Thursday, June 25, 2015

Must life be inherently predominanly boring, or was my first grade teacher a buzzkill?

The only new thing about school bullying is that the word itself now exists in verb form. Not much about the act itself has changed. Scriptures show evidence that bullying was going on log before Jesus made Hiis appearance on the planet, and it certainly hasn't slowed since. Stakes may have gotten a bit  higher, particularly in terms of weapons used in retaliation when victims reach a breaking point, but otherwise not a whole lot has changed.

Thank you for the kindness and concern expressed by everyone. I genuinely appreciate it even if I sometimes act as though I don't. Without the kindness of people such as yourselves, life would be far more drudgerous (Is that a real word?) than it is, and we all know that life on a day to day basis can epitomize drudgery. 

I once had a first grade teacher who addressed our class, after a particular student (not I) complained that a particular lesson was boring. Ironically, the lesson probably WAS boring to me. I believe it focused on regrouping, as in borrowing and carrying. For me that actually would have been something a but ho-hum, as it would have been something I'd mastered in my own way by the time I was three or so. 

With the complaining child, it was boring because he would have preferred beating up other children on the playground or stealing from the lunch containers of children who brought our lunches to school. (I'm deadly serious about the stealing snacks from lunches. My uncle had to rig a padlock to my Blue's Clues lunchbox so I wouldn't come home starving every day. I was undersized as it was and had only recently beaten a major bout with pneumonia following the donation of bone marrow to my mom because she had leukemia.  I needed anything in that lunchbox that was deemed edible by me, which was probably about half oF the contents.) 

One time the kid threatened me to try to make me give him the key to the padlock on my lunchbox.  I told him my cousin was a police officer and I would have the bully / lunch thief arrested if he made any similar demands. My cousin worked on a police force nearly one hundred miles away, and we were so far out of his jurisdiction that even had he had the time to travel to my school to put fear into the kid, that's the worst he could possibly have done. The kid was relatively obtuse, though, so my threat trumped his threat, and I was never again threatened with violence over possession of the key to my Blue's Clues lunchbox.

Anyway, the teacher's response to the kid who was "bored" with regrouping (despite the fact that it would probably be at least midway through second grade before he came close to mastering the arithmetical skill itself) was that she hated to be the one to break it to him, but that life was and is inherently boring for the most part. We must push ourselves through the boring 90% or so that we have to do so that we can then enjoy the remaining 10% of life that is pleasurable.

At the time, I remember thinkging it was a terrible thing for the teacher to have told such young children. She could instead have spoken of the is wonder in everything in the world around us, including numbers and how to manipulate them to get them to do the things we need them to do. Instead, she just came right out and told us that we were going to be bored for 90% of our lives if we were lucky, and to get used to it.. If we were not among those with some degree of intelligence and/or initiative, she said (probably using different words), our lives would  be closer to 100%  boring.

I still think the teacher missed out on a great opportunity to introduce a broad overview of academia, and how school, and life like it, is a gynormous mystery and fantasy, more compelling than the most dramatic and provocative Harry Potter book (Harry Potter books were the rage at the time even though most of my classmates couldn't quite master them independently) could ever be.  The teacher could instead have talked about aspects of science, of literature, of geography and history, that would have had us sitting on the edges of our little chairs that were attached to desks, waiting to hear more. Instead she blandly declared that school was and is borning, and was a mere microcosm of life, which was also borning.

In fairness to the teacher, I don't know what kind of day she was having. She may have been suffering through a migraine. I don't know if she fought with her husband before school. I don't know if her own ADHD son had neglected to complete his homework for the thousandth time. There are many mitigating factors that may havwe explained our first grade teacher's lackluster performance that morning. I do know she had no warning that the "boring" comment was coming at that particular moment, although the comment is probably one for which any teacher from preschool to twelfth grade should be prepared at any time.  (I'm seriously digressing, as this doesn't relate closely to my topic, but it reminds me of the time in the algebra class in the movie  Peggy Sue Gets Married when Peggy Sue argues with the algebra teacher that she knows she will not use algebra again after the class. Even though I've used algebra in my non-academic life, I love that scene, and would have to agree that what Peggy Sue said is correct for the most part.) In any event, teachers of the future, know that  a few times in your career, students will complain that what you are teaching them or asking them to practice is borning. Step up to the plate and give it your best shot to git the ball out of the park. Have a decent answer prepared. You will eventually need it. What you do with the opportunity is all in your hands.

