Tag Archives: stress

Metaphor Tuesday (Let’s not kid ourselves): Weird Little Dials


Do you know what a tachometer is?

I only know because I played video games like most people breathe when I was a kid — and not only did I play them, I read about them religiously. Strategy guides and reviews. I had a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. I read the instruction manuals with new games, for goodness sakes. And one of the racing games I played (It might have been Top Gear or something, before that was a TV show), of course, had the display that looked like a car’s console. This console featured, in addition to the course map, rearview mirror, and speed (the only thing a kid really cares about), the tachometer.

That was a long way of saying your eyes probably pass over the tachometer on your car every day. It’s that dial next to your speedometer that tells you how many times your engine is turning over in a minute. Ever step on the gas while the car is in park? The tachometer spins up even though you’re not going anywhere. It measures not how fast you’re going, but how hard your car is working. Which, by certain metrics, makes it a much more important indicator in your vehicle, though one we hardly pay attention to.

We watch the speedometer, because we want to know how fast we’re going. Or maybe because we want to avoid the flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror. Or because the guy in front of you is moving maddeningly slowly and you want to know EXACTLY how slowly because that information will surely benefit you, somehow. We watch the scenery passing by outside the windows, because that tells us where we are. Trees and buildings; keep those a safe distance from the side of the car. Other cars get to drift in and out of that space; all fine as long as they’re pointing in the proper directions. And of course, we watch the road ahead, because if we don’t pay attention to where we’re going we’ll never get there, and we may in fact fail to get there very very quickly.

But we don’t watch that meter that tells us about the vehicle we’re taking the journey in. Or, at least, we don’t watch it until we have reason to — when something may be wrong. When the engine’s overheating and we’re struggling to maintain speed, or the transmission has slipped and we can’t get out of a lower gear, or … I dunno. My lack of car knowledge betrays me, here, but you get the idea. All of a sudden, we’re just not GOING like we want to, and we check that little tachometer and, huh, holy cow, that thing’s pushed all the way into the red. That can’t be good. So you limp your car (or, given my luck lately, you more likely tow it) to the shop and find out it’s gonna cost a couple thousand dollars to get it fixed and you sit there and question your entire life leading up to this moment.

That’s when you realize how important the tachometer is. If you had noticed it earlier, seen the engine was working too hard before you ran it into the red, you might not have broken whatever you broke to find yourself here on the side of the road with a useless vehicle. You could perhaps have treated the problem or replaced an overworked component before the whole engine melted down. But you didn’t. And here you are.

Or rather, here I am.

For months I’ve been focused and wrapped up in all kinds of stuff. The play in production. The novel(s) I’m trying to write. Running and exercising every day. Day-to-day work and planning for my classes. Playing Mr. Fix-it around the house, or paying people to come in and do the same (or, sometimes, paying people to come to the house only to tell me that their contract forbids them from fixing that particular problem, so hey, you get to play Mr. Fix-It after all, less a couple hundred bucks). To say nothing of being a dad and husband who isn’t a complete jerk.

I was redlining, and I didn’t know it. Instead, I was paying attention to the road ahead (fraught with obstacles as far as the eye could see) and the scenery creeping past (moving not nearly as fast as I would have preferred). I just wasn’t getting enough done, and that shortcoming was all I could think about. Not enough words written. Not enough miles run. Not enough paperwork finished. Not enough.

Boom. Blowout. All of a sudden, I’m afflicted with some sort of creeping crud for the third week in a row: congestion and cough and all that good stuff. My heel goes haywire from some phantom injury and I can’t run. A week’s gone by and I haven’t even opened my novel. I’m barely making it out of bed in the morning in time to get the kids up and dressed and off to school, and it feels like I’m accomplishing nothing during my working hours.

The tachometer is a metaphor, then, for something on the body, I’m just not sure what it is. Maybe it’s your sleep schedule. Maybe it’s your blood pressure, or your stress level, or whatever else. Point is, whatever it was, it was out of whack with me and I didn’t pay attention to it and I spent a couple weeks with the car in the shop and taking the bus to get around, as it were.

