Thursday, February 13, 2014

Finally... Chapter 10 of Blade's Edge!

Well, it took me far longer than I expected to get my act together post having the flu. Still, excuses aren't worth the air it takes to utter them or the script it takes to type them, so without further ado:

Chapter 10 of Blade's Edge: also known as Part Two: Chapter 3

Don't forget to +vote at the end of the chapter! :-)

In other news... Trimester two is rolling to a close here, and Spring Break is only three weeks away. In some ways it feels as though we just got back from winter break, but in others it feels as though it's been a year since we last had time to stop and smell the floral cacti.

Teachers sometimes get flack for the amount of vacation they get, and at boarding schools we get more vacation than most: a week at Thanksgiving, two and a half weeks for the winter holidays, a week in the spring and then nine weeks off over the summer, but many people don't realize how much this kind of work takes out of you. Boarding schools in particular are twenty four hour jobs. We teach from 8am to 4pm then we coach from 4pm until 6pm. Once a week we have duty from 8pm to 10pm and once a month we have to work all weekend to keep students entertained and out of trouble. Then of course, there's prep for classes, writing letters to advisee's parents, writing recommendations, grading, writing grades and comments... etc.. When you live at your workplace it's not surprising that work follows you home. Between all the hats that we wear (teacher, advisor, dorm parent, coach, taxi driver and chaperone) and all of the time we spend working to improve our ability to fill those roles (meetings, workshops, continuing education, reading the latest articles etc.) we have very little in the way of down time when we're not fully on vacation. It really is a twenty four hour job most days, and at best we get a one day weekend (Sundays are full of dorm meetings, prepping for the week to come and, in my case, tech hours for theatrical productions). So when we get our one week stints of true down time, or our final nine weeks of time to reset before the next year begins, it feels not only well deserved, but often like it's not quite enough time.

People who work corporate jobs often look at me like I have two heads when I say this. I suppose I can't blame them. It's quite possible my face might give away some of my abject horror when they tell me that they're not sure if they'll use up all of the three weeks of vacation they've been saving up since the year before.

Different strokes for different folks.

Anyway, this rant brought to you by someone looking forward to their next break from work. Hoping that people on the east coast are staying warm and that everyone else is enjoying the beginning of the end of winter (maybe?). It's certainly starting to look like that here, but then again, by most people's definitions of winter, it never actually started...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Not safety first!

I just got back from a trail run with my students. I coach trail running so this is nothing surprising. However, I'm suffering from a foot injury at the moment that is exacerbated by impact so I hopped on a friend's mountain bike and followed the students on their run.

This was only the third time I've ever mountain biked in my life. I'm not good at it yet, but I enjoy the hell out of it. I wiped out solidly once (so far that seems to be my track record, one solid wipe out per ride) and struggled up a number of short steep hills (which is what the majority of trails around here consist of). I'm fine until I hit any of the large rocks in the middle of the incline and then I have trouble jumping my front tire up in time to keep my forward momentum. So, I wind up stopping short and having to push my bike until I get to a place where I can balance long enough to start pedaling again. I'm pretty competent at the short steep downhills even when there are large rocks I need to go down etc. I generally find the steep over-rock descents pant-shitting until about the third one when I remember that I'm actually pretty good at them and then I enjoy the hell out of them. My mantra? Don't fuck up, don't fuck up, don't fuck up.  The couple times that I have forgotten my mantra I have gone ass over tin cups and wound up lying on the ground in a heap with my bike on top of or next to me (those would be the solid wipe outs).

Anyway, you're probably thinking: Great, Virginia. So you're not very good at mountain biking. What the hell is your point?

Good question. Here's your answer: My point is that today, as I was getting up from underneath my bike and dusting off the red dirt that was coating the left hand side of my body, I took a moment to appreciate the fact that the school where I work takes students mountain biking EVERY DAY. I take students trail running and rock climbing all the time. None of these are particularly safe sports. (Oddly enough, out of all of those rock climbing is the safest -contrary to what most people might think.)

I remember, as a child, hearing - over and over again- "safety first!" and my teachers, other students' parents, administrators, and a number of ad-campaigns would always emphasize that message. I think I even heard it bandied about at the first boarding school I worked at.*

It's not a message I agree with, it's not one that my parents really agreed with, and I think it's safe to say that it's not really a message my current place of employment agrees with either.

Let me be clear here: the wellbeing and health of my students is of the utmost importance to me and to everyone else who works at our school.

But that doesn't mean that we want them to be completely "safe."

