Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life in a Fantasy World

As I s-l-o-w-l-y write my first book, I read different books that I hope can give me some insight into what young adults are reading these days. Author styles are so different but one thing many of them have in common is the whole idea of fantasy worlds. Fairies, goblins, monsters, vampires, and the heros that fight all the bad guys and save the day. The current series I'm reading is called The Mortal Instruments and the first book is called City of Bones. Definitely for older teens due to the language and boy/girl tension but still the same underlying theme. Special mortals who have the ability to fight those bloodsucking vampires, howling Children of the Night, poison spitting reptile/scorpion/spiders, and crossbreed monsters who are part human, part weird.

The style in this author's writing that has stood out to me the most is how she uses descriptions. Her descriptions of the places in New York make me feel like I'm a native New Yorker who prowled the city's many streets and alleys for years. Her characters come to life and will more than likely become fantasies for many young teenagers taking the place of Twilight's Jacob/Edward saga. (By the way, I'm totally Team Jacob. Buff, warm, brown guy beats out cold, skinny, white guy any day!) One weakness in the narrative are the monsters. I'm having a difficult time visualizing the nasty creatures. The fear felt by the characters is alive and I can feel my heart pounding faster as the characters battle their way out of seemingly impossible situations. But what they are running from or fighting against, I'm still not sure.

As a writer, I know what I want to write. I have the ideas bottled up in my head. My weakness is descriptions. I should be amazing at it. My mom used to tell me to hurry up and tell my story because I would add so much information into my narrative that it took me FOREVER to get to the point. And now, as I write, I'm having trouble describing my characters, my scenes, my surroundings. I am going to go back to my old habits. See, smell, taste, hear, feel. And pass that information on to my readers. I'll add the sharp, gray fin cutting the water's surface moving in seemingly slow motion but cutting the distance between it and the small, flimsy handmade canoe in half before the girl could pick up the short, plastic paddle. By the time she had the paddle in the water, pulling back as fast as she could, the fin was right at her side. Up close, the fin no longer looked like a smooth triangle of terror. The girl could see the jagged edges where pieces were torn or bitten off. The imperfections did nothing to relieve the anxiety the girl felt as the creature circled.

As the creative juices begin to flow and the descriptions become alive and colorful, I realize the characters in my stories will be ones that I can visualize, whether real or imagined. I may include good guys versus bad guys. I'll think about what monsters I want to add. I might decide to fall into the fantasy trap and write about mythical creatures. Or maybe I'll just write a fantasy love story. The verdict is out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

To what degree?

A conversation at lunch made me think about my college degrees. Not that I had a lot of time to think and ponder today. After many years and thousands of dollars, my degrees are finally paying off. (Paying off figuratively, not literally, since my student loans are still hanging around.) I spent many years after one degree and working on the next working menial jobs that had nothing to do with my field of study. I sacrificed those years for my family, working jobs that paid a decent amount of money but worked around my busy "Mom" schedule. Raising my children was priority number one. It still is. But the kids are old enough and in school now so my schedule allows me to work in my new position. There were many days (MANY days) where I questioned myself and my credentials. I questioned whether I would ever find a job that took my education into account when hiring me and determining my salary. I wondered if I would ever find a position where I could use what I know and actually enjoy what I was doing.

Advising students for five months has made me realize how important my job really is. I wish I had this type of guidance when I was in college. I had a very bad experience with an advisor when I first went off to college and never saw one again until I was almost finished. Lucky for me, I stayed on track and was able to finish but that one bad experience took away many opportunities that I could have had, should have had. I could have gone through these career assessments and cut down the years of wondering and thinking I had found what I wanted to do only to realize I hated what I was doing. I could have learned about resources the college had to offer so I could have had help with English, math, any subject I was having trouble with. There are so many things I could have learned from an advisor but didn't. My bad experience should not have stopped me from continuing my search for a good advisor but coming from a small island to the big, bad United States made me fearful of speaking out or asking questions. I know. Excuses. But I was truly terrified of asking people for help and even more afraid of being turned down or being treated like I was stupid.

Despite the bad experience and lack of resources, I was able to finish my first degree. Ten years later I earned the second degree. My current position gives me the chance to encourage other students to complete their degrees, have good experiences with advisors, and hopefully have some idea of what they want to do after college. AND, I get to use my education for something good. And something that I absolutely enjoy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For My Grandma

My heart begins beating quickly as we begin to sing. The entire sixth grade class is inside the auditorium, the voices reverberating off of the concrete walls. Our teachers begin picking girls to go up to the front to siva. I can see different colors of emotions running rampant among my classmates. Some girls cast their eyes downward hoping they won’t have to endure dancing in front of the whole class. Others are looking around the room but avoiding eye contact with the teachers. A few girls are putting as much energy as they can into their singing hoping to get noticed. I am not sure about my own face or actions because my insides have taken control. My heart is pounding in my chest and my stomach is doing cartwheels. My emotions are like an out of control ping pong game. Yes, I want to siva and represent my class. There’s NO way I can get up there! Pick me or not, it doesn’t matter. What if I’m not good enough? What if I trip or do a weird move? What if I freeze up?

As these thoughts bounce around my brain like a pinball machine, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up to see my teacher smiling and pointing to the front of the crowd. I follow her arm and see five girls already up there performing and looking beautiful. Graceful. Amazing.

I’m surprised as I stand and begin walking because I could have sworn my legs were made of jello. Taking my place beside the other girls, I bow and stretch out my arms. My aunt’s voice appears in my head with the noise of the class singing fading into the background.

“Bend you knees and your elbows. Think of the gogo bird as it’s flying over the ocean looking for fish.”

My years of training take over and I begin to feel the music as it guides my arms and legs. The final strains of the song echo off of the auditorium walls and we give our final bows. My friends smile at me as I walk back to my spot on the floor, excited with my performance.

