How Long is Too Long

When is enough enough? This is a question I have always struggled with. When will I be sick enough of what I am doing that the rewards I am offered are not valuable enough to keep me slogging away?

I’ve spent twelve and a half years in education. As the semester inches to an end, I find myself feeling the same sense of dread that I have spent for the majority of my life. My grades loom over me like an all-seeing-eye, reminding me that I’m not free to do much of anything if I can’t keep my GPA at a 3.0

The reality I’m facing is scary. I do feel as though I have let a part of my life go. I don’t feel like I am the same person who left New Mexico two months ago. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I had grown in a positive direction, but I feel as though I have done the opposite. My confidence in my abilities and intelligence is faltering. I am scared to let it fall any more than it already has.

I know I have options, but even that fact frightens me. Last night, I learned that I have support from those I love to do whatever I want to do that will make me happy. They have told me that my mental health and joy come before any kind of degree or association. Although this conversation relieved me, it added a new kind of pressure. Now, the choice is put onto me. So what do I want to do?

For a long time, as long as I can remember, I have wanted to make an impact. Who doesn’t right? No one goes out into the world with the goal of being ordinary and quiet. No one interesting anyway.  Of course I want to make an impact. When I made my food pantry, I knew I was making an impact. When I did my senior project speaking out against my school, I knew I was standing up for every student who had been trampled on by an administration. I knew that my radio shows were making an impact. When my blogs or pieces for Original Path are spread through social media, that’s an impact.

That feeling is what elation is. It motivates me like nothing other. That desire to expand my reach far and wide is what gets me out of bed in the morning, keeps me eating well and exercising, and motivates me to take care of myself emotionally. If I allow myself to feel like shit when I can do something else, my reach is not valuable, because what I advocate becomes a load of bullshit.

Maybe that’s where my fear lies. If I stay and get my degree, do what everyone expects me to do, I will surely be in a secure place, but I’ll also be miserable. If I leave and do something daring, I will be following my own advice and putting myself into a new situation filled with fear and excitement. I’ll be on the edge of something amazing. I may still be miserable, I may find that my unhappiness does not lie in my environment or situation. However, I’ll never know if I don’t try something new.

Nobody tells you how scary freedom is when you’re constantly battling for it. Nobody tells you how you won’t know what to do once you have it.

Eloragh

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Making the Right Sacrifice

I often struggle with my choices. I know people who are so definite and confident in their ability to make the right decision that they barely think about them. Me, on the other hand, I am a little more cautious with how I choose to spend my time. Today, for example, was my parents last day in Montreal but it was also Residence Festival at McGill.

I’m in a rez here so I thought I would make it to Rez Fest, but I decided to spend the day with my family. We went to a wonderful brunch place, they helped me put up decorations in my apartment, took me to the Atwater market, and ate dinner with me for the last time. When the day came to a close, I hugged them goodbye at the entrance to the metro. It felt sad but I knew I would have felt worse if I had gone to Rez Fest.

Although I am sad that I didn’t get to socialize and make friends at the festival, I don’t regret not going. I knew I had a choice to make and am happy with the one I went with, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be a little down that I couldn’t also participate in my other choice. There is a world of a difference between regretting what you decide and being upset that you had to make a decision that kept you from doing everything you wanted to do. One implies that you made the wrong decision, the other implies that you made the right decision and you’re a human being. It’s the best of both worlds.

When choosing between two options, I always go with my gut. If something doesn’t feel right, I find that it makes me uncomfortable physically. My body reacts to my decisions just as much as my mind does. Today’s decision was an easier one. I knew I needed whatever time with my parents I could get. I knew it would be hard to say goodbye when the time came. I knew it wouldn’t be as hard if I gave them my time and love while I could.

When you put yourself first, you remind those around you that you’re aware of your time and how you spend it. If you put others first with your time, you’re letting them know that you’re willing to sacrifice your time for your social gain. If you choose the second option, the combination of your inability to say no and the numerous people asking you for favors will exhaust you. If you choose the first option, those who want to spend time with you simply because you’re you will stay and those that only want you for more superficial qualities will eventually fade away.

Eloragh

The Soo

VICE recently did a documentary on Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (aka the “Soo”), the town my father was born and grew up in. It’s a small steel manufacturing city right on the US-Canada border. I have been coming here since I was born, but only recently have I been aware of the desperate state the Soo is in.

