Saturday, October 29, 2011


Dear Child,

Welcome to Saturday morning. You'll only live this particular day once. One time. Take a deep breath. Make a cup of tea. Look around.

Purposefully misplace what could have been. Lock it in a closet and lose the key. Let go of what you should be doing or how you should feel. Simply inhale. Now exhale. And take it all in.

The golden-toned leaves shake on the trees drenched in sunshine.
The morning walkers, waltzing hand-in-hand, bundled in scarves and sweaters.
A healthy body and a (mostly) healthy mind.
A warm home and cozy fleece blankets.
Family and friends who love and support you.
Take. It. In.

You're sick.
You're tired.
You're a bit anxious.
So, be sick.
Be tired.
Be anxious.

Don't fight it or resist it. That doesn't work. Just be here in this moment. Look around. Feel those things you don't want to feel. Chances are good they won't kill you. They might make you uncomfortable. They might make you cry. But they won't kill you, oh no.

Don't let the best you've ever done be the standard by which you try to measure up to for the rest of your life. Because you'll always fail. You'll always come up short. Ditch your list. At least for a day. And tomorrow when you pick it up again, be kind. Perfection is a myth. Set realistic standards. The kind you'd give to your best friend or five year-old cousin.

Just let go and be here now. Please. For all of us. Be here now.


Thursday, October 27, 2011


This morning, I walked to my classroom by way of the Freshman hallway: "Hi Ms. Bo," came M on my right. "Good morning, Ms. Bo," sang D on my left. "G has a crush on you!" Giggle, giggle. Oh, kids.

In English 9, I split the students into groups by every thing from middle names, favorite colors, age, and favorite cereal. After doing so, P was not in the group he wanted to be in.

"Ms. Bo," he said, "Can I be in that group instead?"

Not really caring that much which group he was in, I said half-jokingly, "Will you be a distraction and keep them from getting their work done?"

He lowered his head dramatically: "Probably."

Eruption of laughter, and maybe even a snort.

Ken finds Adventist culture fascinating and often asks me questions about it. Being the resident "expert" on the topic, I am the guru which he seeks. I can't explain the shellfish thing well. This is frustrating to him. I explained that someone can eat pork, drink alcohol, and cuss up a storm and still be considered "Adventist." This perplexes him. The jewelry/dancing thing is also kind of ambiguous. Come to think of it, most behaviors associated with Adventism are ambiguous.

When he asks about why I don't drink, I assure him that whether because I was terrified of going to hell, terrified of being found out, or terrified that drinking one time would turn me into an alcoholic, I had never been tempted to try it. Or drugs for that matter. I think I've done okay without them. I'm not adamantly opposed to any of it, I'm just mostly un-intrigued by most of it.

Today, after school, Ken and I were planning our lessons for the next week. We decided it was a two-cups of tea sort of day (as opposed to our usual one in the morning). Two cups of tea means it's been long and the day isn't even over yet.

Ken looked at me and smiled, "Ya know, Ms. B? I think for you, it's either going to be taking up drinking or you find a different career. Because I don't see how you could possibly keep up with this not-drinking thing and still be a teacher."

He agreed that it would probably be better for any sane person to save their health and not become a teacher, but he apparently isn't sane. That' s why he teaches. And that might just be why I don't.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Can. I Will. I Am.

I can take deep breaths.
I can show this Monday who's boss.
I can be calm.
I can smile at difficult teenagers.
I can be patient with that student who forgot his homework. Again.
I can listen to what my students are saying.
I can maintain a sense of self even when it feels like these kids try so hard to tear it down.
I can nourish my body.
I can be wrong.
I can forget.
I can make mistakes.
I can ask for help.
I am good.
I am kind.
I am beautiful.
I am strong.
I am confident.
I am intelligent.
I am worthy. Damnit.

I need not make every student like me.
I need not be the student's number one favorite teacher.
I need not submit to their requests every time.
I need not feel bad when I can't meet all their needs.
I need not kill myself over this assignment or that deadline.

I am going to survive student-teaching.
I can give myself a break.
I can let go.
I can breathe.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


She came out of the womb completely and utterly perfect.
As we all do.

Yet she emerged kicking and screaming. The world was already a cruel place and she was prepared to fight it to the death. No one gets out of this life alive, but she sure as hell would try.

Her body was perfect: young, innocent, fleshy, alive.
Her hair was perfect: new, blond ringlets.
Her eyes were perfect: shiny, bright, greenish-brown.
Her value in the Universe was monumental (just like every other human being to ever step down on planet earth). Yet still, so very important.
Her character, personality, and charm were evident from day one: fresh, unique, worthy.

From the first time she looked at her reflection in the mirror,
From the first time she listened to beautiful women argue with compliments given them,
From the first time she measured her most average qualities to the absolute best in others,
From the first time she made a mistake and felt inadequate in every way,
From the first time she expected more from herself than any human being should,
she wanted more.
More assurance.
More confidence.
More peace.
Being simply "human" wasn't perfect enough.
Unattainable at best, but completely worth working for.