While denigrating my former first grade teacher and while decrying her substandard response to my classmate's comments, I must admit that there is, nonetheless,  an element of truth to what she said. What is fascinating about brushing and flossing? Very little, I would say, unless one is among the eccentric or arguably even grotesque segment of our population who finds joy in  examining he treasures  between one's teeth that can be found from flossing, or perhaps scrutinizes the contents of  used facial tissue after blowing one's nose ( I apologize to the squeamish among you).  The more typical among us don't get off on such things. Brushing and flossing are boring. So are wishing dishes and scrubbing toilets.Yet without doing them, a person risks dental caries and gum disease, a smelly, germ-and pest-infested kitchen, and a bathroom i won't rvrn describe.

When pretending to see any patient in the fake medical clinic of my Practice of Medicine course, I must thoroughly scrub my hands, wrists, and lower arms before approaching any of my fake patients, even if I'm going to immediately don latex gloves.  What is exciting or even marginally interesting about sctubbing my arms and hands? I'm going to so this thousands of times in my career (though less that will some of my peers, since as a probable radiologist, I'll have less patient contact and will thus have less of a need to srub my hands incessantly. So there, you non-radiologist prospective physicians out there. I may face endless days of staring at films, but at least the skin on my hands will be slightly less raw than your will be. Touche!) Still, just in the amount of hand-scrubbing I'll do in years three of med school through my internship, I'll use practically enough antibacterial  soap to fill Lake Tahoe.  

And scrubbing up is only oe of many mundane duties I'll perform. The time I take making copious notes on charts and into recording into esdictaphones will be enough time to travel to Machu Pichu and back several times. Still, it is in performing these seemingly endless tasks that will allow me to travel to Machu Pichu and back if that is what I choose to do with my spare time. In doing those jobs well, I will avail myself of a life of excitement if I choose to take advantage of it.

So in a way, the first grade teacher was correct: in fullfling life's unexciting duties, a person gives himself or herself the opportunity to do more exciting things once the paycheck  and time off arrive. Still, the teacher might just as  well have announced to those little ones in the classroom who may not yet have been in the know that Santa Claus is a metaphor, that the Easter Bunny is an unrealistic fantasy for anyone stupid enough to buy into it after the age of four, and that the Tooth Fairy is an unadulterated  scam.

What the teacher might have included is that if one who is reaonably bright and resourceful and applies himself or herself in school and chooses his or her career wisely, the ratio of boredom to enjoyment can magically morph from 90/10 to 50/50 or even 10/90. There's no way to avoid all drudgery in work, but a smart person who is willing to work hard when it is time to do so can drastically manipulate the monotony versus enjoyment factor of his or her work in his or her favor. I seriously hope that is what I am doing.

As I was speaking with Becca, she suggested that neither she nor I deal with vacation terribly well. We're both excited when time for vacation hits, but then problems seem to arise with lack of structure and routine. I have some structure and routine in being an assistant nanny, but probably not enough.  Vacation is  necessary, and I wouldn't given it up even if I were offered money in its placr,  but I'm not going to have nearly so much of it in the next few years, so if vacation the primary source of any of my ills, I shall be one healthy person in the next four years.

I don't think my former first grade teacher is teaching any longer. The job probably truly was 90 % monotony for every 10 % of enjoyment to her.  As for the "bored" student, he happened to travel down California's delta and end up at the same high school I did.  I had another ecounter with him. He was the infamous plagiarist who took my paper from a teacher's file cabinet and turned it in as his own. When he was caught, he reacted violently toward me.  His period of incarceration was relatively short, though his probation is , to the best of my knowledge, not yet complete. My guess is that the ratio of boredom to excitement in his life is not even as high as 10% to 90%. We are, to an extent, masters of our fate.  He may not have been the sharpest Crayola in the eight-pack, yet neither was he a literal cretin. Within him was the potential to have done much greater than he did for himself. Instead of graduating from traditional high school (I believe he did receive a diploma from an alternative program eventusall), he graduated from stealing children's snacks and beating them up to stealing academic work and committing sexual assault. He chose, instead of looking for the excitement and wonder in the workd around us, to find his excitement in intimidating others. He he's paying dearly for that choice now. How many Twinkies or even homemade cookies one eats as a child can compensate for a bromidic (I've provided most of you with a vocabular word for the day) adulthood in which even one's liberty is not a guarantee?

