For Mother’s Day, Mr. Random Thoughts, Youngest Son and I went to the cinema to see Iron Man 3.
Yes, I do realize that I am decidedly not in the demographic at which that movie is aimed. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I find Robert Downey Jr.’s acting delightfully entertaining. I remember seeing him in Chaplin, and thinking that he was one very talented actor. For a time though, it seemed his personal demons would destroy him. Watching his work now, knowing that he came to his senses before completely destroying himself, and has crafted a healthy, creative life out of the ruins of his past. adds even more pleasure to viewing his work. His kind of personal triumph is so very, very rare in Hollywood. He has a self-depreciating wit in both his Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man roles that appeals to me.
And the special effects in the Iron Man movies are awesome.
So yes, I enjoyed Iron Man 3 as much as I have its two predecessors.
I tend to read more into entertainment though than is probably there. Blame it on far too much time spent analyzing literature. I can’t just watch a movie, and come away with “Wow, cool!” No, I have to find themes and elements and–no doubt completely apart from anything the scriptwriters or actors or directors or film editors intended–I have to find meaning in what I watch.
As we walked out of the cinema after sitting through every last second of the end credits (do not tell me you don’t; do you have any idea of the little gems you miss by leaving as soon as the credits begin to roll?!) I was caught up in contemplating the concept of medical research, and at what cost will one seek healing?
To me at least, that was one of the basic themes of Iron Man 3.
*Possible Spoiler Alert*
The real villain of the movie is a man who seeks to develop and market a beyond-cutting-edge medical technology that will regenerate lost limbs and heal all injuries. That the cost of this process is other peoples’ lives is irrelevant to him. He enlists the help of injured war veterans, and even a politician whose beloved granddaughter is confined to a wheelchair. All of these people willingly cooperate, willingly risk themselves and sacrifice others in the hopes that their body or the body of their dearly loved relative will be made whole once again.
How relevant is that?
I ask myself the hard question, what would I do?
What would I do if someone offered me a cure for Eldest Daughter’s Spina Bifida? If she could be freed from the internal and external limitations it puts upon her? Would I consider the ethical cost?
I’d like to think that I’d be able to give the same answer that Tony Stark did.
Toward the end of the film, Iron Man/Tony Stark confronts his enemy Aldrich Killian (actor Guy Pearce), who has attempted to inject Tony’s love, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), with the formula to reprogram her DNA and render her invulnerable to injury or disease.
Killian says to Tony, “I could have made her perfect.”
Tony responds (and I think this is the best line of the entire movie), “See, that’s where you’re wrong. She already was perfect.”
That is an incredibly powerful message.
Can we accept the concept that we are perfect, even if we are a quadraplegic in a wheelchair, or completely without limbs at all? That we are exactly as we are meant to be, apparent physical–or intellectual–flaws and all?
Or should we reject what we’ve been given, and strive to fix it, to improve it, no matter what the cost?
Yes, I think too much when I probably ought to just enjoy the ride. Still, I don’t believe Iron Man 3‘s filmmakers were stupid, or blind to what they were saying. Maybe, just maybe, amidst the explosions and cool sky diving stunts, they slipped in a little substance.
Some decisions are more difficult than others.
This is one of those times.
A relative of mine mentioned today that one of their pets is apparently experiencing kidney failure. They’re not sure, except that the pet’s increased water drinking, increased urination, and decreased weight points to this. They don’t know for sure because they won’t take this pet to the vet. It was stray they found and raised, and in the words of their spouse, “We’re not spending money to take an animal we found to the vet.”
I understand the pragmatism and emotional detachment that lies behind that sentiment, and I love my relative dearly so I did not condemn them for it, but I don’t share that attitude.
I can’t place value upon my pets based on how they came to exist nor how they came to live with me. Trixie, my three-legged rescued mixed breed Terrier is every bit as valuable and worthy of care in my eyes as my purebred AKC pedigreed Dalmatians were.
As I’ve mentioned before, I currently have three dogs. They’re all animal shelter adopted mixed breeds, none of them has any extrinsic value (not like the purebred Dalmatians I previously owned) and none of them is extraordinary in any way.
To me though, they’re family. They’re part of my pack.
