I’m ba-ack!

During my hiatus, I have been doing some reflecting. I’ve discovered that I’m getting a lot more gray hair. But then I stepped away from the mirror and did a little internal reflecting, and came to a much deeper conclusion. [Side note: Apparently it is now on trend to dye your hair gray, so my status as a fashion pioneer is once again confirmed.]

I have a vivid kindergarten memory that I believe truly defines my personality. But first, some backstory…

I have always loved art or any type of artistic expression. In elementary school, projects and coloring pages were my absolute favorite thing. I was the kid you all hated. You know, the kid who, when the teacher asked for a sketch of the solar system, brought in a hand-made 3-D model of the solar system complete with orbiting planets. I was that kid. But I honestly never did it to suck up. I did it because I truly loved creating things. In fact, if I went days or weeks without creating, I began to go a little stir crazy, like an addict going through withdrawals. It’s something that still continues to this day.

Now back to my kindergarten class. On the day in question, the class was abuzz with excitement. The letter fairy had visited our room overnight and brought us a new letter person, Mr. C. We did a lot of “c” activities that day. We met a clown. We tasted some cucumbers. We disassembled a carburetor. And then, at the end of the day, we were given a picture of a crocodile to color. I busted out my 96-pack of crayons (see my previous post) and got to work shading and texturing this croc’s skin. But as I began to draw carefully inside the lines with a green crayon, my hand slipped ever so slightly out of the lines. Completely devastated and in a shocking turn of events, I began to scribble all over the poor, smiling croc. I paid no mind to those black lines on the page. I was all over this thing, until 30 seconds later, when I declared my picture done and I shoved it in my backpack. It’s still hard for me to talk about.

On the bus ride home that day, I felt ashamed of my poor work. I knew that my mom would be checking my schoolwork like she did everyday, and that it would not be acceptable for her either. So I took the dreaded picture and hid it in a secret pocket in my backpack. In hindsight, I should have just thrown it away. After all, the teacher was not collecting it, but my six-year-old brain wasn’t that deceptive yet.

As predicted, Mom asked for my backpack that night. Being the excellent liar that I was, I told her, “Here ya go. You can look wherever you want except this pocket.” It was fool proof. But Mom was no fool, so of course she looked and found the saddest looking crocodile ever, which appeared to have been colored by an infant or man without arms. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do remember that Mom said she was disappointed in me for not doing my best. I remember crying huge tears. Crocodile tears, ironically. And I vowed from that day forward to never do something again unless I was going to do my absolute best.

In a lot of ways, I have upheld that vow. I think in most areas of my life, I am a perfectionist. And perfectionists tend to be extremists. If I can’t do something perfectly, I won’t do it at all. My old car is a great example of this. It was either completely spotless or a bio-hazard. There was no in between. It was all or nothing. So most of the time my car was a deathtrap complete with food wrappers and old costumes and Amelia Earhart (mystery solved).

But here’s where my self-reflection comes into play. I’ve discovered that perfectionism isn’t always a great character trait because some areas of our lives need constant upkeep and maintenance. If things aren’t perfect, that’s okay, but we should fix the problems while they are small enough to be fixed before they become a garbled crocodile or a frightening car interior.

So in an effort to break out of my perfectionist mold, I am now going to make a typo: jd;aw9s

That was therapeutic. Thank you for listening and returning to the blog. I’ve missed you. Here’s to being completely imperfect, but doing a little bit each day to become a little bit better.

Back To School

As an elementary student, my favorite part of going back to school was shopping for school supplies the week before classes began. I have vivid memories of strolling the aisles of Wal-Mart with my parents, shopping cart in tow, mulling over the hand-written shopping list supplied by my school.

Five two-pocket folders. I think I’ll go with these beauties. They say “No Fear” and have some kind of distorted cartoon kid playing baseball. I’m going to be so organized this year, these teachers don’t even know! I will label each folder with a subject on the outside, and each of the inside pockets will be labeled “graded” and “ungraded.” Folders…check!