So she searched.
She fought with her body's natural cycles.
She saved up her allowance to buy anti-aging creams when she was ten.
She disagreed with her body's definition of "hungry" and "full."
She starved. She exercised. She vomited.
She argued with her body's size, shape, appearance.
She resented the vehicle designated to carry her through life.
If it had been up to her, she could have done better.

Family and friends adored this girl, for she was actually quite wise and intelligent and gifted and courageous. But there was always this one thing that held her back: herself.

Acquaintances and even strangers envied her confidence, her charm, her talents, her legs, her smile. When they told her, she said, "Thank you" with a smile, but thought to herself:
They must
be crazy.

Sometimes she even wondered if she was crazy.
If maybe everyone else wasn't telling her lies.
If maybe she wasn't seeing clearly.
No. She knew who she was and if they knew, they wouldn't be proud of her either.

She spent her precious seventy years on planet earth tearing herself apart, seeking perfection, not believing people's compliments. Not believing in herself.

She graduated college.
Got married.
Pursued a career.
Bought a home.
Spent holidays with good people.
Took a few vacations.
And died.
What a waste.

At her funeral, people did not mourn her absence as much as they mourned the life that could have been. The life that laid buried beneath her own self-hatred and doubt. The possibilities of all that she could have been, but refused to be until she was perfect and life fit within her expectations.

She never got it.
She spent her whole life missing the point.
She never understood that she was perfect from the very beginning.
The brutal fight she waged against herself for decades on end was completely unnecessary because she had won the battle for perfection seventy years earlier on the day she was born.

But now it didn't matter.
Because she was dead.

And life went on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Miss Representation

"As a culture, women are brought up to be fundamentally insecure," says Lisa Ling, one of many pivotal and vocal contributors to the film Miss Representation.

Teenagers average 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption (television, music, movies, magazines, on-line) every day.

"People learn more from media than from any other single source of information. If we want to understand what's going on in our society in the 21st century, we have to understand media."

We need to see this movie.
We need to spread this message.
I truly believe that our future depends on conversations about this.

Check out the website and the trailer here.

There are not currently any screenings scheduled to take place in Nebraska or anytime soon in Colorado. I'm considering looking into hosting a screening.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Need Not

I need not be perfect.
I need not be flawless.
I need not criticize myself to inevitable death.
I need not be 5'10 and 130 pounds.
I need not be blond.
I need not be blemish-free.
I need not get everything done on time.
I need not please everyone.
I need not remember everyone's birthday, make the best dinners, be the funniest person in the room, or be--as much as anyone else--incredibly sane.
I need not always have a clean house.
I need not have a clean and vacuumed car (note: must check oil).
I need not always remember to check my oil.
I need not eat a perfectly balanced diet.
I need not be the best, most efficient teacher to walk the face of the earth.
I need not be the epitome of time-management and productivity.
I need not have the "perfect" body.
I need not have the most cooperative, smooth hair.
I need not have the future figured out.
I need not know what I want to be when I grow up.
I need not fully understand student loans, mortgages, bill payments, health insurance, and how to do my taxes, right now.
I need not be the best student teacher my colleagues have ever seen.
I need not be the hottest, most supportive, mind-reading, fun girlfriend.
I need not win the award for being the most compassionate, giving friend.
I need not feel bad for not responding to that text, that e-mail, that Facebook message.
I need not lay on guilt that isn't actually there.
I need not always be brave.
I need not beat myself up when I don't call my parents every few days.
I need not flip out when life doesn't into my boxes or go my way.
I need not look in the mirror and hate what I see.

I need not.
And I want not.
Yet, I do.
And I'm not sure what to do about that.

I don't know what to do with myself when the list of things I shouldn't want (but I do want) pushes down on me like this invisible veil of expectations and things I'm failing at. It's heavy. And oppressive. And when it pushes down on me I want to throw up. Or eat. Or scream. Or ugly cry. Or throw things. Or clean. Or run. Or ugly cry. Again.

But instead, I'm sitting here writing. Because it was the only other thing I could think of (besides cleaning) that might actually make me feel better.

Two years ago I would've had a different, more destructive response.
This is good.
But I wish this felt more gratifying.
Because instead it feels like drowning.


Here are a few quotes from a piece I just read called, "Design, Ecology, Ethics, and the Making of Things" by William McDonough.

He talks about how design and creation have an obvious ethical component because what and how we create things adds to our global narrative and the health of the earth.

"LeCorbusier' said in the early part of this century that a house is a machine for living in. He glorified the steamship, the airplane, the grain elevator. Think about it: a house is a machine for living in. An office is a machine for working in. A church is a machine for praying in. This has become a terrifying prospect, because what has happened is that designers are now designing for the machine and not for people."

