“Teacher” by Christina Knowles

“Teacher”

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There’s nothing quite like the light in the eyes of a student

Understanding dawning unexpectedly

A signpost revealed on a destined journey

Previously lost, the way revealed

Better still, enthusiasm kindled

The desire to know just for the sake of knowing

I can see it when our eyes meet

Suddenly and unanticipated

A kindred spirit

I see the spark glimmer

Sharing the love a favorite poem

An incredible novel, words that move and stir

Words that burn and change them

The philosophical depth of Thoreau

The insight of Dickens

The straightforward profundity of Steinbeck

And then . . .

The birth of something new

The product of a student’s pen

The baring of a soul, the beginning of knowing

Who they are and what they have to say

To a world listening, eager for a relationship

Between writer and reader, poet and philosopher

There’s nothing better

A new writer, excitedly asking you to read his work

The pride in his eyes as you express your awe

In the phrases he creates

A new Whitman is born

And I contributed a verse

To the inspiration of a new generation

The state can’t document this on a form

But I know what I’ve done

Evaluate away

I’ll be right here, creating the Emersons of the future

My job is to find the spark in a student’s eye

And start the fire.

—Christina Knowles

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Obsessive Vehicle Attachment Disorder–Do You Have It? by Christina Knowles

flower (1)O.V.A.D. Obsessive Vehicle Attachment Disorder. I have this condition. I have it badly. While some people revel in the thrill of trading in their cars every few years for something more modern, with less miles, and less repair headaches, I have owned the same vehicle for the past eleven years, and it was used when I bought it. You may think I am just being frugal or practical. No, that’s not it. I have poured thousands of frivolous dollars into my 2000 Chevy ZR2 Blazer just because I love her obsessively.

Maybe it’s because I paid hard earned cash for her when I was first striking out on my own after finally getting up the nerve to abandon a terrible relationship. Maybe it represented my independence in ways besides the ability to go where I wanted or the financial freedom of having no car payment. I already had a car that was paid for when I bought Flower (Yes, that is her name). I think she may have represented independence because I had just found my independence and was making a fresh start. I was flowering, and as I did, I projected those feelings on to my car by covering her in bumper stickers of which no one in my previous world would have approved. I decorated her with daisy embroidered seat covers, put a fabulous stereo in her, and bought her thousand dollar tires. I drove her like I was shouting to the world who I really am for the first time. I mean she really is a rolling billboard of my values, my hobbies, and my political views. I was discovering who I really am and announcing it to whomever would slow down long enough to read my opinions.

Needless to say, my sixteen-year old car needs a lot of love and attention these days. Love is no problem, but the attention she needs costs money and time in the local autoshop, and even though I love her, the realization that no matter how much money I spend, she isn’t going to last forever has finally settled on me. And although Flower drives as good off-road as she does on, makes it through any blizzard conditions safely, and is as fun to drive as she ever was, I made the decision to buy a new vehicle after the last $1100 repair bill.

I sulked for a few days after bringing my new car home. Everyone kept asking me if I was excited for my new purchase—a 2015 Nissan Juke, but they didn’t understand that I was grieving for my old one even though I still have it. I suppose I’ll have to sell it soon. Forcing myself to accept my new ride, I bought some new daisy seat covers, some controversial bumper stickers, and am planning on checking out car stereos in the near future. Suddenly, my little Juke started growing on me. Maybe she will represent a new era in my life. I’m not sure what this era will be—we never know that for any era until it’s over. But I think she has the potential to be my next car obsession.IMG_4842

Flower wasn’t the first vehicle I was too attached to. When I was twenty, I bought a 1978 AMC Concord for $800, named him Watson, and drove blissfully for six years before sadly giving him up for a newer car. But I haven’t been attached to every car I’ve owned. I’ve heard it said that some cars have souls and some are just machines. I think we just love the ones that we can easily project ourselves onto—the best sides of who we are, of course—who we want to see ourselves as. That’s why we have trouble letting them go. And if they’ve been good and loyal to us, it’s even harder. I think I may be moving into the acceptance stage of grief, but I still have my days when I want to say never mind, I’ll pay the repair bills; take the new car back. But then I think I would already miss Daisy. Yes, my little Juke already has a name. I think it may be too late. I admit it. I have O.V.A.D. and there’s no treatment.—Christina Knowles

10 Steps to Joy and Balance by Christina Knowles

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via barevitality.com

For the past few years, I’ve been struggling to find balance and contentment in the midst of my busy life of responsibilities. A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog describing my struggle called, Balance, Yeah Right, basically feeling lost regarding making significant changes. Well, since then, much to my surprise, I’ve actually made real progress. I feel happier and more relaxed than I have in years. No, I did not quit my jobs—any of them. I still teach college, high school; I still write my blog—in fact, now I have two. I’m publishing a collection of poetry, working on a short story collection, and writing another suspense thriller. So, what’s different? How can you takes steps to a happier, more balanced life too? Well, here’s what I did. Maybe it will work for you too.