Up next…pencils. All of those other eight-year old fools will walk into school with yellow, number two pencils. Not me. No sir! I have graduated to the much more sophisticated mechanical pencils with…wait for it…point 7 lead. I’ll take this 10 pack. That will get me through the whole year. And an extra tube of lead just in case. Pencils…check.

Moving on to one of the most crucial purchases…the trapper keeper. I need something simple that still makes a statement. It should say, “I’m ready to learn, but I still know how to have a pizza party.” A solid color (green, of course) so as not to draw attention to myself, but still special enough that I can pick it out of a crowd. I open and close the brand new zipper to feel how smoothly it glides along the tracks. And the three rings on the inside! They snap open and closed like a freshly-oiled bear trap. Trapper keeper…check.

And now, the Holy Grail. The crayons. My God, the crayons. I do not care, Mom and Dad, that RoseArt crayons are eighty percent less expensive than Crayola, and I also do not care that my shopping list asks for a box of 16. I must have this box of 96 with a built-in sharpener in the back. I must! After all, Mom and Dad, do you want me coming home with mediocre alligator coloring pages, or do you want an alligator with believably shaded and textured skin? The choice is yours. 96? That’s what I thought. And, oh, just look at the points of those crayons. Perfectly peaked like a beautiful rainbow mountain range. 96 perfectly sharpened cylinders. The paper on each one is crisp and clean, clearly displaying the beautiful name of each color in the box. Caribbean Green. Pacific Blue. Raw Sienna. Cerulean. Isn’t that beautiful? I think I will name my first child Cerulean. Cerulean Andrulonis. Crayons…double check.

Without fail, every year, one month into school and the newness had worn off. Just getting through the next eight months was a daily battle to survive.

Each of my folders is held together by the grace of God and a single strip of silver duct tape down the spine. Although I did label them by subject, there is no telling what you will find in each one. A math paper in the science folder. A science paper in the math folder. Half of a bologna sandwich in the history folder. And a bag of dead crickets that I was supposed to bring in for the class pet lizard might explain the foul odor coming from the English folder.

Nine of the mechanical pencils are M.I.A. I loaned one to a friend, who up and moved out of town over the weekend. Suspicious. Only the Lord knows where the others have gone. Possibly somewhere into the depths of my desk or possibly tossed in the garbage by a disgruntled custodian. The one remaining pencil I have is pathetic. The eraser is missing so the end is plugged with tissue to keep that elusive point 7 lead from falling out. And the extra tube of lead? I traded it for a role of Bubble Tape. It was definitely a rash decision.

My beautiful green trapper keeper looks more like camouflage now, thanks to a few dirt and Dorito stains. The zipper that once glided so effortlessly now takes three second-graders to undo, so I opt to leave it unzipped and hold it closed with an oversized rubberband. The three rings on the inside are a mess, too. I think someone stepped on it during gym class and it hasn’t been the same since. The prongs do not align nor close completely.

And my once beautiful crayons look like they have just returned from war. Limbs are missing, some are bandaged together with tape, and some have no identification at all. Except the white crayon. It still looks brand new because it is never used. Poor white. Never able to realize its intended purpose as a crayon.

Now that I teach, I have noticed a similar pattern. Each school year begins with a brand new wardrobe, neatly typed lesson plans that are hot off the press, and yes, even new supplies. But as the realities of teaching set in, the school year is like a runaway train and if you try to stop, you die. So my wardrobe gets less polished, and my lesson plans get marked up with hand-written notes and tweaks, and my supplies get sparse, and I resort to borrowing from colleagues.

But in a way, I love that. It means I am being used. I am not the white crayon that remains in the box, never able to fulfill its purpose. I am Cerulean. Used every day to the best of my abilities by 300 students who need me. I may be broken, worn down to a nub, and taped back together (just go with it), but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Bring it on, year six. I’m ready to be used!

Dear Men, Stop It!

An open letter to men everywhere…

Dear Men,

Stop it! You’re embarrassing me!

