Monday, December 23, 2013

That one time when I was a science teacher for a minute...

 There are a lot of reasons why I quit my teaching job.  It was a lot of work… for not a whole lot of pay. I knew that would be the case going in. The pay itself wasn’t an issue, but it did start to feel insulting when I began to understand the work load. At one point I divided my salary by the number of hours I was putting in and my hourly and found out that if I had continued at the pace I was going, I definitely would have been getting paid below minimum wage for my time.

My students didn’t respect me. They didn’t value education and so they were learning nothing from me. Questions like the one a student asked during a lesson about Geologic time, “who are you even talking to right now?”, stung. But to be perfectly honest, any question, even a condescending one, was welcome because it showed on a certain level, a student cared that I was there. Usually I felt completely obsolete. I was failing.

I tried to make lessons more engaging. Incorporating games, video clips and hands on activities into my lessons. I even wrote a rap about genetics for my 8th grade class. None of it made a difference. I know, it would have made a difference if I had been able to build relationships with my students. That is what everyone said was prime to being a master teacher: relationships. I wanted so badly to connect with my students. Its hard to build a relationship with any one when you are in charge of a classroom full of other ones. I tried to bond with them outside of the classroom. I was so swamped with things I had to do though: lesson plans, grading, disciplinary actions, paperwork, meetings, online classes, setting up lab equipment, taking down lab equipment etc. I felt overwhelmed. I needed every second of the time I had at school (and at home) to just tread water enough to be ready to deliver my lessons and return assignments. Finding time to go out on the playground and chat with kids even for a few minutes was difficult. There was no passing period to talk to students after class either.

At first, I would bond with students while they were in detention.  That worked well for a while. All of my students seemed to be good people… as individuals. However, when I started to get a lot of kids in detention, bonding time was over. Even with two students, they would start team up against me. I don’t exude authority. I also don’t seem cool, so that didn’t leave me much angle to make headway with my middle school students. Fear and fitting in are the only languages they speak. It quickly was decided that the way to fit in in my classroom was to ignore me. Those who paid attention in class could be targets for ridicule and rejection.

I knew I was not cutting it. I wasn’t connecting with my students. I could lead these students to the pool of knowledge I had, but all they wanted to do was splash around in the water and scuttle along the surface of it. I had no idea how to make them drink! I wasn’t efficient.  It took me too long to grade things and too long to plan lessons. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that I dedicated every minute of every waking hour to teaching. I even graded papers and read my teaching manual while I drove.  I was up at 4:50 AM and I went to bed sometime between 11:00PM and midnight.  I knew my efficiency would increase over time and I knew I could reuse lesson plans in coming years, but even if I got better there was one thing about the job that I knew would never sit well with me… the isolation.

Being a teacher was a kind of isolation I’d never experienced before.

Outside of the classroom I bonded with other teachers with no effort (because we’d been through a shared traumatic experience), but inside the classroom I was alone. There were thirty to forty students surrounding me at any moment, but those were students. Not friends. Not allies… not even enemies. I, alone, was responsible for them- for their safety and their education and their journey to become good functional members of society. I’d never had kids- hadn’t even baby sat that much growing up. I had no idea what to do when I was suddenly solely responsible for raising dozens kids at once in ninety minute increments  every day.

For some teachers being an authority is no big deal because that’s who they are anyway. Some people are natural leaders and they don’t have to act when they are teaching. I am not such a person. I couldn’t be myself in the classroom. I had to assume a persona. I was not Jillian, the happy go lucky person who loves and trusts everyone; I was an authority figure... Well I tried to be anyway. They saw through my facade immediately though. I knew they didn’t respect me, but I continued to (poorly) put on the act of being a cold hard educator. Thus I was isolated in the classroom not only from peers, but also from myself. I shoved my feelings and natural personality so far down inside of me that when I got home, I couldn’t pull myself back out again. The real me was smashed down against the pit of my stomach somewhere.

My students would hurl insults and weird perverted things at me, but I wouldn’t even flinch. When they called me “ a retarded fucking bitch”, “a cunt”, or “a bad teacher”, I let it roll off and calmly assigned them detention for defiance. When they asked me if I smoked weed, liked it in the butt or knew what a donkey punch was, I pretended that I didn’t hear them (When they asked about camel toes though, I told them “a camel toe is like a hoof. It’s what a camel walks on in the desert- a structural adaptation that helps them survive the arid climate in which they live”).

Their words broke against me, but they didn’t break me. If students knew they could affect me, I figured they would amp up their attacks and destroy me, so I was stoic. In retrospect, showing some emotion probably would have been better… I was worried if I opened up at all, every bit of repressed emotion would suddenly come pouring out.

One good thing about teaching was that I lost weight. There were two reasons for that. The most immediate was that I didn’t have time to eat or buy food. I was always rushed when I left for work every morning, so instead of having a chew and swallow breakfast, I mixed weigh protein into soy milk, (which I guess is kind of ironic) and drank it from my thermos as I drove to school. I didn’t take a lunch break because I gave lunch detention every day. In the five minutes I allowed myself to eat at midday, I would voraciously consume a granny smith apple (for some reason I always crave granny smith apples when I’m emotionally distressed) and a high protein granola bar (usually Kashi… because I have an inexplicable reverence for that brand). Dinner was either cereal (Kashi) and carrots or a frozen (Kashi) pizza and salad. Except for one time when I bought ice cream, there was no other food in my house besides what I’ve mentioned in this paragraph… so in a certain way, teaching was actually good for my health.

If you believe self esteem is related to your overall health, I’d say teaching was bad for me though. I would often think to myself: “I feel worthless; I am a failure as a teacher;  My students are learning nothing; I am hurting their chances at being successful in life by taking the spot of  a teacher who could do a better job; and I, myself, feel miserable.” It would occur to me that I should want to cry, but I only cried twice. Both times my mentor teacher was there. She was saying out loud things that I already knew, like: “To be a successful teacher, you have to want it more than anything, but I just don’t know if you do.”

 I didn’t. I felt guilty and defeated. I was wasting everyone’s time- including my own. I didn’t want teaching to be my entire existence. I wanted time for myself- to be myself, so I resigned.

