Across Six Aprils [#52weeks]

I know it is coming, because I can feel it inching closer and closer with every fiber of my being.

“It,” in this case, is the anniversary of the worst day of my life. That day, April 16th, 2007, was a cold and windy Monday. In the early hours of the morning, a gunman shot a student and an RA in West Ambler Johnson. After a brisk walk downtown, where he stopped at the post office to mail a videotape to NBC, the perpetrator of the early morning shooting headed to Norris Hall. There, he chained the doors to the building and, around 9:47am, he began a shooting rampage that lasted for only a few minutes. After taking the lives of 32 students and faculty at my university, the gunman turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

I’ve thought the shooting every day since it happened, for 2, 188 days to be exact. I’ve had time to think about my classmates who died, about the girl I had known since we were five years old in Sunday School at the church down the street from my Grandaddy’s house, about the first responders who had to see the bloodshed and carnage firsthand. I’ve had 2,188 days to grasp what has happened.

The rest of the country, specifically those in charge of it, has had that long to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And yet…

When I look at the state of things, I’m disgusted because I feel like our loss wasn’t big enough to change things, despite it being the biggest in US history. At times, it feels like the deaths of my classmates were in vain, that any good that could have come out of them never met its full potential, that the suffering and the pain that we’ve all endured weren’t big enough or important enough to ensure that it could never, ever happen again. On average, a mass shooting happens every four months in the United States. How many of those could have been avoided if people took the opportunity six years ago to make sure that something similar could never ever happen again, not just in an educational setting, but anywhere else in our country?

Sure, a commission was formed to answer the questions surrounding the shooting but the report they completed was riddled with factual errors. The $10 million spent in the aftermath of the shootings went to on-campus security measures to ensure that it could never happen there again… but that was for one campus, not all of them. Lots and lots of money was thrown around to cure the ills that were brought about by the shootings (not enough, though, because it was a six month wait to get an appointment with a therapist), but how did writing some laws and installing locks on doors help? Where were the widespread preventative efforts to make sure this didn’t, couldn’t happen again? What does it say about us that we let what happened in the parking lot of a Safeway in Tuscon, AZ., what happened in Aurora, CO, and what happened to those young, innocent children in Sandy Hook, CT come to pass, when surely other courses of action could have been pursued?

It has been six years, and another body of students will spend their lives fighting PTSD, anxiety, and all that comes with a school shooting. More parents, this time of younger, more impressionable little persons will grapple for answers and will search for answers that just don’t come. More communities have been and will be torn apart until something is done.

Ours was the biggest mass shooting in history, and for six Aprils I’ve feared the moment that I turn on the TV to find that another similar tragedy will have overtaken ours, that more people on a larger scale will so intimately know that through which we’ve worked so hard to prevail. We need more than partisan discourse and a few meager laws to change things, we need decisive actions that impart huge obstacles to those attempting to procure the weapons through which such terrible, horrible things can be done. We need to do everything in our power to make swift and strong decisions on gun control and on supporting mental healthcare. We need to do it now, before the other shoe drops and something worse that what we’ve already seen happens. Anything less would be dishonoring the lives of all that we’ve lost to these massacres, absolute folly for a society that is supposed to value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

When everything (or nothing) is tacos [#52weeks]

tacos

I’ve been thinking alot about tacos lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my relationship with them is one of the most important food relationships I’ve ever had in my life.

I know, I know. It sounds crazy. I’ll explain.

If you know me at all, you know that when I get excited about something… I just don’t shut up about it. As I tend to get easily excited by all things food– chocolate! sparkling water! caffeine!– I have a tendency to take to the Twitters and go on a rant about it. Case in point, Tuesday:

I don’t know when our relationship started, but I know it happened when I was in young. Whenever my family (which, btw, is very unusually structured) had something to celebrate, whenever we wanted to spend time together, we usually did so in a Mexican restaurant. My Mom and I would fill up on chips and salsa, my little brother would dump habenero hot sauce all over everything he ate, I impatiently awaited the arrival of my tacos de carne asada, and the rest of the adults imbibed jumbo Texas-sized margaritas throughout the meal. The tradition extended into my college years– when I came home from college, we ate /ALL/ the tacos– and even became a tradition that embedded itself into my romantic relationships. We’re not going to even discuss what happened to my life in the years after I was introduced to Chipotle for the first time, though I will admit that I may have spent more time from 2006-2009 scheming road trips for tacos y burritos instead of, um, learning all the things.