Okay, maybe I should back up for a moment. In six days, August 25, I will have officially lived in New York for one whole year. I have seen a lot in the past year, including a legendary elderly drag queen on a subway, a street prophet who predicted Erin would leave me (read my previous blog post entitled “Mr. Nice Guy”), and a whole lot of macho douche-baggery that makes me embarrassed to be a man.

What better way to celebrate my anniversary than with a scathing letter to the gender with which I am grouped by default?

So let me start again…

Dear Men,

Have you turned on the television lately and noticed how a majority of the male species is portrayed? If not, let me help you out. As morons. Men are portrayed as morons. Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy, The Simpsons’ Homer, and even The Office’s beloved Michael Scott are written (mostly by male writers, mind you) as ignorant, bumbling, and obtuse characters. And most of them are disgusting to boot.

This should offend you. It offends me.

But then I ask myself, “From where are these ‘idiotic’ stereotypes coming?” Then I walk down the street and my question is answered.

You are behaving in an idiotic way! Stop it!

It is not okay to leer at a woman’s chest or butt as you pass her on the street. Stop it!

It is not okay to cat-call, whistle, or make a sexual comment to a woman as she is walking to work. Stop it! You’re embarrassing me.

And don’t give me some excuse about men being “wired” this way. You are a human being with a brain and the capacity for self-control. Utilize it. I am “wired” to urinate when my bladder is full, but you don’t see me walking around with wet breeches now, do you? (Minus that one time at Taco Cabana, but that was a fluke incident.) My point is, urination is a basic urge that can be controlled. And so are your barbaric sexual impulses. Show some class and stop relying on the antiquated excuse that you have primal urges that are beyond your control. I don’t buy it.

Speaking of excuses, here is one I’ve been reading about lately. This one is called the “Triple-A Club of Marriage.” The gist of the theory is this: a man needs adoration, admiration, and appreciation from his wife, and if he’s not getting it, he will seek it out some place else.

Come on, men! Really? Stop it! You’re embarrassing me!

Here’s a thought: if you’re not getting adoration, admiration, and appreciation from your wife, maybe you’re not doing anything adorable, admirable, or worthy of appreciation. Fix yourself and give your wife something to be proud of.

And now an open letter to women everywhere…

Dear Women,

Don’t be comfortable with these societal excuses for men. We’re capable of more. Hold us to high standards.

Aim for a Cliff Huxtable or a Danny Tanner or a Carl Winslow or a Howard Cunningham. These are the types of men with whom I want to be associated. Except the kind that exist in real life.

My Dog Pooped A Tampon

Don’t get me wrong. I love sarcasm, as I hope is evidenced sporadically throughout my blog. But the best sarcasm is done tastefully, like a sarcastic slow clap when one of your friends comes up with a less-than-intelligent idea. It really bothers me, though, when sarcasm is used to hurt or tear down another person. Case in point, memes that have recently been flooding my Facebook newsfeed, which read:

“I hope your life is half as perfect as you pretend it is on Facebook.”

“Welcome to Facebook, where relationships are perfect, liars believe their own lies, and the world shows off they are living a great life.”

“Your life is a mess but you’re pretending on Facebook like it’s perfect. Honey, maybe you should get the f–k off Facebook and go fix it!”* [*This meme was edited for adult content and the incorrect use of ‘your’.]

I can only speak for myself, but when posting statuses or pictures on Facebook, I am never trying to create the illusion that I have a perfect life. Any human being with common sense knows that nobody has a perfect life. Except for maybe Chef Gordon Ramsey. His life seems pretty good.

I simply filter what I post.

Yes, my life is mess (aren’t they all?) But due to the amount of negativity in the world, I try to use Facebook as a platform to post positive things. Things I’m proud of. Things I love. Things that make me happy. Things that might possibly inspire others, God forbid (note the tasteful sarcasm here). I have even used Facebook to ask for prayer requests, which I believe is a very positive thing.

If you use Facebook as a platform to post negative things (your marital troubles, your money troubles, your multiple injuries from a game of Twister), that’s completely up to you. But it’s also completely up to me to hide you from my timeline. I can turn on the news if I want to see problems. I don’t need to see a picture of the tooth growing on your neck at the top of my newsfeed every time someone “likes” it.

