Sunday, February 28, 2010

Noisy Stories

Stories, stories in your head.
Pondering if this, maybe that, or, if that, maybe this.
Assumptions and presumptions.
Perception, reality.

Constant noise clouding your mind.
Wondering where the story ends, or when it begins.
Wanting and needing.
Self-concept, false.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Determination Shining Through

The look in her eyes said it all...the eyes red, slightly puffy. Glossy irises, dilated pupils, wet-rimmed eyelids; upper and lower. My heart immediately panged. I've felt that pain before. The kind that makes an otherwise strong-willed, determined woman, cower to the pull of emotions.

This young woman in her early 20's made an impression from the moment I met her. She has an air of confidence that doesn't seem so much ego-driven, as it seems a thirst for knowledge that she believes will guarantee her a better future. In the short time we've known each other, I've learned that she is a young mother. She's not a native to this city and she lives here without any family. Reference has been made to a past relationship.

Every week she's late at least 30 minutes. She always texts to let me know. Certainly I can't let that go without some sort of repercussion; however, I can't help but accept that this is her pattern. This is her life. An air of determination looms around her as her inquisitive nature asks question, interjects comments and thoughts, provides rationale for her initial thoughts or lack of knowledge. Not afraid to admit she doesn't know or she might be wrong. Happy when she is right.

I inquired of her well-being when she first arrived. She admitted she was having a tough morning but not to worry, she was here to learn and complete her midterm. I respected her wishes and didn't push further. I could relate in some odd way. Three hours later, she had completed her midterm. A successful presentation of research conducted on a successful business leader. She dove into the assignment, complete with it a week earlier than it was due. Determination shining through. Learning clearly evident.

Wide-eyed and proud, the tears no longer evident. The redness gone. A smile on her face. The look in her eyes said it all.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Continued learning...

The sky was an amazing blue after the sun lowered last night. I stood out on the patio of my sister's home, hugged my husband, and embraced the moment. Having spent the majority of that afternoon on that patio, my sister and I had dyed material and assembled flowers for our project. Finding very interesting color combinations I felt like a kid back in art class as I donned a painter's smock (okay, it was really an apron) and used paint brushes to apply the different colors. It was fun and relaxing, at the same time.

While sitting on the patio at the work table, a make-shift set-up my sister uses as her workstation, I remember thinking how wonderful the temperature was outside. Conducive to our afternoon of creativity. The music played in the background, a varied combination of tunes that came from her iPod. Most songs I knew and could sing along to, some I had heard and knew the tune, others completely new to me. 

Back on the patio, I stood there embraced by my husband, looked into the kitchen from the back window and as my sister sat on the table in her home, I felt the wicked sting of tears approaching. Not having a sad reason to cry, I knew they were happy tears. And happy tears I always welcome. Realizing what was happening my husband asked me what was wrong. After a moment of swallowing the approaching tears to the best of my ability, I finally got the words out to tell him they were happy tears. I looked into the window and told him how much I'm learning from my sister. He smiled, knowing what I was referring to.

As the day turned to evening, we found ourselves working on the dining room table as we each created new items for our shop. At one point, with music playing in the background, she and I both sung different parts of songs as we sewed petals together and beads on the petals. My brother-in-law, as he meandered into the kitchen, made note of the music we were singing along to. Yes, it could have been a Lilith Fair mix, but it wasn't, and he had totally missed our ode to the New Wave movement of the 80's. We continued to sing and hum...a connection we had even as small, young sisters, which obviously remains with us as adults.

Back on the patio, embraced by love in so many different ways, I relished in the moment, appreciated the day and headed back inside to create more. The sky, now a dark blue; the temperature, colder and brisk. Life, a continuous learning lesson.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Words that pierce...

I'm always thrilled to discover artists who can express their creative gift through the written word. I have read the words of many great writers; some long gone, others, novice at their talent. The depth of insight a writer may present is, at times, astounding, refreshing, riveting...words that pierce the mind and soul.

It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.
                                                                             ~Anais Nin (1903 - 1977)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's what?

This morning as I listened to a talk I was reminded that it was Valentine's Day. Actually, I can't say that I didn't notice the commercialized holiday advertised in the form of decorations and specialty holiday items in the many stores. Nor did I miss all the Hallmark commercials throughout the past few weeks. I still, somehow, managed to wake up, get dressed, leave my house, hop on my bike to ride to my destination (The Sitting Frog Zen Center) and still failed to remember it was 'the' day.