I do not think of them as people however, even less do I consider them to be my children. I have four children and they all have two legs and no fur (unless you count the 16 year old when he refuses to shave). As much as I love my dogs, I love them as dogs, because they are dogs. I’m equally fond of my cat, but he’s a cat. I love him on his terms which are very catlike; he accepts displays of affection and plays with me when it suits him, comes and goes as he pleases, and in all ways is the epitome of a confident feline.
He’s not a dog though, nor do I expect him to be one.
He doesn’t greet me at the door when I come home, demonstrably excited to see me. He doesn’t sit at my feet when I’m typing on the computer, or curl up on my lap when I’m reading a book. He doesn’t chase and retrieve a ball, or lope alongside my bike at the end of a leash, or jump in the passenger’s seat of my car, eager to accompany me on a drive. He doesn’t notice nor care if I’m sad or happy; my emotional state is of no concern to him nor will he attempt to affect it by placing his chin on my knee.
Those are the things my dogs do. And it’s why I enjoy their companionship.
My oldest dog is now few months past seven years. That’s middle aged for a dog. Reasonably, all things being equal, he could easily have another six years or more ahead of him.
All things are not equal for Toby though. Toby has a soft tissue sarcoma, and he’s already had one surgery, in October of last year, to remove it. I’d hoped that was the end of it, but no, it’s recurred, and today we visited a canine oncologist to find out just what might be done next.
Vet visits aren’t free, and cancer treatment in pets isn’t cheap. Comparatively though, well, I spent $13,000 on a used car last October too. The proposed cancer treatment for Toby will be less than third of that. I’ll doubt I’ll have the car for fourteen years, and it certainly won’t bring me the companionship nor pleasure in its very existence that Toby does. So I don’t see the sense in saying the dog isn’t worth the money it might cost to give him another six or seven years of a good life, and me another six or seven years of his companionship.
Of course, this is assuming he’s in perfect health apart from the tumor, which will be determined by an ultrasound, again not inexpensive.
Mr. Random Thoughts was not pleased by the news that I’d be willing to pay for this treatment. Logically, he pointed out that there are countless dogs still waiting to be rescued; Toby was dealt the cancer card, let him go and get another dog that doesn’t have cancer.
As if dogs were interchangeable.
As if one could predict that the next dog won’t have cancer, or kidney failure, or diabetes, or any other illness or disease.
Mr. Random Thoughts also suggested that I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would agree with spending thousands on cancer treatment for a dog.
I’m not concerned with the pet owner ethics of others though; this is about me and my dog. My dog. Because in the end, that’s what Toby is, he’s mine. I found him, I adopted him from the shelter, I paid for extensive training to help him overcome the issues that his early life gave him (mainly an immobilizing fear of just about everything outside of our house) and I’ve spent the last seven years with him. Each of the other two dogs we adopted after him came into our home only when it was clear Toby had accepted them, because he was here first.
As I told Mr. Random Thoughts, it’s not as thought Toby is 13, at the end of a good life the way our beloved late Dexter was. Dexter too had cancer, but by the time we caught it, it was far too late for treatment. And at his age (he’d become arthritic and had a heart murmur), even if we’d caught it sooner, I doubt treatment would have been considered as it would not have given him any more years of quality life. That is not the case with Toby, which makes the decision to treat him both easier and yet more difficult.
On one hand, the funds it will take to treat Toby’s disease might well be spent paying down the useless student loans I took out in my futile attempt to pursue law, and then gain a credential for a teaching career that never came to pass. Or to pay down the aforementioned car loan. Or just to pay for things like new house paint, or home repairs.
Those are all things that have to be dealt with.
Those are all things though.
And Toby is not a thing. I might own him, but I didn’t create him. I have taken on the responsibility of his life, and that means that it’s up to me to make sure it’s a healthy, content life. The concept of watching him inevitably die within a year or so of something that could be treated, and in all likelihood controlled, of knowing that I could have prevented that death…I just can’t do that.
I can make–and have made–the tough call to bring a merciful end to a terminally ill pet. But I can’t not act, and know that my inaction is going to bring about a far sooner death.