  1. Separate work and home. First of all, I set boundaries between work and home. I do all my grading and planning at work and don’t let it invade my free time. The only exception is when I get an unexpected day off in addition to my normal weekend, and even in this case, I limit my work to a couple of hours. In fact, I have developed such a habit of not working at home that I can barely force myself to do even this.
  2. Get help and scale down. I resisted this for the longest time. I didn’t want someone else coming into my house, cleaning it in a way that was different than I do it. I didn’t want to spend the money either, but I finally gave in. It came down to the fact that I was tired of spending my only day off cleaning the house, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and cooking. The only time I spent with my husband was cleaning together or shopping together. I started dreaming of spending a day with him and my dog, walking through the streets of quaint Old Colorado City, going to the dog park, hiking, visiting a museum, or curling up together to read a suspenseful novel. That’s all it took.

We hired a trustworthy, bonded maid service to come when we aren’t home, we cut our grocery shopping down to every other week, and I gave up cooking all single ingredient homemade organic meals. We still eat healthy foods, but now I buy a few easy-to-prepare organic foods like premade sauces and deli-made meals or something similar. Not cooking everything from scratch has given me my life back! We had to compromise a little, but we still make sure we are eating healthy, natural foods, and I still make the homemade stuff, but only when I feel like it. What’s more is I actually enjoy cooking again!

I had to relax and be okay with the fact that my house may not be cleaned exactly as I would do it, but they still do a great job. Only shopping every two weeks has saved us money as well, so it kind of balances out, and that’s what it’s all about.

  1. Say no. This was a hard one for me. Have you ever been secretly relieved when someone cancelled plans with you, even though when you made them you really wanted to participate? I still find saying no difficult, but I’m getting better at turning things down when I know I’m overwhelmed. With that said, make sure not to isolate yourself by saying no to everything. Dump the responsibilities for a few hours, see your friends and loved ones, and nurture the relationships that enrich your life, but stay home and do nothing when you really want to.
  2. You can say no at work too. In the past, I thought I had to do whatever I was told even if it didn’t fit my job description or if it was impossible to do within the time allotted during my work-day. I finally had to stand up for myself and say that it wasn’t okay to ask me to work extra hours for free and allow work to invade my free time. I work my butt off without even taking a lunch break at work in order to get all my duties done at a stellar level during my working hours, but if it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. No one has the right to expect the impossible. I guess I’ve had to lower my standards, but it’s the best thing I ever could have done for myself, and the strange thing is, I don’t think it’s lowered the quality of my work at all. On the contrary, everything seems to work better than ever before. Maybe it’s my happy, no-longer-abused attitude working to my advantage, allowing me to concentrate on the essentials of my job without stress.
  3. Make a practical and realistic plan. Every day I make two lists—one for work and one for home. I write down everything that needs to be done, and then star the most important things that are non-negotiable. I get the most important things done first, and then do the lesser things when I’m done. Whatever doesn’t get done, goes on tomorrow’s list. I always get the non-negotiables done. I also get a great deal of satisfaction crossing things off my list.
  4. Realize that some days it’s okay to throw out the plan altogether. I don’t do this often, but there’s nothing better than just ignoring the list altogether and doing what you want sometimes. By the way, there should always be at least one day a week when there is never a list at all.
  5. Fit little moments of relaxation and fun in wherever you can. I like to take 15 minutes in the morning after getting ready for work to read or work on a puzzle I’ve been putting together. I listen to fun, adventurous, or suspenseful books on CD in my car whenever I drive. This makes me feel like I haven’t neglected all the books I want to read, it makes me look forward to going to work or driving anywhere, and it has the surprising effect of making even rush hour traffic peaceful and enjoyable. I have actually wished that I could be stuck in traffic longer just so I can finish a book. I also keep an adult coloring book nearby to pick up whenever I need a few minutes of relaxation (not in the car!). I have a Kindle book on my phone at all times, so I can enjoy a few minutes of escapism whenever I have to sit and wait for anything. I get some sunshine and fresh air whenever I can by reading outside or walking my dog or meditating under a shade tree. These little moments are more than stress reduction. They make me feel like I have dozens of happy things in my routine that make every day feel like a joy.
  6. Do what you love, and it won’t seem like work. Everyone says this, but it is so much easier said than done. I know not everyone can just quit a secure job and change careers at the drop of a hat, but if you really hate your job, you need to make a plan for a change. However, you may not need to do anything that drastic. Once you make some changes in what you are willing to do and what you are unwilling to do, you may start loving that old job again. It’s amazing what setting limits can do to your attitude at work. You may start looking forward to working once you feel like you are no longer being taken advantage of. If not, then it might be time to look for something else.
  7. Realize that you don’t have control over most things. This can be tough, but realizing that there is nothing you can do about some things, and that you can’t control the outcome all the time is really quite freeing. Know that if your plans don’t work, it’s not the end of the world. You are going to be okay. Life is full of making little adjustments. Keep adjusting your course in ways that add joy, and before you know it, you’ll wonder why you ever bothered to be unhappy in the past.
  8. Finally, be content within yourself, and you will be happy most of the time. If we love who we are, take care of ourselves, and treat ourselves with respect, then we will be content and joyful almost all the time. Happiness is a fleeting thing, and when tragedies strike, of course, we will grieve, but we can experience moments of joy more and more often when we are accepting of who we are and take the time to nurture ourselves.

