Freedom

I hesitate to take on a subject that has political connotations, but this is something that has been on my mind all day. It started with a question: What is freedom? We hear US politicians and pundits, especially those in the right wing, go on and on about preserving our right to freedom, or about how others are trying to take away freedom. They hold this thing up like a beacon to the world without really knowing what they mean.

Let’s start with a literal definition. Merriam-Webster says that freedom (n) is “the quality or state of being free: as a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b : from slavery or restraint or from the power of another” so basically to be able to do whatever you want, and to not be a slave.

In a very real way, the US has never been a free country. In the first place the US constitution allowed slavery. That aside, even the most basic law adds necessity or constraint to our choices and actions. So why does the US still feel it is a free country? Because a majority of people can do the things they want to do with relative ease and relatively little input from the government. But it is not truly free according to this definition of freedom.

The reason I think that rethinking freedom is necessary lies in recent slogans of the right wing. I see car and home windows dressed in the Gadsden flag, politicians flooding the airways with messages about a return to freedom. Freedom for whom? These politicians claim that freedom lies in unfettered markets, because that worked so well when the “white man” was capitalizing the west. This kind of freedom is really only freedom for those who have the money to buy power, and forces everyone else to be subservient to those with money. This is not freedom!

The poor who work multiple jobs and cannot feed their families or provide welfare are demonized by the right wing. Written off as moochers, lowlifes, or lazy by those with money, the right wing expects them to fend for themselves, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It’s self preservation by the wealthy, because heaven forbid the rest of us enjoy those things reserved for “the elite.”

True freedom is in equality, we have seen Scandinavian socialism create strong, happy, and safe countries, and yet the right wing decries these policies as evil! These ever so vocal talking heads say what they are paid to say by wealthy self-preservationists. I mean, how grass roots can the Tea Party claim to be if they’re funded by billionaire oil and mining tycoons?!? It’s not that they’re afraid their freedom is being taken away, it’s the fear that others might actually get as much of it as they have. Greed is bad and Ayn Rand was a bitter woman whose philosophy was fatally flawed, and whose vision was permanently skewed by the abuses of a totalitarian regime.

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Ovewhelmed

To preface my comments: I am very excited about my new job teaching middle and high school music. I love what I do, and I do not have any regrets about choosing this career path.

Have you ever been on the verge of starting something, and then suddenly had the feeling that you are unprepared for the task? Kind of like your brain realizes at the last minute that you are scared and tries to talk you out of it by making you feel overwhelmed? That’s the stage I’m at in my preparations to begin teaching.

It’s especially hard just starting out, I have no idea how things are going to go because I have never tried some things out. It’s kind of cool, because I’m not cynical or jaded, but I may also be a bit naive. That’s what scares me the most, that maybe I am overestimating myself or my students.

Frankly it’s really just a stupid conversation that my brain refuses to quit. I can’t know what’s going to happen until I get there, and when that happens I will deal with it. I guess I just need to remember that I am skilled and trained to do what I do, and nobody is going to to my job in my situation any better than I will. Hopefully that will allow me to get some sleep.

Anxiety

I hate anxiety, and I’m pretty sure it hates me back. I want to sleep, it won’t let me. I want to eat, it takes away my appetite, and if I want to diet then it gives it back double! To me anxiety is a source of self doubt. When I get anxious about something I am doing it makes me question my abilities.

It’s really a silly reaction, because sometimes I question myself when the anxiety is caused by something I have no control over. It’s as if, for example, I get anxious because I can’t print to the office printer at school, so my brain says “You must be a bad music teacher.” In reality it’s IT’s problem, but reality is not my brain’s strong suit sometimes.

Some of my anxiety is justified, I have a final paper and video project due for two classes that I have to pass to graduate, and I have to graduate to get my teaching license and get full benefits, etc. at my job. On top of all that, my contract starts three days after those classes end… I’m in overdrive trying to prepare lessons and write papers/make videos at the same time.

The problem is that between the rational and irrational anxiety, I’m finding it hard to sleep. I wish I had the answer. Perhaps a refill of some medication, or transcendental meditation. I really have no idea.

Fear

I have a lot of fears. Some are your average fears, rejection, injury, injuring others, embarrassment, you know, the usual. Some are straight up phobias, insects, tight spaces, and the like. Some of these fears keep me from doing things that other people normally enjoy; lately I’ve decided to try and combat these fears.

I guess the first question that one must pose when trying to face fear is: What exactly is fear? We feel fear because of a neurochemical rush designed by evolution to keep us from sticking around in a bad situation, the flight portion of the fight or flight reflex. Imagine: man sees saber tooth cat, has to decide whether to fight or not, cat roars, man is gone. If he doesn’t run he’s an idiot and dies without passing on his genetic material. It seems like a simple process.