"If I presented you with a television set and covered it up and said, 'I have this amazing item. What it will do as a service will astonish you. But before I tell you what it does, let me tell you what it is made of and you can tell me if you want it in your house. It contains 4,060 chemicals, many of which are toxic, two hundred of which give off gas into the room when it is turned on. It also contains eighteen grams of toxic methyl mercury, has an explosive glass tube, and I urge you to put it at eye-level with your children and encourage them to play with it.' Would you want this in your home?

Products of service, or durables, are things like cars and television sets: "To eliminate the concept of waste, products of service would not be sold, but licensed to the end-user. Customers may use them as long as they wish, even sell the license to someone else, but when the end-user is finished with, say, a television, it should go right back to Sony, Zenith, or Philips. It is 'food' for their system, but not for natural systems. Right now, you can walk down the street, dump a TV into the garbage can, and walk away. In the process, we deposit persistent toxins throughout the planet.

"For a New York men's clothing store, we arranged for the planting of one thousand oak trees to replace the two English oaks used to panel the store. We were inspired by the story of Gregory Bateson about New College in Oxford, England...They had a main hall built in the early 1600s with beams forty feet long and two feet thick." The beams were suffering rot. At seven dollars a square foot, the replacement costs were huge. Someone recommended they talk to the College Forester. "And when they brought in the forester, he said, 'We've been wondering for years when you would ask this question. When the present building was constructed 350 years ago, the architects specified that a grove of trees be planted and maintained to replace the beams in the ceiling when they would suffer from dry rot.' Bateson's remark was, 'That's the way to run a culture.' "

When McDonough designs buildings he requires that the buyer agree to plant the appropriate square miles of trees that would be used in the process so that the resources will be replenished.

"We must face the fact that what we are seeing across the world today is war, a war against life itself. Our present systems of design have created a world that grows far beyond the capacity of the environment to sustain life into the future. The industrial idiom of design, failing to honor the principles of nature, can only violate them, producing waste and harm, regardless of purported intention. If we destroy more forests, burn more garbage, drift-net more fish, burn more coal, bleach more paper, produce more toxic and radioactive wastes, we are creating a vast industrial machine, not for living in, but for dying in. It is a war, to be sure, a war that only a few more generations can surely survive."

Saturday, October 15, 2011


My battle, like so many others, is accepting that--right here, right now--I am everything I need to be. I am enough.

This isn't complacency.
This isn't saying, "Meh, I'll never amount to anything more than I am right now."
This isn't giving up.
This isn't forfeit.
This is hope.

At this 24/7 rate of our media-saturated, technologically-driven, go-go society, it takes great--if not courageous--intentionality and grace to say, "Ya know what, maybe I'm okay."

A few years ago, I found myself at a department store at the mall with a girlfriend getting our make-up done. We had just found out they'd do it for free. So, why not? I extended the hand-held mirror in front of me as she began smearing flesh-colored foundation under each of my eyes. "There ya go," she said, looking at her work so far, "war paint."

I've never forgotten that. Since then I've recognized more clearly the charade (a.k.a. battle) I take part in every day. I'm really just a big liar.

We lie in innumerable ways:
-Bras: to make my breasts look, well, quite "unnatural" if you think about it compared to how we look without one
-Underwear: the right pair to avoid the "ghastly" panty-line (which by the way, five year-olds have picked up on for they can now purchase thongs at Gap). You wouldn't want people to know you're wearing underwear.
-Body Shaper (essentially ,way too much Spandex): form-fitting clothing? we may need some "smoothing" in certain areas to look, you guessed it "perfect"
-Heels: to imitate height, calf definition, and even butt perkiness
-Panty-hose: to cover ashy, varicose vein-infested legs
-Sunless tanner: to at least "look" tan
-Concealer/foundation make-up: to pinpoint the exact flaws and cover them up as to look..."perfect"
-Eyeliner: to make our eyes look more defined than they really are
-Mascara: to darken our eyelashes, because...they just need to be darker
-Lipstick: to make our lips more rosy and defined than they really are
-Hair products: to make our hair more of this or less of that
-Curling/straightening irons: to whip our hair into submission, whether our hair really wants to be curly/straight or not
-Razors: to look as though hairless comes standard on us women
-Waxing/Nairing: because there are just certain places that are not supposed to have hair, according to...
-Tweezers: to look as though our eyebrows are always so neat and defined

Don't even get me started on weight-loss gimmicks, tanning beds, corsets, hair extensions, eyelash growing medications, anti-aging creams, breast-enhancing pills, the $50 a month a woman could spend simply on maintaining her finger nails, nonetheless her weight, hair, skin, and teeth.

Companies and corporations don't want us to feel beautiful. They want our money. And they'll get it any way possible, usually by playing to the consumer's insecurities:"You're ugly. Buy our product and you'll be less ugly."

