Thursday, January 31, 2008

my name means "bold"

Yesterday at work, I had to be mean to a friend. Wait, no, scratch that, it's time for some cognitive reframing. Yesterday at work, I had the opportunity to be assertative.

I'm a nice person. Sometimes too nice. I don't have enemies, and I try to keep it that way. I like being liked. It's more important for me to liked than to be right. That's come up a couple of times in classes: how individuals have the need to the liked, and the need to be right. For certain people, and in certain situations, one need will outweigh the other. Well, about 99% of the time, I'd rather be liked than right.

Last semester my officemate at work would frequently comment, "You're too nice. Be careful, someone might take advantage of that." I am a nice person at work. I go out of my way to be helpful - making sure everyone has what they need, staying a little late or coming in a little early to accomodate people, making compromises from time to time. I tend to be more helpful for those I feel are my friends, and who I know would reciprocate the help. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, my officemate was really stressed and not sleeping much, so I scored a test for him that he could have scored for himself. He's been helpful to me and I consider him a friend and I felt a little sorry for him, so I scored the test and left him a "Merry Christmas" note on it. And I truly don't mind coming in early or staying late here and there, because my boss is really kind and lets us off during student holidays, when technically we're only supposed to get off for faculty/staff holidays. He'd told me last semester that he's fine with doing this, as long as I stay "really committed" to this job. I define "really committed" as being willing to go over and above, to stay late when I need to, and to make sure things get done when they're supposed to get done. I also trust my boss, and I know that he's not going to pull the whole, "But I'm letting you have all of spring break off, why can't you do this for me?" card.

But I have wondered what's being helpful and committed, and what's pushing my boundaries. I do worry that there are people who I interact with who will take advantage of my helpfulness, and expect more from me than I can give.

Last week, one student, we'll call her Helga called me just as I was about to go on my lunch break, "Hey, are you going to be around for another 10 or 15 minutes? I need to get into the clinic and get some things ready for my client at 1." Now, I had planned on going to a computer lab to work on some homework during my hour-long lunch break. But Helga's always been nice to me, and we first met last semester outside of school in a social setting. We're not in the same program, but we have some mutual friends. So, not wanting to say no to a "friend," I agreed to stay a little longer. 45 minutes at the computer lab should be enough. Well, I couldn't get the program I needed to work right, so I just used my time in the computer lab to print some articles.

Perhaps not standing up for myself in that situation was a mistake. Perhaps I opened the door for Helga to expect too much from me. Perhaps Helga, who is a more assertive woman than I am, decided that I was someone who could be easily persuaded.

Yesterday, Helga was in our clinic, testing a student. Our clinic closed at 4pm, I had class at 4:30. 4 o'clock, 4:05, 4:10 passed. Helga was still in the room with her client. I knocked on the door. No answer. I grabbed another student who's in Helga's program and knows more about testing that I do (we'll call him Ivan), and we watched on the tv monitor to see when she was done the subtest she was working on. "This is ridiculous. She's from New York," Ivan explained, "Even if she heard you knock, she's not going to answer is she doesn't want to." As soon as she was done with that subtest, I raced back to her room, knocked, and entered. "The clinic closed at 4pm, are you guys wrapping it up?" "Ohhh, I have one more subtest. 10 more minutes, and I'll be done." "No, it's 4:15. I have class at 4:30." "Ohhh, ok, you can go ahead and leave, and we'll be finished soon." "No, I have to stay until the client leaves. I also have to collect and enter your fee slip." "Oh, ok, let me fill out the fee slip, and then you can enter it while I finish. 10 more minutes. Will you go grab her file please?" I brought her the file, she handed me the fee slip, repeated, "10 more minutes," and closed the door.

What was I doing? Suddenly, this wasn't about being late or on time to class. I don't care, my professor would understand. This was about someone being pushy, not listening to me, not caring about the rules, and me just letting it slide. Me being too nice and just letting someone walk over me. I couldn't let this happen. I couldn't be a doormat. So what did I do?

"Ivan! She won't leave!" Ivan and I raced back to the door. Ivan knocked, and stood silently at my side as I spoke with Helga. "Helga, do you have another appointment scheduled with this client?" "Yes, next week." "Ok, you can do this subtest next week at her next appointment. We need to close this clinic." She looked at me, then looked at Ivan. "Ok, we're finished for today." Then, I swear she gave me the death stare. Talking with another classmate about it later, he explained, "The death stare is just her expression. Helga doesn't have an expression except for the death stare." I forgot to ask him if he'd seen Juno. "Your girlfriend gave me the stink eye." "She's not my girlfriend, and that wasn't the stinkeye. That's just her face." I wonder if Helga's house smells like soup.

