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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Quinze ans?!

It was SmTn's birthday... oh... maybe about a month ago? I sent the customary happy birthday email, one of our 3-4 yearly communications. I didn't expect much more than a quick thank you email but I got nothing in response. While this shouldn't bother me, it somehow does. I understand we don't talk much and he has a life to tend to and yet just acknowledging that email wouldn't have taken an awful lot of time, would it? Maybe it was verbotten, but then again it shouldn't be. Should it? I thought we were past that. I thought we were in strictly platonic friends mode, as evidenced by the incredibly scarce and shallow nature of our communication. I didn't hint at anything, I didn't reference anything naughty. I made one reference to the late nature of my email and used an inside joke (wizard smile). I briefly filled him in on this education project I've taken on and how I intend to go to school again. I wished him the best and left it at that. 

The lack of response tempted me to do a bad thing: I looked at his facebook profile. He doesn't post anything, other people post on his profile. One of them being the girlfriend-who-may-very-well-be-the-wife. There's an old timey picture that has been uploaded, one of the two of them sitting on a bench somewhere, holding hands. No translation or further reading was needed to guess that it made a reference to how they've been together for 15 years (maybe more, it seemed to refer to the picture). 

Well, fuck.

While I'd like to believe it changes little in our just-friends dynamics, it does seem to ground the emotional cheating as a much bigger deal. I figured they'd been together for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5 years when I met SmTn. But it now turns out they'd been together for about 10. Shit.

Way to go, me.

Way to go, SmTn. 

I feel it's not entirely rational, but this upsets me. 

It makes me feel dirty. Dirtier than before. Worse than the prostitutes from Les Misèrables. Not like them, worse. What kind of fool am I, exactly? I'm finding out, in mathematical terms, but not in real life terms. What kind of fool falls for this nonsense interaction and follows through for 5 years even if it's only 2 or 3 that were the truly bad ones? What kind of fool tries to justify any of this?

A naïve one, for sure. An ignorant one. One who really doesn't know better. Not even aware that I should have known better. An ignorant-and-unaware-of-it fool.


Monday, 5 September 2016

Where's Waldo in maths

Maybe now's the time to write this post. Seems about right, since I was headed that way anyway, and it just seems like a good way to start.

I've been absorbed by education theory of late. Education theory branching out into philosophy, psychology, neurology, sociology, anthropology and many relevant in-between fields. Innocently enough, it was part of a project I must complete if I want to get the last raise I qualify for, in a job that will not grant me a full time position as is and has absolutely no "benefits." It began with learning about better tutoring practices, but once it went beyond "be professional and be nice" it started getting interesting. I hadn't felt like this about anything in a very long time. I felt excited, I felt like I suddenly understood a lot, I felt like my mind was literally being opened with each new concept and I could feel my brain growing as it soaked all this new information in.

One particularly inspiring conversation had to do with Vigotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, also known as "what you can learn with a little help from someone who knows more than you." It's meant to be a fluid barrier of just how much you can reach with just the right nudge. Its strongest weakness is the requirement for this second more knowledgeable other, for there are things you can learn that no one has learned before and that's where all the most beautiful ideas are. I wondered if there was something like a method to coming up with new, creative ideas. Turns out I'm not the only one and there's no one good answer. Descartes tried, Leibniz tried, countless others who escape my memory (and bias) at the moment, failed. There is no perfect method (or if there is, it continues to elude us). 

Every little bit of information I found on the subject was fascinating to me and I started taking notes on a notebook, buying books, downloading scholarly articles. I was doing work while I was at work (and not really working, so I might as well) even though I also had the choice to just play on my phone or otherwise entertain myself with the usual websites for amusement. The best way I can describe this feeling is, perhaps, with an anecdote of when I was in 6th or 7th grade in school. We hadn't learned about algebra yet. The classroom we were in was assigned to maths classes, including grades above ours and someone had left behind an algebra worksheet. As a dare, "to prove how smart I really am," my friends told me try solving one of the problems. Truth is I couldn't. The language was foreign to me and none of it made sense to me. When the time came for us to learn algebra, I found a guilty pleasure in it. I solved equations and felt a thrill when I finally found the answer, not so unlike when you finally find Waldo in a very large illustration. It's not the greatest of achievements and perhaps you're alone in your triumph, but there's no denying just how gratifying the experience is. It's a feeling I strive to feel again when doing maths and I became determined to teach myself how to be a better maths student, that I may find the thrill, the beauty and the creativity I've fallen behind on.

As a starting point, I used that very experience to put forth a hypothesis: learning makes people happy, and this is perhaps an evolutionary advantage. I set out looking for manuals on how to learn, now to solve problems, how to spot patterns, now to use them, how memory works, how to go beyond memory. As a small by-product, I found the answer: dopamine is involved in learning processes by signaling to the brain that certain things are important. By then, however, I'd already changed tracks and had started pursuing other questions. 