I wish I could say that even as I'm the one writing this, that I am somehow immune to this, but I'm not. I'm a sucker. I so badly want to feel good enough, whole enough, able to hold my own in this "race" for perfection, that I've bought many a product in search of the ambiguous: pretty.

I've had several friends have success with the ProActive skin care line. My own was not cooperating, so I tried it. It didn't work. I called to cancel. They convinced me they "just" released a new "extra strength" formula. I decided I needed this. It didn't work. I called to cancel. They offered to send me another variety. I said "no."

Two months after I said "no," they were still billing my credit card. I called to tell them about the mistake. They responded by saying they had no record of my ever cancelling to begin with. I asked to speak to the person in charge. She told me the same thing. I told her I felt that their company was being dishonest and I refused to pay for something I never received. She offered to send me a bonus/complimentary shipment of ProActive to amend the situation. It was at that point that I realized she was not listening to me. She was following a script.

Every month for the last six months I've received a letter in the mail from ProActive, resembling one that would come from a friend: bright colors, hand-written name and address. And inside it always says the same thing: "Won't you please give us another try?" They are desperate for my money.

I lie when I smear products on my skin to cover my "flaws."
I lie when I manipulate my body to look like this or fit into that.
I lie when I dump gels and goos on my hair then sizzle it into the shape I want.
I lie every day when I morph my body from what it looked like when I woke up, to what it looked like when I walked out the door.

Looking good and feeling confident is not a sin. I'm not advocating that we all stop wearing make-up and looking nice. What I'm asking is this: is there a way that looking good and feeling confident could be accomplished without all the cover ups, adjustments, and products?

This is why I so appreciate men and women who are starting conversations about this. People are beginning to shed light on the insidiousness of the "beauty" industry that is forever selling products that promise perfection.

Such as this one. An article written this month in O magazine about the plastic surgeries that would be required for a model today to resemble the all-American, all-perfect Barbie doll. The author writes: "Just because our distorted image of how a body should be is medically attainable, that doesn’t mean it should be attained."

Or how about this site: Healthy is the New Skinny?

Or how about Operation Beautiful? This site that has encouraged women to leave random/anonymous Post-It notes in places like women's restroom mirrors and dressing rooms that say things like, "Good God, you are absolutely stunning!"

I so appreciate these people who are opening the dialogue. I want to be part of that voice.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Half the Sky

The following quotes are from the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first married couple to ever win the Pulitzer Prize. This is one of the best books I've ever read because of their bravery and brevity in illuminating the struggle of women worldwide begging us to reconsider the notion that "If I'm okay, everyone else is probably okay too."

A Chinese proverb reads, “Women hold up half the sky.”


“More girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles on the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”

“In India, bride burning for inadequate dowry, or so the husband can remarry, takes place every two hours.”

“During the last nine years in Pakistan, 5,000 women and girls have been doused in kerosene and lit on fire or burned with acid for perceived disobedience.”

“In China, 100,000 girls are routinely kidnapped and trafficked in brothels and we don’t consider it worthy of making the news.”

“Women are the third world’s largest underutilized resource.” (238)

“Every year at least 2 million women disappear because of gender discrimination.”


“ ‘Prostitution is inevitable.’ He chuckled. ‘There has always been prostitution in every country. And what’s a young man going to do from the time he turns eighteen until when he gets married at thirty?’

‘Well, is the best solution really to kidnap Nepali girls and imprison them in Indian brothels?’

The officer shrugged, unperturbed. ‘It’s unfortunate,’ he agreed. ‘These girls are sacrificed so that we can have harmony in society. So that good girls can be safe.’” (24)

“People get away with enslaving village girls for the same reason that people got away with enslaving blacks two hundred years ago: The victims are perceived as discounted humans…When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.” (24)

The price for customers to a Cambodian brothel: $1.50 per session.

“One of the reasons that so many women and girls are kidnapped, trafficked, raped, and otherwise abused is that they grin and bear it. Stoic docility—in particular, acceptance of any decree by a man—is drilled into girls in much of the world from the time they are babies, and so they often do as they are instructed, even when the instruction is to smile while being raped twenty times a day.” (47)


“Surveys suggest that about one third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.” (61)

“They know that a woman humiliated in that way [rape] has no other recourse except suicide,” Mukhtar wrote later. “They don’t even need to use their weapons. Rape kills her.” (70)

“Rape has become an epidemic in South Africa, so a medical technician named Sonette Ehlers developed a product that immediately grabbed national attention there. Ehlers had never forgotten a rape victim telling her forlornly: “If only I had teeth down there.” Some time afterward, a man came into the hospital where Ehlers works in excruciating pain because his penis was stuck in his pants zipper. Ehlers merged those images and came up with a product she called Rapex. It resembles a tube, with barbs instide. The woman inserts it like a tampon, with an applicator, and any man who tries to rape the woman impales himself on the barbs and must go to an emergency room to have the Rapex removed. When critics complained that it was a medieval punishment, Ehlers responded tersely: “A medieval device for a medieval deed.” (61)

