Some Changes On My Mind

I don’t know, man. Sometimes I feel like it might soon be time to abandon ship. I’m not sure how much longer I can stand to be around so many people all piled into one place, and keep thinking I might soon decide to just get out of the city once and for all. I probably won’t, because it’s been on my mind for years and I haven’t done much about it yet, but I guess we never really know what the future holds. I just know my past experience with success has been…I haven’t really had any. Haha

Sometimes life just happens and we do little more than hold on for the ride. I’m definitely a passenger, through and through.

Been able to slowly watch things off my PVR the past few days. Checked out Designated Survivor (of course) and liked it okay, but the premiere was definitely all about setting up the story and introducing the characters. Which is really all it can be, but I look forward to seeing where things go from here. Note that “look forward to seeing” could also be read as “impatient to see”. Haha

I really, really liked the series premiere of Pitch! I like the format of fluid movements between past and present, I love the characters so far, particularly the protagonist and the team’s catcher. I love that they found kids who could actually have been the lead actress at different stages of her life – like, they’ve time-travelled to the present so they could play her earlier years. I love that it came out swinging and set the tone and – for the premiere, at least – isn’t treating the series as a one-act play. Young black woman becomes the first female to play in major league baseball. I’d seen comments about how it should have been a movie because there aren’t legs for a series, but after having seen the first episode, I have to disagree. Well, I already disagreed, but now I disagree more. More than 2 decades went into the moment she stepped onto the field for the first time, and that moment wasn’t the beginning of her journey. There’s more to come, and there’s more that has passed, and that it’s engaging thus far bodes well, as far as I’m concerned. I’m on board.

Speaking of coming out swinging – holy returns for Quantico and How To Get Away With Murder! So so good! I’m right back in love with both shows, and actually a little afraid to find out who died at the end of the season premiere of HTGAWM. I suspect I’ll watch the next episode with a drink in hand. Or a few.

I was asked recently about what I want to do next; what my dream would be, to do with my life. I don’t have an answer for that yet. Some vague ideas, but nothing I can pin down. I used to think I would be a teacher. Sometimes I still do, but I’m not really meant for a public school classroom, I don’t think. Maybe something a little different, but still education-related.

I’ve also been enjoying some small event planning, media marketing, public relations and…I don’t know what to call it…pseudo producing? With respect to The Mind Reels and interviews and radio plays and breaking a Guinness World Record. I have so many ideas for taking even larger steps, and some seem to be coming to fruition, which is encouraging. I would need to narrow my focus to see if I could actually succeed in any of those environments, but there’s definitely something there worth considering, I think. I’m just not sure what yet.

And then there’s the non-human animals of the world. I need to find a way to stop feeling like I need to save everybody, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a way to work with and/or for them. Even after a rather bad day at my volunteer shift this past weekend, getting to spend time with Marley the ring-tailed lemur before I left, and then taking Brody the Munchkin out for a long walk when I got home did a lot to heal my mood. As did talking about it a bit the next day – but that was like the final step I needed. Mostly it was the good animal interactions that brought me the balance I’d lost from the less desirable ones. My relationship to animals has changed in countless ways since meeting Hudson the polar bear, and as a result, I think they are actually becoming more of a daily focus for me than less of one. I imagine that can only be a good thing, really, but if I can figure out a way to pursue that environment more regularly in my life, I think that might feel like the most right path for my spirit. Maybe not for my pocketbook, nor always for my heart.

But I don’t own a pocketbook, anyway, so what have I got to lose?

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Seeing Differences

When I was accepted to teacher’s college, I found I’d been placed in a rather unique section of the program called Urban Diversity. I was in the 10th group of cohorts for that particular program, and it was kind of interesting to see all the different people who were in my class, as well as who, for the most part, would become my friend by the end of the school year.

The Urban Diversity section of the Education program focused more on teaching children in classrooms and schools which are more reflective of the city’s diverse population. I remember someone once commented on how “white” my Grade 6 class was, and I countered with the fact that about 80% of them didn’t speak English as their first language, which would obviously contain a different set of struggles from those who were being taught by someone of a different skin tone.