My grandparents moved into the Soo not long along. For most of my life, they lived on an island about 45 minutes out of town. That island holds a lot of memories from my childhood – climbing rocks with my cousin, fishing with my uncle, and roasting marshmallows over an open bonfire in the dead of night with my dad and sister. When they moved, I knew it was for the better. Their health had been declining for years and traveling back and forth for care was becoming too much for them.

I did acknowledge that moving was the right thing to do, but I was also forced to recognize that the house on the island would be sold. Much like my grandparents, the small cabin they lived in had been on a downward slope for many years. The forest around them was overgrown, their dock was in need of repair, and a part of their roof was ready to cave in once the snow fell. It was no longer the house I remembered, but losing it was still painful. I didn’t want to deny myself the right to feel that loss. A lot of people told me to think of it differently, but a loss is hard enough to process when you’re taking it at face value. Seeing it for what it was meant a lot to me.

Summers on Pine Island were hot and humid, filled with mosquito bites and the smell of dirt, but they were also rich with laughter and family. Before my uncle became ill, he would work all day every day to support himself and his son, so seeing him on the island was a rare and special occurrence. My best memories are those spent with him, watching him reel in fish, teaching me how to cast, listening to his stories about work. His life was much different than mine and it fascinated me.

Life interrupts memories though. The Soo is dealing with a drug crisis, my uncle and grandmother are becoming increasingly unwell, and my grandfather is all but gone. My cousin and his girlfriend are going to leave, they’re both ready to take separate paths in life. I’ve grown attached to them, I’ll admit. Soon, they will be some of the only family I have left. Life goes on, people move, people die, you continue. It is for reasons and observations such as this that I have to trust when I feel as though I am not in the right place. If I take anything away from watching my family drift away and apart, it is that the best memories I have with them were made in moments of raw truth and happiness.

That’s why I made this website, that’s why I continued ballet when everyone told me not to, that’s why I really want to succeed without college. Something about traditional paths doesn’t feel right for me. I want to prove to myself that I am what I was always told I am – different. If I’m going to be different, then I’m going to do things differently. Many things in life are scary and sad, but feeling those emotions brings you perspective. Watching the town I used to admire and adore fall into disrepair brings me to a lot of new perspectives. Life is not always about feeling happy or distracting yourself from the bad things. Let yourself feel, it’s a beautiful thing. It means you’re alive.

Eloragh

Healthcare

Being a dual citizen, I get a lot of questions about Canadian healthcare. People in America tend to think that it is a fantastically progressive country and that the US should probably adopt something similar to the Canadian system. However, many European countries, like the UK, are seeing economic collapse due to programs that are comparable to Canadian universal healthcare.

If you think of it like Social Security, you might be able to imagine that as the population grows, the incentive to work hard drops because of free programs and more and more people begin to depend on welfare systems as fewer and fewer people are paying into them. This leads to a massive deficit and eventually, if unchecked, bankruptcy.

I love free stuff as much as the next guy, especially free markets. However, free programs, such as Canada’s healthcare, tends to disrupt free markets. Nobody can compete with free. I think this idea is best explained through a real-life scenario that was brought to my attention by Magatte Wade: Tom’s shoes. Tom’s shoes whole marketing scheme is that you buy a pair of shoes and then they send a pair to a kid in Africa. It seems charitable and straightforward, but in reality, it is disruptive and has put a lot of African entrepreneurs out of business. Shoemakers in Africa cannot compete with Tom’s shoes coming in and handing out free shoes. It’s the same concept, apply it to healthcare in Canada, or anywhere else for that matter

Socialist programs akin to Canada’s healthcare system cause deficits and disrupt free markets, which, if that wasn’t bad enough, is not all that they do. My uncle went blind in December of 2015. His sight was gone overnight, and no one had any clue as to what had caused his sudden loss of vision. When they took him to the hospital, med staff took two days to diagnose him with MS and accidentally gave him 10x the dose of steroids he needed. The steroids suppressed his immune system too much, and he ended up permanently blind. The hospital took two days to diagnose him, messed up his prescription, and, almost three years later, have still refused to take responsibility for his disability. Canadian policies make it practically impossible to sue the doctor, so my uncle will never receive any reparations and will be disabled for the rest of his life.

Handouts cause laziness. Now that healthcare is government funded, doctors have very minimal incentive to do their job well. In some ways, I can’t blame them. Being a Canadian doctor used to be a great job with co-pays and insurance money coming from client coverage, but now it’s practically charity. These people will never pay off ten years of medical school bills, and that will leave anyone a little sour. But, when you’re dealing with peoples lives, it’s unethical to be so casual about your job. So we find, yet again, another problem with this seemingly utopian socialist policy.