But just to dispel the myth that my life is perfect, I’m going to disclose some of the not-so-perfect things that have happened in my life recently. The title of this blog may have spoiled the first one. This weekend, my dog ate and pooped a tampon. Ate it whole. Pooped it whole. I cleaned up the mess. Wish that had been a Facebook status?

What else? What else? There’s a wart on my forearm that’s currently on its fourth round of meds. It shows no signs of getting smaller. Should I Instagram it? I’ll be sure to choose a pretty filter. Maybe vintage?

Here’s a dandy: four teachers at my job were laid off on the last day of school. It was unjust, in my opinion. Why don’t I write a post about this terrible moment in their life so that I can make it about me?

You see where I’m going? What does this accomplish, except perhaps to make someone feel better about their lives…they may be suffering from a debilitating case of dragon pox, but at least they’re not picking up a tampon that has passed through the small intestine of a Yorkie.

So, in spite of the haters, I vow to continue posting positive. Feel free to hide or delete me if you are insulted by positivity. And here, folks, is my second ever blog-issued challenge: get rid of the negativity on your newsfeed. Whether that means hiding people, deleting people, or rethinking your own posts, do it. I’m positive it will make a big difference in your life. It has in mine. My life is now perfect. Sarcasm.


You know how sometimes you’ll get a text from a friend, but you’re really busy at the moment and you think, “I’ll text them back later,” but then life keeps happening and you forget to text them back, so then you think, I can’t text them now…I’ll look like an idiot….so you keep avoiding texting them, and then they start calling, so you avoid their calls because you feel so bad about the texting thing, and then you awkwardly run into said friend at the supermarket and you just have to say, “I dropped the ball! I’m sorry!”

So here I am…returning to my blog after about two months away. I dropped the ball. I’m sorry. My life became so consumed by my school’s production of The Wiz that my brain absolutely refused to focus on anything else. Thank you for being a loyal subscriber and returning anyways. I promise to post much more frequently in the coming months. The kind people at WordPress were so concerned about my hiatus that they e-mailed me to make sure I was feeling okay. Actually, it was more along the lines of “if you don’t start posting again, we’re going to deactivate your account,” but it was still nice to be missed.

Now that summer is here, I can officially move on from all this Wiz biz (someone remind me trademark that) and rejoin the real world. Did you guys hear that Phillip Seymour Hoffman died? What’s that? Months ago? I am behind. R.I.P. P.S.H.

There’s another story that was in the news a few weeks ago that I bookmarked in my brain to discuss when I returned to my blog. The infamous “hot felon” mugshot. In cased you missed it (lucky you), some guy named Jeremy Meeks was arrested in California on felony weapons charges, and his mugshot went viral. Desperate women and desperate gay men all over the world began sharing the photo with captions such as “I volunteer as cellmate!” and “I have handcuffs!” Someone even suggested a Kickstarter campaign to raise his $900,000 bail. And the icing on the cake is that, while still in prison, Meeks was offered a $30,000 modeling contract.

Deep sigh. Collecting my thoughts….be right with you.

First of all, if a bald head and poofy lips make you hot, someone hand me a razor and a syringe filled with collagen. Second, if you think this type of “felon-worship” is harmless, I have a story for you. While in my school’s cafeteria during the “hot felon” phenomenon, I overheard a conversation between two of my eighth grade female students.

Girl A: Hey, did you see that picture on Facebook of that hot guy’s mugshot?

Girl B: Yes! Ooooh….he is sexy!

Me: Girls…you know he’s in prison on felony charges, right?

Girl B: I don’t even care, Mr. A. A guy that looks like that is sexy!

You see the damage that is done here? Yet again, our children are being taught that outer beauty is far more important than any sense of morality, and that even the most negative of life choices can bring about fame and adoration. My two students got that message loud and clear. I am thankful for all of the classy women and classy gay men who did not help perpetuate the Jeremy Meeks “felon worship.”