I am glad I had the experience of being a teacher. Though most of my students cannot boast as much, I learned a great deal about science. I learned a lot about kids and about group psychology. Despite the bad experiences, I had a lot of good experiences with my students. I came to genuinely care about most of them (which made me feel all the worse for failing them). I also came to fully appreciate the dedication and hard work career teachers put in.  Now I just have to figure out what I want to do with my life, so as not to waste the hard work that many teachers, my parents and I put into making me who I am. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013


About a week and a half ago I took – and failed – a test which I’d hoped would prove me to be “highly qualified” to teach Science to 7th 8th and 9th graders. I know what you’re probably thinking; you’re probably thinking “uhm, you know the word “science” should only be capitalized at the beginning of a sentence or if it’s being used to describe a specific class at a school- no wonder you failed.” … and fine, if you want to be a grammar Nazi about things, you’re right, that is the convention, but after trying to gain/re-gain a general understanding of “SCIENCE” ( ie make sense of the intricate relationships between forces and matter that explain how EVERYTHING IN EXISTENCE functions from the subatomic, to the biologic, to the universal scale) in about 6 weeks, I have gained a whole new respect for Science. Thus I feel, given that if even a lowly person such as I, Jillian, gets the special honor of being capitalized wherever I happen to plunk myself down in a sentence, Science deserves at least the same recognition. In fact maybe we should write it in all caps… and throw in an exclamation point!*
*and an asterisk… oh and an ellipses: SC!*NCE…

Now that I’ve obviously won you over on the whole grammar thing, you may be inclined to say: “Ok, so you don’t get to teach middle school SC!*NCE... kids that age are the worst anyway; sounds to me like you dodged a bullet”.  To which if it weren’t too soon, and it were a joking matter, I would respond: “well actually, if I was looking to dodge bullets, teaching really seems like an excellent career path ‘cause these days teachers seem to dodge more bullets than Neo in the Matrix, but since that would be imprudent (and also kind of a dated reference), let me just say, that I have not given up on my quest to achieve middle-school SC!*NCE… teaching gloriousness. I’m taking the “NES Secondary General Science Test” again in three weeks.

 In regards to pre-teens though,  I feel that those angsty “need-to-be-cool” kids are at a really important age where they are starting to focus on creating their individual identities and are formulate opinions about how they want to live, so by teaching middle school, I may be able to have a real impact on my students lives. Of course, I may also be kidding myself.  Either way, it will certainly be an engaging challenge for me to try to plan appropriately engaging and challenging lessons for those kids. Whether I get the opportunity to tackle that challenge next fall or have to wait another year to do so will pretty much entirely come down to whether or not I can shine on my SC!*NCE… test next month though.

Speaking of shining, I received a rather thick envelope in the mail at work the other day, and when I say “received”, I don’t mean that some caring friend, after hearing that I failed my test, decided to send me a thoughtful consolation gift. I mean “received” in the more literal sense, as in: an envelope addressed to “Randy Welsh of Penske Truck Rental or current owner, which noted that a promotional gift was inside” was placed in my possession by the mailman.  Kill joy that you seem to be today, I’m sure right about now, you’re thinking: “O-M-G! Please tell me that you DID NOT open that package that WAS NOT addressed to you because you know that would be a FEDERAL OFFENSE.”

Well, I do know that it’s a federal offense to tamper with other people’s mail, but being the reckless wild young thing that I am, and being a person who could in fact use a surprise gift, I went ahead and opened that enticingly mysterious package anyway. OH MY, am I glad I did! Because the thing I found inside immediately brightened my day...It was… a pen. Not just any pen, but a big shiny pen:  a pen that shined with pure awesomeness. In fact the word “shines” is hardly expressive enough to describe this pen. This pen needs a whole new word to describe its glittering luminescence… this pen is glimmuminating!

You may be tempted to say “no big deal, it’s just a pen”, but wait, I haven’t even told you the most amazing part. Not only does the exterior of the pen shimmer and gleam with pearly metallic magnificence, but, as I discovered the day after I’d first beheld this shinny pearl-esque pen, there is also a built in flashlight opposite the writing tip, so to say it’s “just a pen” or to say “it’s just a flashlight" only gives an inkling of what this delightful light-full-of-ink really is.

 Since it took me almost a full 24 hours to discover the “hidden” flashlight, I got the joy of two days of surprising gifts just by opening one promotional letter that was addressed to someone else. Now,  I can only wonder what other secret marvels are contained within this pen. I will say, so far the notes I’ve been taking with my new pen as I study for my science test have been particularly illuminating! Perhaps this pen will be the guiding light that that leads me to success on my SC!*NCE… test on June 1st. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Over the abundance of communication

“Psht!” my coworker scoffed loudly from her desk behind my own.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her with only wisp of concern in my voice as I continued typing, already knowing what she’d say.
“Nothing!” She growled.
“C’mon, something’s obviously up.” I coaxed halfheartedly, hoping to cajole her into talking so she might let go of her grudge and reassume her more jovial persona.
“It’s just my boyfriend, he didn’t text me back for like an hour and then when he did he just said – K.”

This is an almost daily frustration for my co-worker. She puts time and effort into sending her BF dozens of text messages throughout the work day and then feels rejected and frustrated when he doesn’t respond right away to each one or responds to her with a thoughtless generic text. Often she will have an annoyed bite in her tone when she’s on the phone with customers or talking to me or other coworkers after such an unfulfilling textchange (or lack thereof). She feels rejected and taken for granted.  I’d be lying if I said I haven’t felt the same way myself when I’ve failed to get a hold of a significant other, but while I do sympathize with my friend, I don’t think she is being reasonable. (Nor am I, when I have similar moments). I also think this is a good reason why cell phone should not be used during work hours.

Text messaging was designed for brief exchanges of vital information and it’s great to that end. When used as a means to carry on a conversation though, it is less than ideal. There are two main problems with textversations. The first is that the tone of a message can be misinterpreted and when intended sarcasm is missed or unintended sarcasm is perceived, it can lead to completely unfounded anger from the recipient of a text. The second problem, is that texting seems “too easy”, but if you’re working on something where there is no such thing as a “small” interruption, it can be impossible to text. So for my co-worker, in the laid back office setting of our company, texting is no big deal, but for her boyfriend who has a more “hands on” job, taking a second to respond to a text is not always physically possible.

In general, it seems like the perceived “ease” of 21st century communication actually has ironically lead, in many ways to a breakdown in communication. Textration (texting frustration), is just one example. This weekend, I was victimized by another side effect of the prevalence of mobile communication: loss of my personal communication device turned me into a walking ghost.

I had flown to Los Angeles to attend the wedding of a high school friend. My parents were out of town and I didn’t have any friends available to pick me up from the airport, so I took an airport shuttle to my parents’ house, where I was staying. I, personally found the shuttle to be only so-so, however, at some point during that 2 hour shuttle ride, my cell phone fell in love with that maxi van, so much so that she decided to stow away and run off with the airport shuttle after it had dropped me off. While my phone and the shuttle were off canoodling somewhere, I found myself at my parents’ house with no computer, (because my parents had taken their lap tops on vacation with them), no home phone (because who bothers with a land line anymore) and no cell phone. INCOMMUNICADO!
 I had discovered the absence of my phone fairly quickly, however, it was nearly midnight and with no means of communication to call the shuttle company, I couldn’t even report my missing phone until the morning. I wasn’t too worried about it though, I figured I’d go find a pay phone in the morning, report that my phone had been left on the shuttle, swing by the office of the shuttle company to pick up my phone and then head off to my friend’s wedding. EASY PEAS-Y right? NOPE!