Death stare or not, I stood up for myself. I was in the right, she was pushing me, and I stood strong. Maybe one of these days I'll be able to stand up for myself without an Ivan. But for now, every little step counts toward something.

Monday, January 28, 2008

let's play dress-up!

Walking out of my 2007 Camry into the counseling clinic where I now spend 8-10 hours a week, wearing Ralph Lauren, chugging down Starbucks coffee, I was suddenly struck with a horrifying thought. "Good Lord, I must look like a yuppie! Who am I?"

Fortunately, I quickly remembered that I had bought this outfit from a thrift store. Phew, I'm still a poor graduate student. Identity crisis averted.

Last week, myself and another counseling student agreed that sometimes we feel like we're just playing adults.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


This past weekend, I bought tequila and Snack Packs on the same day.

I love being an adult.

On another note, I'm so excited about all the Oscar love Juno is getting! I don't think it'll win best picture, but just to be nominated, wow! And "Falling Slowly" from Once was nominated! Ratatouille got a screenplay nomination! Oh man, I'm definitely watching the Academy Awards this year, if they still happen. The Michael Clayton cast certainly deserved all of their nominations - they each cranked out superb performances. I'll be rooting for Tilda Swinton. Unfortunately, I can't comment on all the ones I haven't seen, but maybe I'll go see Atonement this weekend.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

the twelve

About 9 years ago, a tragic accident occurred at my university, resulting in the deaths of twelve students. One of those students had been valedictorian of my high school. Though I never knew him personally, I knew his brother and others who were close to him. Watching the news coverage of the accident in my freshmen speech class was an experience as surreal and emotionally charged for my high school as was watching the second plane crash into the tower two years later in my statistics course. There's a memorial built near the accident site honoring the twelve students. I've visited it twice with each of my parents, once in the daytime and once at night. It's a beautifully designed memorial and a moving experience to read about the lives of the twelve and see their faces etched in stone. If you ever come visit, I'll take you there if you like.

This memorial is also near my parking lot, and today when I drove by I noticed an unusually large crowd entering the site and a school bus parked nearby. I suppose this was a school field trip which made me wonder: What's the educational purpose of this field trip? There are many valuable lessons to be learned from visiting this memorial: honoring those who have fallen, the transience of life, and the necessity to create something meaningful out of our lives. However, these all seem a bit too existential to fall within the normal realm of public school education. I do think I had some AP English courses that touched upon these themes, and perhaps the students were from an English course, and will soon be turning in compositions based on what they experienced. Or perhaps it was a history course, and this field trip was something akin to visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in DC. You know, I automatically assumed that the students were from a local school, but I never was able to see what the side of the school bus said. Perhaps they were actually from one of the high schools attended by one of the twelve and had driven in from somewhere near Houston or Austin. If this was the case, then perhaps no lesson was being contrived from this experience - they were simply paying homage to an alumnus. Whether they were directly connected to one of the twelve or not, I'm glad that many experience this memorial.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

anthropology via facebook

Ok, I can't write solely about politics for two weeks straight. I do have more to say in continuation of my previous post, but for now, just let me ramble.

I discovered that there are statistics for each network on Facebook, showing that network's favorite activities, movies, music, and books, as well as relationship status and political statistics. So, I had to do a little comparison between the school where I (and most of you) went to undergrad, and the school where I currently attend graduate school.

My alma mater enjoys listening to Coldplay, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Incubus, and the Fray the most, and those all made the top 10 for my current school, who also placed "Country" at number 2 and included George Strait. Both schools' favorite books are the Bible, Harry Potter, the Dan Brown books, and some books we probably all read in high school like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Lord of the Rings made the list for my current school. For my alma mater, the Number 1 favorite movie is Wedding Crashers, followed by The Notebook as Number 2, and for my current school, these two films switched places at top. I was pleased to see two of my favorite films, Garden State and Love Actually, made it into the top ten of my alma mater's list, but Braveheart and 300 (which I also enjoy) pushed those two films off the top ten at my current school. Also, some of my favorite tv shows like Friends, LOST, and the Office were in the top five of both lists, but for my current school, Scrubs replaces Sex in the City.