“In China, a neo-Confucian saying from the Song Dynasty declares: ‘For a woman to starve to death is a small matter, but for her to lose her chastity is a calamity.’” (81)

For rape to be legitimized in Sudan, “she must provide the mandatory four adult male Muslim eyewitnesses to prove that it was rape…Half of the women in Sierra Leone endured sexual violence or the threat of it during the upheavals in that country, and a United Nations report claims that 90 percent of girls and women over the age of three were sexually abused in parts of Liberia during the civil war there.” (83)

“The world capital of rape is the eastern Congo…All militias here rape women, to show their strength and to show your weakness…a viciousness, a mentality of hatred, and it’s women who pay the price…It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” (84)

“Extremist Hutus had targeted Claudine’s family, which was Tutsi, and she was the only survivor. Claudine had been kidnapped with her sister, and had been taken to a Hutu rape house…Large numbers of militia members came to the house, patiently lining up to rape the women. This went on for days, and of course there was no medical attention. ‘We had started rotting in our reproductive organs, and maggots were coming out of our bodies,’ Claudine said. “Walking was almost impossible. So we crawled on our knees.’ …Hutu militia members killed her sister but finally let Claudine go…Claudine was puzzled by her swelling belly, as she still had no idea about the facts of life. ‘I had thought I could not get pregnant, because I had been told that a girl becomes pregnant only if she is kissed. And I had never been kissed.” (213)


“Fistulas are common in the developing world but, outside of Congo, are overwhelmingly caused not by rape but by obstructed labor and lack of medical care during child birth. Most of the time, women don’t get any surgical help to repair their fistulas, because maternal health and childbirth injuries are rarely a priority.” (93)

“The fistula patient is the modern-day leper…The reason these women are pariahs is because they are women. If this happened to men, we would have foundations and supplies coming in from all over the world.” (97)

“The equivalent of five jumbo jets’ worth of women die in labor each day, but the issue is almost never covered…Right now the amount of we Americans spend on maternal health is equivalent to less than one twentieth of 1 percent of the amount we spend on our military.” (98)

“Would the world just stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive functions?” –Asha-Rose Migiro, U.N. Deputy Secretary General, 2007

“Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” (116)

In Somalia, “the innumerable local camels often have more freedom than the women.” (123)

“Thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don’t give them the same medical attention as boys. As many infant girls die each week as the amount of protestors at Tiananmen (between 400-800).”


“One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy. Until women are numerate and literate, it is difficult for them to start businesses or contribute in meaningfully to their national economies.” (170)

“Countries that repress women also tend to be backward economically, adding to the frustrations that nurture terrorism.” (159)

“Some security experts noted that the countries that nurture terrorists are disproportionally those where women are marginalized. The reason there are so many Muslim terrorists, they argued, has little to do with the Koran but a great deal to do with the lack of robust female participation in Islamic countries. Empowering girls, disempowers terrorists.”

It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” –Kofi Annan, then U.N. Secretary-General, 2006

“A society that has more men than women—particularly young men, is often associated with crime or violence…Young men in such countries grow up in an all-male environment, in a testosterone-saturated world that has the ethos of a high school boys’ locker room.” (158)

“It is not uncommon to stumble across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito net and then find the child’s father at a bar, where he spends $5 a week. Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses. Because men now typically control the purse strings, it appears that the poorest families in the world typically spend approximately ten times as much (20 percent of their income on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitutes, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children.” (192-3)

“Women now own just 1 percent of the world’s titled land, according to the UN. That has to change.” (195)

“Maternal mortality in the United States declined significantly only once women gained the right to vote. When women had a political voice, their lives also became a higher priority.” (198)


“Americans knew for decades about the unfairness of segregation. But racial discrimination seemed a complex problem deeply rooted in the South’s history and culture, and most good-hearted people didn’t see what they could do about such injustices. Then along came Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders, along with eye-opening books like John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me. Suddenly the injustices were impossible to look away from, at the same time that economic change was also undermining Jim Crow. One result was a broad civil rights movement that built coalitions, spotlighted the suffering, and tore away the blinders that allowed good people to acquiesce in racism.

“Likewise, skies were hazy, rivers oily, and animals endangered for much of the twentieth century, but environmental destruction unfolded without much comment or opposition. It seemed the sad but inevitable price of progress. And then Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, and the environmental movement was born.

“In the same way, the challenge today is to prod the world to face up to women locked in brothels and teenage girls with fistulas curled up on the floor of isolated huts. We hope to see a broad movement emerge to battle gender inequality around the world and to push for education and opportunities for girls around the world. The American civil rights movement in one model, and so is the environmental movement, but both of those were different, because they involved domestic challenges close to home. And we’re wary of taking the American women’s movement as a model, because if the international effort is dubbed a “women’s issue,” then it will already have failed. The unfortunate reality is that women’s issues are marginalized, and in any case sex trafficking and mass rape should no more be see as women’s issues than slavery was a black issue or the Holocaust was a Jewish issue. These are all humanitarian concerns, transcending any one race, gender, or creed.” (233-4)


Throwing Pencils

This week I asked my 9th graders about their greatest strengths.
I believe authenticity to be one of my greatest strengths.