So, this is what I’ve done and what is working for me. I’m no life coach, but I know what it is like to struggle with stress, busyness, and discontentment, and I also know what it feels like to be free, joyful, to love my job and home life, and to finally feel relaxed. I hope you find this same contentment in your life. Peace. –Christina Knowles

Student Loan Nightmares by Christina Knowles

college-loan-debt-roommateAs the next presidential election nears, everyone is talking about college, taxes, the price of tuition, and how those struggling to enter or maintain their positions in the middle class are going to pay for an education. Some are rather harsh in their criticism of those who may not have the gumption to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, something one might note that is quite impossible. Others note that one must hang on to something to leverage his pull up, but that it does require effort. Still others suggest an elevator be made available to everyone hoping to rise.

Traditionally, federal student loans, I think, have been put in that middle category—an aide to the motivated and responsible individual, a way to invest in one’s future with a concrete reward at the end, which enables the individual to pay back that debt after becoming a productive and valuable member of our economic system. Everyone wins, right?

Well, my student loan nightmare really began in grad school. I scraped my way through undergrad courses with no help from my family and through no fault of their own. My father was a WWII disabled veteran, who was denied benefits, and I knew I couldn’t even ask for help paying for college. I finished two associate’s degrees by working my way through and paying as I went, in addition to a couple of very small loans. I paid those back immediately and took another small one to transfer to a university. After twenty-four credit hours, and with a 3.9 GPA, I finished my bachelor’s on an academic scholarship. Like many who do not fully understand that student loans are not really meant to help, but are a means of profit for the lender, I deferred them and took another to start my master’s because everyone knows to make a living as a teacher, you must have at least some grad school.

When I finished my Master of Arts in Creative Writing, I was already teaching, but I took another loan to get my teaching certificate to work in the public school system, taking all my education classes for graduate credit, while simultaneously beginning course work on a Ph.D. in order to teach on the college level. By the time I got my teaching program finished, I was a single mother on a teacher’s income. When I took my loans, I was married and fully expected I would have no trouble paying them back. But as life routinely shows us, things don’t always turn out as we expect. It was time to face my student loan nightmare.

I get it. I took the loans; it’s my responsibility to pay them back. I am not a deadbeat, a freeloader. I am someone the system was meant to help. I am an intelligent and motivated person who came from the wrong side of the tracks, grew up in bad neighborhoods, had no hope of going to college. Now I am a highly educated and productive member of the middle class who has not been unemployed in the past thirty years. Still, I do admit, however, that I think that college should be free for all academically inclined citizens because it levels the playing field, provides opportunity for all, helps to eliminate the caste system we say we abhor, educates our citizens so that they can participate in the political process, allows us to compete with the world in science and innovation, and increases the ideals of freedom and democracy. An educated people raises the overall health of the economy as well. We need our citizens to be educated—not just for their sakes, but for our country’s health. Nevertheless, I took my student loans with the intention of paying them back, which I am now doing. I just had no idea that it would have been better to put my college education on a credit card than going through our federal programs. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to get any other type of loan because we save all the good deals (low interest rates) for the people who don’t need them. But mainly, our generation was fibbed to, if not exactly lied to. We were told that student loans were great. They existed to help. They were low interest, were easily deferred if you ever had a financial hardship, you did not have to worry about paying them back until you could afford it. To the naïve poor girl with big academic dreams, it sounded too good to be true. It was.