Anyway, it was cool to look at the notion of teaching each child, as opposed to teaching a classroom of children. Seeing difference, and teaching to it, was the opposite of everything I thought society had taught me thus far, but as soon as it was discussed on, like, Day One, it all suddenly made sense to me. The whole “everyone is equal” model doesn’t really work. Everyone is not equal, and punishing those who are ahead by forcing them to slow down, or leaving behind anyone who can’t keep up, is just silly, and counter-productive.

So I learned about teaching from a different perspective, compared to the other sections within the Education program, and it stressed me out. I was painfully aware of not being able to fully teach to each child, and of how things I said or did could be received by one child far differently from how it was interpreted by another. I hurt one of my best Grade 8 kid’s feelings because I stopped calling on her for a time. She thought I hated her; I thought I was trying to give other quieter kids a chance to speak. We got it sorted out, but I’ll never forget how flabbergasted I was that she could think I didn’t like her. She was my go-to kid if things ever became too frustrating because I knew she always got it. That was an important lesson to learn, and to keep learning. Because everyone is different, after all.

But it didn’t help with my non-existent teaching career, in that I never really got my feet under me and felt the confidence I would need in my abilities to run a classroom.

I can’t run a classroom. Haha

Anyway, in the Education classroom, on non-teaching days, I sat at the Table of Misfit Toys with my regulars. My friends, the other oddballs who didn’t quite fit in. We were often the most fun, and sometimes other teacher candidates would join us just because we were that awesome. I still liked almost everyone else in the room, of course. I just didn’t have much in common with them, and felt like I didn’t fit in as well as I did with my eclectic mix.

What’s interesting is what I was told later from my main guy, Marc. I haven’t seen him in well over a decade, but at the time, we were quite close, and went through a lot together, even after the school year ended. He’s a brilliant young guy, whose brain never stops working things out, and has one of the best, warmest smiles ever. It goes right to his eyes. I actually hate that we lost touch, and keep hoping we’ll just bump into one another again someday.

So anyway, Marc got into grad school, and did his Masters of Education, as well. He was, therefore, still in touch with the man who had created the Urban Diversity division, Dr. Patrick Solomon. Dr. Solomon sadly passed away some time ago from stupid cancer, but he left quite a legacy in his wake. He was the first person I met when I got to campus on Day One (he walked me to class), and hugged me on stage during our graduation ceremonies. According to Marc, Dr. Solomon confided in him once that our table of misfits, for the most part, all started off the program in the mindset/headspace of where he wanted everyone to end up. That was not only an enormous compliment, but also explained why we’d gotten so frustrated so often when we were doing the learning instead of the teaching. I was of the understanding that there was something we just weren’t getting (there was even an extra IEP for me at one point – , whereas the reality was that we’d already gotten it, but had to sit through the rest of the year not progressing while we waited for the rest of the class to catch up.

That’s not necessarily meant to come across as bragging, though I suppose it kind of is, but more to explain the fish-out-of-water sensation that I’d felt for so long, and that I knew I was capable of passing on to kids in my classes. Classes I’d never have, as it turned out, but at the time, it was a hefty weight on my mind.

It’s occurred to me in recent days that I’m feeling much that same way again now, sometimes. I think that’s why I can’t express myself in a way that anyone else quite understands. Partly because I am just not articulate, and partly because I’ve already gone through all the stuff they’re saying and trying to progress further, but I have to keep going back to the last save point, so to speak, to see if I can catch everyone else up; get us all on the same page, before I can turn the page. We just rarely seem to get there, which means I rarely go any further myself, even just in my own head.

Maybe this is part of how the internet is making us dumber. We’re exposed to more people, so we spend even more time trying to find common ground and get on the same page that we actually never get through the first chapter, let alone past it. We spend more time feeling and reacting than we do thinking, because it’s instant. Or, as fast as we can type. The fact that so much conversation is done online instead of in person means that more is misunderstood due to lack of vocal inflection, body language, and eye contact. Everything looks black and white on the page, so we’re all starting to think that’s what the world is. One or the other; all or nothing; left or right (haha CToT xo).

But it’s not. There are more shades of grey than we can even sense, and it’s exciting and invigorating to explore them, but we never do. There’s just no time, which is funny, considering how quick and automated things are now compared to life prior to the Industrial Revolution, say.