Mr Random Thoughts commented that, if it were up to him, we would not even have dogs because of this kind of situation. Because of the expense and the emotional angst owning them can bring.
I think though that unless we insulate ourselves from all affection, be it human or canine, we are going to face tough, painful and sometimes costly situations in life. People–and animals–we love are going to be hurt, get sick, need our help and eventually die. There’s no way to avoid the emotional and financial costs that living in a fallen, decaying world brings us.
There are only decisions to be made, not all of them easy. And this is one of those times.
Once again, our public school system proves just how much it worries about the wrong things.
Just like any other high school student, Caitlin Tiller of Trinity, North Carolina was excited to take her official senior portrait in the summer of 2012.
That year, Wheatmore High School students were allowed to be photographed with a prop of their choice. Their only directions: “Bring something that represents you and helped you achieve something.” For Tiller, then a 17-year-old junior, it was a no-brainer: She brought her 3-month old son, Leelin.
“I picked my son because he’s helped me be a better person,” Tiller told Yahoo! Shine. “By having him, I grew up quickly but I learned how to be responsible.”
Although Tiller didn’t tell anyone that she was planning to bring Leelin, the photo shoot, which took place in the school cafeteria, went smoothly. “Lots of kids were there and the photographer thought Leelin was so cute. Everyone was asking to hold him,” says Tiller.
An entire year went by and Tiller graduated in December, six months before her official graduation date on June 7, 2013, in order to enter Randolph Community College in January. Tiller, now 18, is currently studying to become a medical assistant.
On April 12, two days before the yearbooks went to press, Tiller received a call from the school’s yearbook adviser. “She said I had to take a different photo because the one I took promoted teen pregnancy,” said Tiller. “They called on my son’s birthday so I said I wasn’t available and besides, I choose Leelin because he represented what I’ve achieved in life. I said if Leelin can’t be in the photo, then I won’t be either. The adviser said, ‘That’s your choice. Then you won’t be in the yearbook’ and hung up on me.”
Tiller’s mom Karen called the principal at Wheatmore High School. “He told her that it was the yearbook adviser’s decision, not his,” says Tiller. So Karen called the school board. “They just told her no but didn’t explain why,” said Tiller. “Then my mom got mad and called the news station.” On Wednesday, Tiller went public with her story on a local TV station.
In an email to Yahoo! Shine, Donald E. Andrews, the Superintendent of Randolph County Schools wrote: “The practice at Wheatmore High School regarding yearbook pictures for seniors has been to include only graduating students in the senior section, and to permit family members and friends to be featured with our seniors in the ad section of the yearbook. We offered this option to Ms. Tiller. We regret that this practice was not made clearer to her earlier in the yearbook development process and we will do a better job going forward with explaining our yearbook practices.
Tiller, who works a part-time job at a local McDonald’s to support Leelin with the help of his father, doesn’t deny that her pregnancy is controversial. “It was weird to go to school as the only pregnant student and walk around campus with a big stomach,” she says. “I see the school’s point: That if other parents see the photo, they’ll call and complain. But I’m proud of my decision to have Leelin. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I don’t want other teens going through pregnancy to feel ashamed or alone.”
So let me get this straight…a teenager gets pregnant. That’s hardly surprising any more, despite decades of Planned Parenthood pushing sex ed in our public schools. This teen though decides to make the tough, even publicly embarrassing decision to not quietly pay someone to scrape her baby out of her womb before he’s born, but instead carries the child to term, gives birth to him, and begins to parent him, without dropping out of school. She even manages to graduate early, and enroll in community college.
It’s a sure bet that some of her non-pregnant classmates didn’t graduate (with only a 69% graduation rate, that’s a given), and others are not currently pursuing any higher education. But Caitlin Tiller, with her unplanned pregnancy carried through rather than ended as thought it never happened, and her steps toward building a healthy future for herself and her son, oh, she might be a bad example. Because teens are considered smart enough and mature enough to get condoms and the Plan B abortaficient without parental consent, but too stupid and immature to see Kaitlin as what she is, an example of a very tough situation bravely faced.
Idiots. All of them. Especially the moronic adviser in charge of Wheatmore’s school yearbook. Yes, Amy Stewart, I’m looking at you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
And so it comes that I actually have begun to enjoy my job.