Dealing with the government loan system has become quite similar to owing the mob money. Here is one brief example that is typical of my experience with them.

A couple of years ago, the company who owns my direct government loans (yes, they sold them to a for-profit company), suddenly, inexplicably changed my name, address, phone number—everything— back to my previous information from twelve years ago, and sent all correspondence to my ex-husband, including some important information regarding paperwork that had to be completed by a certain date. I never got it. As a result, they deducted $1500 from my checking account instead of $300. When I called to complain, they realized their error, and put it back after about a week of having an empty account. I had asked them to refund the $1200 and keep my regular payment that was deducted each month. They put it all back instead, and then sent me a notice that I missed a payment, so they capitalized my interest, added $20,000 to my loan, raised my payment and my interest rate, and said, “Suck it.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was their attitude.

This was not an isolated incident either. Due to paperwork errors that had nothing to do with me, my interest and payment has been raised periodically. Then, about two weeks ago, I went on my loan site to check it (because now I check it all the time with great fear and dread in the pit of my stomach), and I noticed that all my information was once again back to my ex-husband’s information, even though I am remarried and have lived at my current address for eight years. In a state of panic, I began the process of phone calls, emails, and faxing information, wondering how many thousands of dollars would be added to my loan this time.

Long story, short (too late, right?), I borrowed about $55,000 for one degree $40,000 for another, and after paying over $15,000 back, I magically now owe $152,000. At least as of yesterday. Last week I owed $151,000, and I have no idea how it went up a thousand dollars in a week. I’ve never missed a payment or submitted one late. In fact, it’s on automatic deduction. When pressed for explanations, the loan personnel go into impossible-to-understand details about capitalization (Did I mention I was an English major?) and the fine print on my thirty-two-page loan documents. My payments are now about $600 a month, but I never even touch the principle. I hope to utilize the ten-year forgiveness plan for public servants, but hope is really too strong a word for this cluster—k. In truth, I have little hope of this “loan forgiveness” ever being realized because the loan company will, no doubt, continue to sabotage my efforts. They have even lied to me about special teacher programs when I asked to apply for them.

For some naïve reason, I thought that government loan programs were there to provide opportunities to those who would not be able to go to college any other way. I idealistically thought that, as Americans, we wanted an educated society, if not for the altruistic reasons we claim, then at least to raise the general level of the economy in order to compete with other countries in the world, and finally, because having the majority of its citizens educated is the best way to ensure freedom and democracy for a country. Clearly, I was wrong. We want to offer education to our citizens as a carrot to wave before them, teasing them with a better life than that with which they were born, only to yoke them in an indentured servitude from which they may never be free.

As politicians speak of free college and more and more high schools are offering free classes for college credit, what will we do about the scores of us who have already gone to college, and will never be able to retire because long after our homes are paid for, if we can even afford a home, our student loans will still linger on? My mortgage is much less scary than my student loans because I don’t have to renegotiate it every year, they don’t constantly raise the payment, and I can sell my house if I can’t handle it. I can’t give back my education. Look, I’m not a deadbeat. I want to pay back my $95,000, but I am a public servant. I teach other people’s children, I work long hours, I work after work—unpaid, I go years without a raise, and I make much less than those with the same education in other careers. In the midst of all this reform, may I simply suggest that the exorbitant interest be removed from the loans of those of us who did not have these opportunities available to us? At least remove that $20,000 added for a mistake that was not even mine. Or do something about that unexplained $1000 increase in just one week.

I have a full-time job as a public high school teacher, I also teach part-time at a college, and I get paid a little for my writing, but my student loan is always there, hovering as some dark force over me, and it’s the single most stressful thing in my life. The harder I work, the more my payment goes up. If I had a home loan for $95,000, I would have a fixed rate I could afford. It would have an end date. I would be paying part of the principle every month. I am not a deadbeat just because I want—no, I need— retroactive student loan reform, and these payment plans of 10% of “discretionary” income don’t work for two reasons: they continue to snowball interest out of control, and they discourage people from getting ahead and making more money. Someday I can hope to pay $1000 a month to my student loans, all the while the principle goes up with no end in sight.