Not that I am old enough to remember that.

I do remember the 80’s, though, and parts of the 70’s…I remember life before the world was opened up to us via the World Wide Web. I remember phones with rotary dials and cords that got tangled up and stretched to shit. I remember no cable and only 3 channels via antenna. I remember going outside to play, riding my bike around town, going home when the streetlights came on, handwriting letters, and book reports and essays. I remember when computer mainframes took up entire rooms, and cordless phones were new and enormous.

I remember when everything was slower, and yet there was more time to think.

The Price Of Free?

So, the Ontario government has decided to give free tuition for post-secondary education to low income families.

Part of me is, like, where was this move 20 years ago?

Though that makes me feel like the rest of the whiners who are all, “But what about us? Aren’t you screwing everyone else?” Blah blah blah.

What I mostly think about is how I just finished paying off my student loans a couple of years ago, if that. And of how proud of myself I was when it was all finished and my account balance finally said zero dollars owing.

See, as with most of my friends, my parents couldn’t afford to pay my way through school, either, and nor did I expect them to. Instead, I did wacky things like get jobs, both over the summer, and even during my final year of University (Val’s Video – ah, those were the days). And I applied for financial assistance in the form of student loans. Actually, I think that first year there was also a small portion that was a grant, but then that was gone and replaced with a percentage of your loan being forgiveable, so that you could have less to pay back, potentially.

Every year I stood in line-ups to get the proper forms to fill out, and then in more lines to drop them off. Back in those days, we didn’t have the interwebs. We actually had to line up at the bank, and the school, and stores, and talk to another human being in order to get all that stuff done. We even had to go to a physical classroom after that, where there were even MORE human beings strewn about. Except for some of those 8:30am classes. We learned pretty quickly to not bother taking those, as we’d never make it to them on time. Ever.

I didn’t even have my first email address until I was in my fourth and final year of University, and it was a school address, accessed via the campus computer labs, because I did all my assignment typing on a TYPEWRITER! Whaaa?!

Anyway, where was I?

Right – most of us put ourselves into debt to pursue a higher education. We came out of there with an expensive piece of paper that we’d take more years to pay for than we’d put in to earn it. Some of us would even do it again later for more paper, and more debt.

I mean, tuition wasn’t the only thing, either. You had to live for each year without having a full-time job. You often had to pay rent, eat occasionally, pay phone bills (like, landline, not cellular), buy and consume enough alcohol to kill a horse but you’re in your 20’s so you bounce back like rubber the next morning, more or less. There were text books to buy (and thus more line-ups at the campus book store), and school swag to wear at the football games when you possibly should have been studying. Tuition was a chunk of change, to be sure, but it wasn’t everything. Not even close.

There was, however, a certain sense of, like, pride, for going through all of that. Not just anyone could go on to post-secondary school, and not everyone should. I don’t feel that a person’s ability to do so should be set by their family income, but nor do I believe there should be hand-outs, either. I believe when someone works for something, there is a greater sense of accomplishment once it’s achieved. What’s more, we learned better balance. We knew what each of our hard-earned dollars was worth beyond the classroom. We made choices in how we spent what we had, or even if we spent what we had. We made sacrifices. Not like babies on altars and virgins in volcanoes, but sacrifices just the same. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we did earn everything we got.

Now I’m in my 40’s with no children or career to speak of, but I’ve paid off my student loans, and am essentially debt-free. I still make choices, and sacrifices, and I still have rent and bills and the like to pay for every month. I still struggle.

But the difference between me and my peeps and those getting free tuition is that we know we can do it, get through this whole financial, adulting phase (please let it be a phase) because we already have. We learned certain life skills in addition to the book knowledge we picked up in the classrooms we paid to be a part of. We knew what those hours were worth, because we’d worked for them. Many of us would work several years after to pay for them, too.

I guess really I just don’t understand the all or nothing mentality, of this and so many other things. Why not raise or lower tuition based on family income? Like with tax brackets? That way, those hours in the classroom will have the same worth for everyone inside them, not just the ones who struggle to afford it. So much in the world is all or nothing, and while I would have loved the idea of free tuition back in the day, I’m not sure it’d be worth giving up the feeling that I actually accomplished something, and the crazy satisfaction I felt when my loan balance finally hit zero. I’m sure there will still be loans and debt, because school is expensive. I’m just not sure giving part of the experience away for free is the way to go, especially when the real world – the one that happens after schooling is done – doesn’t quite work that way.