A side note to this is that my interactions with the "bored" student lend heavy credence to the idea that early childhood educators can, with remarkable accuracy, predict the criminals of tomorrow. Sadly, too often there's little they can do to change that outcome in the present system, but the teachers' predictions along those lines are uncannily accuracte..

Seguing to everyone's favorite topic -- hospital stories -- i'm out of that dastardly place. My procedure was delayed due to an emergency appendectomy my GI man had to perform, to a child appraring for an endoscope, and to few diabetics showing up for the same procedure I underwent. The pecking order is as follows: 1. emergencies; 2. diabetics (I'm not complaining, as I would not trade place with them);  3. children; 4. the rest of us.

The source of my GI bleeding was identified relatively quickly. GI man (I told him I'm going to buy a leotard and a cape so he can come to work dresed as GI Man, Superhero, but told me to save my money because he ain't [his word, not mine; I don't think a doctor should use the word ain't, but i'm neither his mother nor his English teacher] wearing the damned thing even on Halloween) found the sources of the bleed-outs and treated them the only way he could without cutting out parts of my colon. I didn't curse at the man, but I did holler out at the top of my lungs, "You're killing me, Egan!" before he had the anesthesiologist hit me with additional meds to shut me up. GI man found something a bit unusual in a the sigmoid portion of the colon and cauterized it, but I was unconscious and therefore unable to complain.

Life will soon be good again for me.  I hope it is for all of you as well.

Note: If I type anything when I'm somewhat mentslly impaired (some people would say that on a good day I'm mentally imparied, though we'll ignore those negative Nancies for the moment) I go back a day or two later and clean it up a bit if I think of doing so. I'm a pitiful typist, but there's no reason to leave as many errors as were previously here out in the ether for all to read when the marvelous feature of editing exists.


  1. Glad you are out of the hospital and your gastroenterologist and anesthesiologist aren't idiots. Your former teacher is right... life can be boring and shitty. But she probably should have framed her answer in a less blunt manner. Learning is supposed to be fun.

  2. For something like borrowing and carrying, she could have simply given a list of the reaons we would need to know it. Not everything we need to know is exciting to learn, but that doens't make it less important.

    While little kids can be convinced of the wonder of the owrld around them, it's hard now to compete with dancing letters and that sort of things. Part of the problem is parents. they've been convinced by videos and tV that every single thing there is to learn can be fun and games, while with some aspects of learning, nothing really rplaces dill and kill and rote learning. you can make games of it, but multiplication tables still nedd to be memorized one way or another, Some parents think that calculators reduce the need for memorization of multiplication tables, but if a child has to turn to a calculator everytime anything needs to be multiplied, he or she is adding an unnecessary step to every higher math operation. also, if you don't know addition and multiplication facts cold, you don't know when you've pressed a wrong button on a calculator and have come up with a ridiculous answer. Losing the addition to calculste without machines makes children stupider and takes away from them the ability to setimate and to know whn the numbner a machine has given them is way off. We';ve all been in places of business where the system goes down and the cashiers are cluesless as to how to calculate the total even without tax or to make change.

    1. Memorizing math facts was one of the worst parts of my childhood. I have a really hard time memorizing anything that I know I can figure out later and I was always terrible at doing those stupid timed tests. I did fine on all other math tests because I was fast enough with the rest of the math that I could devote a second to figure out the multiplication or whatever. It got to the point where I thought I was bad at math. Fast forward to algebra and math got stupid easy for me. I would just munipulate the equation until I got one simple thing to enter into the calculator. Fast forward to all A's in undergrad calc courses (4 different ones) and I am better at them now because I just had to do so much math in undergrad and grad school (engineering) but I may still be fuzzy on a fact and it might take me a second. Now I can figure out whatever I need to in real life very quickly because I can easily think up the simplest equation I need in my head and then I'll throw the math in the calculator on my phone (I could do it without but would probably need paper and a pencil because I am a very visual learner). Anyway long story short I get upset when people act like memorizing the math facts is the end all in education. I get where they are coming from but I think knowing why the math is done as it is done, and how the procedures work is much much more important than just basic memorization. Knowing what 12x4 is is great but not very useful if you don't know how to form an equation to use that fact with.