That Maroon 5 song that was just released last year about “standing at a pay phone trying to call home” is clearly employing a very out of date metaphor because apparently payphones aren’t a THING anymore. When I went to go find one on Saturday morning, I ended up doing a self-guided tour of all of the places I used to use pay phones when I was in high school… back before I’d been locked into a cell (plan) of my own.
 I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone remove a pay phone. It seems like it would be a fairly complicated process to take out all the wires etc, but none the less. It seemed like every single phone I used to use when I was a teenager had vanished. No pay phones at the high school. None by the movie Theatre. No shopping center anywhere seemed to have a pay phone anymore.

An hour into my search, just when I had decided that maybe all the pay phones had been sucked back in time a-la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, I found one. I could have cried when the exterior doors of the Thousand Oaks Library parted with a whoosh and revealed, in all it’s gloriousness, the familiar metal face and black frame of a good old fashioned pay phone. I skipped towards it like a giddy school girl, picked up the banana yellow receiver, which reeked from the years of congealed spit that had built up on the mouth piece, and fished the phone number for the shuttle company out of my pocket.

I was already ecstatic about finding the phone, so when the eerily pleasant bot from the airport shuttle company informed me that I was “the next caller in line and an operator would be with me shortly” I was so jubilant I started dancing along with the hold music. Alright, I’m going to get this whole cell phone thing sorted out and still have time to go back to my parents’ house and relax before I have to get ready for the wedding. Nice!  Twenty minutes later when no one had picked up, I figured the lost and found operator must just be doing a really thorough job with the caller that had been on the line when I called. They must go find each lost item right then and there while you are on the line
, I told myself. After another 5 minutes on hold, it started to occur to me that maybe no one was in the office… yet the chipper bot kept insisting that if I had lost something I should call them immediately and let them know… which I was and I was calling well within the hours of 9-4pm which chipper-shuttle-phone-operator-bot had given (several times) as the operational hours of the customer service office. It’s probably just a really difficult customer getting irate about some lost valuable… or maybe there was a fire in the building. They said the office is open right at this very minute, so it must be something like that… and this is apparently the last pay phone on earth, so if I hang up now I’ll just have to come back again later anyway.  I told myself as I anxiously sat tethered to that smelly pay phone watching my afternoon free time tick away. After 40 minutes on hold I was ready to kill that freakin’ chipper phone operator bot. What is she so freakin’ happy about anyway? Does she get off on spreading lies to gullible human callers about their hours of operation because it seems like no one is in that damn office! I thought before slamming the phone on the receiver.

I called back and dialed an extension –other than the lost and found – and within 3 minutes a real live person picked up the line. My annoyance suddenly vanished and was replaced with relieved delight. I explained my situation to the woman from the shuttle van company (who was not nearly as chipper as her bot counterpart). When I finished, she replied “Oh, well why are you calling customer service? If you lost your phone, you need to call the lost and found department on Monday.”
“I tried to call them earlier today. Why do I need to wait until Monday to call them?” I asked, annoyed.
“Well, it’s Saturday, so they’re closed.” She replied echoing my annoyance.
“Are you kidding me!?” I scoffed, “Why doesn’t the extension for the lost and found give any indication of that? I was on hold for over half an hour and the automated recording said to CALL IMMEDIATELY if you realize you’ve lost something.” I growled.
“I don’t know.” She said simply.
“Well, I wont be in the area anymore on Monday. Isn’t there anything you can do now?” I pleaded.
“Well… If you give me your confirmation number I can check and see if anything was reported found on your shuttle.” The woman said, as if she were doing me a favor akin to promising me a kidney.
I gave her the confirmation number from my shuttle booking and she was able to confirm that my deserting whore of a cell phone was indeed on the shuttle, which was at the driver’s house, and he wouldn’t be back to work until Monday. NOT CONVENIENT… and my own damn fault. I hate when I create unnecessary hassles for myself.  

Somehow, I did manage to survive off the grid for 48 hours, but I felt helpless the whole time. If something had happened to me at my parents’ house I would have been unable to call for help other than shouting at my neighbors. If someone had tried to reach me with any sort of important news, they’d have been unable to and would have had no idea that I was unreachable. I know only a few decades back people got along fine without being so communicative, but now there is a built in expectation that you should be able to contact anyone you know at any time and they should be able to contact you as well, so when you suddenly can’t it’s hard not to feel a little stranded, worrying not only about who you might not be able to call, but also who might be trying to reach you.

As with texting, when someone you’re close with doesn’t answer your call within a few hours, it can be taken as a sign that they are mad at you or something is wrong. The perceived ease of communication in our cell phone laden worlds makes it implicit that not responding is in itself a response. By saying nothing, what a person’s saying is either: “hey, I’m a douche bag who can’t be bothered to get back to you because you’re just not that important to me” ; “ You’re a douche bag – and I’m mad at you! … and I think YOU KNOW WHY, so don’t expect me to return your call any time soon”; or “I’ve been brutally bludgeoned to death by a knavish band of thugs.” Ok, so maybe that’s not everyone’s reaction to not getting a hold of someone or a call back, but for me at least, these are the things that cross my mind. Of course, when the person I’d tried to reach does get back to me and explains that they left their phone somewhere or forgot to turn it back on after attending a meeting or some other logical reasonable thing happened that prevented them from calling me, I (quite rightly) feel like a needy pest. I just get so used to being able to contact anyone and everyone I want that sometimes when I can’t, I feel suddenly powerless and start to panic.

The mere fact that communication is so easy though makes almost all social interactions feel less meaningful. Phones harass you when you are out with others, so face to face interactions can be put on hold while you take a call. By the same turn of the key, calls that come in and interrupt you can be annoying so you may rush someone off the line so you can get back to your live interaction. Plus with facebook, twitter, mass texting and mass emailing people often skip on personal exchanges and opt for more efficient group messages. I am all for efficiency, but when I get a generic text from you on Christmas day that says nothing more than “Merry Christmas”, it means absolutely nothing to me. I just assume I was another box checked in a mass text, so if you don’t feel like putting any more effort than that into your holiday message, then don’t bother… ‘cause if it’s the thought that counts, then your text just told me that you don’t think about me longer than it takes you to check a box.