At both schools, about 40% the network members don't list their political view, and 30% don't list their relationship status. At my alma mater 28% are conservative, 15% are moderate, and 10% are liberal. At my current university, 33% of the network is conservative, and only 6% claims to be liberal. Relationship statistics are pretty similar between the two schools, which surprised me. At my previous school's network, 29% are single, 25% are in a relationship, and 12% are married or engaged. At my current school, 31% are single, 26% are in a relationship, and 14% are married or engaged.

The really interesting differences emerge when you consider the top interests of these two schools. Both love music, reading, movies, shopping, dancing, friends, and sports. However, for my current school, fishing, hunting, and football replaced the former school's interest in traveling, working out, and running.

So considering these comparisons, I can make a few general conclusions. My previous and current schools read the same books, watch the same tv shows, and have a lot of the same favorite movies and music. My current school enjoys country music more than my previous school (no surprise). It's hard to tell with only a 60% response rate, but my current schools appears to be slightly more conservative than my alma mater. I had expected it to be much more conservative, but I guess I had forgotten that my alma mater is also overall pretty conservative. According to these statistics, my current school really isn't more marriage-minded than my alma mater, which actually completely surprised me.

My current school enjoys fishing, hunting and football more than traveling and working out. Perhaps this is because there are more men attend my current school and those interests are typically more masculine, whereas more women study abroad. Or, perhaps I just came from a school where people were more image conscious and had more money to travel, and now I'm at a school where people are more typically country and Texan. Indeed, over 85% of the students here are from Texas, whereas I believe that about a third of the students at my alma mater were international or from another state. Folks from Connecticut and California just ain't gonna be fishin' and huntin' as much as us Texans. The high number of Texans here makes sense, since this is a public school and charges higher tuition for non-state residents, and my alma mater was a private school which charged the same tuition for everyone.

So there you have it, facebook statistics show what I've known all along: my new school is a little more conservative, a little more country, a little more masculine, and a little less geographically diverse than my previous school. Sadly, this is all a little less me. Fortunately, my interests are pretty varied and I consider myself somewhat of a social chameleon. I enjoy myself drinking beer while playing dominoes and going to the shooting range (not while drinking beer, of course) or drinking wine at an art gallery and going to a poetry reading, though of course, I prefer some of these activities over others.

Classes start tomorrow. I told a friend a couple of days ago that I was actually ready because I've been bored at work this past week. Now that in 12 hours I'll be back on campus, I sure could go for another week off! Oh well, I am excited about seeing my classmates again, and I read a little from my textbook for tomorrow, Systems of Psychotherapy: A Transtheoretical Analysis, and yeah, it's going to be pretty interesting. Funny, one of the authors is from Scranton, Pennsylvania, home of our favorite branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. I had the opportunity to watch several episodes from season 3 the other day ("The Merger" through "Phyliss' Wedding"), and was surprised to find that Karen was kinda a likable character. I always just thought of her as some pretty hussy stealing Jim from Pam, but I should have trusted Jim's judgment better. Group exercises, excuse me, "Group Recxercise" classes are free at the campus rec center this first week, so I'm going to check out a few (Yoga, Cycling, and maybe even Hip Hop) and see if they're something I'd like to continue. Tuesday we're celebrating one of my classmate's birthdays. You know, this might be a good first week back at classes after all. Even if it's not, I'll have MLK day to breath again.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Politically Speaking Part 1: Does welfare make people lazy and dependent on the government?

I tend to avoid discussing politics. For one thing, I never feel like I'm informed enough to make a good point or even have something worthwhile to contribute. But despite the amount of information I have or don't have, I mostly avoid it because too often political discussions become unproductive and downright nasty. I've seen otherwise nice and polite individuals become hostile toward one another just because they disagreed politically. People are passionate about politics (and rightfully so), but often this passion leads to blindness and deafness. People stop listening, and start shouting. Political discussions, and even presidential debates, often seem to me to just be contests of who can shout the loudest.

"I'll listen to other people's ideas, but they just need to realize that I'm always right," smirked a politically-minded friend last semester.
"Now, that doesn't leave much room for real dialogue, does it?" I smiled, patronizingly.

