Saturday, May 28, 2011

[The Little Pistol]

Just a warning to any potential intruders: these are the first thirty shots I ever fired with a pistol (half .38 semi-automatic and half .22 revolver). Only one outside the black and three bulls-eyes. Don't underestimate 5'0" little ol' me. ;)


Thursday, May 19, 2011

[Freelance Niki]

[Before focusing on entering the last batch of points for student grades, I wanted to put this out there.]

Those you who have been keeping up with me lately, either on the blog or on Facebook, know that my finances have gotten a bit tight as my teaching hours have diminished. As it stands, during a normal semester, I'm basically matching my income with my outflow, and this summer, with only one class, I'll be spending more than I'm making. I do have some money saved up, so I don't expect to go broke this year (though I could), but it won't last forever. As such, I've been wracking my brain for options, since I'm not too talented at having two official jobs at once (official meaning a schedule and do-it-or-lose-the-job deadlines). I looked at other lines of work altogether, but everything that seemed a possibility required a certain amount of direct experience in that field that I lack.

Joy.

So, after thinking a bit more and listening to a few suggestions from others (family, friends who know my talents), I thought about doing some freelance work. As many of you know, besides writing, art is a big thing for me--in fact, I started out as an art major in college. And while I may not be the best artist anywhere, I am pretty good at it. So, why not be a freelance artist and reviewer?

Of course, now this means I need to figure out what to charge (enough that I'm actually making a little money and not so much to scare people away). That's where you, my fine readers, come in.  I'll soon be adding a page on this blog that offers an art portfolio and my expectations.

What do you think would be a good price to charge above the cost of materials (particularly the object to be painted)?  I won't be charging for the price of the medium (oils, pastels, acryllics, etc.), but that's something to keep in mind as well, because I will have to replenish my supply at some point. There should be, I would expect, some variation depending on the intensity of the project. And if you click on the tab above that says Freelance Niki (not the title of this post, but at the top of the main website page below the title), you'll see a preview of some of my work.

I really would like some feedback on this before I make it official. I'll be sitting down to work on logistics early next week after I've submitted grades and finished painting my office over the weekend.

Thanks everyone! And now, back to the job at hand.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

[Video Page Fixed]

I've figured out how to embed my [and Sassy's] YouTube page instead of simply linking it. To check it out, click on the tab above on my main blog page that reads "Sassy's Videos." I posted a new one today, in fact, that gives a somewhat subdued glimpse of what I deal with every time I pull out Sassy's prong collar--butt tucks! Unfortunately, due to the chaos of my living room due to portfolio grading, the reveal happened in my library/mud room, so no real room to erupt into a full-on butt-tuck zip-around.  Just wait, though.  Within the next week or two I should have the ultimate video.

And now... bed. I have to give a final tomorrow morning at 9:15, and I still have one more class of portfolios left to grade in the afternoon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

[Likely Hiatus]

A few moments ago, the migraine pain kicked it. I'd suspected one was on its way, so when it hit, I knew why I hadn't felt "right" since I woke up, despite getting enough sleep. I think I'll be stopping by the pharmacy on the way home from work to refill my pain prescription. This one's promising to be a doozy.

Although I may write something on a whim, I'm giving myself permission to take a break from blogging until after I submit final grades next Friday or Saturday. I get my first batch of portfolios on Thursday, which begins the mass-chaos onslaught of the end of the semester. But, as always, if I need to rant or have something interesting to say, I may post... I just don't feel obligated to write something to maintain the habit. However, after next weekend, I'll be officially back in action, so stay tuned.

Friday, May 06, 2011

[Anthem Blue Cross Has Balls of Steel]

Get this. After turning down my application for health insurance last year due to pre-existing conditions, today they sent me a letter that reads, and I quote:

"Dear Nicole Cox,
Thank you for contacting Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield about individual health coverage options. We haven't heard back from you, and I'm concerned. With the rising cost of medical care today, it's important that you have the right health care plan."

Seriously?! Of all the nerve! Insert humorless, hysterical laughter here. Oh, the things I could say. I'm thinking of calling and giving them a piece of my mind.  I will say, though, that this is why I'm in support of universal health care and/or health care reform. At it currently stands, the reforms that would allow me to get insurance don't even come into effect until 2014.