We are cutting ourselves off from each other by connecting ourselves to a grid that is constantly buzzing in our ears and drawing us away from one social activity for another. If you happen to lose your cell phone and become disconnected from the grid, you become a lonely island un to yourself because no one has home phones anymore and finding a payphone is like finding a pot’o’gold at the end of a rainbow. Thus at the end of the day, the ease of mobile communication, which on the surface gives the illusion of offering “better” connection between family, friends and colleagues, often falls short and instead over-connects us to the point that our social exchanges are less and less meaningful.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Sunday Night Quest

One of my dearest friends will soon be subjected to the cruelest fate that any Californian can suffer: he’s relocating (for a job) to Houston Texas. To help ease the pain of that dreadful transition, I felt an indelible need to send him off with the most awesome card ever constructed. Unfortunately though, as I sat on my bed Sunday night surrounded by colorful sheets of construction paper, a box of thin-tip magic markers and small bundle of delicate pastel crepe paper, I could not think of a single thing to put on the outside of the card. I racked my brain while idly thumbing through my construction paper like a flip-book, the motion of which created a breeze that gently rustled a sheet of pink crepe paper by my knee. That’s it! I exclaimed silently to myself. I’d been struck by a vision: Superman, in bright red and blue, swooping across the face of a white card while a Power Puff Girl dropped down from the top, gracefully landing her pink crepe paper parachute. Perfect! It was going to be the burrito of greeting cards! A beautifully enticing outer casing to perfectly compliment the delightful and more substantive contents enclosed within.

I, alone, could not produce the delightfully archaic animation required to achieve the stupefying wondrousness I’d dreamt of though. I needed help from an old childhood friend, the brad. I don’t know if most people are familiar with the brad, but when I was in elementary school, brads were a crucial part of many arts and crafts projects. They were these little gold metal things about the size and shape of a thumb tack, but with two flat legs that protruded from the rounded head which you could bend away from each other and thus fasten things together while still allowing some movement. They’d been especially handy for tasks like fastening the hands onto a paper clock so you could practice telling time or attaching an arm to a spinner for a homemade board game. After elementary school I really hadn’t thought about brads at all, but the moment I started to think about my friend’s card, I knew I needed a brad… bad!

Thus at 7:00 PM last Sunday night, I ventured out on a quest that I vowed to complete. I would reunite with my old friend, the brad, bringing him into my home where together we would construct the most awesome farewell card ever… or I would not come home at all.

What does one wear on a quest in modern times? I certainly wasn’t sure. I thought about just going as-is, but I decided, even though they were equipped with deep enough pockets to easily and conveniently stow my wallet, cell phone and car keys, my adult-sized-aqua-blue-fleece-zip-up-shark-footie-PJs might not be appropriate attire for a squire on a quest, so I fished through my laundry basket, plucked out a green hoodie and some red track pants and threw them on over my pjs. After pulling on my metal studded brown cowgirl boots, I did a quick once over in the mirror. Yup, I was classed up and ready for my adventure, so off I scampered in search of that handy golden bit of crafty hardware known as the brad.

My first stop was the CVS drug store two blocks from my house. I strode towards the entrance with a singular task on my mind: get brads and get home. As the front doors parted before me, I took one step onto the gleaming white linoleum floor before I was stopped dead in my tracks. There, directly ahead of me, stood the largest display of Cadbury Cream Eggs I’d ever seen in my life. Shelf after shelf of Cadbury-purple boxes packed to bursting with a shimmering bounty of colorful foil wrapped eggs. I gravitated towards them as if pulled by a tractor beam, the creamy chocolate shell and gooey luscious filling of those sexy sultans of Easter candy sang temptingly to my tummy. I waivered only for a second to ponder: Was $1.50 for two really a good deal? The enthusiastically large writing and abundance of exclamation points on the display sign seemed to indicate that it was, so I continued towards them. As I struggled to palm 6 eggs in each of my hands and turned towards the cashier, I felt a nagging feeling that there was something besides chocolate that I’d come to the store for.  Oh yeah, the brads!

My senses having returned to me, I decided that $0.75/ egg was actually NOT a good deal… especially since the 3 dozen freshly baked cookies I’d made that morning were waiting for me at home. I put the eggs back and made my way to the disappointingly sparse “office supply/ hardware/ kitchen/ electronics aisle”. The nearest thing to a brad that they stocked was paperclips. I thought for a second about just grabbing a box of those and then figuring out a way to make them work, but then I remembered that my friend was going to Texas. TEXAS : (   My card had to be 100% cool as hell because nothing else for 500 miles around him would be. Thus, reinvigorated, I quested on.

Ten minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of a giant shopping hub in Union City. There is no way they won’t have brads here I told myself as I sauntered up to Michael’s Arts and Crafts Store. However, as I approached I noticed the usual display of low priced craft fodder that usually cluttered the sidewalk in front of the store was conspicuously absent and the lights were out. Not promising.  I tried the door just for the hell of it. Nope; not open. The sign on the door indicated that they’d closed at 7:00PM. DRAT. I’d missed them by mere minutes.

It was a setback, but just a minor one. Hope quickly reignited within me though when I remembered that there was an Office Max in the same shopping hub as Michael’s. I jumped in my car and sped across the massive labyrinth of a parking lot that spanned the Union City Landing shopping center. I didn’t even have to get out of my car to see that Office Max was closed as well, but at least they had the courtesy to put a giant cage over their door so I could tell from a great distance that I wouldn’t be buying office supplies from them on a Sunday night. It was nearing 8:00 at that point and I still had no brads. I was running out of ideas, but there was one last place I could think of to try. I’d been saving it as a last resort, but it seemed I had no other choice. Off into the belly of the beast I went. If I couldn’t find a brad at WalMart, then they just didn’t exist anymore.

Logically, going to Walmart doesn’t seem like it should be any worse than going to Target, after all, they both operate on the same basic catch all store philosophy, but for some reason, I enjoy going to Target and abhor going to Walmart. Somehow Walmart makes me feel dirty and disturbed about the future of humanity. People don’t to look where they are going there and I always seem to pass by at least two or three couples and or families with young children yelling at each other.

 When I’m in Walmart I’m constantly jumping out of the way of one person after another while sidestepping the scattered debris of misplaced merchandise strewn about in every aisle. It’s like everyone becomes a stupefied Zombie when they walk in the door and they just start knocking things off shelves and ambling around blindly. At least I don’t have to feel ashamed about my attire here I consoled myself as I crossed through the sliding doors and entered the chaos. In fact, if I’d known I was going to end up at Walmart, I wouldn’t have bothered to put sweats over my pjs… half the people there were wearing pajamas anyway.

As I made my way past one disheveled aisle after another looking for the office supplies section, I was surprised to see something that actually made my heart flutter joyously.  Kashi was just $3.12 cents every day at Walmart! OUTSTANDING! Perhaps I hadn’t given that giant conglomerate a fair shake after all.
Clutching two boxes of my favorite cereal protectively against my chest, I ventured deeper into the store. I stepped gingerly over several heads of iceberg lettuce that a pack of unsupervised children was rolling across the produce section and past the surprisingly well kept and peaceful fabric section, beyond the overpopulated electronics section and the deserted book area until I arrived at the two full rows dedicated to office supplies. Just two steps down the first aisle, I delightedly beheld my good old friend, the brad. He’d changed his name at some point to “brass fastener” but he looked the same as ever, so with the brads and Kashi in tow, I made a beeline for the cashier and got the hell out of Walmart as fast as I could.