There is, for instance, the matter of metacognition. You can't get good at something if you can't measure yourself up to someone who's better at it. There's the matter of epistemology: if truth is justified true belief and all three of those words can be broken down into essays, then the search for truth gains a lot of meaning. There's meaning, on its own, as a subject. There's boredom, as the lack of meaning, but with physiological consequences. There's the idea of talent, which may not actually exist and could be attributed to extraordinarily fast learners. There's the numerous definitions for creativity and the studies on incubation periods as the time where ideas develop and brew. There's still the matter of where creative and ingenious ideas come from, but I think it's all ultimately a problem with misattribution and misunderstanding from an outside perspective. From an outside perspective it's easy to think it was "easy" for a person to come up with something clever, and we might call them a "genius." We don't see the time spent working, quietly or not.

One could over-simplify the problem-solving process by describing it as a "fit all the available keys into the lock until one works." However, even in that analogy we might realize just how vast the alternatives are. There could be too many keys, and it is therefore important to filter, sort and organize them first. These mechanisms are clever and complex and may be subject to numerous biases. The ideas you're likely to try first are based on prior experiences, they're shaped by your education and what you've been exposed to. Another problem could be the fact that the right key does not exist, in which case you will have to somehow manufacture one out of the blue based on what you know about the lock. Many would give up. Many would fail to find importance or meaning in whatever might be hiding behind that lock because they wouldn't deem it worth it. They might trust someone else's stories about what lies beyond and stop there. 

What's interesting, and what seems to keep me going is that I've found ways to incorporate many ideas I've had for a while, like the thought that analogies are the equivalent of fraction simplification, or my blank sheet of paper experiment. 

I can justify the following statement, but won't for the sake of brevity and focus: virtually all life paths involve both teaching and learning, and not at a school level. You can look at that any way you like. Careers and a school system are an obvious one, so we'll skip over it. Consider everything you ever learn, from language to walking to performing every day life chores and tasks. You had to learn them somehow. There's a reason why there are so many YouTube videos with DIY and how-to tutorials. There's a reason why it's not the ones who get it right immediately that are popular. In fact, I daresay that those videos where failures are documented result in higher views and it's not only out of schadenfreude, but rather because those mistakes are learning experiences that we don't have to live through. 

I will have to write more in the future and I just want to get myself back in the habit of it. I need to find my voice again. I may draw comics to go with this. I may just write essays. I may make it a blog or website. I may want to be ambitious and do videos. I may just ask to collaborate with someone who seems to have gotten ahead of me. I'm not sure yet. I can't say when it will be done but I'd like to have a plan in the next couple of weeks. I just haven't decided on the format. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Role models

Note to self, I have been terrible about writing on any kind of regular basis. I started a post, and yet I never got around to writing it and was only reminded of it now when I came to write something entirely different. All I had for that is a title, and I suppose I'll get around to it, as it's related to this, but not now. Later.

Today, I want to go on a soap box and talk about education. Education, of all things. I'm well aware this is enough to signal a lot of people they can stop reading, or that they should brace themselves for boring, or failed attempts at being inspirational on my part. Those things may all very well be so, and I cannot change or even challenge those perceptions. I'm writing this because I care, because it matters to me and because I believe deep in my heart that these things matter. On their own, they have value beyond any I can give it. These issues matter because they affect so many people in so many ways and they don't get voiced or talked about enough. If you're reading on, for any purpose other than telling me off in a comments or in your own head, I thank you.

One of my students is someone I'm proud of even though all our interactions are limited to an hour long weekly meeting. I was introduced to her being told that she was a top client, very picky about her tutoring and that I should put my best foot forward to work with her. She's a great kid. She's well-educated, hard-working, passionate and doesn't take herself too seriously. In most situations, it's this last description that would keep her under the radar, and could render her vulnerable when such a weakness is a strength: admitting your limitations is a disclaimer to anyone who expects too much from you, after all. Here's a thought: she doesn't take herself seriously enough. 

She's challenging a 20+ year old injustice, overlooked by the status quo for being perhaps considered insignificant, and she's taken the challenge head on without looking back. While she could be mistaken for the fools who go on a crusade for the sake of doing what is right under no direction other than some kind of "divine order," she's prepared to argue and counterargue her points. She doesn't just believe her stance to be the right one, she knows it to be so and is determined to demonstrate it to anyone who is in disagreement. She neglected to eat or drink for most of a day, letting adrenaline nourish her instead as she worked for her cause. She knew she was putting herself in the way of verbal assault and apathy and she worked through it. She respects those who politely said no and refused to entertain the idea that their position might be outdated and unethical. She forgives and dismisses the harsh treatment received. She acknowledges the scope of her efforts and is still proud of her accomplishments. She may perhaps naïvely ignore the retaliations that are bound to follow, yet she's ready for them without knowing it. Before graduating high school, she's done more than I have so far. 