Since I can't be perfect.
Since I'll never look like her.
Be like him.
Have this all figured out.
I might as well just be open about it because fighting is fruitless and I've made more friends by being authentic than I ever did by keeping it all inside.

I put this belief into practice in a big way on Wednesday by sharing my story with my Pop Culture class. Now I realize that I wrote a book about a lot of my "dirt." People can read my story on the internet. This blog is public. I've spoken in front of a few thousand people and felt confident doing so. But there's something different about speaking to thirty public high school students. No context. No background. The "teacher" title. And they are only a few years younger than me. I see every day that there's a huge-mongous difference between 17 and 23. And I'm okay with that. You couldn't pay me to step back into high school.

As we've been studying gender and culture in relation to popular culture, I sensed myself losing half of the audience. I felt them losing interest in the fact that every hour of every day 49 women are raped in the Congo, at least 1 Indian woman is doused in kerosene and set on fire for an inadequate dowry, women are beaten for being women, and others sold into sex slavery. We've got problems and when some of the students stated their belief that it wasn't really worth talking about because they couldn't do anything anyway, I just had to say something.

The next day, I told them that I was human.
I told them that I was nervous to share my story because I didn't want to preach at anyone.
I told them that, as they may have noticed, I am intensely passionate about gender equality for several reason: being taught at a young age to fear men, being sexually harassed in middle school, battling anorexia and bulimia, and being sexually assaulted in Cambodia.

I told them I believe I do have an ethical and moral responsibility to take care of other people, even people on the other side of the world,
even people I've never met,
even people I don't like.

I told them of my worries that if I don't give a damn about a hurting world, I'm worried that no one will. Yes, I feel responsible. Yes, I want to help.

I shared. They listened.
They didn't throw pencils at me.
They didn't roll their eyes.
I told them that if ever I began foaming at the mouth and turning red at this difficult topic of gender, they could say, "Okay, Ms. Bo, tone it down. It's going to be okay." But I was able to share why that just might happen. And they seemed to understand.

After class, K came up to me, tears in her eyes. She quickly said "thank you" and walked away.

I've never regretted telling an honest story. Even when the risks of transparency seem to far outweigh the benefits, authenticity has always been worth it. Every time.

Saying Grace

"You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink."

-G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Nearly every Sunday, for the last four years of college, I have come to the Mill to study; literature, rhetoric, women and minority writers, Biblical literature, secondary methods, learning theories and measurement, and more. I have slumped here in a daze inhaling the coffee, the locals, the buzz of conversations, and NPR. Head aches and runny noses, meeting with friends or studying alone. Getting lost on YouTube or taking walks around the block just to get through the day.

I look forward to the day when I come here on a Sunday with a book that I actually want to read. Or maybe I'll sit and write. Maybe I'll people watch. Maybe I'll meet up with a friend. Maybe I'll just sit and mindlessly read blogs. Either way, when that day comes, I will not come toting a textbook, a research paper to be written, or a stack of English essays that need grading. I will just come and be.

Some day.

That day is closer now than ever. Roughly two months from now, I will be finishing up my student teaching and thus finishing my requirements for college. I need that day to come sooner rather than later, because I kinda feel like I'm losing it.

The lifestyle that teaching demands is not one I'm fond of. The job requires working 40-some hours during the day only to continue grading papers and lesson planning into the evenings and weekends. I dislike feeling like I'm regularly letting everyone down: my relationships, my teachers, my Zumba classes, my dreams, my body, my mind, my spirit. It's that one-step behind, constantly playing catch-up thing that absolutely drives me crazy. On Friday when the school doors release us for the weekend, I'm instantly running through everything I have to do before Monday. It never stops. I make lists. I follow them. I live by them. I keep track of all these temporary requirements for "living."

This isn't living.

I realize that there's a good chance I'll have other jobs where I don't absolutely love every minute of it. That's okay. Hopefully, I'll find jobs that keep their word to the 40-hour a week commitment. Hopefully, I'll be in a position where I can walk away from a job that isn't what I thought it would be instead of hanging on to it for the hopes of that damn-ambiguous "college degree."

I look forward to having time.
To read.
To write.
To play.
To sit.
To sleep.
To spend time with people I love.
To grow.
To play/write music.
To dance.
To create.
To be.

But today, I'm at the Mill. Again. Needing to write up student evaluations but blogging instead. Grrrr.

Some day.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The F and the W

From the first day of class, I recognized F as a student who is different. And difficult.