On Why Zoos Matter

I think there needs to either be a new category of zoos – with a new definition – or some of them need to have a new name created for them all together. There is a negative connotation attached to the term “zoo” that manifested a long time ago, but no longer applies to the accredited and regulated zoos of today. And that irritates the hell out of me, because once again, people base their opinions on things that aren’t true, and then apply them across the board, instead of taking each situation or establishment into account. It’s an ignorant way to go through life, regardless, but even more so when those uneducated opinions actually affect the things they think they are against in an adverse way.

Did that sentence even make sense? I am extra fatigued today.

People are against zoos for archaic reasons that are no longer reality, and espose these untrue “facts” to anyone who will listen, thereby affecting the good work that is being done, rather than support it and encourage it to grow and continue. You see, zoos are one of the only “businesses” on the planet that actually work toward their own extinction. They are a necessary facility trying to combat the damage humanity has inflicted on the planet and its non-human residents, while also having the end-goal of a day when they are no longer required. It’s actually one of the most un-selfish acts anyone could perform, and they do it every day, as best they can, by growing, sharing and learning as they go.  Most zoos have grown and changed over the decades – but for some reason, the public perception of them has not.

Contrary to some beliefs, they are not actually here for our entertainment, nor are the animals in their care. Their function and purpose is far, far more important and essential than that.

I’m sure one could argue that, if they aren’t here to put animals on display for the masses to gawk at, then why not close their doors and not let the public in? Why involve the public at all? Well, for starters, some places actually are like that. Not zoos, but most sanctuaries, farms, and even some wildlife reserves either allow limited or sometimes no public interaction with the animals in their care. Those are all different types of facility, however, with different mandates and goals.

I’m going to use the Toronto Zoo as my example for this whole post, as it’s the such one place I know best. One of the Toronto Zoo’s goals is to educate the public – about what they’re doing, and trying to do, about the animals in their care, about those species’ counterparts in the wild, about their efforts to keep various species from going extinct, about the ways in which they are able to re-introduce some species (like the black-footed ferret, for example) back into the wild! What?! Whoever heard of a zoo putting animals BACK into the wild?!

It happens all the time, guys. They are just careful about doing it, and try to do so in a way that will give the indivdual animals the best chance of survival once they get out there on their own. Because that’s what it’s all about. Survival. And not just of the fittest. In an ideal situation, the zoo wants not only for the vast majority of those released individuals to survive, but also for them to thrive. To reproduce. To build communities (if that’s what they’re into) and continue to grow into the important and in fact essential part of an ecosystem they were once a part of – before humans ruined everything.

Because we did this. Our species. We have made an enormous mess over the centuries, and facilities like the Toronto Zoo are working very hard every day to try and clean up our mess, and ensure we don’t make such a one again. Education is a huge part of that process, and it is the most direct route to something humans in general seem to lack – empathy.

Sure, there are pictures and videos and webcams and all kinds of neat technology these days. Why don’t they just use those to educate the public?

I’ll tell you: because it is not even remotely the same experience. I’d seen photos and video clips of Hudson the polar bear cub before I met him in person at the zoo. They were super cute and I was really excited to see him, but they had nowhere near the same effect on me as the moment I saw him with my own eyes. My heart skipped a beat, and from then on, I was completely in love with the little guy. Every time my big blue eyes met his so-dark-brown-they’re-practically-black, diamond-shaped eyes, I think I stopped breathing. We connected on a level photos and videos can’t touch. We knew one another. I never would have gotten him tattooed on my arm were it not for the experience of being allowed the chance to know him, either. That’s how much he affected me. He became a part of who I am, part of my core.

If you’re not yet convinced, because maybe I am just a crazy polar bear lady, go have a look at a photo of a human child. Then watch a video clip or two of the kid. Now go hold that child in your arms, look into its eyes, and tell me the experience is the same as when you were looking at the pictures and watching the videos. Tell me that connection you felt didn’t suddenly get a lot more personal and almost overwhelmingly real.