If our government can bail out corporations and corrupt banks, they can forgive the interest on previous student loans, which in my opinion, is nothing more than illegal usury with the government as kingpin and the private loan companies as mob captains and leg-breakers. At the very least, it is government sanctioned indentured servitude. This is the 21st century; let’s catch up with this rest of the free world, and stop pretending our failed systems are part of a healthy free market society, or if we truly care about the financial health of our citizens, show it.—Christina Knowles

Life-Lessons from The Shawshank Redemption by Christina Knowles

The-Shawshank-Redemption1            In 1982, while still in high school, I first read Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” in a short story collection called Different Seasons and have been hooked on King ever since. Then came the movie version: Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, two of my favorite actors. It has been my favorite movie since the first time I saw it in 1994. If you haven’t seen it, where have you been? A movie about hope, friendship, and the indomitable human spirit, it’s still the highest rated movie of all time according to the IMBD. If you haven’t seen the movie, you need to stop reading and watch it now. Get ready to “get busy living or get busy dying.”

*SPOILER ALERT* If you’ve never seen it, you might want to stop here. Anyway, there are some minor differences between the story and the movie. In the story Red is an Irish guy with graying red hair, there are a few different wardens during Andy’s incarceration, and the last one is forced to retire instead of getting busted and committing suicide. Tommy, who had new evidence of Andy’s innocence, was bribed with minimum-security prison instead of getting shot, and Brooks played a slightly more minor role in the story than in the movie. Also, the story ends with Red getting ready to go meet Andy instead of arriving in Mexico. However, minor differences aside, Darabont held closely to King’s original story and was true to the integrity of the characters. Even many of the lines from the movie are dialogue taken directly from the story. This story is so poignant, so profound, and so universal that I don’t know anyone who sees it without feeling like he just got schooled on life and how to live it. The basic premise is that prison is a metaphor for life and, no matter what life gives us, how we handle it makes all the difference. But there are so many life-lessons in this movie that it’s worth taking a closer look at them.

One of the first things I get from this movie is that life is just not fair. Just get used to it, bad things happen to good people all the time. Not only did Andy’s wife cheat on him, but he is blamed for her murder as well as for her boyfriend’s. He got two consecutive life sentences, and he didn’t do anything. Life’s not fair, but Andy did not let even that ruin his life because not only can suffering be endured, you never know when things will suddenly turn around. Time is going to pass anyway. Will it be good time or bad?

                  Andy went through some serious suffering at the hands of the “sisters” in prison, as well as at the hands of the guards and the warden. But Andy doesn’t let anything in that he doesn’t want in. We see that the body can be broken, but not the spirit. No one can take away what is inside you. The human spirit cannot be contained within the walls of any prison if you don’t let it. We have control over our inner life, and no one can affect us in any significant way unless we let them.

Andy always had hope, which is the main theme of the movie, but not only did he have it, he shared it with everyone around him. Hope is essential to human endurance. A lot of long-term prisoners at Shawshank didn’t have a lot of hope. Red said hope was a dangerous thing, but Andy didn’t see it that way. He thought losing hope was more dangerous. Hope kept him going when he didn’t think he had the strength, and hope led to action. He was willing to take the biggest risks because of hope. Andy also gave hope to Red, who might have ended up like Brooks if not for him.

Brooks had become institutionalized. The thing that struck me about Brooks was how we can so gradually get used to the way things are, even if they’re terrible, that we become immobile from fear of change. When Brooks was released after serving over thirty years in prison, he couldn’t take it on the outside. He lost hope because he let fear paralyze him.

Red didn’t want to become like Brooks. He learned to take risks from Andy. What did he have to lose? When Andy had had enough, when he decided he couldn’t take it anymore, he took a risk, and it paid off. There was no point in playing it safe because time was passing rapidly, and if you just play it safe, you’re just waiting to die. Andy said, “Get busy living or get busy dying,” and taking risks is part of living. Time is going to pass either way, so we may as well spend it living. He successfully taught this lesson to Red because when the time came, Red was willing to take a risk to jump parole and take a bus to join Andy and start living rather than ending up like Brooks.

But before Andy ever took this biggest risk, he planned ahead and used his skills that he already possessed. Before Andy went to prison, he set up an account under a pseudonym with some money in it. He hid a fake passport and ID under a rock in the middle of a field under an old oak tree—just in case. It was there waiting for him when he needed it. When he was in prison, he used his skills with accounting and his knowledge of tax law to become a valued and necessary person in the prison. Eventually his skills led him to successfully escape. He was also educated and intelligent. His cleverness led to his freedom, but along the way he shared his knowledge with others and showed them how important knowledge and ingenuity is to survival. He had self-worth and persistence as well. No one could make Andy feel like he was worthless or take away his belief in himself. He endured, knowing he deserved better, and set about to make it happen. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, as the saying goes, and Andy wrote letters every week to the prison board until they funded his new prison library.