Three hours later, I proudly sheathed the most stupendous greeting card the world has ever know in an envelope with my friends name scrolled neatly across it. I let out a satisfied sigh as I slid the card into my backpack. I was half tempted to immediately drive to his house and present the card to him that very night, but in the end I decided that was a quest for another day.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Banana In The Sky

A few months ago, a friend suggested that we should go sky diving together. At the time, I had responded with a resounding: “No way!” adding, “I like to think I’m a little kinder to myself than that. There is just no good reason to subject myself to the inevitable terror of jumping out of an airplane… except maybe if the airplane is about to crash.” I don’t actually recall ever coming up with a GOOD reason for it, and the plane I’d been sitting in for the last twenty minutes did not seem to be in any imminent danger of going down, yet there I found myself last Sunday, wind blasting in my face as I peered down from the open hatch of an airplane at the beautiful fields of California’s central Valley 13,000 feet below me, poised to jump.

An hour earlier when my friend and I pulled up to The Parachute Center, an old tin hangar in front of a small air strip a couple of miles off of highway 5 near Lodi, CA, I felt a single flutter in my stomach before an unexpected calm settled over me. “Do you think I should bring my jacket?” my friend asked me casually as we got out of his car. “I’m pretty sure they’ll give us a jump suit or something to wear” I told him. Then, after surveying my surroundings, I added, “but it couldn’t hurt to bring it just in case I’m wrong.”

We made our way past the beat up living room furniture that was strewn about under an awning on the back side of the building, wove our way around the half dozen or so scruffy dogs roaming around and strode up to a dusty old counter set in the corner of the vast open room that served as the base of operations for the sky diving facility. “We’d like sky dive” my companion announced to a kindly gray haired man who stood behind the counter.

 “Ok, which video and photo package would you like?” the man asked, casually handing us a paper with a list of the options we could choose from if we wanted to hire a videographer to jump along with us. Despite my having told my friend several times that I did not wish to be videoed or photographed that day (due to the unctuous cold sore that had decided to erupt from my face a couple days earlier), he told the man that we BOTH wanted the video package, handing over his credit card before I could protest.  The gentleman behind the counter ran my friend’s card then handed us each a release of liability waiver and a “boarding pass”: a neon pink post-it note with a number and a letter scribbled on it.

“You can get a clipboard and pen by that TV over there, so you can sign off on the waiver while you watch the safety video and wait for your diving instructor to call your boarding number”, the man behind the counter explained before turning his attention to the group who’d assembled behind us.

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I grabbed a clipboard and plunked down in a dingy red movie theatre seat in front of the TV that sat near the left wall of the room. I’m not sure exactly what I had expected signing up for sky diving to be like, but the exchange that had just transpired was startlingly casual considering what it actually was we were about to do. There were no questions about existing health conditions. No warnings about possible injuries or death. We just placed an order for two tickets to jump out of a plane with a side of two videographers as if we were picking up fast food, they took my friends money and shuffled us off so they could take the next order. No big deal.

I barely skimmed through the waiver and only half paid attention to the video about how not liable this sky diving company would be if I died as I blindly initialed my form. About the time the video was starting to get informative, talking about the actual protocol for jumping, I heard my boarding pass number being called.  Even as I rose from my seat and strode through the doorway to meet my “sky diving instructor”, to whom I would soon be strapped ass-to-crotch while plummeting through the sky, I felt calm. I seem to have developed the ability, in the last few months, to go emotionally numb when I find myself in situations that are extremely stressful, so rather than being excited or terrified, I just accepted the situation with objective curiosity.  

My instructor was a tall stout thirtyish looking guy with unkempt brown hair, a face full of stubble and a wild look in his eyes.  He introduced himself, and I believe he said his name was Mike, but as I beheld this crazy looking guy, in whose hands I was entrusting my life, I still didn’t FEEL nervous, but I couldn’t help but WONDER to myself at that point, if I wasn’t doing something really stupid. I was so caught up in that thought that five minutes after we’d made each others acquaintance, I couldn’t remember if his name was actually Mike or if I just thought he looked like it should be. He, on the other hand, latched onto my name and had addressed me by it several times by the time I figured out that I wasn’t sure what the hell he’d told me to call him, so to save myself from potential awkwardness of asking him to repeat it, I decided not address him by name for the rest of our time together.

Might or might not be Mike, told me I’d want to zip up my jacket all the way and empty my pockets (apparently I would not be provided with a jump suit after all). He then took me over to a harness and told me where to put each of my feet as he pulled the straps around me, all the while joking about how poorly he’d done on the harnessing lesson in his parachute instructor training school. “Yeah, I got a D in this part of the course” he explained, nudging one of the straps off my shoulder and exclaiming “oops! That’s not very tight is it?” before gingerly setting the strap back on my shoulder without tightening it and then moving on to cinching up the nylon straps near my crotch.

 While might or might not be Mike was working on that, my videographer came running into the room stopping right in front of me. He enthusiastically introduced himself as Tommy before inquiring: “Hey what’s your name and what are you doing here today?” I fired back as energetically as I could muster: “I’m Jillian and I’m here to sky dive!”
“Really, why would you want to do a thing like that?” Tommy jibbed.
I laughed and fessed up: “my friend goaded me into it.”
“What friend? Are they here?” he asked
“yup, that Indian guy over there” I said, indicating my sky diving companion who was being harnessed up a few feet away.
Tommy raced over to my friend and then disappeared to get some footage of the plane.

Might or might not be Mike seemed to be done with my harness at that point, and though I had figured he’d been joking about the shoulder straps, he still hadn’t tightened them yet, so I decided I’d rather come off as obnoxiously lacking in faith in him than have my shoulder harness obnoxiously come off of me and leave me to plummet to my death. “You know, you never tightened that shoulder strap, don’t you need to do that?”  I reminded him. Another instructor appeared at that moment and mockingly chastised might or might not be Mike for using one of the old retired harnesses again. My instructor shrugged and replied: “shucks. I’m always doing that. Oh well!” The two instructors had a hearty laugh, to which I added my own nervous laughter, while silently wishing they’d at least toss me a tiny bit of UNsarcastic reassurance.
“Come on, let’s talk about what I need you to do when we jump” my instructor said leading me over to a small poster, taped to the outside of a metal cabinet which depicted a banana above a picture of a person who was apparently assuming the shape of a banana. “Ok so when we jump out of the plane and we’re free falling,  you should bend your legs back and make your body look like a banana so that you don’t interfere with my steering or opening the chute or anything” my instructor explained as he cocked his head towards the banana/ person poster. Then he added: “Oh and Tommy, is going to jump right before us to video you, so after we’ve cleared the plane you can wave at the camera or blow kisses or do swimming arms or whatever. It’ll make the video better.”

