Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A new beginning ... of sorts

I can't say how many times I've sat down and thought about writing a blog entry this past Summer.

I guess it was a gut check of sorts: what do you really care about? Many times I wondered. I mean, there's just so many things I feel like blogging about from time to time. You know, things like open source software alternatives, computer science education, an occasional book or movie review--all of that.

And yet, none of it seemed to matter this past Summer. I felt like I was barely hanging on, or sort of floating through life. Being a strict skeptic, I had long denied many of the things that were suddenly seeming to be necessary in my life. Things like faith and hope. I started to wonder: is this how it happens? Is this when a person officially becomes old and senile?

Well, I went and got help. Admitting that I just didn't care much about 90% of the things in this world (make that 98%), I reached out and asked the tough questions, like what my purpose in life was--you know, that kind of stuff. Well, nothing changed quickly, but over time and with a lot of work, I started to care again. I decided that, yeah, I suppose I had a pretty good career and life and it was worth pushing on.

This sounds melodramatic, and it was. As logical as I try to be, I've always been pretty emotional, and I had to admit that last school year was the most difficult year of my life. Throughout my teaching career I had seldom used sick days. Suddenly I was drinking a little more and having trouble getting up in the morning. Having emergency surgery was bad enough, but admitting that the painkillers sent me into an even deeper depression--well, that part sucked. All of that was small stuff, though, compared to losing my dog in February. She was so happy and so obviously wanted to live on, that it just killed me inside to admit that she was suffering balance and nervous system degradation to the point where she was crashing into things and sliding along the walls whenever she wanted to move on her own. Holding her still and seeing that she still was coherent and loved her life--I can't get past that somehow. I had no religious revelation. In fact, I felt the opposite: life is cold and hard and impersonal and things happen at chance. It simply wasn't fair. I felt like an angry child who was robbed of the things he loved the most.

Suddenly fighting to promote Linux and open source alternatives seemed, well, unimportant. Convincing the College Board that Python would be much better than Java for AP Computer Science--who cares? My former adversaries seemed no so different from me. We're all just people and we all have to accept the undeniable truth: life is cruel.

But...then it happened. Things started to improve. Therapy told me to simplify my life. When writing down projects that I was committed to, I came up with almost 20 that were just things that I was volunteering for. Somewhere in all of that I had a family and career, and yet I was spending a LOT of time working on side projects.

So I got another dog. Adopted her from a local shelter. She's absolutely wonderful and her effect on me was sudden and strong and very positive. I learned to spend time taking her to play fetch and leave the other stuff behind. I no longer had to be a programmer, educator, advocate, lobbyist--I just had to be her owner and make sure that her life now would be much better than the year she spent as a stray. She had hit the jackpot with me, and that felt good.

So this update may be a goodbye to blogging. The good news is that I'm having a great school year, loving my classes, and I've cut off all alcohol, caffeine and crap food. I've lost 30 pounds and feel pretty good. I get up early and take my dog out to play before I go to school to teach calculus. Somehow, it all fits.

And changes are happening at my district. Suddenly our district tech department seems to be on our side and are opening up a lot of policies that were very restrictive in the past. Also, free and open source software seems to be doing quite well with our without me as an advocate. Now I just use the software in my classes and others want to do likewise. Oh, and my students last year absolutely kicked butt on the AP exam. Having all students pass is a rare diamond in a year that was a large pile of coal.

I still read a lot of blogs and cheer on the young blogging teachers out there. We have a tough job and don't get much pay for what we do. Although I'm not much of a believer, if there is a heaven, I figure teachers have a good shot at being let in. I am working hard with my students and we're making a difference. We're partnering up with two local human societies and a local hospice care center to start a program that takes old electronics stuff and we repair what we can, recycle what we can, and use the rest to create new and cool gadgets and junkbots that teach students about robotics in a way I really like.

I may give a link to that project, for those interested. Otherwise, I'll probably just ignore this blog for a while longer and maybe let it die off. Maybe. I'm not sure, and right now it's time to take my dog out to play frisbee. :-)


Kate Nowak said...

You were/will potentially be missed but your writing sounds very calm and hopeful, and I'm happy to hear you're in a good place.

Incidentally, when I got my last cat (the second from a rescue organization, ~1.5 years old, found under a deck with her kittens) the vet sent us on our way by telling her "Congratulations, Tangie, you won the lottery."

Jackie Ballarini said...

I too am glad you're in a good place.

Be well.