Not that I got to touch Hudson (I WISH!), but I am certain that would have made me even more of a crazy polar bear lady than I already am. 100%.

Another thing I learned from the Toronto Zoo is about the importance of enrichment for the animals, to help prevent boredom and depression. They are not out in the wild struggling every day just to survive, after all, and they have moods and emotions and thoughts, just as we do. It is important to note, however, that they don’t feel things the same way we do. Just because you don’t think you’d like napping all day in the warm sunshine, for example, doesn’t mean that African lions don’t freaking LOVE IT. They’re cats. Not exactly the same as house cats, but they have more in common with them than they do with you. Guaranteed. And not all of them are the same, either. Just because you read something about one lion doesn’t mean that same quality applies to every lion on the planet. They are individuals, just like you and me.

Anyway, I have cats living in captivity in my apartment. I keep them fed and watered, and pet them and cuddle with them and play with them, and they seem pretty happy. What I learned at the zoo is that it’s healthy for them to change things up every now and then; keep them on their adorable bean-shaped toes. It could be the introduction of a new toy or a new box, maybe break out some catnip on occasion, or even just move a piece of furniture over a few feet for awhile. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just little things can make all the difference. My cats love the scent of mint, so I got them a box of peppermint teabags, and every once in awhile I’ll throw a couple of them on the floor and watch the cats start playing with them instantly. There’s a bit of a mess to clean up after, of course, but totally worth it. Same with bubbles. Sometimes they like those more than chasing the red dot!

For anyone who believes that housepets are not captive animals, you can go ahead and check your specist hypocrisy at the door. They are. The difference is that we believe we’re doing those animals a favour by rescuing them from the wild. We save them from having to hunt to survive and probably either starve to death or get killed by a vehicle or other animal, and instead give them a warm happy home to live out their years with their loving fur-ever family. That’s why no one is staging protests to Free The Housepets.

I, too, believe I’m giving the cats and dog in my care a better life than they’d have out on the cold city streets. It’s a responsibilty that I don’t take lightly. To me, it is my duty to do everything I can to give them the best lives possible while they are in my care. And that is an every day job, one I do gladly, and one upon which I am always looking to improve. For that’s how the keepers at the zoo feel about the individuals in their care. Each baby born is like one of their own, with the difference being that the parents, and families and other members of the species of each baby are also like their own. They care that much. They spend the night during particularly bad storms to make sure that the animals who depend on them for their lives – and for the quality of those lives – are safe and content. They work overtime, they work every day of the year – whether the public is there or not – and they want nothing more than for their jobs to not be necessary anymore.

To the better dead than captive bred camp, I can’t really pretend to understand where you are coming from at all. How is it even remotely humane to let a baby starve to death (one of the slowest and most painful ways to go, I hear) in the wild, versus giving it a home where it can grow up safe and cared for and live out the rest of its natural life in a not-quite-ideal setting, but at least be allowed to have a life? Is it really the better option for your high moral ground? Or maybe it would be better to kill the infant outright, so that it’s at least spared the agony of starvation. Brilliant. Except that should be applied to all non-humans, not just the ones you see on TV or the internet. Show of hands: how many people stop when they’ve hit an animal with their car to a) make sure it’s dead, b) ensure it wasn’t a lactating female with little ones waiting for her to come home, and if it is, then c) go out and find said babies to spare them the agony of a slow death?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and that’s actually my point. You have to take each example on a case by case basis. Stop treating every lion like he or she is the exact same as every other lion. Definitely stop assuming that they are the same as you or I. The animals we eat are more intelligent than the average human toddler, and yet they are living in unimaginably horrid conditions from birth to tortuous death – but that’s a post for another time. #factoryfarmsarethedevil

From what I can tell, the word “zoo” does not do the Toronto Zoo – and most places like it – any justice whatsoever. It’s not an accurate representation of what the zoo actually is. The Toronto Zoo is part Ark for species survival and renewal, part Sanctuary for animals in need, part Retirement Home for aging animals, part Orphanage for youngsters who lose their mothers in the wild, part Education and Research Facility to find new ways to do all of those things better – and all love.