F is intelligent. She knows our conversations. She has read and learned about these topics long before most of the students have. I think it's safe to assume that her parents probably lean liberal. She dresses her own part. She doesn't seem interested in blending into the student culture of materialism and shallow relationships.

On the flip side, F is regularly resisting homework, rolling her eyes in class, and all-around making me feel like a pretty horrible teacher.

On Thursday before class, F asked me, as several students have, "What is that 'W' you have drawn on your hand most days?"

I told her: "I'm probably crazy, but I have this problem where sometimes I think I am the scum of the earth. I imagine that there couldn't be a worse person on planet earth but me. 'W' stands for 'worthy.' I write it there to remind myself."

"Hmm," she said.

After class, she popped her head back into the classroom after all the other students had left and said, "Ms. Bo, I think you're awesome. From the first day of class, I just knew there was something special about you. I just wanted you to know that."

I nearly gasped. I was pretty sure she despised me and disliked the class. This encouraged me.

I told Ken about this and he surprised me yet again by saying, "Ms. B, what is this self-confidence 'thing' you struggle with? Why do you think you struggle to see yourself as valuable?"


"Umm...I don't know," I said somewhat defensively. "I've not had many conversations with people who don't struggle to see themselves as valuable. What's your deal? Why don't you struggle with this?"

Parenting? Bullying? Education? Religion? Nurture? Nature? Neither of us could come up with good reasons as to why we did or did not have great self-confidence. Frankly, I just think he's the strange anomaly. Because, I'm so normal.

Watching F in and out of class, I've realized the reason I am both intrigued and perplexed by her is because she reminds me a bit of myself in high school: kinda sassy, smart, asking bigger questions. This is good. Yet, I was much more of a conformist than her in high school and that's probably why she tests me. Which is also good.

I wrote down her words and put them in my plan book to regularly remind me that even the students who seem so distant and so disinterested, may just like me. They may not hate me like I imagine they do. Just maybe.


This week, I asked a guest speaker into my Pop Culture classroom where we are launching our unit on gender. She is a teacher from Uzbekistan, we'll call her Krom. She is a sweet-natured, kind woman who is visiting our school for two weeks as she did last year. She is learning about American education and has created a program for students here to correspond with her students in Uzbek. When I told her I was teaching a unit on gender, she offered to come share her experiences.

I didn't know how the students would respond. They can be rowdy. They can be teenagers and I didn't know if this is super-sweet woman could hold her own. But they gave her their full attention and I think it's because what she said surprised us all:
In Uzbekistan, she cannot wear pants.

She cannot make her own decisions without clearance from her husband.

Most girls are married off (by way of arranged marriage) when they are sixteen. So alas, they have to drop out of school because they are immediately expected to be wives and bear a child within 9 months. If they do not have at least one male child within the first two years of their marriage, they can be divorced, no questions asked.

Most boys are married off when they are twenty. How nice that they get to finish their education and there's not much pressure or risk for the men from that time on.

Krom was shocked upon her first visit to the States to find a man in the kitchen. A man made her breakfast and she found that incredibly odd. She said that in her thirty years of life, she had never once seen a man cooking, or cleaning, or helping with the children, or consulting their wife in a decision.

She has never been asked by her husband for advice. About anything. Ever.

She mentioned that she feels so much safer in America. She doesn't worry about being assaulted here. According to Krom (I know you'll hardly be able to believe this), if a woman is sexually assaulted or raped in Uzbekistan they actually blame the woman! Shocking, right? I told her that unfortunately it's often like that here too, but we're making progress in enabling women with rights and laws that keep the perpetrator from being let off the hook.

The students had many questions for her and the next day we de-briefed and discussed what we heard. If felt so good to hear some of the students say, "I never knew men had so much power in other countries," or "It sounds like Uzbek is about 100 years behind the U.S. on gender," or "Why isn't it like that here?"


Why is the gender climate so different in other countries than it is here?
What happened in America that hasn't happened in other countries?

Well, my suggestion is feminism. The countries were women are most discriminated against are those that have never had a successful or lasting feminist or equality movement. The countries were women have more rights (i.e. Western and European countries) did.

But I'll let them draw their own connections to that later in the semester.

Not Only

Part of my daily mantra goes something like this: "I am not only Ms. Bo. I am also a student, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a learner, a girlfriend, a skeptic, a writer, a musician, an athlete, and an artist. Student teaching is not my life it is part of my life."

Of all the reminders in my daily mantra, this seems to be the most important for me to remember.

It's important because these teachers and these students are not really my friends, and if I'm only Ms.Bo, than my relationships suck.

It's important because these teaching skills and lesson plans are not always perfect, and if I'm only Ms. Bo, than my talents are quite limited (and lacking).

It's important because these days are long and tiring and sometimes uninspiring, and if I'm only Ms. Bo, my life is quite bland.