      Hope you are feeling better! Love all your posts.

  3. I don't think it's the necesary be all and end all, but I do think for most people it's the easiest way through. I get bothered when people think their kids don't even need to try to memorize because of technology. If the children try and there's an issue with memorization for them, or of they can do the work faster another way, fine; work around it. You obviously had the smarts to figure out another way. If children lack or are behind in number sense, however, they really need to learn the basic facts even if the memorization is painful and doesn't mean much to them until the number sense eventually kicks in.. I'm not totally stuck on timed tests or whether or a person needs to use fingers or counting patterns or to think about it for a moment, but there needs to be a strategy beyond a calculator. You had one and you were smart, so it was fine.

    I also think that a certain value in memorization for the sake of memorization. Poems, proverbs, quotes, even (God forbid) scriptures are good for learning, although it does not have to be the math facts that are memorized. It also doesn't have to mean that kids are taught that everything they memorize in terms of quotations and such are necessarily the gospel truth. It's just A) the idea of memorization, and B) the expansion of one's mind. Even if reasons supporting or denying the quote don't make sense at the time, they may later.

  4. Alexis I am very glad that they found out what was wrong with you and fixed it. There are many times in medicine where Dr. House is not around and no one can figure out what is wrong with someone.

    The owner of a pizza place near me got all these symptoms so he went in and got many tests done. They had no idea what was wrong with him. So they had him on medications to treat the symptoms. He died a year later. An autopsy showed that he had heart failure a year ago.

    Whether things are boring or not is a very personal thing. They said that Hitler said (in German) [referring to your bane that you talked about above] that everything that he has achieved in life was through intimidation. So he was bored if he was not making people miserable since "Misery loves company."

    There are sick people, like rapists & child molesters, that are bored if they are not doing sick things. So really how one feels is not about what he is doing but about his inner state of being. For example for the following, trust me, and consider that I know something that is hard to know.

    Mother Teresa did not endure misery so she could do exciting things later like you mentioned above. Her life was chastity, poverty and obedience. But she was having what Green Day would call the time of her life!

  5. Here is what people do not know. Mother Teresa was so happy to be alive that the happiness she felt in one day was more than the happiness that Bill Gates feels in one year. It sounds outrageous but just humor me for a minute. Americans say that money does not buy happiness but they want money more than anything else.

    Psychologist Wayne Dyer has talked about studies of how it feels to help someone (altruistic acts). They found that the helper's life is changed in that act. The person being helped is changed in that act. Also a person witnessing the above also has their life changed.

    Positive Psychology studies what make people the happiest. They found that altruistic acts makes life magical. So let me end with one example, Alexis. Say you become like Dr. House. Young great people are about to die and no doctor can figure out why. Then you figure out why and give them a long life. Jesus did not want money. He loved (adored) helping people..

    Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire that helps many people. But she practically worships Eckhart Tolle and knows that he was much happier than she ever was while he was sitting on park bench doing nothing.

    How you feel is not about what you are doing, as much as the state of consciousness that you are in. The very purpose of your human life is to be in a state of consciousness where every moment you feel PERFECT PEACE, ENDLESS LOVE and JOY UNPARALLELED! You know this (search your feelings).

  6. So glad you're out of the hospital!

  7. What a horrible thing to say to children. Life doesn't have to be boring 90% of the time. The trick is to find wonder in all sorts of places, and to hunt for beauty and meaning without tiring.

    I'm glad that you're out of the hospital and back home.

  8. I enjoyed our conversation very much and I hope to do it again sometime soon (I wasn't too giggly, was I?) I am also glad that you are on the mend. I am trying to think of some words of relative wisdom regarding your/our misfortune, however I am somewhat at a loss. However, in my perspective, having someone to share the unfortunate moments with has been somewhat of a light in the darkness.