Our teachers deliberate for a few minutes as we talk quietly amongst ourselves. They finally come to a decision and announce the girl who will be the taupou for the class at our school’s Samoan Day assembly.

I stand still as my aunt takes my measurements. I feel like I’m floating in a dream. From the time my teacher called my name, to my aunt’s siva training, to my outfit being sewn… I am the class taupou. I will be representing my sixth grade class, in front of the entire school, family, and friends.

Samoan Day has finally arrived! My dress, made of real fine mats, fits perfectly. My new, pink feathered kiki and headpiece are a bright contrast to the tan matting. My teacher has me sitting in a chair until we perform to keep my outfit from getting dirty.
Our class enters the field and we begin our performance. Finally, the class begins to sing the final song and the time has come for me to stand. I begin my entrance run and bow acknowledging our guests. As I rise all I can see is a sea of smiling faces. At first I cannot pinpoint an exact face but I know they are all enjoying the day. I finally see my aunt. She is smiling and looking at me but I see sadness behind her smile. My selfish eleven-year-old mind brushes the emotion to the side, too absorbed in my own worries and excitement. My siva and class performance end like it started, in a wonderful, heartfelt dream filled with traditional song and emotion filled siva.

I’m twelve years older and 2300 miles from home. My uncle and I are at a little Samoan club in Hawai’i eating and listening to the band. As with any Samoan gathering, eventually someone is going to dance a siva. My uncle frequents this little club and is called up to dance. He turns to me and points to the dance floor as the music begins and I am transported back to my sixth grade auditorium. I stand and begin my entrance run, letting the song take over as my body remembers all my aunt has taught me. Just like my sixth grade siva, I am surrounded by a sea of smiling faces. Suddenly, my aunt’s sad smile enters my mind. The song ends, the final bow signals the siva’s end, and the night draws to a close.

Sixteen years have passed along with another 2400 miles. My dad has turned seventy years old and the family throws him a surprise party. My aunt is there, dancing in her graceful and energetic way. This time I dance on the side until my aunt motions me to dance beside her. As she bends low and slowly rises up like our gogo bird of long ago, she turns to me and smiles. I see the sadness and I finally understand.

I can see my grandmother in her eyes, her face, her movements. I see the pride in passing on the traditions but the longing for the people and times that have long since passed. When the song fades, my aunt and dad are looking at me. They turn to each other, nod, and smile. I can hear my dad say, “She dances just like mom.”

I am transported to sixth grade surrounded by a sea of faces, filled with happiness and pride. The most important face is only visible in my mind’s eye. This siva is for you, Grandma.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

To teach or not to teach...

There have been SO many negative stories in the news lately concerning teachers/administrators/students and their conduct in (and sometimes out) of school. In my own backyard we've had students accused of racism and wearing a white pillowcase with holes cut out for eyes yelling out racist comments. Administrators put on leave and eventually quitting due to the accusations. *Hm... makes you wonder...* There have been several teachers successfully tried with touching/fondling/having sexual relations with students as young as junior high. Other news from across the country talks about teachers who put their students on blast on their facebook statuses or blogspots. Some even include pictures. I have three letters for you. WTF???

As educators, we are bound by an unwritten code of ethics. Well, even some written ethics. We are there to mold those little minds and help them along the path to college and beyond. They are the future leaders. Why would anyone in their right mind want to taint that? Why would we want to add more people to the prison systems, teachers and students alike, because of a selfish act? Educators are supposed to be the mentors, the guiders, the TEACHERS. WE'RE the ones who should know better. WE'RE supposed to be the adults. And guess what? If you can't handle the classroom or the students, GO ON AND GET THE HELL ON!!! How dare you call yourself an educator and screw up a child's life because you have low self esteem and your mommy or daddy didn't love you! Who the hell are you to talk smack about your students when you are obviously just as flawed because you can't handle your own classroom!

As an educator, SHAME ON YOU! I have spent many years teaching students from preschool through college and I have worked hard to instill in them the passion for learning. I have drilled it into their heads that they can DO anything, BE anything, there are no limits to their success. I had a student who struggled in my 3rd grade class and I spent the entire year telling him "YOU CAN!" Guess what? I saw him (three years later) at the regional Science Fair with his project. THAT'S what a teacher does. You inspire! You motivate! You EDUCATE!

As a Polynesian mother, if my children were subjected to any of those things mentioned above, guess what? You had better run if you are the teacher involved. I will show you no mercy because I have entrusted you with the life and minds of my beautiful children. Do not EVER mess with a Polynesian mama and her babies! And final word of advice? GET OUT OF THE TEACHING PROFESSION!!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Brother...

On April 3, 1973, a baby boy was born. He was the youngest of several children to Samoan parents who lived in San Diego, California. When he was only three months old and in true Samoan fashion, his great-aunt and uncle took him to American Samoa to live with his extended family. He lived by another name for many years. He was part of the family. He was the younger brother who loved to play outside, climb trees, throw rocks at the neighbor's kids, and laugh with the best of them. Even when people questioned whether he was a real sibling, the answer was always the same. Of course he's our brother! Even when he found out he was adopted and met his real siblings, he was still part of our family. He was still our brother. We were all with him when he passed away; ALL of his brothers and sisters. Whether physically or over the phone, we were all able to say our goodbyes, tell him how much we loved him and how much we would miss him, and hold onto him until the end. He will always be remembered as the hero who wanted to keep everyone safe, the teddy bear uncle who loved and spoiled all of the nieces and nephews, the brother who always made sure everyone was okay, the son who called in the middle of the night just to say HI. We will always miss him. His smile, his laugh, his stories. His memory lives on. RIP, Lino!