I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps it’s just the effect of time; one can only hold on to any emotion–be it hope for an out-of-reach career, or frustration at being unable to pursue what one believes is one’s “true calling”–for so long. Eventually the human mind can come to accept any situation.
Or maybe as Mr. Random Thoughts says, I’m in a place where all the random and wildly disparate parts of my education, past employments and life experiences have come together.
Whatever the reason, I’m not only fully capable of doing what I’m now doing for a living, I’m actually feeling fairly content at doing it each day.
Which troubles me. The pessimistic part of me warns that this too shall pass. It’s foolish to believe that any state of equilibrium, even mental contentment, will last. And this job, this odd mixture of freedom as an assistant pricing coordinator and extreme responsibility as an assistant bookkeeper, is not at all what I ever envisioned doing. It’s not teaching students. It’s not secure either; this company shifts its employees about like chess pieces from position to position and store to store. When they decide to promote you, you either take the promotion no matter the attendant commute, or you resign. Mr Random Thoughts thinks I should aim for a management position. It’s been indicated to me by those above me that this is not impossible. However, I really like working seven minutes from my front door. I do not want to work in another town, likely one that requires an hour or more commute. And I do not want the responsibility of managing other people unless they are students in my care. Adults, many of whom have questionable work ethics at best? No. I never wanted to teach at the college level either for similar reasons.
Additionally, this company is growing recklessly; their sole focus is on massive expansion and their infrastructure–particularly in terms of technology–is in no way capable of coping with the growth. Even their in-store computer system is frighteningly out of date. The emails between various levels of the corporation are both funny and frightening; people at all levels are so clearly in over their heads, under staffed, not communicating properly during key processes, and yet the company president and CEO are blithely assuring everyone that All Is Wonderful! We are On Track to Opening 150 More Stores in the Next Five Years! All signs though indicate that a cascade failure is rapidly approaching. The powers that be do not care; their goal is to reach a big enough size to go public and be purchased by some other corporation. In short, they’re looking for a big profit, not handing the company over to their heirs a decade or two from now.
Well, all I need is two more years, just long enough to get Youngest Son out of high school. And then, well, then I’ll do whatever comes next to hand for a living. Because it’s really that simple now. It doesn’t matter what I do, it matters how I do it: To the best of my ability, for God, and with the intent to be gracious for His sake to anyone who crosses my path.
Meanwhile, I am grateful to have a job that is finally beginning to pay somewhat decently (though not what I’d make as a teacher, and in no way what I might have earned as an attorney). I have the healthy beginnings of a 401k to which my employer contributes (yes, two decades late but at least it’s something) and the ability to control my daily schedule rather than have it dictated to me while I stand behind a cash register. I can even go out and get a cup of coffee from the shop down the sidewalk whenever I choose.
Sometimes I can’t believe I was a cashier for over two years. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m still working in retail. Still, it has taught me a lot about humility, persistence, gratitude, and from where what strength (both physical and emotional) I have comes. I am still learning.
And maybe that’s the entire point after all.
So, I’ve finally begun to really resign myself to the fact that I am not a teacher. I am not going to be hired as a teacher. Instead, I am now a “backup scan coordinator” in a grocery store. That means I spend eight hours a day scanning products to make sure they are being rung up at the correct price, and shelved correctly, and have correct pricing signage. If any of those elements are incorrect, I fix them, using rather antiquated software and a computer and printer which I have to share with more than half a dozen other people.
On the positive side…
It pays better than being a cashier.
I never have to work at night.
I always have two days off each week, usually in a row.
I do not have to deal with paper or plastic bags, arrogant customers talking on their cell phones, or absurd crankiness from customers. In fact, the only time I have to deal with customers at all is when they come across me during my work and ask where to find something.
The downside is that my work day begins at 5 am and I still have to wear a stupid looking store t-shirt. Customers see that shirt even when I’m in the office with the computer, and sometimes walk into the office demanding (yes, demanding) that I come out and ring up their order because there are lines at the open registers, and they Do Not Wait In Lines.
I really hate the elitist entitled attitude of the people who live around the Store Where I Work. But this blog post is not about Them, it’s about Me, so let me continue.