I long for the day I can overhear a conversation like this:

Girl A: Hey, did you read that story on Facebook about that man that worked two jobs to support his family and was really nice to people?

Girl B: Yes! Ooooh…that guy is sexy!

Me: Girls…you realize they didn’t even show his picture, right?

Girl B: I don’t even care, Mr. A. A guy that acts like that is sexy!

We have a long way to go to get to this point. And, as with all real educations, it must begin at home. I teach many classes, but it is very difficult to teach class.

Kids These Days

Suppose Gertrude buys a small house plant to spruce up a corner of her apartment, because, let’s face it, with a name like Gertrude, she’s going to be spending an awful lot of time alone in that apartment.  After bringing it home from the nursery, she nestles it into a quiet corner of her bookshelf and begins reading one of her favorite romance novels (you know…the one where the shirtless guy on the cover is riding a horse while holding a puppy to his pectoral muscles).  Days pass and Gertrude never tends to her plant.  She never gives it water to drink nor opens a window to let it bask in the sunlight.  Gertrude is far too busy reading her soft-core erotica.  A few more days pass, and the plant begins to wilt.  One evening, while doing Jazzercise in her living room, Gertrude notices the plant is completely lifeless.  She picks up the pot and exclaims, “Plants these days!  They just don’t grow like they used to!”

Now suppose for a moment that Angus also buys a small houseplant, because…well…he’s got the same name trauma as Gertrude.  Angus, however, hovers over his plant constantly.  The plant never wants for a drink of water, and it receives the perfect amount of sunlight every single day.  As the days pass, the plant grows larger and larger.  In fact, it becomes so large that its roots become an entangled mass.  Angus knows he should move the plant to a larger pot, but he just doesn’t want to risk the transplant (just go with me here, for the sake of the metaphor).  Eventually, the plant can no longer thrive in its tiny pot and it slowly begins to wither and die.  Angus picks up the pot and exclaims, “Plants these days!  They just don’t grow like they used to!”

I think we can all admit that, in both instances, it is absurd for the plant owners to blame the plants for dying.  Gertrude did absolutely nothing to help her plant survive, while Angus was far too protective of his plant to give it the space it needed.

But all of us (myself included) have probably been guilty of saying, “Kids these days!  They just don’t have behave like they used to!”  And maybe they don’t.  But guess what?  The cynics and pessimists who make this exclamation are the ones who raised the “kids these days.”  They are either the Gertrudes—taking a hands-off approach to parenting—or the Anguses—taking an over-protective, helicopter approach to parenting—that produce disrespectful, lazy, and spoiled children.

So who’s to blame?  Certainly not the children…not any more than the poor plants are to blame.  You see, children behave how you allow them to behave.  If you are unhappy with the “kids these days,” take a closer look at the “parents these days.”  That’s where you’ll find the root (no plant pun intended) of most of the problems.

And as a side note, I still stand firm in my belief that the amazing “kids these days” outweigh the not-so-amazing “kids these days” 10 to 1.  The unfortunate part is that no one ever talks about those kids.  So here is my first ever blog-issued challenge:  Take a moment this week to praise one of today’s amazing youth, either privately or publicly.  And the next time you want to scold a kid for their lack of respect, scold the parent instead (just kidding…sort of.).

Big Brother

I’ve had a lot of great teachers in my life, but the first one I can ever recall is my big brother, Conner.  He taught me a lot of things.

When I was 5, he taught me how to tunnel under my parents’ bed to peek at all our Christmas presents.

When I was 10, he taught me how to smoke grass.  Not marijuana.  Actual grass.  Like from your backyard.  We would take notebook paper out of our trapper-keepers, dig some grass out of the yard, and role up a cig.  A very long cig.  We would light it and smoke it behind the shed thinking we were about as cool as we could get.

We were so right.

When I was 14, he taught me that, to French-kiss a girl, all I had to do was write my name in cursive with my tongue.  And yes, it was important to dot the “i.”

But the biggest lesson he ever taught me began when I was about 15 and continued on into my young adulthood.