“Ok. I can handle that” I said as I glanced at the picture of the banana shaped person, politely, waiting for might or might not be Mike to live up to his title and offer me some more INSTRUCTION as to what else I needed to do to make this parachute jump go down safely. However, as he stood next to me, idly looking around at all the other folks in the room, it became pretty clear that this was the extent of tutelage I was going to receive that day.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised that my lesson on sky diving had been so simple and concise, after all, jumping out of a plane is a completely ridiculous thing to do in the first place, so it stands to reason that the instructions could be reduced to the simple maxim: one should be a banana shaped person when one jumps out of an airplane, but one should also be vivacious and entertaining if one has purchased a video package. Simple. Easy to remember. Even if you panicked, you just needed to visualize the bright yellow banana picture from the poster and look at the videographer prompting you to mimic his own lively gestures and you’d know all that you needed to.

I looked over and saw the friend I’d come with holding a pair of goggles, so I asked my instructor if I should have a pair of those as well. “Oh yeah” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or if he’d actually forgotten the minor detail of protecting my eyes (and more importantly my glasses) from the wind that would soon by blasting me in the face.  I didn’t have too much time to worry about it though because as might or might not be Mike was adjusting the straps of my goggles, a man stuck his head through the door leading to the airstrip and announced, “The Plane’s almost ready!”

“Nervous?” Might or might not Mike asked, as he grabbed me by the front of the harness to hurry me outside. “Nope” I said blandly as I matched his pace and headed out into the late afternoon sunshine.

A plane taxied towards us on the small runway of the airfield behind the hangar building. A man ran out to the plane with a small staircase which he set down next to the aircraft. My instructor once again took me by the harness and began striding towards the plane. Warning as we approached:  “watch your head because the metal bar at the top of the door isn’t actually as cushy and fun to head butt as it looks”. I crouched as we bounded up the stairs and stepped onto the plane. We were the first ones aboard. Two long benches that ran parallel to each other stretched from the hatch where we’d entered to the back wall of the aircraft.

Might or might not be Mike sat against the wall of the plane straddling both the bench and me. Tommy, my videographer sat in front of me. In the close quarters of the airplane, I noticed for the first time that my videographer was quite a nice looking kid. The pickup line enthusiast in me thought for a split second that I should mention to him later how much I’d enjoyed going for a ride with him between my legs, but Tommy was technically working and it was the middle of the afternoon at an airstrip, not the middle of the night in a bar, so I decided that it wasn’t a suitable time or place for such a line.

As the other sky divers, instructors and videographers began to file into the plane, I got a happy cozy feeling. I liked being nestled so close to my sky diving companions. (I guess I’d been craving the comfort of human closeness more than I realized). As everyone was settling into the plane, my instructor clipped his harness onto mine. “We were going to be on the plane for about 20 minutes before we get to our desired altitude” He explained, adding: “I’ll start tightening up your harness in about 15 minutes and go over what I need you to do.”

My friend and his instructor were the last ones on the plane and within seconds of taking their seats, the plane lurched forward. It wasn’t like being on a commercial flight where you taxi the runway and wait until it’s your turn to go. There was no ceremony or propriety like that. The second the hatch was closed we were off. No one checked seat belts (there were none). No one talked about safety (we were jumping out of a plane, so clearly we were not the kind of folks who worried about that). We were going sky diving, we were obviously thrill seekers who craved speed, so I’m sure they felt they needn’t bother with mundane trivialities like a safety lecture… Or maybe that was what the video I hadn’t really watched was about.
After a minute or so we were soaring up above the farms that surrounded the airfield. Tommy did an impromptu interview with me as we coursed up to our desired altitude. “Everything’s starting to look pretty small down there, are you sure this is a good idea?” He asked. “Yup” I said… and then immediately wished I’d said something cleverer like I actually NEVER thought this was a good idea. But, maybe it’s  better that I was immortalized in my video as being the type of person to give of a single word of enthusiastic excitement as opposed to a sentence of dour wit.

As I looked out the window at the fields and houses below, I was startled to feel might or might not be Mike ratcheting my harness behind me.  The 15 minutes had passed much quicker than I’d realized. “Tight enough?” He asked when he was finished. I wriggled around testing the harness before declaring “It could be tighter”. He cranked it a bit tighter and asked again. I told him again to tighten it a bit more. I still wasn’t over the loose harness jokes he’d been cracking down in the hangar, so I wanted to be damn sure nothing was going to slide off my shoulder now.

By the time I felt sufficiently strapped in, I looked up and saw that my friend and his instructor were standing in front of the (now open) hatch door. A moment later, they sprung forward and I watched them fall out of view.  My instructor rose, pulling me up with him and we slowly followed the other jumpers down the aisle as they made their way one by one out of the plane’s hatch and back down towards the airfield we’d taken off from twenty minutes earlier.  

When it was my turn to stand in front of the hatch, the only thing I had a chance to think was:“golly we’re high up” and “gee it’s windy out there” before might or might not be Mike plunged out of the plane, taking me along with him. As I hurtled towards the earth, my life in the hands of a man who less than an hour earlier had told me jokingly (I’d hoped) that he’d gotten a “D” in the part of the course where they teach you how to harness in your sky diving “pupils”, all of the fear and panic that I hadn’t been feeling up until that point suddenly struck me square in the gut.

The sky diving mantra was forgotten. The rapidly approaching world below me was all I was thinking about as I flailed about in a most un-banana like fashion. When I felt my instructor wrap his legs around mine to still me, it jarred the sense back into me and I suddenly remembered that I was not going to die and I was supposed to do something cool for my video. I tried to waive at Tommy, who was energetically blowing kissy faces at me, but it was very hard to move with the wind rushing around me. Then I tried to “swim”, but again, that was something easier said than done. Even breathing was difficult with the force of the air in my face.

It was cold and loud during the free fall. After a couple seconds, I was no longer “breathing” but was hopelessly gulping air down like water.  As I got increasingly concerned about the amount of air I was not swallowing, I started to slip back to panic mode. Then suddenly, it was quite. I could breathe. The chute had opened. My feet were below me.  My jacket inflated with a poof, like Alice’s dress in the cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland (when she’s falling down the rabbit hole) and I immediately started giggling. I was so overcome with relief and tickled by the ridiculousness of the situation. I was just  dangling thousands of feet above the world strapped to might or might not be Mike’s chest.  The whole thing was absurd. I loved it!

I was suddenly an inquisitive preschooler. “Were those people on our plane too?” I asked, pointing to some parachutes way off in the distance. When might or might not be Mike confirmed that they were, I wanted to know how they got all the way over there. “same way we got here” he said. I looked down and asked, “Is that our plane” indicating an aircraft zooming away below our feet. “Yeah, good eye.” My instructor praised me before changing the subject, “do you want to steer the parachute?” he asked?

Hell yeah I did. He told me to grab the chord looped around his right hand and pull down. I did and we spun in a tight circle. I giggled. Then he had me pull the left side, spiraling us in the other direction. I was giddy. It was pure delight to spin around thousands of miles above the earth, wind in my face and feet dangling below me. I still could not get over it… we were just there… just hanging around in the middle of the sky, playing with our parachute.  