I make a lot of noise about momentum and staying busy around here, but the fact is, I think I’ve been overdoing it and not being honest with myself about the fact. Residual stress from the move this summer. Frustrations at things going wrong (and costing us lots of money!) around the house. Unforgiving standards for my creative endeavors. Dogged insistence in my exercise habits. It all adds up.

But the play is over, as of this past weekend. And you know what? All of a sudden — the very next day, even! — I felt lighter, calmer, better. Just knowing that that particular source of stress was gone (for now, at least) made the next breath of air come in that much cleaner.

Maybe I need to find a way to relax a little.

And I definitely need to pay more attention to the weird little dials.

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At Sea


I was literally sitting down to type out a few words on the current situation — two days from moving, literally living out of boxes, eating off paper plates and bed in the middle of the living room floor — when we got the call.

After two delays of almost a week apiece, we’re delayed again. Indefinitely, at the moment.

It’s a source of great shame that despite the summer and the great heaping piles of free time, I’ve gotten next to no writing done. This is the reason. My daily ration of fargos is going straight into the ever-deepening stress pit that this move has become. Or at this point, the lack of move. My brain is shot. The wheels have come off. The ship’s run aground.

I keep thinking that if I were a believing man, this would be a sure sign that the almighty were trying to steer us away from this particular course; that there’s something wrong with the course we were on. But then I remind myself that if the almighty were involved, we wouldn’t have found ourselves on this path to begin with. Things don’t always mean things. This is just some really, truly, deeply, unfortunate luck. (And almost certainly some heinous idiocy if not incompetence at several stages.)

Can’t quite share details, because this is all still in the air. But once things are settled, oh sweet fancy Moses, do I have words. At any rate, to my regular readers, I apologize for the lack of material and my general absence. We will restore normality as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway.


Infrequent Air Bubbles


I am so tired. I’m poking my head up through the fog of exhaustion just to send a little signal that I’m okay. Or maybe that I’m not. But I’m still here. And some of the waves may be washing over my head, and maybe there’s a bit of water in my lungs, but I’m still floating, if just below the surface.

I’m a big proponent of the concept that we all have the exact same twenty-four hours in the day, and it’s just a question of what you apply those hours to. I also think I’ve been pretty good about carving out pieces of that time for my various exploits. This week, though, time has got my number.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and I think I need to invent a time machine. I only need to take a few courses in temporal engineering and discover dark matter and invent some new laws of physics. Luckily, I have a rocket scientist reading this very blog, so I have some good backup in that arena. Stay tuned. Or to be more correct, you will have already seen the fruits of my inventions by the time this post may have been written.

Then again, discretion is the better part of valor, and as much as I feel I need to press on and keep working until the work is done, maybe it wouldn’t be a horrible thing to consider a little break. However — and this is one of the things I’m maybe a little bit crazy about — I’m terrified that if I stop pushing forward, all the momentum will bleed out like a punctured waterbed.

On the one hand, part of my brain is telling me that the circumstances I’m claiming are getting the better of me are no better or worse or more demanding than at any other time over the last 8 months of this adventure I’ve been on. On the other, I feel as if the klaxons are sounding and the deckhands are scrambling for the lifeboats as the other part of my brain tells me that no, really I’m trying to do too much. The core temperature is increasing. Bubbles are rising to the surface, fewer and less frequent.

The end of the first edit is so close. Even if I’m artificially claiming that closeness, it needs to be close. I’ve been going back and forth with it so much that like bread left too long in the oven, it’s crusting over and turning black around the edges. I feel like I felt toward the end of the first draft: I’m getting sick of the work and I need a break from it. But the only way out is through, and the quicker I finish, the quicker it’s done.

On the other other hand, it’s possible that all this is simply normal mild parental exhaustion exacerbated by the fact that our 8-month old handed my wife and me a surprise sleep-deprivation treatment last night. It’s possible, in that vein, that I’m just loopy and moderately delirious and is that pink stuff oozing out of the vent? THAT’S PINK STUFF OOZING OUT OF THE VENT OMG IT’S GHOSTBUSTERS 2 COMMAND ME LORD VIGO

Manufactured, imagined, or actual, I think it’s fair to say there’s some stress settling in on my brain parts. I need to finish this edit.