I would never want to discuss politics with a friend of that mindset. Well, I will admit, I do have another friend of a similar mindset with whom I do occasionally like to discuss politics, but mainly because she's so easily riled up and I like to get under her skin sometimes. But nothing productive ever comes out of it, as I'm often just playing devil's advocate and don't even share my true opinions with her.

However, last week I enjoyed a political discussion with a few people seated around a round table (how appropriate), in which we presented our ideas, questioned, argued, hypothesized, and no one got hurt. Surprisingly, I not only enjoyed this conversation but felt invigorated by it. I think it turned out well because people actually listened. Imagine, actually listening to someone you disagree with, and actually being heard by that person. I agree with Carl Rogers, to be heard really is something incredible. To be heard is to be respected and accepted in a way that words can never express.

So, perhaps political discussions aren't as scary as I had thought. On that note, I have some things to share in response to that conversation last week, Anton's posts about Ron Paul and his ideas on healthcare, and Martha's recent post about her political leanings. Anton, Martha, I respect and admire both of you. Fortunately, because slight differences among friends are good things, I respectfully disagree with some of your opinions. I do hear what you're saying and it's given me a lot to think about. I don't want you to feel singled out or attacked by this post - you guys were the inspiration for this, and I thank you. I want to respond with my thoughts, and give you and anyone else who reads this something to think about.

There are several things that I intended to address in this one post, but I began writing and realized that I was being too ambitious. This will merely hopefully be part one of a four or five part series addressing welfare, charity, healthcare, and how our taxes are spent. I think the quality of individuals posts will be better than if I just lumped all of my ideas together, and this also allows you guys to comment and me to respond to your comments throughout. Before reading Martha's post this morning, I had intended to write about my intense and unyielding love of HEB. By the end of this series, some of you may wish that I had carried out my original intention. But rest assured, once I get a few political thoughts out of my head and into the blogsphere, I'll be back to writing about HEB, trees, grad school, loneliness, whiteness, and whatever else I'm experiencing. But right now, I'm experiencing an unusual political interest, and I intend to take advantage of it.

Part 1: Does welfare make people lazy and dependent on the government?

Lots of people don't like the idea of spending their hard-earned money on poor people, arguing that they are lazy and welfare creates dependency, giving no incentive to find work and get off of welfare. It really is an awful idea. I work for my my money, so why should I be paying for someone who isn't working? Doesn't sound fair at all. As a social work minor, I remember in one course discussing myths about welfare. I tried to find these myths and facts online, and I found plenty, but most authors were citing statistics that were at least 10 years old, before the welfare reform of 1996 and TANF was created to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. So, I decided to just read up on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and refresh myself on what exactly it is. First off, just reading the title, welfare is temporary and therefore shouldn't create dependency because at some point, a person will be unable to continue receiving it. I learned more reading this handy dandy fact sheet about TANF from the US Department of Health and Human Services:

"Five-Year Time Limit:
  • Families with an adult who has received federally funded assistance for a total of five years (or less at state option) are not eligible for cash aid under the TANF program.
  • States may extend assistance beyond 60 months to not more than 20 percent of their caseload. They may also elect to provide assistance to families beyond 60 months using state-only funds or Social Services Block Grants. "

If I'm reading this correctly, 80% or more of those receiving TANF will be completely cut off after five years, unless the state decides to use its own funds, but federal funds will not be provided. It's temporary; it's not designed to create dependence. If people are continuing to use TANF more than 5 years, then that's because of a state, not federal, choice.

"Work Requirements:

  • Recipients (with few exceptions) must work as soon as they are job ready or no later than two years after coming on assistance.
  • Single parents are required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families must participate in work activities 35 or 55 hours a week, depending upon circumstances.
  • Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of benefits to the family.
  • States cannot penalize single parents with a child under six for failing to meet work requirements if they cannot find adequate child care.
  • States, in FY 2004, have to ensure that 50 percent of all families and 90 percent of two-parent families are participating in work activities. If a state reduces its caseload, without restricting eligibility, it can receive a caseload reduction credit. This credit reduces the minimum participation rates the state must achieve. "

"Work activities" include employment, job training, education, and community service. Even job searching is considered a "work activity," but it is "not to exceed 6 total weeks and no more than 4 consecutive weeks." To receive this assistance, you must working or serving your community, or actively working to increase your ability to find a job through education or job training. TANF is designed to give individuals the incentive to find work. It's designed to temporarily help needy families get onto their feet so they can soon provide for themselves. If people are receiving TANF checks and sitting around not working or trying to work, or continuing to receive those checks for years and years, then the program isn't being implemented correctly.