The problem is that at some point mans started engaging in higher levels of cognition, and was suddenly capable of psychologically creating fear. Think about it, OCD stems from an individual’s fear that something bad will happen if they cannot complete their ritual, hoarding is a form of OCD in which a person fears not having something they need, so they keep everything.

Knowing that fear can be a natural reaction to a threat or a psychological phenomenon is merely a fraction of the battle. Knowing why the neurochemicals flow will not make the stop, but it may help to cope. If one can acknowledge that a fear is purely psychological, they can begin to retrain themselves to remain calm, or at least to expect the rush and deal with it with a calm demeanor.

This all sounds great, and admittedly it is easier to say these things than to do them. I may never conquer my irrational fear of grasshoppers. (Good thing my new apartment is right next to a big freaking field) I may not be comfortable in confined spaces, but I can certainly try.

So much to do!

So, just in case anyone was wondering, being a first year teacher is really hard. Being the only one who teaches your subject is even harder. Not coming in to an established system is maybe the hardest thing of all. I have to develop my own curriculum, something that will fit my students’ needs and be within my ability to teach effectively. Who would have thought that teaching music could be so hard?

See, most adults experience a lot of what I call “crate teachers,” the ones who have their worksheets and handouts ready to go from 20 years ago. All they have to do is pull out that crate and send the teacher’s aid to make copies. In music it is even worse, some teachers have a rotation of a few pieces that they do every few years without looking for new stuff. On top of that, most band and choir teachers only teach applied skills.

Why is that a problem? Well, in pretty much every state there are standards for education in pretty much every subject, even music. Those standards ask me to teach my students the history and theory of music, not just the applied playing skills. So going back to my original problem: I am coming into a school where there is no established theory or history curriculum to build on, I simply have to build my own.

Even a simple curriculum requires research and planning. I have no illusions that I will have this thing completed before the school year starts, that is not even a remote possibility. If I’m lucky I’ll get enough a few weeks ahead before I start coaching the junior high football (small schools… Lucky I’m just an assistant)

Growth

So have you seen the news lately? Anthony Weiner got caught with his pants down again (pun intended). Now I couldn’t care less about his political ambitions, but this whole incredible mess has made me think about what it takes to really grow as a person.

The universe has certain laws that govern it, and one of those laws is that no action goes without a consequence. In Weiner’s case, you cannot tweet pictures of your junk and not expect them to surface. You cannot continue to send women pictures of your… weiner… and not expect it to come up when you start running for office telling everyone how much you’ve changed. A key component of growth is that a person should actually do something differently after making a mistake.

Too many people think that they can say they’ve changed and people will accept it at face value. How many times do we see a celebrity tell us all how wonderful their life is now that they are sober, only to turn around and go on a bender and end up in jail or dead? It’s as if people think we’re that guy or gal, desperate for love, that will constantly make excuses or reasons to deny their boy/girlfriend’s bad behavior. There’s always the promise of change, but no evidence thereof.

Admittedly, change is hard, and to make matters worse many of us seem to be hardwired to resist it. Even those who appear to embrace change have their limit, something that is just “too difficult” to change. Now before writing me off as a hypocrite for writing this, remember that I am fully aware of my own resistance to change. We all fear hard changes.

The problem is, we need these changes to progress as human beings. We need to feel the uncertainty, anxiety, and stress that goes along with it. No change is free, some changes have difficult consequences in the short term, but very positive consequences in the long term, some have a positive consequence to seemingly everybody but oneself. By overcoming these challenges we learn to be better, stronger.

Is it difficult to truly change? Certainly, but if we can learn anything from Anthony Weiner it is that the promise of change, and claims of change are never an adequate substitute for the real thing, and eventually the truth will come out.

Wifi

Tonight I am having trouble sleeping because I got hyper focused on a technological project. I accepted a job to teach music in rural Colorado beginning in August. The apartment I have is very nice, but it did not come with wifi. Last week I spent five hours one day trying to get an Internet connection to my apartment, only to find out that CenturyLink is at capacity in my town due to outdated infrastructure among other things. The only other option is slow satellite Internet. Fortunately CenturyLink is in negotiations to tap off of a fiber line that runs through the area.

Now you have the background, so let me explain the project. I have an iPhone, but Verizon has any tethering or hotspot potential locked down tight (without jailbreaking) so I cannot use that feature without paying $20 a month for it. I remembered that I had an old Palm Pre+ hanging around, and seemed to recall tethering ability with it, so I swapped my number to the older phone.

WebOS was a great idea that should have been developed, but HP was dumb. Now its App Catalogue is not so functional, and the tether function was no longer free. Bummer, right? Not so much. See, using some software to install programs from my desktop I was able to get some apps up and running, as well as find a tethering app that is free and works well. My problem is that now I trying to get all of my iCloud calendars to sync to google so they will show up on my phone, and trying to find more apps, and all sorts off stuff other than sleeping… Hyper focus is lame.