Grrrrrr...

[Why Did I Feel So Rested This Morning?]

As I stretched my arms under my pillow and lifted my face off the cool downy surface to arch my back, I wondered why I felt so rested. I rarely feel like I've slept well in the mornings, but this morning did not feel like I'd been awake until 12:30 a.m.  Not only that--I seemed to be waking up before my five a.m. alarm on my cell phone.  I looked around the room at all the nooks and crannies the small slivers of sunlight were lighting up between the curtains.

Wait a second. Sunlight? Before 5 a.m.?

My eyelids flew open in panic, and I fumbled for my cell phone. I tapped it.  "Clock feature is not responding. Force Close or Wait?"  I glanced at the tiny clock in the corner.

6:58 a.m.  I usually leave the house at 7:15.

A shriek, a string of four-letter words, a quick breakfast (thank goodness my pancake batter was ready to go!), a retrieval of the first full outfit within reach, a quick slather of make-up, and 30 minutes later, I was out the door, thankfully, still on time.



A word of advice for anyone considering a smartphone: don't go the cheap route and get a Samsung Intercept. I'm on my second in a year, and this one's not proving to be much better than the first. I should've gone on the waiting list for the Evo.

What a way to start the morning!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

[Practical Unity in a Wonderfully Diversified Faith]

If you didn't know it already, Christianity is kind of weird. No, wait! Don't get all up in arms yet. Remember, I'm a Christian, too, and it's not as mean if you're making fun of yourself, right?

No, don't answer that. Anyway...

Here we are, though, a massive religion chock full of denominations, nationalities, personalities, and philosophies.  We're a pretty diverse group. Yet many of us have this crazy habit of thinking that we've got the monopoly on Christianity, and that anyone else who interprets the Bible differently isn't really a Christian but someone "posing" under the name. Forget the fact that Paul more or less says that it's not about the doctrine but rather Christ on the cross and rising from the grave, and the rest is merely semantics. Somehow, many of us nod at that part one moment, then hop into an online theological discussion that turns into a great deal of finger-pointing and heretic-calling.

And what is it that Jesus prayed the night he was arrested, according to John? John 17:20-23: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me,that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Hmm.. interesting... the one thing He's recorded as praying for on behalf of all future believers is the one thing at which we fail most spectacularly. Yikes. And yes, I fully include myself in this accusation.

This is something we need to work on urgently. As with anything, of course, change starts with ourselves first, not with changing those around us. So, I present a list of online and in-person discussion "tips" (many of which have probably been said by many other people) that I'm keeping in mind for myself and would encourage my fellow believers who are also taking part in the Rally for Unity (officially or not):

1. Turn the emotional fire down a few notches when engaging in an online debate or discussion. Most of the time, we're debating with one another--in other words, people who already profess Christ on the cross. The future of the world and its souls therein probably does not hinge on the outcome of that conversation, except perhaps when those on the outside see us squabbling amongst ourselves and decide they want no part of a belief that pits its followers against one another.

2. Eschew the labels altogether. People are not the philosophies or lifestyles they follow--they are individuals who probably have just as much cause to believe they're right as you do. So whether you or those you speak to/about are liberal, progressive, conservative, hipster, gays, lesbian, transsexual, blond, obese, anorexic, bulimic, overweight, athletic, lazy, antsy, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Irish, Jewish, emo, skater-punk, teenage, men, women, Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Arminian OR Armenian, pro-life, pro-choice, atheist, wiccan, pro-Rob Bell, pro-Mark Driscoll, feminist, short, tall, quiet, outspoken, even-tempered, calm, nerds, innately cool, artistic, analytic, and on into eternity, they are not "them." Do not use labels as four-letter words, or applying what Jesus spoke in terms of judging others, you'll find yourself labeled in the same measure, and you'll find being on the receiving end that doing so has robbed you of your humanity. After all, when we consider someone by their label, we take away his or her person and replace it with a stereotype.