The biggest downside is that this is not teaching, not even remotely related to teaching in any way, and it will do nothing to ever help me get a teaching job.
After three years of searching in a state where there simply are no openings for teachers outside of math and the sciences, nothing is going to do that.
I substitute taught in a middle school on my day off yesterday. During a break, I spoke with another teacher. She too has a Master’s in English Lit. She also has credentials in mathematics, computers, and biology. She has FOUR single subject credentials, a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, plus 15 years graphic design experience. All of that got her a 9 month temporary job teaching two “technology exploratory” classes (basic computer use) and two remedial reading classes. She hoped they’d rehire her for next year, but there were no promises.
I don’t even want to go into the laziness of the teacher for whom I was subbing, except to say that his students did not want to do the work I was having them do, because “Mr. L—- never looks at what we do anyway. As long as we’re in class we’ll get a passing grade.” Many students in every single class said words to that effect.
I don’t even care about substitute teaching any more; it’s pointless when I am stepping into classes with such low expectations upon the students. This is not “education.” It’s not what I trained to do, it’s not what I planned to do, it’s not what I want to do. It really is just babysitting.
And considering that five times a week I get up at 4 AM, I’d rather catch up on my sleep during my days off than babysit teenagers.
I really am striving to attain the attitude Paul expressed in Phillipians:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Some days I feel it. Some days I don’t. Some days it’s really really difficult. Eventually however I hope I can feel that way most of the time, regardless of what I do for a living.
Several weeks ago, I applied for yet another job. It was not a teaching job, but rather a writing and editing position the description of which was nearly identical to my skills. I was given an interview. After the interview I sent the interviewer a handwritten thank you note. Ten days after the interview, having heard nothing, I called to find out where they were in the candidate selection process.
The interviewer told me, “We’re in the process of finalizing the hiring of another candidate, but you can call back in a week and we’ll let you know if we are going to do any second interviews.
With nothing to lose, a week later I called back as she suggested.
She told me again, “We’re in the process of finalizing the hiring of another candidate.”
Yes, the exact same words. It takes three weeks to “finalize the hiring” of someone for a job that pays in the low five figures? The job listing is still on their website (where others have been removed and new ones appeared). So I’m not sure what to think, except that clearly I’m not a contender for the position.
I asked, “Can you tell me what assets the candidate you selected has which I might not have?
She answered (after a long pause), “No, not really. We look at a combination of objective and subjective things.”
What that tells me: Regardless of my skills and experience, including past experience directly with their company in a similar position, I am not what they want, and they can’t even tell me why.
I’m not sure how to feel about that, except kind of relieved. If they can’t articulate what they want in an employee which I don’t have, if the interviewer spends a full hour talking with me, yet can’t express to me where I failed to meet expectations, how well are they going to communicate needs and objectives during the workday? Probably about as poorly as they did 17 years ago…which is causing me to finally remember why it was somewhat of a relief to resign from the previous job I had with them back in the mid 1990s.
And so I continue toward my third year of ringing up groceries for a living, while searching for an employer who wants more from me than the ability to stand in one spot for 8 hours smiling and asking “Do you want paper or plastic bags today?”
So, it’s a new year, and yet nothing much has changed.
Mr. Random Thoughts is still being laid off by his company. I’m still woefully underemployed. And Obama et al are still determined to toss yet more of our income into the black hole of government spending.
Happy New Year!
I had a fantastic Christmas despite the above, because all four of my children and Eldest Son’s wife (henceforth to be known as Third Daughter) were present in our home. It was simply wonderful, having our home filled with laughter and genuine joy.
No, they’re all amazingly interesting, highly ethical and emotionally healthy young people. Clear proof that there is no such thing as karma, and we don’t always get what we deserve.
Before I put the holidays behind me, allow me to share one final memorable moment brought to us by the inimitable Julian Smith, who managed to tap into my lifetime hatred/fear of dolls (generated thanks to Older Brother who made me watch this at the tender age of 3):
Ah yes, good times, Julian, good times. Thanks ever so much!
The title of this post refers to “Here We Come a Wassailing,” specifically the verse:
Good master and good mistress,
As you sit beside the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who wander in the mire.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.