Safety entails a complete lack of danger, which in turn entails a lack of risk. Risk taking is important. It's an important life skill, and an important part of human fulfillment. A life completely devoid of risk, to me at least, seems like a life not worth living.

Does that mean that we shouldn't wear helmets, tell people where we're going, take cell phones and med kits with us, and instruct students on the proper methods for avoiding common dangers during these activities? Not at all. Quite the opposite. I do all of those things whenever I take students out into the wilderness, even if it's only for a few hours. I think it's critical that students know how to stay as safe as reasonably possible during all of these activities.

But to be completely safe, as one would strive for if safety were truly one's FIRST priority, one shouldn't engage in those activities at all. If we really wanted to be a "safety first" school we would not take students trail running, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, or backpacking in the Grand Canyon for ten days. If safety were truly our top priority, then we would never let students out of their classes or dorm rooms. We would stay inside and talk about things instead of doing them. We would let them read about the world and watch videos and never take them out in it to see for themselves.

I suppose that's what some schools do.

My colleagues and I, however, believe that risk taking, risk management, and the kinds of self confidence and decision making skills that are derived from these "unsafe" activities are important things for young people, and adults, to learn and make a part of their lives.

I can't speak for the rest of my colleagues for this next point, but I personally believe that the most important things that we teach are taught through these kinds of risk taking and personal challenges. Yeah, it's awesome that students are learning Spanish in high school, and the subjects my colleagues teach are all important and interesting as well, but I feel like the really important stuff comes through pushing yourself to reach the rim of the Grand Canyon on the tenth day of backpacking after getting up at 4:30 in the morning in the freezing rain and covering over 3,000 feet of vertical over eight grueling miles. It comes from realizing that you can make it to the top of a hundred foot cliff with nothing but you, a rope and another person whom you are trusting with your life. It comes from realizing that you can actually run four miles without stopping even though you thought you'd never be able to, and you can do it even though those four miles are covered in cacti, steep hills, large rocks, and maybe the occasional rattlesnake. And it comes from picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting back on a bike even after you've just thrown yourself rather spectacularly from it's seat because you briefly forgot your mantra.

Life is about collecting experiences. It's about putting yourself in situations in which you are fully aware that you are a living, breathing, miracle of a science experiment. Not everything has to be about physical challenges, or physical risk taking. There are so many other fulfilling ways to experience the beauty that life has to offer. But I would argue that all of those moments come from some form of risk, or challenge, or at the very least putting yourself in a situation in which you might *gasp* fail. Those situations are not "safe" but they are meaningful.

Physical risk taking, and challenges are only one way to learn these lessons, but they are accessible (particularly to high school students) and they teach the lessons vividly and with clear and immediate results.

It is my hope that as a society we can take a break from worrying about "safety" and worry more about wellbeing and health instead. Take a moment to applaud risk taking, to appreciate doing things that are "crazy," and to push yourself to try something that scares the crap out of you. It doesn't have to be dangling at the top of a cliff, or hurling yourself around on a bike at high speeds, it could be as simple as dancing in public, or introducing yourself to a stranger. Take a risk, collect an experience, revel in being a living, breathing, miracle of science.

***For another look at a similar concept: check out this New Zealand newscast.

*My apologies for ending this sentence with a preposition. I ultimately decided that colloquial was the way to go for this sentence, but know that it does make me cringe a bit.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Flu, a Canceled Expedition, an Injury, and Other Reasons You Haven't Read Chapter 10 Yet...

Well, I certainly expected to have published a couple more chapters of Blade's Edge by now. Unfortunately, fate has been toying with me and I have not been able to get my act together enough to get it published.

It started with an awful case of the flu which kept me more or less bed ridden for five days. Then, I found out that the big trip that the school was supposed to be taking to California, and which I had already spent quite a bit of time planning for, was canceled. Which meant that I had to plan those two weeks all over again but this time without the resources we were meant to have access to in California.

That more than anything has been the reason that I haven't gotten much writing done lately. I have been struggling to get all my ducks back in a row for the remainder of this trimester after a giant shift in plans.

All in all, I haven't had the time or energy to get chapters from Blade's Edge up and for that I apologize. I hope to get the next chapter up sometime this week. We shall see.

I feel a bit lame creating a blog post that is essentially a list of excuses for why there isn't a new chapter up and ready, but I hope you'll understand that I felt obligated to give some sort of explanation.

I hope this suffices.

In the meantime, I hope this finds all of my readers well. Stay warm!