Later, I moved to the land of taco trucks, taquerias and more Mexican food than I could have ever dreamed of (OMG, Chipotle everywhere!), but me and my East Coast taste felt intimidated by all of the new things happening here, and when it came to tacos, nothing was really right anymore. Tacos had always been there– for love, for happiness, for togetherness, for celebration– until I packed up my life and moved away from everything I had ever known.

In hindsight, I should have recognized my adhedonia it as a symptom of something larger: nothing in my life was right at that time, either, and I was trapped in a year-long bout of something infinitely more miserable that sucks all of the joy from your life. One day, it got so bad that I impulse-purchased a flight home because I felt that I might fall to pieces at any moment. A few days later, I found myself on a plane flying 3,000 miles across the country because, for the first time in my adult life, I needed to see my Mommy. I can’t think of any other time in my life that we’ve ever been so happy to see one another.

For the rest of my life, I’ll always remember the devilish look on her face when she picked me up from the airport and asked if I was hungry yet. When she asked if I had any ideas for dinner, her big blue eyes flashed, her grin approached Cheshire cat size, and she brought out that voice that we only use with one another.

“Mexican?”

I said not a word, but shrugged and flashed a devilish grin of my own. After a quick trip to her house and a change of clothes, I found myself in the middle of karaoke night at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. (FYI: I didn’t sing, but my mom sure as hell gave Beyonce a run for her money. God, I come from great genes.) Later that night, full of tacos and alcohol, I laid in my childhood bed thinking about the life I had lived since the last time I had slept there. I knew that things couldn’t continue as they were, and that when I returned to San Francisco a few days later that I would very literally be fighting for my life.

(I had known that before I left, really–  and [darling], always the perceptive one, did too.)

For the ten days between my return home and Christmas, I was alone and I set to work laying the foundation to rebuild my own happiness. It happened very slowly at first, and then all at once after the biggest problem in my life excised itself entirely. Everything old became new and exciting again, and as the work continued, I began to feel like myself for the first time in I don’t know how long. I knew I was getting somewhere when I went on a two week all tacos, all the time binge… and then drove my roommate nuts for another fortnight with my constant answer of, “OMG! WANT TACOS, NOW!” whenever she asked what I was thinking about for the meal in question.

Tacos– which, by the way, are pretty much the most perfect food ever– are the most important key indicator on my internal happiness index, and the more in demand they are, the better the quality of my happiness. If you’re looking for a way to my heart, a way to inspire essite (excitement), a way to celebrate something good or to come up with an excuse to hang out with me, tacos are the place to start. In fact, if you’re a handsome, intelligent and single male reading this blog, you’re 100000000000% more likely to land a date for me if you suggest  (surprise!) we go somewhere for tacos.

And if you ever, ever hear of me refusing or avoiding tacos– please, for the love of all things tacos, do ask if everything’s alright.

This is what unacceptable looks like: “The Worst Victims of the Education Sequester”

Why is it that the students with the greatest need are consistently put in the position of not getting the support and resources they deserve?

Everyone responsible for this sequester business should be ashamed of themselves.

The students who will lose out will be the ones we should be most careful to protect: children from poor families and special needs kids.

Federal funding for education will be slashed by 5.1 percent, until Congress can agree on a new budget. Though the federal government only makes up about 10 percent of the total education spending, this share is significant in every town budget. Schools need Washington’s money to provide basic services for its students, as states and localities have faced their own budget crises in recent years.

To understand the severe unfairness of these cuts, lets start with a brief primer on federal education funding. The majority of federal funding for education is targeted for two groups of school kids — the poor and the disabled. Title 1 federal support for low-income school districts and Head Start the pre-school program for disadvantaged children serve the disadvantaged kids. The Department of Education support for special education amounts to between a sixth and a quarter of education spending in any given year.

via The Worst Victims of the Education Sequester: Special-Needs Students and Poor Kids – Laura McKenna – The Atlantic.

Constructing happiness [#52weeks]

Image
This is what it looks like when, in the name of art, you hang three miles of ribbon from the ceiling of Grace Cathedral. (Spoiler alert: I love it.)

Last year, I began work on perhaps one of the biggest projects that I will have ever undertaken. It hasn’t been a Kickstarter project or a stealth startup, rather, it has been something infinitely close, personal, and vital for my future– the architecture of my own happiness.

The past few months of my life have been one of the most vibrant periods of personal growth I’ve ever had, and it all came about when I realized one thing: that the only thing I could change about the world is myself. (The world wasn’t going to change, surely, and approaching it in the same way and expecting different results… we call that insanity, yes?) When I needed inspiration, I sought out beauty; when I needed a solid foundation, I found myself (a non-believer) spending my Sunday mornings in a cathedral studying the tenets upon which so many others have laid the groundwork of their lives.

