Washington D.C., A Love Letter (1)

The smell of sweet maple syrup brushes my nostrils. A molasses-like sip of coffee touches my lips. I am staring out from my screened-in porch at a towering Live Oak who’s Spanish moss drapes like a spontaneous work of modern art.

In the background Ray Charles is banging on the piano. Cardinals flirt with the introduction to spring.”Y’all” twangs off the tongues of people below me.

And I am home, mostly. Back in the south, near nature and the people I love.

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Spot right next to my new apartment 🙂

A year ago, my view couldn’t have been more different. And while I miss that place in many ways, there are things that have validated the choices that led me here, as well as the choices I have made for my future. But there are also experiences and emotions that have validated my choice to live there.

When I lived in D.C., a step onto my balcony would amplify the sound of sirens. With a wipe of my finger I could remove the soot that settled on my plants from the cars below. My view across the street was a busy hospital. My nostrils flared at the smell of car exhaust and rubber.

I’m not ashamed to admit that say that my idealism got the best of me when I first moved. I was excited about working in the government, a place I thought I would make a direct and tangible difference. I’d maybe wiggle my way into the Department of Education and change things there, and then go into my role as a teacher. I got to don a suit and wear a cool badge. James Bond style.

When the excitement swayed from moving to a new place, the fear set in. My view narrowed. I knew no one there, and having moved from a place where I was constantly surrounded and stimulated by the people around me, I felt isolated. My life, recently filled with so m
any exuberant and challenging experiences of love and life and knowledge in graduate school and journalism left me sitting in a cubicle. And slowly, I began to ignore the dissonance between words and action of the people around me.

And that was that. That was it. All of my time and all of my work in graduate school, in journalism and traveling, led to this. Had I lived through the most climatic parts of my life already? Was it done? Was it flat or down hill from here on out? The perverseness of these thoughts wore down my spirit. As an optimist, depression isn’t something I encounter often. Sadness, yes. But the inexplicable feeling that something was wrong was new to me. I wasn’t happy.

There were. however, brief moments when I left my shell for a while. When the snowstorm hit D.C., and the violent sounds of the city became muffled, I would walk around the National Mall and embrace the newness of this environment. I sat on benches and watched families as they sled under the shadows of the Washington Monument. Everything  covered in white, the Potomac completely Frozen. I brushed my hands over the Vietnam Memorial and cried a little as older veterans brought flowers or badges for the companions who fought beside them. I even began a monthly tradition of stopping by Arlington Cemetery after work to watch the changing of the guard. Families from all over the world, people of all ages, silent, sharing a moment that somehow tied us all together in honor and respect. It was inspiring.

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These brief open moments all begin to tie together in the spring. My parents gave me a beautiful hybrid bicycle for my birthday, and I began to bike commute to work (I dreaded the metro, despite its convenience, and I think many D.C. residents share that).

My first few days adjusting to bike commuting were difficult. Arlington and the basin of the Potomac did not make for easy coastal riding. The trails were hilly  (one hill, returning from work, was about three miles long), with large ramps and bridges. Often times the chilly spring breezes were strong enough to push me backwards. But I was sick of being stagnant in my life. I needed to face a challenge. So I biked. And as I winded my way through the twisty trails, I realized that there was nature within feet of my apartment. It was never separate from me. Biking was the cathartic catalyst I needed. Funny, because I used to hate it.

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Part of the new work commute. 

The Arlington Loop and Custis Trail are gorgeous. A few miles into the trail and you hit the Potomac river and bike along its shore for the rest of the trip to the Pentagon. In the morning, I’d bike right next to Georgetown’s crew team as they silently muttered their chants, their rhythm fueling my peddling.  I’d bike under Memorial Bridge and look across to see the capitol’s monuments. In these sights, I couldn’t help but beam with something other than sorrow for myself. Gratitude, probably. Weeping Willows surrounded the path and  I’d greet them by standing and brushing my hands against their drooping branches. Osprey would fly over me, fish in their talons, wiggling like a shaggy wet dog to shake off the musty water. Grass and flowers and green and everything my eyes craved to see surrounded me each morning. Greeted me with an awakening similar to the first smell or scent of coffee.

Towards the end of my ride, I would stop by Gallvery Point,  a park near Reagan airport. My dad always told me stories of he and his brother kayaking by the airport and watching the planes take off or land right over their head. I would sit there and watch the planes, thinking of that. That I was able to sit in a spot my father did when he was my age. A place where he developed his future passions for flight. Giant jets would fly feet above my head, and I would sit on my two wheels and marvel at mankind’s capability to persevere in the face of impossibility (wi-fi on airplanes, obviously).

My weekends became filled with hikes with friends in Virginia. Concerts. Dance-a-thons. Kayaking and camping. Encounters with people filled with passions and a zest for life. And that zest was contagious. I, yet again, was in awe of simplicity. Of the little Cardinal who nested in the one tree on our block and sang it’s song. To the man who couldn’t see, and his loyal dog. To the store clerk downstairs who always gave me a square of dark chocolate. To the blooming flowers in windows and the fingers touching at coffee shops. To my dear friends selling their Street Sense news papers to help fight poverty. I want to embrace all of this. I have embraced all of this.

It can be undeniably  easy to see horrible things in D.C. Four small walls and a cork board. People marching in apathy, brain waves closed off to the world around them, eyes aloof as they walk past the homeless or hurting. Concrete walls. Soot. Debris. Politics. Ladder climbing. Pollution. Those aspects are still very real, and I am guilty of latching onto them . But I think, in retrospect, I have lifted the blinders I placed upon myself in fear of the unknown.