But I'm not only Ms. Bo. I am more. And sometimes it's hard to remember that when I spend the bulk of my time in a temporary environment where I'm not always thriving. I need to remember I am not only Ms. Bo. There is life beyond student teaching.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Putting Down the Remote

This I Believe

Rachel - Norman, Oklahoma
Entered on January 31, 2007

I Believe in Putting Down the Remote

I believe in the strange and alluring power of television. This ubiquitous monster has the disturbing ability to gobble up my entire day without remorse. There was a time when I spent my days parked on a couch spellbound by its magic. I avoided experiencing my own day by studying the lives of others.

I would spend the afternoon watching high school teenagers from beach cities in California complain about bad hair days and messy breakups. Car commercials whizzed by in a flash of bright colors and curvy roads. I daily looked on with disgust at the scandalous plots and morally deprived residents of Landview. Unappetizing sights of enormous hamburgers were shoved in my face. I listened in on thirty minute counseling sessions hoping to be helped in some way. I played judge and juror to meaningless civil suites while people enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame. Finally, after one such wasted day, the guilt of letting life pass me by, frozen in the trance of an electrical picture box, became too much to take. My mind and body had sat dormant for too long. I set down the remote, stood up, and decided to start truly living.

I would no longer let my life pass by in a blur of sitcoms and commercials. I got rid of the day stealing beast and began embracing every day. Life became more meaningful. It was the beginning of my quest to fill my life with the things I love and live each day to the fullest.

The reactions of others were truly surprising.

Friends would ask, “Why would you get rid of your TV?”

Coworkers inquired with puzzled faces, “If you don’t have a TV, what do you do?”

I’ll tell you what I do. Instead of zoning out and letting the world pass me by, I live. Present in the moment as much as possible. I spend my days learning. I go for walks without destinations. I take naps in the afternoon. I enjoy the company of my friends. I write. Do yoga. Listen to NPR. I curl up with a crossword and a cup of coffee on Sunday. I bake. Listen to music. Talk on the phone for hours to my family. I am at peace alone with my own thoughts. Instead of being a spectator, I am performing in the center ring of my life. I believe in living. I believe in life after television.


"First They Came for the Jews"
By Pastor Niemoller

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I have this crazy idea that I am morally and ethically responsible for other people. This doesn't mean I always get it right or I'm spending all of my extra time serving those less fortunate than myself. I do my balanced best to take care of other people, to see them, to hear them, to--at the very least--look them in the eyes and smile.

This means that I turn off the water when I'm brushing my teeth or washing my hands.
This means that I bring re-usable grocery bags to the farmer's market.
This means that I buy local and organic when possible.
This means that I eat as close to the ground as possible, because the resources (grain, water) used to raise one cow for a hamburger could feed an entire community.
This means that I take part in conversations about cultures and world views that are different from mine.
This means that I am intentional about not being so wasteful.
This means that I take time to be grateful for the bounty that I have.
This means that I invest in people and ideas.
This means that I read about what men have to say about feminism.
This means that I listen open-heartedly to my more conservative friends.

I believe that we all live downstream.
But we try really hard to act like we don't.

I was reminded of these beliefs because on Monday I am starting a unit in my Pop Culture class on gender. When I mentioned the upcoming unit to the class last week, half a dozen guys simultaneously crossed their arms, leaned back in their chairs, and rolled their eyes. What is our Linkdiscomfort with this topic? Why have conversations about gender turned into a list of things that men are losing and women are stealing from them? How can I help them see their comfy position on this totem pole called "life"?

Why is that Mexican-Americans and women in the Congo can tell you how unfair and unethical their situation is, but the folks above them seem completely oblivious to it and even resentful to these people even wanting to have the conversation?

I think it's because they (I) don't have to.

I can't tell you which doors and exits at my school have ramps and handicapped access, because I don't have to.
I can't tell you where the elevators are located, because I don't have to. I can use the stairs.
I don't consider the difficulties of being in a wheelchair, because I. don't. have. to.

I think it's the same with race and gender and sexual-orientation. If we do not belong to a population of people who have less rights and privileges, we are likely to be ignorant to their situation and defensive when they voice their needs. I imagine we become defensive because it feels like we are being attacked or exposed. We aren't accustomed to being uncomfortable or unprivileged.

This is why I'm nervous about this unit on gender. I'm afraid that the boys won't hear what I'm trying to say: that we all need to be aware of those we can lend a hand to. They don't want to be told or reminded that they sit pretty comfortably at the top of the hierarchical totem pole of society, simply because they were born male.

I'm starting the unit with 2-3 days on the art of listening. We're going to practice paraphrasing. We're going to learn about our typical responses to critical information and how to respond non-defensively. I also want to start by just saying up front, "I'm nervous to be talking about gender..." and go from there. Honesty is scary, but worth it.

If I've learned anything about listening and openness in the last year it's this: I can't always convince those above me to give a damn, but I can choose to give a damn about those below me. I can lend a hand. And I will.