3. Dialog with humility. So we're human. We're going to debate/discuss some potentially heated topics, and chances are, we'll be going in believing that we're right, and the other party is wrong. However, keep in mind that the Pharisees believed the same about themselves and found out (eventually) that they were wrong. They'd kept the letter of the law but lost the spirit. As such, always have the grace to realize, not just verbally, but consciously in your mind and heart that, no matter how much scripture you may have to back your claim, you may very well be wrong. I think you'll find it a lot harder to take on an "us versus them" mindset as a result, and that's a very good thing.

4. Wait. Before you speak, before you write, before you react publicly in any way, wait.  If you must vent, if you must get it off your chest, invest in a private journal. Have it out on paper, sleep on it, and wait a little longer (if it's of good quality, it will keep; don't worry). Then, if you believe it still must be said, say it using the philosophy of number three. Unfettered sarcasm and snark, while eliciting a few laughs from those with whom you agree, has a tendency to hurt and wound others without necessity. Hey, I'm all about a good punchline, don't get me wrong; but keep in mind that you can take it way too far.

5. Respect diversity. America and/or the western world do not have a monopoly on Jesus. Take the time to recognize your personal and cultural context, and remember that it is unique to you. No one approaches the Bible from the same context, and therefore everyone is going to read it a little differently. Jewish faith (remember, the root of Christianity? It helps to read through that lens.) has a tradition of rabbinical exposition over a great number of years, called the Midrash, where writers and thinkers have worked to fill in scriptural gaps and explain features of the Torah that may not make sense. It's, effectively, an ongoing discussion, with many diverse voices coming together to add to the narrative (not necessarily to decide which interpretation is number one). In other words, our faith was born out of a culture of discussion and speculation and therefore diversity.

6. Read it before you judge it, and even then consider the possibility that it may be the truth. If we learned anything from the Love Wins spectacle, it's that culturally we have a habit of judging a work that says something untraditional before having even read the work. Oftentimes, a close reading reveals that the author is simply putting what many others before have said into his or her own words and experience. They've thought, they've studied, they've questioned, and their perspective is there for a reason. We don't have to agree with what each other says, but we really should consider its possibility. I have a feeling many of us will be surprised someday upon discovering what we believed that was true and that was actually quite contrary to what Christ really intended.

And finally:

7. Think for yourself, then act in love. Whatever you hear or read, make your own decision and respect the right of others to do the same. It is, after all, the Holy Spirit's role to convict individual hearts; it's not our job. Ours is simply to follow what Christ said are the two most important commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Focus on love and let the Lord take care of the details.


*Written in response to the Rally to Restore Unity... go check it out!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

[Intellectual Discrimination]

It's one of those things that I thought would (and, at the university I went to, did) fade after high school. I never did understand it anyway, as both my parents raised me to value education and putting forth my best work and effort in any situation. It's not so much perfectionism as it is wanting to use my full potential. Yet I keep seeing examples of distaste for intellect. Now I understand finding pretension annoying. I've read scholarly articles that have reeked of snobbery and pretension. But it seems that our culture takes it a step (or ten) further and accuses people who make the effort to, for example, use correct grammar and spelling (even the basics) of being intellectual snobs or of being judgmental, especially if we point out this pattern. Look, I know I'm an English teacher and probably give such topics more thought than most, but I'm not unreasonable about it. I don't think twice when I see split infinitives, dangling participles and modifiers, typing all in lower case in social media, or misspelled longer words. I get that some people struggle with those concepts, and even I have issues with them from time to time. What does throw me is when I see people completely forego any form of correct spellings (seriously... how hard is it to type "be" rather than "b," especially when you're using a computer and not a cell phone? And didn't we learn how to spell words like "becoming" in, oh, second or third grade?) that we learned in first grade. You're welcome to think I'm being picky, but I see it as a sign of, and I hate to say it having heard it misused in some churches over the years, a slippery slope. It's like people are afraid of learning how to use critical thought or identify rhetorical fallacies.