You see, as we entered adolescence, Conner began to struggle.  It was a struggle that would last upwards of a decade, but would teach both of us so much about life and about our relationship as brothers.

Conner struggled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol.  It was something that began “harmlessly” and “recreationally” but it soon developed into something that ruled his life.  When he was sober, Conner was my best friend and favorite person to be around.  When he wasn’t sober, he was a different person, like a ghost of what he once was.  His brilliance, his humor, and his light were masked by the hazy effects of the drugs.

It pained me to see what the drugs were doing to my brother, but it pained me more that others didn’t always get to see the beautiful person I knew him to be.

What I learned during those dark times was acceptance.  I had to accept Conner’s addiction as a disease.  I had to accept that I could not fix him.  And I had to accept that, somewhere down the line, God had a plan.  The story of the prodigal son became the hope I held onto—the story of a young man who goes out on his own, straying from his father, but is welcomed home with open arms.  I longed for the day that we welcomed Conner home again.

It took about thirteen years for that day to come.  But it finally did.  Conner is now almost two years sober, very close to finishing his college degree, and this past weekend, he got engaged to the love of his life.  I could not be more proud of him.

Through the lowest points in his life, my big brother was still teaching me.  Teaching me that no matter how dark things seem, there is always a glimmer of hope and that God is still working miracles in the most unlikely of places.

Conner is back to his old self.  The best friend I had missed all those years.  He has the biggest heart of anyone I know, which is an example to us all.  In fact, when I asked him if it was okay to talk about his story in my blog, he responded, “I’ve never had an issue sharing all the good things or the bad things in my life.  That’s how it can help people!  And if my story doesn’t help people, then it was for nothing.”

So if you get nothing else out of this post, I hope maybe you’ll walk away with this:  We have no excuse to give up.  Ever.  On others or ourselves.

Thanks for always teaching me, Conner.  And in case I don’t tell you often enough, you really are a wonderful big brother.

Picture Day

School picture day was last week.  I had forgotten what an event it could be!  The halls were filled with combs and hairspray and the students were filled with drama (more than usual). 

What amused me most, however, was how differently the girls approached picture day than the boys.  I’m about to take you through the minds of one middle school girl and one middle school boy as they prepare for the momentous occasion.  The mind of a middle school child can be a scary place, so proceed with caution. 

[Editor’s Note:  For the sake of easier reading, the girl’s inner thoughts will appear in bold, while the boy’s will appear in italics.]

Woke up this morning an hour and a half before school…gotta look good today for school pictures!

Just woke up and thought about boobs…gonna be a good day.

The outfit I picked out last night is stupid!  What am I gonna wear?  Ugh!  Everyone’s going to look so cute today and be talking about how gross I look.

Found a hoodie and some mesh shorts underneath the Cheerios on my floor.  Didn’t smell too bad.  Today’s outfit…check!

Okay…breathe, girl.  How about this sensible, form-fitting V-neck?  Or is that too simple for today?  Maybe I’ll wear this jewel-encrusted little number that says “Diva.”  I wish the one that said “Here Comes Trouble” was back from the cleaners.

Had time to play Grand Theft Auto 5 before leaving.

Outfit is complete.  Hair is curled.  Makeup is done…it looks terrible, but it’s the best I can do.  If my mom would buy me a decent curling iron, maybe I wouldn’t have to look so ratchet!  Maybe I’ll get my best friend Abby to work on it before pictures.

Just got to school and found out we have pictures today…why didn’t I get this memo?  [Editor’s Note:  He did get the memo.  Two months ago…and every day since.]

All these girls look so much better than me.  I’m going to text my mom and have her bring me a different outfit.

Should I text my mom and tell her about pictures?  She might want to order some…nah!

Abby fixed my hair and worked on my eyeliner.  Thank God!  Mom says she can’t leave work to bring me new clothes.  She’s so selfish!  Cue humongous eye roll!

Still thinking about boobs.  Never stopped.

During first period, Mrs. Johnson tried to teach a lesson.  How am I supposed to focus on photosynthesis when I have my own photo to worry about? 