Ok, so TANF is temporary and has built-in work requirements. What about other social services, such as Food Stamps or housing and energy assistance? I don't think the Food Stamp Program has any sort of work requirement, but according to its fact sheet:

"FSP provides crucial support to needy households and to those making the transition from welfare to work. In fact, 29 percent of participating food stamp households have earnings."

"The average time a food stamp recipient stays on the program is 9 months."

While it may not have the built-in incentives like TANF does, the Food Stamp Program also is generally being used temporarily. Without knowing the standard deviation of this 9 month average, there could be a wide spread, meaning that there may be outliers who use food stamps for years upon years, but these likely represent a very small portion of food stamp recipients.

In addition to nutrition assistance, low income households can receive government assistance in paying their energy bills. The federal government gives money for this to states, but lets the states decide eligibility and how it's allocated. Texans can apply for this assistance through the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program (CEAP). Their website clearly states that CEAP is not an entitlement program, meaning that:

  • "Program funds must be available;
  • One must apply for the assistance and qualify;
  • The assistance is not limitless (there are caps for assistance); and
  • The assistance is determined on a case-by-case basis. "

There are plenty of government websites explaining what exactly these welfare services are, who's eligible, and for how long. If you're curious, go take a look, but I think the information I've surveyed shows a couple of interesting themes: 1) the temporary and limited nature of these services, and 2) the states' relative freedom in distributing the funds. Reading about these services, unless they're being horribly implemented and abused, I don't see how a family could become permanently dependent on the government for assistance.

Next Post: Could Charity Replace Welfare?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

climb every mountain

"Adventure can be a real happiness," read my fortune cookie this evening.

I like to think of grad school as my current adventure. Sure, I'm not traveling the world or even changing it (yet), but there are certainly elements of adventure in this undertaking. It's new, it's challenging, ever-changing, requires flexibility and initiative on my part, few undertake this, and sometimes it scares the shit out of me. If that doesn't sound adventurous, then I don't know what does.

I don't write this to brag, and those of you who know me well probably already realize this. I write this because sometimes I wonder what the heck I'm doing, and whether or not I'll make it. When I start having these doubts, reframing this crazy experience as an adventure helps. In less than two days, I return to the adventure. I've made it part of the way up the mountain; now it's time to grab my pack and continue climbing.

Note - Why was I never taken over by the irresistible urge to spin around Julie Andrews-style during my time in the Swiss Alps?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

decongestant, vitamin c, zinc, advil, antibiotics, coldeeze . . .

After spending a week denying that my coughing and congestion were no more than a bad case of allergies, yesterday I found myself feeling light-headed, exhausted, and extremely cold, and returned home to discover that I had a 100 degree fever. Joy. For the first time in over a week, I'm finally just relaxing - still in my pj's, sitting on the couch, letting my mom give me pills and feed me waffles. I'd like to read one of the books that I got for Christmas, but I'm not sure that I could concentrate on anything longer than a paragraph, so instead I'm catching up on my blogs.

It's shaped up to have been a pretty good Christmas break for me. I'm surprised, because it was off to a rough start, but since Christmas Eve things have been mostly nice. I've seen almost all of my extended family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - and have really enjoyed their company. This Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were some of the most pleasant in my recent memory. I've enjoyed the company of old and new friends, had some great conversations with folks, and threw a kick ass New Year's Eve party. I flew to Houston for the Texas Bowl with an old friend and made some new friends. I rode the Titan at Six Flags. I got some great gifts, and have had some successful shopping experiences, expanding my professional wardrobe which I'll begin wearing in a few weeks. I've seen some good films, and have started to read some good books. I went to Mexico and played with kids who I'd love to adopt. I've watched the friendship between my old and new cat develop from hissing and avoidance to playful chasing and tolerant enjoyment. I've been complimented. I've felt loved and cherished. Thanks.

Still, I've felt lonely, disappointed, and confused, and cried more than once these past few weeks. But the love that I've experienced certainly outweighs those negative emotions. I really didn't think that it would be, but this has been a pretty good break.

Ok, I've spent enough mental energy for now. Let's go watch some LOST and get excited about January 31st.