I went to a church, at one time, that spouted misused verses along the lines of "The wisdom of God is foolishness to sinners" [paraphrased] as a way to make people fear education. "If you get educated, you're more likely to lose your faith!" It's that very mindset that led to Galileo's persecution for reporting that our solar system is heliocentric rather than geocentric, as the Bible (which, notably was mostly written during a time when people had no concept of science as we know it today) states. Nowadays, with a few fringe exceptions, even most fundamentalists (i.e. literal translation readers) acknowledge that that bit of information is likely due to human ignorance and therefore does not negate the Gospel. But suggest that similar logic and research may apply to the creation story, and suddenly there's talk of not being able to trust the Gospel if we don't accept the literal version of the six-day creation. So if you believe in evolution, even if you think that God's hand directed it and used nature to complete His will, you can't call yourself a Christian.

Seriously?  With that logic, no wonder people think we're crazy and can't take us seriously. And the worst part, for me, is that for a long time I bought into at least some of that fallacious logic. That rigid mindset and antipathy toward education and logic came close to driving me away from my faith when faced with facts.

That frustrates the heck out of me.

So now there's this notion of admiring the maverick... the one who intentionally shrugs off reason for independence and autonomy (as if they have to be mutually exclusive); and then there's this distrust of someone well-spoken, calm, and diplomatic ("He's got to be up to something... he's too smart for me."). Look, I admire people who are great with their hands and are hard workers--I wish I had more of that in me, to be honest (the former, I mean). But does one have to come at the cost of the other? Why can't we all be striving for both? Look at the Khmer Rouge genocide of Cambodia in the 1970s. Other than the aristocracy, who did they target? The scholars and educated leaders (i.e. teachers, doctors, etc.). Why? Because knowledge was a threat to their regime. Someone who could see that their methods were fallacious could persuade others to see the truth.

It's dangerous to demonize education and logic. That's how people become brainwashed. That's how charismatic leaders gain support for their atrocities. Ignorance leads people to support ideas that lead to oppression.

So, yeah, I've got a problem with that mindset. I have a problem with leaders who use ad hominem fallacies to rouse people into a frenzy to support their methods. I have a problem with a culture that likes to take the lazy way out and not do the work required to find the truth (and I don't mean digging up rumors). I have a problem with people who scream "heretic" when someone suggests that the evidence suggests something other than tradition or orthodoxy. And yes, I have concerns with growing calls to cut back on general education (i.e. English (writing where one learns to use critical thought and research), history, science) in favor of only focusing on one's vocation (What if that position becomes obsolete? Where's the foundation to go in a new direction?), and yes, I do believe that the way we approach even minor details like basic grammar and spelling (key word: basic; not the complex rules so much) can, by way of habit, start a domino effect. I'm not saying that I think individuals who do flout those standards or don't understand them are stupid or bad people; what I am saying is that I'm concerned about the mindset that discourages making an effort to not take the easy way out in favor of efficiency or avoiding looking smart or nerdy.

[Disclaimer: I'm on Benadryl and Claritin D, and I didn't sleep enough last night to completely metabolize the loopy effects, so some of the words I chose here I might have chosen differently were my head completely clear]

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

[What You're Getting Into With Me]

Well, I'm off to a swell start already. Within a half hour of getting online, I caught myself starting to type "facebook.com" into the address bar of my browser. I'm starting to think this will be a harder habit to break than caffeine ever was (and for the record, I've never been able to permanently ban caffeine from my body--I always end up back in its arms within a few months).

I will say, however, I'm already feeling less stressed having not come across some of the nasty barbs or annoying  "repost this if you agree" statuses this morning. I'm not going to miss that one bit, and the funny thing is that I don't even remember the latter existing (outside of email forwards) until a year or two ago. In that amount of time they've managed to drive me away.