Photosynthesis.  Photos.  Photos of models.  Photos of girl models.  Photos of girl models in swimsuits…you know where I’m going with this.

Our class is lining up for pictures.  I think I look great!  Ew!  I just saw my reflection.  I look terrible!  I don’t even care anymore!  But look at Kristin over there..she looks so cute!

We’re going to take our pictures now.  I’m thinking of mooning the camera so we don’t have to go back to class right away.  Maybe I should weigh the pros and cons…

Just told Kristin her hair looks funny today and she went to the bathroom to cry.  That’ll teach her to be looking cute.

Decided not to go through with it.  But Kristin was crying for some reason, so we got a little extra time out of class anyways.

This is the worst day of my life!  Now all my of my so-called “friends” are consoling Kristin!  Whose side are they on?

Can’t wait to get home and play Grand Theft Auto 5. 

[Editor’s Note:  Uncontrollable weeping.]

Pizza for lunch. Shorter classes.  Dodgeball in gym.  No homework tonight.  Today was a great day at school.

So glad to be home!  I’m not going back to school tomorrow!  I’ll just fake some cramps or something.  Kristin is such a…hold on.  Someone’s texting me. 

Just realized that “boob” spelled backwards is “boob.”  Mind blown.

It was Kristin.  We’re friends again.  Can’t wait for school tomorrow!  #lovemylife #bff #hashtagsarefun

Who’s The Fairest Of Them All?

During my sophomore year of college, I began taking courses related to my field in education.  My favorite professor, Dr. Kathy Brown, began class one day by asking us to define the word “fair” as it pertains to teaching. 

My class full of brilliant 19 year-olds (and the token middle-aged woman who always asked for extra homework), began spouting off the classic “Sunday School” answers:

“Fairness means having consistent expectations and consequences for every student!”

“Fairness means not showing favoritism!”

“Fairness means treating all students the same!”

I’m pretty sure I even heard someone shout, “Jesus!”  It was the middle-aged woman.

Dr. Brown then began her lesson on true “fairness.”  She taped a five-dollar bill to the ceiling and invited two students to the front of the room.  One was a six-foot-something tall glass of water.  I know what you’re thinking…no, it wasn’t me.  The other was a five-foot-nothing little pip-squeak sorority type.  I know what you’re thinking…no, it wasn’t me either.  I was merely a spectator.

The instructions were simple:  whoever could get the five-dollar bill off the ceiling got to keep it.  And…go!  Without hesitation, Tall Tom stood on his tip-toes and got the money down with ease.  Meanwhile, Sally Short went scrambling to find a chair to stand on. 

A discussion followed.  Was this fair?  The consensus was a resounding no!  “Why not?” Dr. Brown asked.  “This adheres to your definitions of fairness…I treated both of these students the exact same way, even though they are clearly very different.  It would have been unfair of me to give Sally Short any extra help, right?”

We got the message, and from that day forth I had to change my concept of fairness.  I now adhere to the following definition:

“Fairness means meeting each individual student at his or her starting point, and then giving him or her whatever he or she needs to succeed.”

I think most people could agree that this is a fair definition of “fairness.”  That is, until you start talking about things like…I don’t know…welfare, for example.  Suddenly, you’ll begin to hear things like, “It’s not fair that I work so hard and then some people don’t work at all and still get as much money as me!” 

There’s that word again…fair.  I’m not here today to endorse the welfare system.  Of course it is an imperfect, flawed system.  What I am endorsing, however, is our attitude toward things we deem unfair.  Perhaps we don’t have all the facts and do not always take into consideration where people other than ourselves are starting.  Perhaps they need just a little extra “boost” to be successful.  (I know you all have stories about someone who abuses the system…try to forget them and keep on reading.)

So all of this fanfare about fairness is a lead-in to what I really wanted to discuss today…education in prisons.

Many argue that it is not…wait for it…fair…for prisoners to receive a college education while incarcerated.  But if you truly believe that fairness is giving every person what he or she needs to be successful, you might re-think that opinion. 