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Gallvery Point

My staying in my small little world, my underground commute to work, my concrete view from my porch, my perception, kept me from realizing all there was here. This truly was our nation’s capitol, filled with culture, history, and nature. I just had to step back outside of myself to realize it.

Funny how perception changes things. Funny how life, and our reaction to it, changes who we are. Something to be embraced. To be torn apart and reassembled with a greater understanding of identity and wanting. Growth, I think that’s what they call it.

 

 

 

 

Practice and Preach

 

I write this stricken with a tinge of guilt on my shoulder, wondering if I still can. Wondering if I should. And then ultimately realizing that the wondering is simply a manner of coming up with excuses not to.

“Don’t compose this sentence,” the backspace beckons. My finger reaches for the key. It’s impulse. You haven’t written anything in a while. You’re not a writer anymore. Probably not good enough.

The mind can be SUCH a jerk sometimes. So can whiteout. And the backspace key. And those really chalky erasers. And fights against the Arkham Knight in the Bat Mobile. Moral: lots of things are jerks.

Though despite my guilt, I write this in happiness and contentment. I’m starting to grow and snuggle into a career field I see myself pursuing for the long-haul. One that I am optimistic and passionate about. I am also in a place that allows me to be in nature, work with wildlife and horses again, and open up to the idealistic identity I thought I lost for a little while; though, I think I prefer the term under-construction as opposed to lost.

It’s been ages since I’ve written in this blog, or really written anything outside of a class syllabus. It’s been ages since I’ve poured my time, experiences, memories, and moments into something that was both professional and personal to me. Teaching, in many ways, can be personal, but it is also inundated in connections and social interactions. Teaching at this point, consumes most of my thoughts. How will my lesson plan go tomorrow? What creative activity can I have my kids do to emphasize a point? What do I want my kids to learn? How can I help those who need more assistance? Does this material make sense for multiple intelligences? How is this going to tie in later on? How can I make sure my students are learning at all? What do I need to grade? How can I grade fairly? These questions are never easily answered, and when they are, their answers change. I love dwelling on these things, in the space of ambivalence and creativity.

But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I need to take time to separate my life from my career–a concept that I think is foreign to most who are in or have recently finished grad school. And ideally, that’s what getting back to writing will help me do. Reflection is sometimes the best of teachers… and as an English and writing teacher, I feel like I should probably practice what I preach. So my goal, is that once a week, I will have a piece up on this blog again. It might be an article I’ve recently published, an interview, a reflection, a story, an idea, a blurb, a recipe, an independent clause. I can’t guarantee what it will be, but it will have words. Beautiful, meaningful, fulfilling words.*

*I’m not saying I write beautiful words, I’m saying words in-and-of-themselves are beautiful, and might actually be made less beautiful in the context of this blog (RIP words: thanks for being useful). But it’s still pretty mind-blowing to me that symbols can carry emotional meaning with them. Carl Sagan uses them real good.

The Rhetoric of Video Games: How Game Design Makes Meaning

(This article was written as part of my graduate thesis and is part of my on-going research in education, rhetoric, and games.)

A few weeks ago I took part in a panel at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco that explored the relevance of video games—of what scholar James Paul Gee calls a “problem of content,” in which we only value an artifact as educational if it provides tangible content (22). At the conference major developers and game designers gathered together to talk about what the medium of games was to become with the incessant invectives of games being “a waste of time” or “a phase to grow out of.” If that’s all games are, then what’s the point of working in them? As a field, we need to find a way to elucidate these claims. We need to shine light on video games as a medium that has the potential to serve alongside traditional artifacts accepted in an artistic and academic setting, while also realizing that some games are simply meant to be used as entertainment or escapism. Regardless, the level of interactivity games allow have proven to provide profound effects on cognitive enhancement, but we can only use them progressively if they are taken serious both by their audience and their creators.  Ian Bogost argues that games should be discussed alongside “traditional media subjects,” and that “teaching games alongside reading, writing, and debating them as argumentative and expressive practices” can help evolve the way we look at rhetoric in new media (136). Thus the aim of this project, inspired largely by this conversation, is to explore how video games create meaning through their design—ultimately looking at how games apply and use multi-modal rhetorical devices to influence players in a manner that other mediums may not be able to.

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Edible Thoughts: Cinnamon Honey Banana Bread

The thing I love about most breads  is that you can add whatever your little (or big?) heart desires. Here I used whole-grain flour, as I think it often compliments breads like banana and pumpkin by giving it a richer flavor. I also added honey, extra cinnamon, brown sugar, and apple sauce (substitute for butter/oil)…. and semi-sweet chocolate chips because it’s freaking chocolate. Continue reading

On the Old Gentleman and His Dog

There is an older gentleman who lives in my neighborhood. We normally cross each other’s path in the early morning–me, trying miserably to turn a morning run into a habitual action in attempt to stabilize my life; him, walking his gorgeous lanky German Shepard down the side walk. I don’t know who he is, what he does, or even his name. But each morning we make eye contact and nod our heads in greeting.

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Interaction and Autism: How Games Help

As an educator, I have an interest in researching how video games can help us to better understand learning through interaction, play, and experience. Despite their often negative reputation for being a “waste of time,” video games still provide us with a unique medium of entertainment because they require direct interaction from the player. This aspect introduces a new dimension in how forms of entertainment and media affect us, especially in fields like medicine and psychology.

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Edible Thoughts: Snickerdoodles

Do we hyphenate Snickerdoodle now (what up AP style changing up email all the time)? As much as I love grammar I don’t even care if we do or don’t now, because hyphenation doesn’t affect the taste of these grammatically and semantically perplexing cookies of deliciousness.

I will give you ten dollars if you can discover how these scrumptious cinnamon-ly soft cookies received their name, without using your Googling power. As I tell my students, in this context, Google is cheating. Continue reading