Eventually his persistence led to his freedom too. If you chip away at a problem a little at a time, it will yield big results. Andy picked away at the crumbling concrete walls of his cell for years, hiding his work behind a series of pin-up girl posters, smuggling the powdered remains out into the yard on a daily basis. He took his time (he had plenty) and kept up the pressure. Eventually, he had his path to freedom. He never could have gotten away with it if he tried to do it all at once, or had given up because it was taking too long.

Andy always had purpose. Immediately upon arriving at Shawshank, Andy took up hobbies. He collected rocks, carved figurines, built up a great library within the prison, and got a job doctoring the books for the warden. He even tutored a fellow inmate, helping him pass his GED. Keeping busy, whether in prison or in life, makes the difficult times go faster, gives us purpose, and can even be enjoyable.

            He noticed beauty even in prison, and it made his time go easier. He read books, carved beautiful figurines, appreciated his pin-up girls, and let beautiful music take him away from the prison in transcendent bliss. Beauty would be easy to ignore in a place like Shawshank, but Andy let it help him rise above his surroundings.

Andy made friends and took care of them. He helped Tommy get his GED, he was a loyal confidante to Red, he finagled a deal to get beers for his work crew, he brought culture and beauty to the prison, and he offered his help in financial matters to several people at the prison. As a result, Andy was well-liked, respected, made real friends, and put himself in a position to help himself. But the most important thing he did for everyone was to remind them that the human spirit can never be imprisoned. He genuinely cared for others, rejoiced in their successes, and was loyal and kind to those who earned his friendship. He realized that people need to feel free and have dignity and respect. If we have this, we don’t need much else. When Andy got the guard to buy his work crew beer, and they sat on the roof enjoying the suds on a summer afternoon, it was like all of them had been set free for just a little while.

Andy teaches us that sometimes you just have to take a stand for what you believe in. When Andy found an old record album of beautiful opera, he locked himself in the office and broadcasted the beautiful music over the loudspeakers, so that all the inmates could experience a moment of beauty. He knew he would be punished, but it was worth the cost.

Andy shows us that we might have to be willing to go through some shit to get what we need. Andy knew that freedom meant wading and crawling through 500 yards of sewer to get to the other side, so he bucked up and just did it. The lesson here: Suck it up and do what’s necessary.

Next, we learned that transformation is possible. People can change if they learn how. Andy changed a lot of lives, but he probably had the biggest effect on Red. He changed Red’s outlook, and he taught Red not to be institutionalized and to have hope. Red also was rehabilitated. He was a different person than the brash young man who entered Shawshank.

Being honest is another theme. Red sat in front of the parole board time and time again, giving them the stock answers about how he was rehabilitated, not a threat to society, had learned his lesson, and he was always denied release. When Red didn’t care enough anymore to say what he thought they wanted to hear, he was just honest. He talked about the young man he was when he committed his crime, he talked about what he’d learned through the years, about his regrets, and about how he wished he could go back and talk to his younger self. Recognizing his sincerity and his true rehabilitation, the parole board approved his release.

            Another important lesson from Shawshank is not to be bitter. In the end, Andy claims responsibility for driving his wife away, and even feels bad for putting her in the position she was when she was murdered, even though he spent more than twenty years in prison, paying the penalty for a crime of which he was innocent. He wasn’t bitter. Instead of dwelling on others, and things he could not control, he reflected on himself and how he could learn and change, and be a better person.

And finally, we learn that it’s good to take a rest. Andy headed to Mexico to live a better life. He earned it, he deserved it, so he took it. At the end, we are left with the impression that Andy is going to spend the rest of his days living out the hopes and dreams of his long and unjust incarceration. He isn’t going to punish himself, living in fear or anger. He’s going to “get busy living.”

So, I apologize for going on so long on this topic, but this story is so rich with meaning and deeply insightful that I just couldn’t help myself. This is why it’s my personal favorite when it comes to movies, and why I consider King, who has an intuitive understanding of the human condition even in its most degraded state, the Charles Dickens of our era. So, what will it be? Good time or bad? Will you get busy living or get busy dying?—Christina Knowles

 

Date Your Wife, Not Your Daughter: Avoiding the Electra Complex by Christina Knowles

It’s mid-January, and that means Valentine’s Day is just a month away, and with that comes something I dread—social media flooded with pictures of daddy-daughter dates and the ultimate gross-out, the father-daughter dance. These don’t always happen in February, but the fact that this seems to be the most common time for these activities, adds to my revulsion.