This is Only a Test


Everything is a test.

No, seriously.  There are no exceptions.  If you’re not testing yourself, you’re being tested by your peers, and if you’re not being tested by your peers, then you’re being tested by your kid, and if you’re not being tested by your kid, then you’re being tested by THE UNIVERSE.  But here, today, specifically, I’m talking about academic testing, and to be ultra-specific, I’m talking about academic testing in public schools.

America has lost its mind over testing.  The education system is so twisted up in knots over the issue, it’s like a drunken octopus having a bar brawl with another octopus, except that the other octopus is just the first octopus’s own back arms.  There’s no way to tell if he’s winning or losing, it’s just flailing and drowning and sucker-arms and ink.  Is that squids?  That’s squids.  Okay, it’s like a squid…

With one hand, they (politicians and boards of education) tell us (actual educators) that it’s not supposed to be all about the test.  That the test is secondary, that there are other, better ways to assess what students have actually learned.  (What are those ways?  Hem, haw, well, that’s, you know, we don’t know.  Performance assessment?  You can grade those fairly, right?  RIGHT?)  With the other, they shut down schools for weeks at a time to do what?  Oh yeah, assess student learning in the only way that really makes sense, the only way you can really measure it.  TEST.

But we’re not supposed to teach to the test.  No, no.  Teaching to the test is teaching in a vacuum.  Bad, bad.  Connect what you’re teaching to the real world.  But is that on the test?  NOPE.  Because you can’t test that.  Not efficiently.  So we go around in circles not unlike a tremendous deuce circling the drain.  Teach this, not this.  Here’s the test, but ignore it.  Whatever.  I don’t have the answers to the problems of this testing issue, and I won’t pretend to.  What I will do is share with you some testing-related absurdities.

It’s no wonder students freak the fargo out when it’s time to test.  It’s not uncommon for schools to have counselors on standby in case some kid has a total nervous breakdown.  Like just shutting down and refusing to pick up a pencil.  Or throwing a desk.  Or staging a potato salad riot in the cafeteria.  That didn’t happen?  Okay, but the first thing definitely happens.

Other things happen, too.  Here are a few things which have happened in my school over the past week of End of Course Testing.  All of these things require a full written account by the testing administrator to justify after-the-fact corrections to an answer sheet and, in some cases, a rescheduled testing session for the student in question.

1.  A student nearly came to blows with a teacher trying to confiscate his phone in accordance with testing rules.  The student would later claim he “didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to have it” despite signs on every door in the building, a verbal admonition at the beginning of every testing session, a warning on the morning announcements, and general goldfingered common sense.

2.  Numerous students (like, too many to count) misspelled the name of the school.  And, I’m sorry, our school does not have a funky name.

3.  A student misspelled his own name.  I am not making this up.  (By the way, is it bad that as an English teacher I had to look up how to spell “misspell”?  I think that’s bad.  It’s also ironic.)

4.  A student fell asleep and drooled all over his answer sheet.  (This, apparently, happens all the time.)

5.  A teacher fell asleep and was therefore unable to call time at the end of the session, thus negating an entire classroom’s testing session.  (Okay, that wasn’t my school, but holy sharknado.)

*Heavy exhale*  It’s not my goal to be a dumper.  I really try to find positives and find productive ways forward, but this whole squid-octopus bar-brawl clusterfargo over testing is so asgard-end-up that it’s impossible for a guy like me to see any kind of light at the end of any sort of tunnel.  We are deep underground, running out of air, and at times it feels like it’s time to call off the search.  Don’t even get me started on a Common Core debate.

Aaand this is the part where I realize I’ve lost what little audience I have.  Too many education-related posts on my non-education-themed blarg and I’ve burned the souffle.  Or the souffle went rogue and attacked the chef with a blowtorch.  Don’t fargo with souffles.

FINAL THOUGHT: Testing is like a butthole.  It stinks.

No, that’s it.  You were expecting something more eloquent?

Don’t worry, next post won’t be about work stuff.  It’ll be about… I dunno.  Space unicorns.


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