I was disappointed when my instructor said: “We’re going to be landing in less than a minute, so when we get close to the ground, just lift your legs up and we’ll land on our butts.” I wasn’t ready to come back down to earth, so there was a hint of reluctance in my voice as I replied: “Ok, I can do that”. A few seconds later, I kicked my legs up and we skidded to a stop in the grass behind the airplane hangar. I lay there grinning, as Tommy ran over with the camera and asked “What was your favorite part?” I’d forgotten about him so I was taken off guard. “The part after the freefall I said” after thinking for a moment. “Really?” he said with genuine surprise, offering me his hand and pulling me to my feet. Three months ago, I never would have thought I’d be disappointed to be back on the ground after having just jumped out of an airplane, but there I stood last Sunday afternoon, looking up at the heavens longingly, already dreaming of my next chance to be a banana in the sky.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A gift for your mouth

The other day, just  as I was putting the finishing touches on the Channa Masala, (a garbanzo bean curry), that I was making, I realized that I didn’t have any rice or naan to eat with it- Totally dismaying right? A lesser person might have just thrown a fit, chucked the curry against the wall and gone to bed without dinner at that point, but I am slight neither in appetite nor character and I certainly am not easy to deter when it comes to dinner, so I hopped up on the counter plunged elbow deep into my cabinet and quested for an appropriate accoutrement to escort my Channa Masala into my tummy. “SCORE!” I exclaimed, when after a couple minutes of rifling through the various pastas, canned goods and cereals in my cupboard, I stumbled upon an unopened bag of tortillas, which I had no recollection of ever buying.

Having taken a botany class in college one time, I happened to know that, like traditional burrito fodder:  pinto and black beans, Garbanzo beans are a member of the Fabaceae family. Since Garbanzos and Mexican beans are just cousins from different continents, I figured my Masala’d chick peas wouldn’t mind snuggling up in a nice warm flour tortilla that night like their black and pinto bean brethren. As it turned out the tortilla and Channa Masala got along famously. It was cross culturally scrumptious!

 Since the Channa Masala had made such a mighty fine burrito, and since I had discovered that bag of tortillas, which according to their packaging would have been “best” eaten a couple weeks prior, I decided I better make use of them quickly. Thus a week long international burrito festival ensued. Despite the fact that I was the sole attendee of said festival, it was a delight!

On Tuesday, I had a veggie-burgerito  (veggie burger + cheese and coleslaw wrapped in a tortilla), which, if you can believe it, was even more delicious than the Channa Masala had been! The night after that I had another curryito: Thai style yellow curry with potatoes, peas, cauliflower and coconut milk in burrito form – yum!  And I think everyone can already guess what I ended up with on Thursday when I raided my fridge and wrapped up scrambled eggs,  cheese,  Greek yogurt, sautéed bell peppers and onions inside a warm tortilla… If you guessed ONE BAD ASS BREAKFAST BURRITO FOR DINNER, then you’re right!

Once I figure out a way to make cereal and milk into a burrito that doesn’t leak or get soggy, I think I will pretty much just switch over to an all tortilla all the time diet. I feel like I’ve been depriving myself for  years by eating food with forks and spoons when I could have just been using a tortilla to swaddle all of my main courses. Not only is wrapping foods up in a tortilla like a gift for your mouth, but it also eliminates the hassle of washing cutlery which in turn saves on water.  Burritos are just magical-The perfect combination of food and vessel in one! Hooray for Burritos!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Language and Food

When I went to bed on Saturday night I promised myself I was finally going to catch up on some much needed sleep, so when I woke up at 6:00 AM Sunday morning, a mere five hours after I’d gone to bed, I lay still with my eyes closed for about an hour, trying all the tricks I knew to re-induce sleep. I mentally retraced every tedious detail of what I’d done the previous day in my head, counted down and then back up and then down again from 100. I tried to completely void my mind of all thoughts and imagine nothing but darkness. Nothing was working though, so I decided maybe reading for a while might lull my brain back to a state where I could nod off.

I perused my bookshelf in search of something that was interesting enough to pull my brain away from all of the random thoughts that were gripping it, but not so enthralling that I wouldn’t be able to put it down after 15 or 20 minutes and fall back asleep. I figured something along the lines of a text book or self-help might be in order, so I selected On Writing by Stephen King. My parents had given me the book for Christmas or my Birthday a couple years earlier and I’d never even opened it, so I figured now was the perfect time to dive in.

However, as I finished the “introduction” of the book, in which Amy Tan expressed to Steven King that she was disappointed that language is something that interviewers never asked her about, but she wished they would, my brain was wide awake, whirring with my own thoughts on linguistics, so rather than sleeping as I had planned, I found myself very much enjoying the fact that I was awake, sitting in my cozy bed, sipping Jasmine tea and writing at 7:49 AM on a Sunday morning.
Amy Tan's right people do habitually take language for granted, yet it's so vitally important. (She was thinking more about why we use the language that we do), but in general, I think language has shaped human society more than anything else, (except perhaps food). Not only has language allowed people to achieve the wondrous things we have thus far, but it is still the most vital tool we each possess to obtain personal success as well as being the instrument that ensures the survival of our species as a whole.


The mere fact that people can communicate through language is almost magical. How did language even begin? Was there just 1 super genius cro-magnon that thought of a way to express ideas and then taught others and then it just spread? Or were there multiple geniuses around the world that somehow came up with systems of language at the same time? What makes us humans so unique and special that we have the capacity to develop and use complex languages while other animals seem not to – at least not to the same extent?

Language must have started out simple. Nouns probably came first because you can just point at a thing and make a noise and then you have equated that thing to that noise. Verbs would probably be a lot harder because you’re never doing just one thing, so it would be hard to isolate the exact concept you were trying to communicate…Take the verb, run, for example. While you’re “running” you’re also “lifting your foot”, “moving” and “getting farther away” etc… those are all different things that you could be indicating when pointing at an animal that’s running. Plus with running there is an implication of a certain speed as well as the motion itself, so even seemingly simple verbs would have been very complicated to define without already having an extensive arsenal of other words at your disposal to really explain what you were getting at. Which is why I say, it’s miraculous that people can speak and write with such intricacy today.

No matter how we came to possess our language skills, the fact that we can communicate so well with one another allows us to dominate the Earth the way we do. At first, language was mostly just used to help people transition from a lifestyle as wandering vegetarians to working together building more complex tools and developing strategies for hunting and protecting early man from the elements and other animals. Simple concepts were preserved and passed on to others and to future generations, so the more people there were communicating the more new ideas were developed and passed onto successive generations to build on, so even though individuals died, with ideas preserved and transferred through language, human society as a whole lived on and has continued to become increasingly complex. Civilization has been advancing on its path from generation to generation ever since the development of language…  almost as if we people are like individual cells in in the giant organism that is human society… we all work together in our own capacity to keep our society functioning… but when we die we are replaced with others who can take our place and know exactly what we knew… and the language we us is like DNA for the giant society being. Words and books preserve the coding that allows each new human (cell) to learn his/her role in society and carry out his/her function.