We do not become who we want to be in huge bounds– we find ourselves, rather, in a collection of small steps comprised of the decisions we make each day of our lives. While I’ve never been good at believing in myself or envisioning the finished results of a work in progress, for the first time in my life, I have an inexplicable faith that everything I’m working so hard to have will all come together.

On Sandy Hook, a few months later– “Newton Children Remain Scared As School Tries to Move On From Sandy Hook Shooting”

A few months ago, I wrote a little about the absolute heartbreak that I felt when the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school happened. As a someone who has experienced firsthand this sort of shooting, I couldn’t help but think, “OF COURSE,” when I ran across this article, “Newtown Children Remain Scared As School Tries To Move On From Sandy Hook Shooting.” While I’m rarely ever a fan of the Huffington Post, the writer of this article did her due diligence and was incredibly thorough in her research and description of some of the lasting effects that such a tragic, traumatic event can have on its survivors. I wasn’t in a classroom when it happened and I didn’t experience or hear gunshots ring out whatsoever, but I still get nervous when I hear a balloon pop, loud noises sometimes tear my nerves to bits, and I always keep an eye on the exits when I go to movie theaters (which I usually avoid) or lectures.

I was 21 years old when a mass shooting unfolded in my world, and it has been almost six years since the anniversary of the shooting that tore my university to pieces and took the lives of thirty two people with it. I cannot explain my own healing process any better than saying that time (eventually) heals all wounds, though it is a treatment that in these cases is required in mass quantities. When I think about elementary school students suffering from the same symptoms and anxiety that I did, though, my heart absolutely breaks for them, for their teachers, for the parents, and for their community all over again. If ever you need a reminder of why we should do everything in our power to prevent mass tragedies of this kind, I suggest reading the article and thinking of the lives that will never, ever be the same again after that horrific day in December.

“Survivors of such shootings can experience nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance in which they are constantly on the lookout for danger and startled responses, said Russell Jones, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech who counseled survivors of a mass shooting at his school. Between 8 to 15 percent of those who experience traumas such as mass shootings develop PTSD, but about half of them no longer have the symptoms after three months, he said.Sounds and smells associated with mass shootings can bring back memories of the horror, said Carolyn Mears, author of the book “Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma.”

via Newtown Children Remain Scared As School Tries To Move On From Sandy Hook Shooting.

via On Sandy Hook, a few months later– “Newton Children Remain Scared As School Tries to Move On From Sandy Hook Shooting”.

I’m ranting again– Apps and Web Sites That Go With a Breakup – NYTimes.com

It’s been a few hours since something last gave me a ragestroke on the internet, so I thought I’d come back and have a little rant. I stumbled across this article from the New York times on apps for breakups, and couldn’t quite believe what I was reading as it all unfolded.

On the “problem” that the founders were trying to solve when they created their app, Killswitch:

“The two women, both of Manhattan, came up with the idea after seeing a friend go through breakup after breakup online. ‘The poor girl, her Facebook profile was a minefield of elements of her defunct relationship’ Ms. de Soto said. ‘We couldn’t believe there wasn’t a mechanism on Facebook or social media that answered that.”

 

I have only one thing to say , and it’s this: OH HELL NO.

Ladies, I’m calling call bullshit on the “Oh, poor girl,” treatment of your friend, who you just couldn’t believe didn’t have some sort of app to cover up her inability to censor herself when it came to sharing her relationship all up on the Facebook. While it was sweet of you to build an app to make up for her to be able to erase the proof that she couldn’t stop herself from oversharing the boyfriend of the week/month/year all over the social medias– bless your hearts!– maybe you and your friends should have invested that time in something a little more constructive, perhaps by exploring ways in which you won’t be tempted to repeat the same behavior and expect different results in the future. What is it about social media that makes you unable to exercise the sort of restraint that prevents you from ever having to deal with the post-breakup minefield, anyway?

It’s not technology’s fault that you can’t readily remove content on a whim– it’s yours for putting it there in the first place.

Apps and Web Sites That Go With a Breakup – NYTimes.com.

via Apps and Web Sites That Go With a Breakup – NYTimes.com.

An edtech rant — “For Low-Income Kids, Access to Devices Could Be the Equalizer”

Is it me, or does this absolutely reek of the silver-bullet fallacy? Yes, yes, I know that those words appear in the first sentence, but having come from a low-income background… I’m not buying it.