Now before you get too offended, I know that the fathers who take their daughters to father-daughter dances and on “dates” have the best intentions. I’ve heard the explanation that these dates teach your daughter what to expect from the men in her future—that she should be treated gently and with respect. Unfortunately, many psychologists disagree with this logic, and I think we intuitively know that. Just think about it for a minute.

Your daughter probably watches Disney movies where the princess wins the prince, often after competing with another female character. Little girls in our culture are predisposed to think they have to compete for male attention. Your daughter may know you love your wife, and she sees you dress up and go out together. She idealizes you, and if your relationship with your wife is good, she may envy it. She may want to win you from her mother. This is a normal stage of development, but should not be encouraged to linger. If she thinks she has a chance, this can cause an unhealthy dynamic between all three of you. When the daughter becomes confused about her place in the relationship, this phenomenon is called the Electra Complex.

According to educational psychologist, Kendra Cherry, “The Electra complex is a psychoanalytic term used to describe a girl’s sense of competition with her mother for the affections of her father. It is comparable to the Oedipus Complex” (Cherry). Wikipedia defines it this way, “In Neo-Freudian psychology, the Electra complex, as proposed by Carl Gustav Jung, is a girl’s psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father” (Wikipedia). The origin of the phrase (coined by Carl Jung) comes from Greek mythology. Electra conspired to kill her mother after discovering her mother was plotting against her father. As an allusion, the term has come to generally mean a woman whose love for her father is inappropriate, and therefore, unresolved, so she transfers these feelings to other men, thus harming her ability to have healthy relationships with others, often dating older or unavailable men to unconsciously resolve the desire for her father.

It is my contention, and I think this is common sense (I don’t pretend to be a psychologist), that dating your daughter, especially the formal father-daughter dances, confuses the relationship between parent and child, may cause competition between mother and daughter, and may result in resentment towards the mother, possibly leading to the daughter trying to resolve these issues in future relationships. This is the opposite of the message you are trying to send to her.

If you don’t see how this practice is romanticizing the father-daughter relationship, think about the connotations of the terms we use. Most men would never say they were taking their son on a father-son date. They just “hang out” with their sons. Why the confusing romantic terminology when it comes to daughters? Face it; it’s creepy.

Do you really want to create friction between your daughter and her mother? Do you think it’s healthy for your daughter to romantically idealize you and resent the attention you pay her mother? To be in direct competition with her mother for her father’s attention? You don’t have to agree with Jung or Freud on everything to realize that this is not only unhealthy, it’s actually kind of gross.

If the goal of dating your daughter is to teach her to expect gentlemanly behavior and respect from a man, then the best way to teach her this is to simply treat your wife that way in front of her. Date your wife, not your daughter. Treat your wife like a princess, and your daughter will learn the lessons you want her to without all of the confusion and conflicted emotions.

It is not confusing for her to see you treat her mother romantically. She will have more respect for her mother, and she will desire the type of relationship you have with her, but she won’t be fantasizing about you being her prince. You have to admit that the idea creeps you out a bit. At least I hope it does.

Listen to that feeling in the pit of your stomach; listen to your intuition. Date your wife and hang out with your daughter.—Christina Knowles

 

Sources:

Cherry, Kendra. “What Is the Electra Complex?” About Health. Updated 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

“Electra Complex.” Wikipedia.org Updated 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Father-daughter photo. Finding justice.org [http://findingjustice.org/father-daughter-dance-violates-the-law/]

Year End Reflections by Christina Knowles

Once again I sit here reflecting on the year that is coming quickly to a close. As all years do, 2015 brought its share of joys, heartaches, and problems, and with them life-lessons and growth. Looking back on this year, the things that stand out to me most are the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me, and though these stories are not mine to tell, I have learned from them. I’ve learned about the value of love, loyalty, and to prioritize time with loved ones above all else. With that in mind, I’ve had my own issues with which I have dealt.

The biggest personal event in my life this year was probably experiencing a stress heart attack last summer. It was minor, and I have been given a clean bill of health, but nevertheless, it was the catalyst for making several changes that I knew I needed to make for some time, but like most people, I had to come face-to-face with my own limitations before accepting them.

As a result of this event and of the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me this year, I have finally “lightened up.” I no longer work every night at home on schoolwork. I grade almost all my papers at school, I do most of my planning at school, and I simply eliminated anything that was not essential or directly related to my students’ success and learning. I work my butt off at work, and I still work my butt off at home, but it’s different work. It’s my work—creative work that I choose. I spend my time doing what I think is important because my time is not guaranteed to last.

So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

So instead of detailing all the things that happened this past year, I’ll just say that some of it was good and some of it was not, but I learned from it all, and what I learned is that my life is in my control, and I don’t need a specific set of circumstances to start living it the way I want to.