Citizens of the U.S. don’t see this though. Many leftists will take what Canada is doing at face value and say “look, the government is supporting it’s citizens, as it is supposed to.” They don’t hear the stories about fathers and uncles who go blind because of malpractice, of girls who have to have their ankles rebroken because it took them over a week to see a specialist, of young children who wait months to see their GP, just for their parents to receive a notice of cancelation the day before the appointment. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s causing an epidemic of chronically injured and ill Canadians. However, the Canadian government would receive nothing good from sharing these stories, so those outside of the country only hear what the government wants them to hear.

During my four years of high school, I was deeply disturbed by the amount of influence the left has on what is taught to children and teenagers. Most of my history textbooks made my life out to be inherently apologetic and praised the socialist systems of the past. I argued endlessly with teachers against their communist ways of thinking in an effort to maintain my stance that a free market, the freedom of competition and the right to abdicate, was the best way for a society to flourish. I was sickened by the public education systems willingness to promote such a toxic and dependent government system that only ever ended in the expansion of administrations. I saw it as yet another way that the school system was instructing students to hand over their independence in the name of what is right and just.

Socialism doesn’t work. It never has, it never will, and it frustrates me to watch people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez preach a destructive doctrine. If America becomes more socialist, if it adopts the Canadian system, we will see the downfall of the free market. We will see laissez-faire become an idea of the past and the consent of the governed will be lost as citizens depend on the government to survive. Call me radical, but I have always seen socialism and welfare as a fast track for dependency. You want a fast track to a dystopia where we can’t dissolve the government? Implement socialism.

Eloragh

A Big Step

I submitted an application today. In fact, I sent it in about two minutes ago. I have visited the webpage for this application dozens of times since learning about the program behind it, and I had always come very close to clicking the “submit” button, but never did it.

Today, I couldn’t sleep, I was sick all morning, and I woke up feeling anxious and fidgety. I tried everything I usually try when this happens: eat something, drink some coffee, meditate, take a shower, splash some cold water on your face, do more suggested methods of anxiety reduction until you finally realize that this horrible feeling isn’t going anywhere because it’s being caused by something more specific: the sense of loss. The feeling of self-destruction, the feeling of dishonesty within yourself.

I opened the page. I didn’t think, I just filled out the short form. I wrote a brief paragraph about why I was interested in the program and I tried not to edit it too much. I wanted it to be the true reason, not the reason that I wanted people to hear. If I was going to apply to this program with the idea of “being honest with myself,” then I was going to start being honest with everyone.

There are very few people in my life I would say I am honest with. In fact, I would say there is really only one. This is not for lack of trying. I have made an effort to be truthful with people close to me about my doubts, my aspirations, my curiosity about my options, but they usually are not interested in hearing about alternatives. They want to see me on a secure path, which I can appreciate as them being caring, but it can be hard to feel pressured into a safe situation that bores me to death.

Here is the honest truth: there is a path I chose to take that I began to doubt before I even started it. My research, my experience, and my logic told me that this path could benefit me, but it may not push me to the best that I could be. That thought devastated me. I knew then that I would struggle with the balance between security and prosperity for a significant part of my life. I begged for counsel from those closest to me, and only found concern for my financial well-being, not my happiness. I saw that I was the only person who could honestly see what happiness meant to me and what I would need to do to achieve it.

So I hit the submit button at 9:27am on July 20th, 2018. The morning I took the first step towards my happiness, even if it meant a step away from security. Being secure, being financially stable won’t mean anything without a fulfilling life. I know I won’t feel fulfilled if I lie to myself and refuse to even entertain alternatives because those around me see them as “radical” and “on the bleeding edge.” They don’t understand that that’s exactly where I want to be.

Eloragh

Balance

Throughout my life, I have always struggled to find the right balance between working and relaxing. I tend to lean on either side for too long and end up neglecting my responsibilities or my health. My life is not very stable at the moment, but I wouldn’t ask for it any other way. With a constant flow of work, phone calls, emails, and things to be done, I am always making an effort to reach that perfect equilibrium.

This time last week, I felt bored. I had completed a lot of the work I needed to do and had more time on my hands than usual. I remember feeling frustrated and lazy; there was, of course, research or communications I could be doing, but I didn’t think any of it would truly benefit my projects at the moment. I try to not work just for the sake of working, especially when what I produce ends up being useless or unnecessary to whoever I’m working with at the moment. During this period, I read a lot, explored Montreal, and continued my day-to-day blogging and outreach work.

