezes into ice at 100ÂșC; that is J. But look at the ice formations -- they are P. So you need both J and P."

It was so hard for me to find beauty in my P, when all my life I had looked at it as a liability, something to be hated and torn out and destroyed -- and if not, then at least pushed away and banished. I still hate the fact that I have a messy desk. But at least I don't think I'm a mess any longer.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for kilograms

I've fallen off the wagon in a big way this week -- with regards to sugar, not alcohol. Cake, ice-cream, chocolates, Pepsi... I swear, they're so gonna be my downfall.

The sweet tooth comes from mum. It is mostly undiscriminating, but I love sodas especially. The other stuff -- I love those too, but I rarely snack (THANK GOD). It's sodas which are the most accessible thing. After all, a body has to drink, right? Right???

Two years ago, I made a concerted effort to cut down on my sugar and carb intake. One way was to limit myself to a single can of soda a week. I'm not militant about it, like I don't set a particular day for my soda and tell myself other days should be soda-free, or make a mark in my diary whenever I do get a soda, or anything like that. Some weeks I will pick up a can, and some weeks I won't at all. The "one a week" decision has more to do with being aware of what I'm consuming than anything else.

Well, this week I've been aware that I'm consuming more than usual. The one problem I have is with impulsiveness: "I feel like having this, so I'll have it". Because sometimes I will feel like having a soda, sometimes I will feel like having a slice of cake, and sometimes I will feel like having chocolate. Not all at the same time, of course (phew), but if you have one of them every other day, it's going to be a problem. Sometimes I try to talk myself out of it, but other times I don't. Sometimes I feel like I deserve a little treat, or I don't want to deprive myself of one of life's little pleasures... amazing, the things you tell yourself to justify bad decisions!

Some researchers say that a can of soda has 10 teaspoonfuls of sugar. Ten! Knowing this makes me feel guilty sometimes when I drink it. And my dear dad told me that if I eat a single M&M, I'd need to walk the length of a soccer field to use up all the calories. Just ONE M&M! Dad said every time I eat something, I should think about how I'm gonna work off the energy later. I told him I can't live like that: I'd never be able to enjoy food again.

So I don't count calories, but I eat half the usual portion of pasta or noodles or rice, generally avoid french fries and potatoes, and drink at most one can of soda a week -- choosing water most other times -- and over the past two years I've lost enough weight that people have been taking notice. Oh, I'm far from svelte and slim, but at least I have a bit of shape back (I know round is a shape, but it is not the shape I wanna be!).

I'm trying not to beat myself up for falling off the wagon this week. I think I have drunk at least 3 cans of soda, eaten a small bar of chocolate and one slice of chocolate cake with icing. Logically, I think my sugar intake will even out, because there are weeks when I go without eating anything unusually sweet (that is, just sticking to my usual meals and water). But I'm having an "I'm feeling fat" moment tonight. Sigh.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Introvert

Nobody ever believes me when I say I'm an introvert.

Okay, okay, that was a wild exaggeration. MOST people don't believe me when I say I'm an introvert.

Because I'm social! I like people! And I go out to meet them!

But they don't notice I only go out to meet certain people, really. In small groups. And am usually the observer. Or, in a one-to-one situation, the listener.

And they don't notice that I sometimes disappear in the middle of social events. You know what's a godsend for an introvert? The washroom. Yes, I said it. You can lock yourself in a cubicle to take time out from everyone, and no one will bother you there. It's the one place in the whole building where you can retreat to and be guaranteed complete solitude.

Sure, some other people might enter and stand at the sink area talking loudly to each other. But you, you will be hidden in a cocoon from everyone's view, and be in a blissful bubble of your own.

Unless, of course, the washroom stinks. Which quite often is true of public restrooms in Malaysia, alas. Then the bubble isn't so blissful.

But it's still a bubble.

A place where I can take some time to collect myself and fortify myself before I need to go out there and face The Masses again. Where I can stare at my cellphone without anyone digging me in the ribs and labelling me anti-social. Where I can breathe.

And the other thing about being an introvert! I like my personal space. Quit trying to get in my personal space and make me talk! Yes, I'm referring to you, hairstylists, and also to you, cabbies! It's nice that you're being all friendly and chatty and all, but when I go to a salon, I really just wanna get a haircut and get out of there. And when I get in a cab, I really just wanna arrive at my destination and get out of the vehicle. I do not want to talk about the weather. I do not want to talk about politics. And I definitely do not need any advice on how to snare a man!

Sheesh, now I sound like a crabby old woman. And I'm only 36.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for hero

I always liked Batman better than Superman or Spiderman.

Not because I liked Michael Keaton better than Christopher Reeve, either.

Batman is real, in a way that Superman isn't. Superman has super strength (not to mention x-ray vision, as well as the ability to fly and emit laser/heat beams from his eyes), but Batman's just your ordinary average joe. He can bleed, he gets exhausted, he needs food and drink. Superman is indestructible and needs no one -- not even Lois Lane -- but Batman couldn't do without Alfred, at the very least. Oh, I know he would never admit to needing Alfred, but he does. He couldn't survive alone: when he's wounded, he needs someone to tend to him; when he's weary, he needs a safe place to rest; and when he's raging inside, he needs someone to be his voice of reason. Alfred provides all this, in his own poker-faced butlery way.

Even better, Batman is a tortured soul. He can't forget how his parents died at the hands of a mugger. He can't accept how helpless he was to help them. He's driven to fill some void in his soul by being this masked vigilante. Contrast that with Superman, who's all about "doing the right thing" and using his powers responsibly. What drives him? Nothing, just a strict moral code and an unshakeable belief in upholding justice for the sake of upholding justice. That's... noble, but boring! He ends up looking like a two-dimensional caricature next to Batman.