But how else will all my friends know where I stand on issues? Well, I'm a fan of putting it into one's own words. So, here goes my own:
  • I'm a Christian, though what type, I'm not sure anymore other than knowing I believe in and try to follow Christ... if anything, I'm a recovering fundamentalist who leans toward being Emergent, which may be quite different than you think it is, so before you judge, take the time to read Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity
  • I'm a Democrat, so no, I'm not interested in "liking" candidates who are Tea Party candidates, so don't bother, and I don't think it unreasonable to be taxed to help maintain infrastructure and make sure those who fall into the cracks of joblessness and poverty can maintain life and health until they can get back on their own feet
  • Just like you, I think I'm right. However, I'm not interested in arguing with you until you agree with me. I'll share my perspective and leave you to follow your own path. Debate and shouting rarely change minds anyway and generally just lead to dissension and more "us vs. them" groups. I happen think that's a sick mindset, especially having once been there.
  • I'm a teacher. I like it, but I didn't choose it intentionally. A lot of blocked opportunities and closed doors directed me down this path. So yes, there are days I don't love my job, especially knowing that it's not full-time. And yes, sometimes I vent. But it really means nothing more than that. 
  • I love my dog and all her kind. Could I afford it, I'd rescue more dogs than Sassy; in fact, I'd work with dogs full-time were the opportunity to arise in such a way that I'd still be able to make ends meet. My hero in dog advocation is Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. I know he's got a few detractors, usually those who like to think of dogs as furry people who should never be told "no," but his methods make the most sense in terms of how dogs view the world. Sassy wouldn't be so well-behaved without Cesar's influence on me.
  • I'm obsessed with Scotland and the U.K. in general. I'd move there in a heartbeat if I could.
  • I'm emotional. It's who I am. If you want to be around someone who handles everything with perfect calmness, move along. I'm working on being more balanced, but I'll always be that person to some extent.
  • I'm a true believer in equality, whether it's sexual, gender, racial, economic, or educational opportunity. I'm not now, nor will I ever be someone's demure, submissive-in-the-hierarchical-sense little woman. Those verses of Paul's I believe to be purely cultural and, had Paul known his letters to churches would be included in Scripture, I'm fairly sure he would have said things very differently. 
  • I get a lot of headaches. I get a lot of stomachaches, especially since my last surgery. Most days I physically feel "meh." It's not that I'm wanting to complain or make you feel sorry for me; I'm just a less-than perfect physical specimen. And if you ask me how I feel that day, I'm going to tell you. If you don't want to know, don't ask. 
  • I try to be optimistic, but I have a strong tendency toward cynicism and melancholy. It's something I'm working on, but it's an ongoing process. So, if you find someone who's very real about her emotions and struggles annoying and overwhelming, move along. I'm not about to put on the happy mask for anyone anymore. I used to, and it hurt me deeply.
  • Finally, I'm a terrible procrastinator. I just looked at the clock and realized that I've got an hour to get ready for work and update my gradebook before class. Crap. I had other things I wanted to say...
I'm out! Until next time, friends!

[Stepping Away From Facebook For Now: An Explanation and a Plea to Stay in Touch]

As I sit here in my cluttered living room, carefully pondering my words, my head is throbbing and my stomach is churning. The events that have transpired over the past 27 hours and my friends' varied reactions to the news have sent my emotions on the longest, fastest, and most unpredictable roller coaster ride ever. The worst for me, admittedly, have been seeing friends slamming President Obama for having explained his part in completing the mission (and, semantics though it may be, he did have a significant role, in that he worked with diplomacy to get the information, worked with special forces to decide on a plan that would hopefully result in the fewest deaths possible, and signed off on the operations that succeeded; yes, Bush started it, but let's face it, he got a bit sidetracked by the Iraq war as the war with Al Qaeda got shunted to the side... but that's not my point, and this is why I don't often discuss politics on my blog even though I have very definite stances that make perfect sense to me). It just seems that so many people are determined to label him as a menace to society that even when he helps to accomplish what they'd been hoping and praying for to happen for the better part of a decade that they still have to find something to scream at him about.

I'm not going to ask them to stop [ahem... again]. It'd be a waste of breath, for one thing, and for another, I hate arguments. I appreciate diverse and friendly discourse that avoids the "I'm right, you're wrong" mentality, but what I'm talking about is not dialog--it's vitriol, and it's disgusting. And because I'm the personality type that I am (Myers-Brigg INFP/J, with a very strong Feeling classification (80%, consistently)), I take it all to heart and end up sick over it. This is not healthy or beneficial to anyone.