And let’s also consider a few facts.  In New York, it costs approximately $60,000 per year to house one inmate.  That’s a lot of money!  In fact, it’s considerably more than my annual salary as a teacher with a Masters degree. 

The most recent statistics reveal that 8% of prisoners with a college degree will return to prison after released.  18% with a high school diploma will return to prison.  And a staggering 66% without any type of degree will return to prison.  These numbers do not lie:  education is the key to reform.  And (in the long run) taxpayers will save money because less people will be returning to prisons.

So, before you write me a long response about how you worked three jobs to pay for your college education and if people don’t want to help themselves then why should we blah blah blah…understand that I share your sentiment in some ways.

But if we really want society to change, let’s meet some people at their current level, give them the tools they need to succeed, and help them become better people.  It’s only fair.

Note To Self

Something very strange happened when I wasn’t looking…I got old!

My Facebook notifications have been off the charts in the past week because all of my old high school classmates are busily planning our ten-year reunion.  Did I type that correctly?  Ten years?  Those words don’t even feel right rolling off my fingertips.  Who goes to class reunions?  Old people, that’s who!  And that’s me…evidently.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?  All the way back to 2004.  Usher and Gretchen Wilson were, unfortunately, topping the Billboard charts.  Terrible British accents were filling movie theatres because Troy was number one at the box-office.  (Side Note:  Why are bad British accents the go-to choice for any movie set in ancient times?)  The most popular fashions were oversized t-shirts and bowl-cuts (at least that’s the story I’m sticking with).  And a little thing called Facebook was invented, although it was only for college students to share status updates and pokes.  (Side Note:  When I first got a Facebook profile, my mother referred to it as “Faceplate” and warned me against the dangers of the inter-web…she has since been crowned Ms. Facebook Oklahoma.)

Cut to 2014.  To be perfectly honest, I feel that I have accomplished a lot in the past ten years, but I am just not satisfied.  Are we ever?  I don’t want to sound like I am discontent, because I’m not.  There are just some things I wish I had done differently so that I could maximize the difference I am able to make in this world.  So I’ve written a letter…a letter from 28 year-old Collin to 18 year-old Collin that might just help 38 year-old Collin have fewer regrets…and maybe, just maybe, it will speak to some other 18 to 98 year-olds out there in the blogosphere.  In the comments below, tell me what you wish you had known when you were 18 years old…you never know who it might help!

Dear 18 Year-Old Collin,

Wazzzuuupppp? I know that’s a popular catchphrase right now in 2004, but trust me, people are going to get annoyed with it quickly.  Stop saying it.  Take it from me, the future you.  That’s right.  It’s me.  28 year-old Collin.  I’m here to give you some advice to help you make the most out of the next ten years of your life.  Listen carefully:

  1. Cherish every second you have with your parents, brother, grandparents, and cousins.  They will turn out to be your very best friends.
  2. Stop worrying about being alone your whole life.  God has a girl for you…a girl who understands your insecurities and who will help build you into the man you want to be.  She’s out there.  Trust me.
  3. Why do you worry so much about what people think of you?  You’re not like them.  You are different, and that’s okay.  They will embrace you if you are yourself.
  4. When you’re in college, it’s okay to put off the occasional late-night study session to laugh and hang out with good friends.  No employers are ever going to look at your transcript anyways.
  5. When you feel sorry for yourself, help someone else.
  6. You’re never going to be rich…and that’s okay.  Deal with it.
  7. Some people will not like you.  Learn to accept it.  Don’t waste your time trying to make them change their minds.  It’ll never happen.
  8. Learn to appreciate the little things in life while you’re waiting on the big things to happen. 
  9. Tell people how you feel about them as often as possible…some of them will leave you before you have a chance.
  10. Make a difference.  Every day vow to make a difference.  You might not be able to tell if you ever did, but keep striving towards it.  I am positive and hopeful that someday, you will see how you changed a life.


28 year-old Collin

P.S. Buy stock in a thing called YouTube…it comes out in 2005 and it’s pretty popular.