All in all, I am happy with how this year turned out, happy with what I did with the time allotted, and that’s a good feeling. This year I learned to prioritize my life, find more balance than I ever had before, and do things that give me and those I love the most benefit from the time we have. Time won’t slow down, and I probably won’t either, but I can decide what is worthy of the minutes of my life. And the funny thing is that all of those things that I was waiting on to change, don’t even need to change anymore because I have changed. I love my job again. I love my home-life. I love where my career is going in both teaching and writing. I love my life again. I’m not waiting for anything to get better ever again. I’m making what I have better and enjoying every minute of it. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

Bad Neighbors by Christina Knowles

'Normally I'd be optimistic that we could work out a little problem like this.'

We’ve all had that neighbor, the neighbor that makes us want to immediately put our house on the market and move. I’ve lived next door to this neighbor for the past seven years. They let their weeds grow, they do stupid, weird things like instead of fixing the fence, they nail brand new boards to the broken down posts, adding more weight to something that already could not support the weight it had—even after we offered to go in with them, paying for half of it ourselves. They park rusted RVs that don’t run in their driveway for 6 months at a time. In the summer, they have parties in their backyard that start at 3 AM and go until about 7 AM—loud parties. But I can live with all of that without complaining. What bothers me is how they treat their dogs—and the fact, that I can never get a good night’s sleep in my own bed because of them.

They have several big dogs. At times there are up to five of them, but usually I only see two or three. I think the owner shares custody with her ex-husband, so they come and go. They have a large fenced backyard, but the dogs have to stay in about one quarter of the yard in a dog run. Within the dog run, there is a smaller caged area. I’m not sure what that is for, and thankfully, I’ve never seen any of the dogs in it. The dogs can run back and forth, but it looks really boring and not of adequate size for big dogs. In the dog run, there is a big plastic shed that takes up a lot of the space, and they do have a dog house for shelter. The ground is dirt, and there is no grass to roll in or trees for shade. In the summer, the people take them on a walk about once a week. I think the dogs are pretty bored and neglected, so I’m not blaming them, but at least one of them barks continuously all night.

My bedroom window is right next to their backyard—the side with the dog run. These dogs are out even on the coldest nights. Sub zero temperatures? They are out and bark even more, probably trying to stay warm.

At first, I politely went to their door to talk to them during the day. They did not answer, after clearly peaking through the window at me. Then I would ring the doorbell in the middle of the night in my bathrobe while the dogs were ferociously barking in the backyard. No answer, but the dogs would mysteriously disappear inside for about an hour. Then I escalated to ringing their doorbell over and over, ringing it perhaps twenty times in a row in the middle of the night. No answer. Next, I called the police, standing in my backyard, making the dispatcher listen to a chorus of five barking dogs at 4 AM. The police arrived, rang the door bell, the dogs mysteriously disappeared into the house. No answer—even for the cops. The police told me that since the barking had stopped, they couldn’t do anything about it. The dogs were released back into the yard twenty minutes after the police left and continued to bark all night. Next, I called the Humane Society when the dogs were barking all night in sub zero temperatures. They said if the dogs had a dog house, there was nothing they could do. I took to going over to their house as soon as my alarm went off in the morning at 4:45 AM to ring their doorbell twenty times whether their dogs were barking or not. This is what bad neighbors reduce you to—pathetic and childish retaliators, obsessed with revenge for lost sleep and neglected dogs. I didn’t like what I had become. Helpless anger has always been my most despised emotion.

I’ve had many suggestions; one that sounds great—shaming them publicly, which I guess I’m trying to do right now. The only problem is that I won’t reveal who they are or their address because I worry that if they end up getting harassed, then there may be legal ramifications for me—oh, the injustice! Also, giving out their address makes mine public by extrapolation. Despite my filling the internet with my personal business, I do appreciate some privacy. What to do, what to do?

My only weapon has ever been words, specifically the written word. I am going to write them a letter, detailing their crimes, and how these have affected my life. Specifically sleep! The lack of, by the way, my doctor has blamed for a recent stress angina I suffered. I should sue them! But, I will just make my case in written form, appealing to their common decency and educating them on the need for warm shelter for the other victims of their crimes—the poor dogs, who obviously are not content suffering through the winter in their stark, freezing, and boring dog pen. I wonder if they will care. Will they even read it? Perhaps, if I leave it on their doorstep on Christmas Eve with a plate of cookies, after ringing the doorbell thirty or forty times, of course.—Christina Knowles

Cartoon by Carpenter, Dave

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