So, effective come tomorrow morning, with the exception of blog notifications and sharing links (neither of which requires actively logging on and seeing the NewsFeed), I'm at least temporarily off of Facebook. It may be permanent, but I'm not making a decision yet. I do know that while the insta-response environment is positive in many ways (such as spreading news and gaining support for good causes), it's also extremely detrimental in its absence of taking time to digest the information before reacting. Some reactions have already caused me to lose a lot of respect for people of whom I think highly. This may come across as judgmental on my part, but those words have enormous power, and when you say something, people are going to read and form opinions based on your word choice, and I'm only human in how well I can see your true person.

This is not an easy choice for me. I've been FBing since Facebook was a year old--back when it was for college students only, before "likes," before fan pages, before newsfeed, before status updates, before apps... heck, before albums! It's the one time I got on the bandwagon before it was one. And while those additions have had their good points, in recent months, it's seemed to spiral out of control. Some courteous dialog has come out of it, but more prevalently I've watched division increase, particularly among those with whom I share a faith (whether or not we agree on politics or even every point of doctrine). I'm in serious danger of becoming an angry cynic and sinking into depression (I have a bit of a tendency toward it to begin with, so it's a conscious effort to maintain my sense of wonder and joy in life).

I'm not deleting my account. I'll still read and respond to private messages, and as before, my posts will automatically appear on my wall, along with links I found interesting. I'm not logging in, though.  So, my friends, please keep in contact with me. Keep reading this blog (you can subscribe to the RSS feed, for example) for news and thoughts, email me occasionally when something happens in your life (if you're on my list, you should be able to see my email address), and feel free to text me (email me if you don't have my number; I do have unlimited data and messaging with my plan). Doing this is hard, because I've "refound" a lot of old friends and long-separated family members, and I dread losing contact with you. Please comment on the blog (not on FB, please... use the comments on the actual blog; I'd really appreciate it) when you have a response, even if it's just to say, "Hi, I'm still here reading and keeping in touch!"

For me, this is my effort to "restore unity" (a movement started this week by Rachel Held Evans, and about which I'll blog at least once in more depth). I'm stepping away from a source of frustration and snap judgments so that I can keep from dwelling on differences that divide (think partisanship and rigid theology with no room to simply share).

Good night, darling readers. I hope to hear from you soon.

Monday, May 02, 2011

[Writing in Haste and Repenting at Leisure]

What.

A.

Weekend.

Wow.

By the time you read this, you'll undoubtedly have heard the news--if not, you're doing an amazing job of tuning out media in all forms (or you read my blog first thing in the morning, which may be a dangerous practice on days like this). If, in the off chance you don't know what happened yesterday, just log on to any news site anywhere, then come back here.

Like everyone else I've encountered, I've got a gamut a thoughts and reactions that make sense in the moment but at times contradict each other. For that reason, beyond the couple of reactionary Facebook posts I wrote in the moments after learning the news, I'm going to wait to write in-depth (if I write on this topic at all after today) until I've digested this information more and observed how others are reacting (as well as those outside the U.S. reacting to our collective reactions). In other words, I don't want to write "in haste and repent at leisure." One thing I do know now, though, is what a fine line there is that exists between a desire for justice (a virtuous desire, especially in light of the thousands who've died at the hands--directly and indirectly--of Bin Laden) and the removal of his influence, and delight in seeing the death of a man--a man ruled by evil, yes, but still a man who was once an innocent child before extremism warped his mind and heart. And I'll admit, as much as I don't like the death penalty, I reacted initially more in the latter category--gleefully, even, but that's a part of me I'm working on by God's grace. There are limits to my mercy, but thank heavens there are no limits to God's mercy. As such, I've since had a little time to think about my emotions and conclude that this is probably an internal contradiction that will not be easily solved.

That being said, I would encourage you all to be in prayer (or positive thought, if you're not the praying sort) that Bin Laden does not become an extremist martyr and that his death does not plant the seeds of more extremism--either Muslim or Christian (because history shows, no faith is immune).

So, take a deep breath, rejoice in the relief of knowing he can no longer directly do further harm, and then digest your emotions and the news a little before speaking. Don't forget, the world is watching our reactions, and that may have a big influence on how the rest of the world reacts to us in the months and years to come.

Over and out.