Something that my hubby and I agreed on from the very beginning was that we both had a disdain for the holiday created by big business. Now, don't get me wrong, we're not holding picket signs outside of the local Walgreen's in protest of greeting cards and stuffed teddy bears being sold - we simply don't celebrate the holiday. We figure if we have to use one day out of the year to tell each other how much we love each other, we're probably in trouble. Granted, it is possible that we're both scarred from the lack of Valentine cards we received, or rather, didn't receive in grade school but really, that's simply a possibility. ;)

So while today was a day for lovers, I celebrated it getting to know new friends over lunch, spending the late afternoon with a very tired Tech Director, creating a Facebook page for a project my sister and I are working on, doing research for the project, catching up on some reading, felting petals for two new flowers, and finally writing this. And I must say, it was a great day.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Yes, I am a Phoenix...

I am a Phoenix. Similar to the bird that emerges from the ashes, so too has the value of my education. Or so one would think considering the massive growth and sustained profitability my alma matter has proven. Many years ago when I was still young and naive, I found it difficult not to resent the jabs that people and the media took at my school. Words and phrases such as 'diploma mill' and 'second-rate college' were thrown around freely, and I admit, at times it worried me. At the time, which was approximately around the mid-90's, nontraditional education was still misunderstood. Traditional educators balked at anything nontraditional, it seemed.

Fast forward about fifteen or so years and I stumble across an article such as the one posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education today - For-Profit Colleges Change Higher Education's Landscape. An institution that started with opposition from the very beginning has proven to be a driving force in the landscape of not just nontraditional higher ed, but in higher ed as a whole. 30+ successful years with an average of 9% increased enrollment every year is solid proof of that.

Honestly, it simply blows my mind that enrollment at University of Phoenix now tops over 455,000 students. It is a feat not easily accomplished and not reached without obstacles and challenges. No other U.S.-based universities can claim this type of success, and for that, I'm proud to be a Phoenix.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

For the love of music

Rarely do I share about my love for music. Unless you're really close to me you probably don't know that my father is a musician. He has performed with several bands in his younger years until he finally decided he wanted to start his own band, The Viva Band, which he's had for over 30 years. As a child, I remember wanting to be a musician and even attempted a musical instrument while in the sixth-grade. I remember torturing the ears of my family as I practiced the clarinet after school and on weekends. My attempt at musical genius came to an end after a concert performance my bandmates and I put on, at the guidance of our music teacher. I remember the nice sounds, along with annoying squeeks, coming out of my wind-instrument as I missed notes, which were the result from nerves and lack of natural-born-clarinet-playing talent.

Although this experience did not impede my love for music, I didn't attempt another music instrument until my husband asked me to try my hand at the drums for a project he was working on for one of his classes in college. It was this project, approximately two and a half years ago, that made me realize my love for music burns as bright as always. Playing the drums came natural to me and after much practice, I played them while my husband played the guitar in one of his recording projects. It was not only fun but it was an experience that I'll never forget. I don't consider myself a natural performer, of any sort, but find myself in performer mode when needed. I'm sure many understand what I mean by this from personal experience.

As an adult, I find myself married to a musician who is talented enough to play three instruments (guitar, drums and bass). He's not only self-taught but also extremely passionate about his craft. His commitment to good music contributes to the continuous fostering of my love for music. There are many musicians that I call my favorites, but some are at a super-special level. In honor of great musical artists, here's one of my super-special favorites...

Artist: Sia
Song: Soon We'll Be Found

Friday, February 5, 2010

Education in Cultural Diversity

I've spent the last week teaching classes. My three morning classes have younger college students (some younger in years, some younger in experience), and at night, I have adult college students on two nights of the week. Each group of students are different, diverse. Some eager to learn, others not so much; the majority I can seem to draw in but there are always one or two that are tough. During conversation with one of my groups, the topic of cultural diversity came up and like the good teacher that I am, I pulled from my own life experiences and brought up some experiences traveling and my time in Seattle and South Florida. After five years living in the Sunshine State, I gained the most cultural diversity I've ever experienced in my life. (I just realized that I usually tell people I lived there about seven years...hmmmm, how have I gotten that wrong so many times??...or did it just feel longer than five years and I subconsciously change the number???)