Technology isn’t going to make up for the lost opportunities and inequities that low-income and predominately minorities face, no matter how well-implemented a particular program is. An iPhone, iPad or any other device isn’t the answer, y’all, and it’s sure as hell not the answer to racism– and you’ve read about that whole correllation/causation thing, yes? You can’t just say that the digital divide has been closed because you hand a kid a device and VOILA, the kid can access the web and all is righting itself in the world.  The device doesn’t fix the effects of being a child in a single-parent family, it doesn’t make up for not having enough food to go on the table, it doesn’t suddenly fufill Maslow’s heirarchy of needs because the kid is participating in school. It takes people– teachers, community leaders, administrators, parents– to help right the wrongs that are constantly perpetuated in our schools and in our society, and the voices we need to listen to the most are not always heard because they’re not predominately white, affluent or suburban.

Oh, and while I’m at it, can we get some info on the research methodology? Qualcomm and Cisco– when they did their research, was it conducted by a third party or did they do it all by themselves? You know, because data and research can’t at all be co-opted to tell anything but the truth or anything. Numbers don’t lie or anything.

via For Low-Income Kids, Access to Devices Could Be the Equalizer | MindShift.

On our anniversary [#52weeks]

Screenshot 2013-03-11 at 6.20.41 PMThe eighth day of this month marked the end of my second year living here, and the beginning of my third. I’m not sure what the rules are about these things, but I’m pretty sure that it’s safe to say that San Francisco and I are definitely a thing.

When I moved here, I do so with a heart very much broken by tragedy, a shooting that upended my life and took away the lives of thirty two others. Some days, I thought that I’d never recover from it all, but this place– this beautiful, maddening place with its frustrating weather and its brilliant people focused on making the world better for all, this infinite city full of breathtaking views and boundless energy– this place and the life I have built here with very dear friends, a roommate who has literally cut people for me (this is a mutual thing, y’all), and my most dearest [darling], this place healed me, this place brought me to life and brought me to a life that I could have never, ever imagined for myself or thought possible. Here I have loved more fiercely and passionately than I ever knew possible; I’ve overcome so very many obstacles that before felt insurmountable, I’ve survived heartbreak and loss at any other point in my life would have shattered me to bits. I’ve moved mountains and worked harder than I could have ever imagined to be able to make the world a better place. This place has transformed me into a person, into a woman I’m very proud to be and for that alone I cannot thank it enough.

I wish I had something more fitting to say about my adventures with this dear city, but I do not. For the twenty five years and change preceding the day that I got off that fateful Southwest flight, I had felt as if I had been waiting for my life to begin. When I came here, when I chose the Bay Area and San Francisco as my home, my life began.

I think, perhaps, that there’s a song that says it best– “I belong with you, you belong with me. You’re my sweetheart.”

The Tangled Web We Weave [#52weeks]

[This post is one of many that have been relegated to my drafts folder for no apparent reason. Originally written by hand in my Moleskine journal, it never quite made it to publication during my two week experiment in tablet computing.]

2013-02-03 02.39.06

Every time that I’ve sat down to write this week, I’ve ended up writinng about two very important things going on in my life right now: dating and tacos. In a bid to stop the madness, I’m literally writing this week’s post.

(If we’ve never quite met this way before, hi, I’m Jessy and this is how I write, Handwritten script is one of my very most favorite things in the world and despite my love for technology and digital media, I will defend the need for handwriting to be taught to everyone until my very very last breath.)

Not very long ago, my most favorite of social networks released a little iOS app called Vine. If you’ve yet to encounter it in the wild, Vine is an app that stitches together six seconds of video footage into something rather similar to an animated GIF with sound. A product of my most beloved of all things on the internet, I downloaded it immediately. As the rest of the internet went rather mad over it, I couldn’t help but find myself a little clueless.

I’m boring, you see. I’m an art historian at heart, y’all, and if an image moves, I’m not quite sure what to do with it or how exactly to navigate my way through it. My visual vocabulary is very much based on static, fixed images and I’ve never been able to reconcile my comfort with still images with that whole motion thing that has been happening since, uh, video art became a thing. This is probably why that YouTube thing is lost on me, and why I’m not usually a huge movie fan and why my browser(s) together have never had to do much work in the arena of video display. Did I mention that I really, really don’t “get” video?

Okay, back to Vine. Or, well… not really.

I’ve been on a bit of a technology/blog hiatus as of late– did you know that if you leave the internet, everything is pretty much in the same place that you left it when you come back?!– because I’m still in mourning over the passing of Rexie, my pre-unibody Macbook Pro. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the process of content creation and content consumption that takes on the web. At times, I admit, I feel like I don’t even “go here” despite having rather uninterrupted access to the web since the age of about twelve years old. How, exactly, am I supposed to create content in a medium with which I do not always feel confident? How do I create without really feeling I understand what is going on with every “OMG can’t live without it!!!!1!” thing that comes out on the web.