She marches to the beat of her own heart, and whether she does it out of fierceness, naïveté, or a combination of the two I care not: she's someone I look up to.

It's indeed an interesting dynamic: as her tutor, I'm expected to be a role model and yet rather than take on that role I reverse it. She may look up to me as a grown woman who is acutely aware and passionate about the same issues as she is, who seems to be where she'd like to be: grown up, having finished college and being good at using my brain, living independently while not forgetting about some of life's simple pleasures. She doesn't see me as being unaccomplished, stuck with a tutoring job out of my inability to find something better. She doesn't see me as being a part of a much lower socioeconomic class than she was raised in (alas, she may sometimes forget her privilege in this aspect). She thinks I'm cool because I'm into make up and doing my nails and hair, chose to study maths, cook, enjoy multiculturality and am a feminist. She doesn't know I envy the fact that she knows about gender-neutral pronouns and gender non-conformity even though she wasn't considered enough of an adult by her parents to warrant having her own mobile phone until about two weeks ago. She is in so many ways only a kid, yet she's more determined, driven and mature than a great deal of the adults I deal with in everyday life.

She's destined for great things and here I am, only hoping that I don't fail her as a maths tutor.  

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

It's been over a year

I hate stating the obvious, but I feel like I have to. It's been over a year.

It's been over a year since I last wrote a blog post. It's been over a year since I left the A's house. It's been over a year with ... 

It's been long enough I've forgotten how my own system of names works. It would seem the correct name is SI, though I can't, for the life of me, remember what it stands for or how I came up with it. I did go through the trouble of reading every post tagged with his name but I couldn't figure it out even after finding the exact one where I came up with the name. Système International? Special/Significant Individual? It's not Significant Other, as I coined the term distinctly before we were in a relationship. Maybe it will come to me.

Back on track. 

Why am I writing again? For the same reason I started writing in the first place. I need someone to talk to and I can't have this conversation with anyone I know. Well, maybe I could talk to EBF but I doubt that's a very good idea. I can talk to SI about almost anything but I don't think it's a good idea to bring this up. Ok, there's more than one thing I want to talk about, but I'm beating around the bus, as I usually do when there's something I can't get out of my mind but I can't get out through my fingers either.

I'm not saying I will. I'm not saying I want to. I'm not saying it's ok in any way. I'm just putting it out there. For the first time, I've started to understand the feelings of someone who cheats on their significant other. Let me explain.

There's three jobs, but it doesn't matter which. At work, there's this guy. He has a fantastically sarcastic and dark sense of humour. He's a bit of a know-it-all (who makes flaws, I've overheard them!). SI have talked about how he's someone we'd like to be friends with and have a beer with. Him. I've noticed something recently. Our interactions went from "barely acknowledging each other's presence" to me noticing that he's greeting me and saying goodbye. I'll greet and say goodbye right back, I can be polite too. We've engaged in modicum amounts of small talk, where I've mentioned my interest in Russian literature and puzzles. I've been getting the feeling, for about a week now, that he's interested in me. 

In true high school girl fashion, I've done some light facebook stalking. I may have even shown SI, if only for the purpose of pointing out that the person online is nothing like the person we work with and makes for interesting deductions. I can't tell SI what I think about this guy being interested in me. I can't tell SI that the thought has crossed my mind and, if I weren't otherwise engaged, I might actually consider his interest seriously. I can't tell SI that I had a dream about this guy. In the dream, we talked and he seemed under the impression that I liked him, so in a very bold move, as he was saying goodbye, he leaned in to kiss me. I remember myself thinking about SI and deliberately avoiding his lips, which hurt his feelings. And later in the same dream I tried to kiss him. Because I felt bad about hurting his feelings, but also because I was oddly attracted to him. I don't know how to explain any of it. 

I just needed somewhere to put these thoughts down, because I feel like if we talk more and grow closer, the thought of him saying something isn't so outrageous. He may not know about SI. I needed a space to sit with my thoughts and lay them all down to look them in the face. I need someone to talk to, still. I just don't know what to make of any of this.

Maybe the sense of being fancied at work is heightened by my special student. Intellectual limitations be damned, I've felt sexually harassed by her. Who wouldn't, when someone is masturbating to you right in front of you as you are paid to try to work with them on academics? I can't. I can't with her touching herself and smelling her fingers. It's too much. I hate that my boss has apparently found a bypass to finding someone else to work with her by speaking to the parents somehow. It hasn't happened again since I brought it up but I still don't feel safe, I just have this fear that it hasn't happened again yet


I was going to say I felt half proud of my writings when I looked over them trying to find the origins of SI, but this post is all over the place. It is disconnected and untidy. It needs work. For the purposes of laying it all out, it's fine. But I want to get to writing again. I want to get a rhythm going. I want to be better at writing so that I can amuse myself with short stories and phrases.

For now, I have this: "she was sweet beyond her years."