Besides the mere fact that the human race as a whole has benefited from our capacity to use language, the aptitude with which an individual of our species wields language can be greatly important in determining where that person fits into society. If you are able to conjure up the right words at all times, you can talk your way out of trouble and into prosperity. There are limitations of course, but in general the more masterfully you use language, the more prosperous  and successful you'll be in your life. Linguistic charm can make up for short comings when you're pursuing a love interest (esp. if you're a guy who is seeking the company of a lady), if you can turn a phrase in the right way you might nail an interview and land a job over someone who may actually be more qualified for the job itself and if you're a lawyer your entire job revolves around delivering and manipulating language in just the right way to make existing laws say what you need them to say. It's amazing the power you can possess with a masterful command of language.

The profound importance of language is also evident in the hostility and hardships that can result from misuse of words. Misunderstandings about the intent behind a statement can cause people to come to blows and has been known to cause larger conflicts or even war.  "Language barriers" between people of differing cultures can make assimilating into a new culture nearly impossible and can pigeonhole a new comer to a foreign land thus reducing his/her job prospects to mostly menial work because precision with language is increasingly necessary the more complicated a career is... and anyone who has tried to communicate with someone without a mutually fluent tongue between you, knows it is just exhausting and frustrating when the language you were raised with, that would so easily explain something, has to be replaced by a drawn out series of pantomime gestures and facial expressions. Because the modern world demands so much human interaction, its extremely difficult to get along in a place where you cannot properly communicate with those around you. 

The other aspect of human society (besides language) that I find to be the most vitally important is food. Language and food may seem, at first glance, like two completely unrelated things, but they both have grown in complexity in a parallel way.  After all, it was through language that humans were able to coordinate with each other to make tools and collaborate in hunting which then led to development of agricultural systems to raise food and later, with a consistent source of ingredients, culinary development became possible.  Thus food procurement and cultivation was one of the first practical applications of language which in turn spurred on the need to propagate language. 

Food is vital to life in general – if you don’t have enough food nothing else matters. You simply cannot care about things or have any sort of enjoyment in life if you are starving. Food, unlike language, is a basic necessity and so people have always made it a central part of life. For those people who are fortunate enough not to be starting, food is a central facet of society and culture.

The daily schedule of people (or at least of most Americans) is structured around when you eat. Eating provides an occasion for you to take a break from whatever else you are doing 2-3 times a day. For me, eating -lunch is the only reason I am allowed to leave my office each day. Sure it’s a biological necessity to have food, but for me, it really doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to prepare and consume something that will give me enough calories to adequately continue to work efficiently through the day. However, it’s something that’s considered a basic human right (at least in America) to be allowed enough time to procure and consume something that tastes good as well as nourishes you and most companies also allow, for the occasions of lunch, enough time off from work to relax and socialize while eating.

For most people, dinner is something that is an even more important part of the day than lunch. Eating dinner may be the only occasion for many families to gather around a table and talk. Most “dates” involve dinner or at least some type of food or beverage. Traditional gender roles revolve around the “the dinner table”, where women use the money that men bring home to cook and set a meal before their family. Such roles may not be so strictly observed anymore, but there are still some implicit roles in a household that are defined by food preparation. In short food is important to the most vital daily social interactions.

The TYPE of foods you choose to consume or not consume can be very culturally significant and can indicate your values. Sometimes the types of foods you eat are simply a reflection of the resources available to you, such as consuming regional fruits or vegetables, but in other cases the foods you consume (or foods you choose not to consume) can be very significantly tied to your moral and/or religious beliefs. You may choose to be a vegan or vegetarian for ethical or religious reasons, many Jews keep Kosher, many Muslims seek out Halal foods and fast during Ramadan, Catholics often choose to give up a certain food for Lent and many people choose to seek out organic or Fair Trade foods or avoid certain foods like coffee or peanuts etc for various reasons because of the way they are cultivated. Each of these dietary choices is made conscientiously with consumers dedicating time and effort to align their diet with their beliefs and because of this, persons who observe these sorts of dietary restrictions often seek to associate more or exclusively with others who both have the same beliefs and observe the same dietary practices.

Certain delicacies are so hard to procure and/or expensive that they have become associated with a prominent social status. Caviar, lobster or truffles, for example, are things that most people in the world will never consume because they are so costly. However, the very fact that they are considered to be so luxurious, makes many people willing to spend more than they should on such things just so they can have the same experience as a really wealthy or famous person. To many people, special occasions are made even more special when you overspend on pricey delicacies at dinner time. (I don’t happen to prescribe to that particular line of thought, I’d take reasonably priced food that tastes good over fancy food that tastes good any day… and though I have dined at some swanky restaurants, I am yet to find a restaurant in any price range that beats my favorite $10.00 per plate Burmese joint).

Beyond the necessity, daily significance and cultural importance of food, the actual cultivation of food has had a tremendous impact on the world- especially as global population continues to increase so rapidly. It seems like people who are involved in the more scientific development of food are so completely concerned with being efficient NOW that they are creating huge problems that will damn all future generations. It’s so great in the short term that we can produce an over abundance of food using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but the fact that we have to keep upping the dosages to keep up with soil depletion and chemical resistant pets should be a huge red flag.  Mass producing food in general is just  bad science. Things are genetically modified and “products” are kept as uniform as possible in order to ensure that consumers will have consistency  when they purchase certain types of food, which just goes against the entire concept of evolution. By eliminating genetic diversity you reduce the ability of plants and animals to have long term success in adapting to the changes in the world. Use of chemicals and pesticides is like “trying to get one over” on nature, but the natural order that existed long before humans (and will continue after we obliterate ourselves in one way or the other), is so beautiful and perfect in its function.

I wish scientist  would use their skills and resources to create a system that draws on the lessons of nature rather than fighting against it… individuals doing small scale organic farming in their yards or on patios and sharing, trading or selling crops amongst each other would be so much better in so many ways, but it’s so hard to imagine it as a concept that would ever actually take hold because capitalism seems to demand that we 1 continue to move forward  and expand, 2, sell products to consumers / create a demand for whatever supplies we have, so if for example, the product you have a supply of is chemical fertilizer, you should have a sales pitch that accentuates the positives and minimizes the negatives (in short ignore the long term consequences to society in order to maintain the immediate health of your company). Thus at the end of the day, you end up serving money rather than society. Focusing on the bottom line so often comes at the expense of things that actually matter. I suppose the way lobbyists and chemical co. spokesmen present information to politicians and the general public in order to push their own agendas  is just a good example of how using the right words on the right people can  impacts the whole of human society.