Even Spiderman is more interesting than Superman. Spidey is of course famous for the line, "With great power comes great responsibility", and is haunted by how his failure to stop a thief gave said thief the opportunity to later kill his Uncle Ben. But he, too, has superpowers. Batman has none.

So Batman is, for me, the embodiment of a normal guy who's just trying to do his best to survive. I don't mean survive like eke out a living, I mean survive as in push on from day to day, finding a reason to live. The main thing that keeps him going is the thought that he's avenging his parents, that by ridding Gotham City of criminals, he's preventing some other little boy from the same anguish that he has suffered; he's keeping people safe. It's not about doing right for the sake of doing right -- how many of us are that altruistic? It's about all the hurt he's buried inside.

At the heart of it, he reminds me of all of us. We're all walking wounded. It's part of life. In one way or another, we've been hurt, only in different areas and different intensities. These wounds are part of who we are. Even when they're healed, they've still paid a part in shaping who we are. We carry the scars with us, and every day, part of the reason we do the things we do, say the things we say, connect with the people we connect with -- many of these actions can be attributed to what we have experienced. Some of us are haunted by regret or driven by pain, anger, frustration. Almost all of us seek peace, love, acceptance. We do this in our own way. Batman does it his way, by fighting crime under the cover of darkness, his identity concealed under a mask. It helps to keep the pain at bay, to disassociate himself from that hurting eight-year-old boy, to protect his heart from being exposed, because he's just so vulnerable under all that machismo. Like all of us.
**Image credit: Pencils by Rags Morales, colours by Nei Ruffino. Via Abduzeedo

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for grammar

I really hate grammatical rules, which is a strange thing for an English teacher to say. But I never learnt them, so perhaps my antipathy is justified, or perhaps not! Believe it or not, I only began to learn them when I had to teach them!

But I am convinced that there is no point memorising grammatical rules, because theory and practice are two totally different things. I have students who can answer grammatical quiz questions perfectly, yet when they write paragraphs and essays none of that comes through. Why? Because when we're writing, we're not thinking about the rules. We're thinking of ideas, and how best to convey those ideas... and when you're an ESL (English as a second language) student, it's about all you can do to think of the appropriate vocabulary to articulate your opinions. Grammar becomes secondary.

I didn't realise how influential reading is until I became a teacher. Reading helps one to internalise grammatical rules and sentence structure: it's how you "just know" something is wrong, because it "feels" wrong or "looks" wrong. You may not be able to explain it, but your brain has seen a particular arrangement of words so many times that it just knows that's the way things should be.

So in a way I feel it is pointless to teach grammatical rules, except to give the students some understanding of why certain things are right and others are wrong. But in the end, harping on grammar will get us nowhere. However many times I tell my students that verbs have to change depending on whether the sentence has a singular or plural subject, they still write "Many students likes"... and when I point out, "What did you just do there?" they're like, "Oh yes! Sorry, teacher!" and jump to correct their mistake. They know the rule, but they don't practice it. It's not a part of them... YET.

I also feel that grammatical rules are ridiculously complicated and full of jargon. Coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, adverbial clauses, noun clauses, relative clauses, independent clauses, dependent clauses, what?!? If all these things make my eyes glaze over, how much more will my students' eyes do the same! I feel that it's way more important you be able to write good sentences, than to know what all these things are called. Unfortunately, it's difficult to teach how to write a good sentence without using jargon. Especially when you have to explain where to put what and how to arrange all the words and blah.

All of which makes me a rather weird language teacher. But language is not about rules! It's about usage! I don't want my students to get sidetracked by all the details and focused on knowing every single grammatical rule. I want them to be focused on trying to write well. (And of course I'd love them to pass, too. Just sayin'.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for favourites

"What's your favourite book?"

I get all flustered when people ask me that question.

Granted, I love to read, and I have many books. Toooooooo many. I have books in almost every room of my apartment, barring the kitchen (wouldn't want to accidentally set them on fire!). I have books of various genres: classics, general fiction, biographies and autobiographies, travel writings, short stories, poetry, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, crime/detective, general non-fiction, comics, crossword puzzles, writing, etymology... and I try to shelf them by genre, too, which is just mad.

But I don't have a favourite.

I wonder if others feel this way. Do fashionistas have a favourite dress, or outfit? Does anybody have one favourite song? I like so many songs... The Piña Colada Song (Rupert Holmes), the theme from Mahogany (Diana Ross), You are the Sunshine of My Life (Stevie Wonder), Starting Over Again (Natalie Cole), Annie's Song (John Denver), and... okay, I'd better stop. See? I couldn't ever choose just one!

I don't even have a favourite colour. I love maroon and burgundy (see shoes below!!), but I also love a deep rich blue which I have yet to figure out the name of. And I love dark purple and turquoise. When I walk into a clothes store, those are the colours that catch my eye. Every. Single. Time.

So, no, I don't have a favourite book... and I think that's a horrible getting-to-know you question. I'm going to fumble and look like a flake who doesn't know her own mind, and you're going to doubt I read anything at all, much less like to read, and it's all going to end in disaster. I'll choose a book just to be able to name something, and in my panic I'll probably say something like, "the dictionary" and then you'll look at me funny and think I'm a total nerd. Which I am, but, y'know, didn't want to reveal on the first date. Ah well. The truth will out!