Today, however, is a different day. My to-do list is probably the longest it has been since I moved to Montreal. A lot of the tasks are menial and simple to complete, but I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of them. People drop projects, need more information, want help in different places, etc. Work springs up quickly and often catches me by surprise.

Today, someone dropped a massive project and then someone else dropped that right into my lap. I have associated with this project already, so I understand why the responsibility fell to me to complete it, but I will admit that I am worried about my distance from the “client.” I’ll be back in New Mexico for the first three weeks of August to complete an internship, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to work with this organization remotely until then.

Finding the balance between distance, responsibilities, physical and mental health, and enjoying your life is a big challenge for everyone. I find that setting a beginning time, a lunch break, and an end time helps. Sometimes, working from home can feel like time travel. You sit down to send one email at 9 am, and suddenly it’s 6 pm and you haven’t eaten or moved all day. This, in some ways, is good, it means you enjoy your work. In other ways, you won’t be adding value to anything if you sustain this type of lifestyle for too long.

When I was a junior in high school, I would watch my grades religiously. I updated the app on my phone after every class and made a note of every assignment and grade shift. I remember crying myself to sleep one night after watching my history grade drop from a 92 to an 89. The next morning, I woke up in a daze and decided that I was due for a reality check. Metrics, data, scores, grades, views, followers, paychecks, and other forms of success through numbers are fantastic ways to measure how much your work is paying off, but they are easy to become addicted to.

Measure your success by those numbers if you so choose, but measure it by other means as well. Measure your success by your happiness, by your quality of life, by those around you, by how you feel in your mind and body. There are many other ways to appreciate your work. To thrive, you have to think about the balance between work and play. Having adequate amounts of both will benefit your success in every aspect of life.

Eloragh

A Socratic Educator

What does it mean to be a Socratic educator? What are the credentials required to label yourself as such? Well, I label myself as a Socratic educator, yet I have no credentials. I have yet to receive a university degree, attend any sort of licensing program, or been presented with a certificate detailing what I am trained in. What I did, however, I think is much more valuable than any piece of paper or four-year program could give me: I watched people who called themselves Socratic educators try to teach me and took note of everything they did wrong.

My high school was a Socratic school, but that label was truly only a marketing scheme. Throughout my four years at Moreno Valley High School, the amount of Socratic education I received steadily declined. What I was left with was a watered-down “discussion-based” school that focused more on teacher philosophy than on the student involvement. My seminars turned into lectures from instructors about their political doctrine or personal moral beliefs. Initially, this frustrated me, but I knew that I had to find a way to make the school work for me until I graduated.

Do I really have a right to call myself a “Socratic educator?” Maybe not. I think about all the people in my life that undoubtedly deserve that title, and I wonder if labeling myself as such is disrespectful to them. On the other hand, I do work in education, I do focus on discussion-based, Socratic styles of learning, and I have operated as an educator of sorts. I do believe there is more value in experience than anything else, and I lived through four years of watching my teachers fail to provide me with the education they promised.

The concept of a seminar is simple. A few rules here and there to keep the discussion calm, but otherwise, you’re free to speak as you want. Judgment is thrown away as people come together not to argue but to ask each other for a better understanding of their differing opinions. I took the best experiences I had, the best seminars I could remember, and thought about what set them apart from the rest. I wanted to focus on what seminars meant to me and how I could take the most meaningful elements and apply them in real-world settings.

I started hosting radio shows using Socratic ideas. Students who had never been exposed to any kind of discussion-based learning quickly adapted to a simple theory meant to keep the conversation productive. It was more than easy, it was enjoyable to introduce them to this kind of communication, which is more than the teachers at MVHS can say. The radio shows have been incredibly successful, airing on KNCE Taos, KSFR Santa Fe, and NPR. My most recent success with them was an award for the NMBA Best Student Journalism Broadcast on our show about gun violence.

I call myself a Socratic educator not because I think I am “deserving” or “worthy” of the title, I do it because it’s what I want to be. I am not interested in becoming a teacher or going through the grueling licensing process. Instead, I want to spread the idea of progress through conversation, through connections, not classrooms. People respond well to tolerance and genuine interaction, two ideas that seminar is based in. Being a Socratic educator has never been about shoving my ethics into the face of my peers, it’s been about asking them to consider a different point of view while I do the same. In my opinion, trying to spread that message has taught me a lot more than any lecture could.

Eloragh

Image credit to alignleadership.com