After sharing my experiences with the different cultures, languages, dialects, food, etc. I was taken back to my first day in Fort Lauderdale. Having traveled, by car, for a little over three days with a friend as my moving companion, we had only one overnight stop in Jacksonville, Florida where we stayed with my friend Paula, it was a long drive across I-10 and then down South on I-95. Having lived in Seattle for barely a year, I wasn't thrilled at the thought of leaving the city I had fallen in love with so easily. Somehow I was convinced that the job opportunity was worth the move, worth leaving the Pacific Northwest that had some odd pull and tug at my heart strings. My year in Seattle may have been one of the loneliest, exciting, scary, educational, insightful and rewarding times in my life, but alas, South Florida called my name. We arrived with a car full of clothes, and other odds and ends, to an apartment complex that looked somewhat of a tropical retreat. (Well, at that time, all of South Florida seemed to be a tropical retreat to me).

My friend and I waited for the moving truck to deliver all the furniture and boxes to the apartment. The driver didn't arrive too much later than we had and within hours, all was unloaded into our two-bedroom, second-floor apartment with an entrance on the first floor and an amazing view of the pool in the center of the complex. On a whim, my roomie and I decided to find our way to the beach, because after all, this was the first time either of us had the opportunity to see the ocean on the Atlantic side. While I can't recall whether we went out to have dinner before, I recall us making our way to Fort Lauderdale Beach. It was night out and the moon was bright, the sand was warm between my toes and under my feet, and the water was...well, amazing. It was warm; comfortably warm. I had never been in ocean water that didn't nearly cause frost bite to my toes so this was a new experience. The slight splashing sound against the sandy coast is a sound I will never forget.

The smell of the salt in the air, warm water and feel of the sand under our feet, combined, is most likely what made us do the following...without much discussion, my friend and I decided to strip down to our last layer of clothing and jump in the warm water. I turned my back while my friend stripped down, because we were just friends after all. After he was in the water I did the same and we spent the next half-hour or so enjoying the warm cool wavy waters of Fort Lauderdale Beach. The first night in a city that would change me and my life in many positive ways.

While life can certainly be stressful, I mostly recall good times while living in South Florida. Maybe it's what I chose to do because whether good or bad, I generally try my best to use each experience in life as a learning lesson. That first night on the beach was only one of many, many times I would end up with sand in my car and the smell of salt water on my skin. I would eventually discover a city so beautiful that people will go out of there way to arrange a vacation there. Three counties (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach) nearly overlapping, amazingly multi-cultural with more languages and dialects spoken than I had ever experienced. I would spend the next five years being exposed to cultures I knew about, and many I didn't, but had never experienced personally. Educational in more ways that my words can describe...which is quite surprising because I can usually find the words for anything.

Reminiscing about my culturally diverse experience in South Florida came to an end when one of my students asked me to share the most important or memorable thing I gained from my time there. I didn't have to ponder long to have an answer because while the ocean is beautiful, the palm trees picturesque (many with coconuts) and the food amazing...I left South Florida with an extremely culturally diverse mix of friends and family. From my Florida employee-turned-friend-turned-surrogate-mom, who is from the Dominican Republic from whom I inherited her family as my own (I'm like a distant cousin to her grown children), to one of my Bahamian employee-turn-friend who introduced me to Conch Fritters and one of the warmest souls and smiles I've ever met in my life, to my favorite couple (she from Columbian descent, he from Puerto Rican descent) who showed me what true friends are by including me as the third-wheel during many evenings and weekends when I otherwise would have been alone, to my Jewish employee-turned-friend who was my example and hero when it came to my decision to have surgery (she was much braver than I was). I've barely scratched the surface with examples of wonderful people who I call family and friends.

Reflecting on this is a reminder of why I love talking about cultural diversity whenever it comes up. There is nothing more educational when it comes to the topic than people who bring it to life for you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Arizona public universities are finding the grass IS greener on the other side...

Arizona state universities are going down a new route - for traditional higher ed institutions, anyway. Serving a nontraditional student population is far from new for many private institutions, but for public higher ed the resistance to most things outside of the box hasn't changed much.