I should probably mention that I think too much, at times, and that sometimes I make things a bit harder than they should be. This is a six second video app we’re talking about, not a film being submitted to the Sundance Film Festival, and yet I’m dropping a bajillion words on WordPress while stressing about it.

Yup, you guessed it: I’m going to go all web literacy on this business in 3…2…1…

I speak about it more than I had ever really expected I suppose, but that is really because I find that as a society, we need it more than ever. Perhaps daydreaming about a little app that creates six second of OMG PICTURES THAT MOVE isn’t the most opportune occasion to start, but more people than ever in our history have access to the web, and that number is growing exponentially in smaller and smaller windows of time. More people than ever are creating content for the web, and more content than ever has made content discovery a problem that much of the Valley and the world is attempting to solve with search and algorithm. But the real problem here isn’t that there is more out there than ever, rather that we are not as a society armed with a suite of critical thinking skills specialized or honed enough to help us navigate this other multimedia place– a simulacrum of the society in which we live built in endless programming languages and has been optimized in seemingly every way possible– that has so quickly become so important to use that some have begun to consider access to it a fundamental human right.

(Slow down, guys– it’s 2013 and there are still people in this world without running water, sanitation, or many of the components of the heirarchy of needs. Access to the internet is important, and the digital divide is nothing to sneeze at– but #firstworldproblem much?!)

I’ve long been a proponent of teaching visual literacy as critical thinking, though with the endless other crises on education’s table, well… we’re not exactly going to see every high school student be legally mandated to take an art or history of design course, are we? We’re awfully busy these days navigating both a virtual and an actual society– much of that virtual society, by the way, is increasingly visual (Pinterest, Instagram and the ubiquity of cameraphones I’m looking at you here!) and we have fewer tools than ever to unpack the endless imagery in front of our own eyes. What happens  then, when we’re inundated with more multimedia content  video  audio, moving image, whatever that has been designed and optimized to capture and hold our rapt attention for as long as possible?

Where are we going with this thing we call the web? And how did we find ourselves here? Sure, my six seconds of a late Saturday afternoon cocktail aren’t the end of the world as we know it, but it only took a day for the first “How to Use Vine in Marketing” webinar to pop up and after dealing with thousands of web and media illiterate college students who are unable to spot simple things like bias, I can’t help but be a bit worried. Where do we start drawing lines and really discussing what we’re up against when it comes to all of our webs, the inter- and outer- ones? Surely we’ve been building them long enough to take a step back and to do a little preventative untangling for this rather large series of tubes we’ve interwoven for decades now, but who is going to start?

 

Why I Don’t Code (Yet) And What I’m Doing About It [#52weeks]

I’m a Codecademy dropout.

If ever there were a year for me to learn how to code, last year was it. Every month, new startups aiming to teach the uninitiated how to code launched across the Internets. Each week, I got a polite email from Codecademy reminding me about the Code Year challenge that I took to learn coding during 2012. (I feel really, really bad for whoever had to monitor the open rates for that weekly email: ouch!) All of the MOOCs– Udacity, Coursera, MIT– offered some sort of intro to computer science or coding course at launch last year, and yet I completed nothing. In late July, I even found myself in the middle of pretty much every security engineer ever at a hacker convention in Las Vegas, surrounded by people behind some serious web shenanigans and fight for the future of the Internet as we know it. The enthusiasm and creativity– yes, y’all, engineers and hackers ARE creative– made its way back to the Silicon Valley with me, and I even made a pact with [dude] (he’s no more) that I’d work on Codecademy every day until I finished my Code Year challenge.

And yet… I still can’t don’t code.

Across the board, MOOCs, open courseware and open education resources suffer from low completion and adoption rates. Sure, some of the failures of MOOCs and free curriculum resources have to do with continuity and instructional design– What do you do after you’ve taken CS 101, and there’s no follow up curse? What happens when your MOOC falls apart?- but I’m sure as hell not going to jump on the bandwagon of haters, most of whom condemn the site entirely for its pedagogy, as if pedagogy were the only determinate element of education responsible for learning. (Hint: pedagogy isn’t everything.) Attrition rates in free educational opportunities aren’t a pedagogy problem, a marketing problem, or a community problem — they’re a passion problem.

When it comes to coding, I don’t have the passion and the dedication it would take to learn something that has at times frustrated me so very much. (Seriously, have you SEEN the things you have to do with punctuation marks to make code work?!) What am I going to do about my coding problem, then? Absolutely nothing.

I’ll just go find and learn something else to take its place. Or as [darling] would say, “On to the next one.”