Monthly Archives: August 2014

Message in a Bottle

Ever since A Matter of Semantics was published, I’ve always wanted to see it on a bookshelf, holding its weight against other titles. A few weeks ago, I got that chance when I took a trip to the school where I used to teach – Sussex County Community College (or “Harvard on the hill”, how locals refer to it) – to see my book, on the bookshelf, of the bookstore.


It was a breathtaking experience, one that proves dreams do come true. Teaching there was fun and rewarding. Not fun in the sense of belly laughs or random fits of the giggles, but fun in a manner of being enjoyable and touching, which is what work should be. And rewarding in the sense that it stirred something inside of me, something that fueled and motivated me, something that helped give me a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

The students are what stood out the most, though. Even if I forget some of their names, I will never forget what I learned from them, even if it was how to alter the inflection in my voice, to help them stay away for an 8:00am class!

There are more than a few, however, that will I remember. Who I probably will never see again or will probably never hear from, unless they need a letter of recommendation. (And that’s okay, because that’s what I signed up for, when I signed up to teach!) But, those are the students I wish I could thank, personally…for letting me help them, in their journey to create success. So this is my letter to those students. With social media being the way that it is, I’m hoping each one of them will get this message in a bottle.

Dear Brie – Thanks for the wonderful email you sent me, that semester after you took my class. I never could quite read your facial expressions, so it means a lot to know that you enjoyed our class and (selfishly) that you liked my teaching style! Even though you discovered that college was not for you, I hope you see the value in education – even if it takes downing a can of Red Bull (like you did for our 8:00am class!) to get you through lectures and seminars! I wish you much success in your pursuit of a career in cosmetology and I know you’ll do fabulously. I don’t like giving advice, but if I can even be of any help, please reach out. My sister owns her own salon!

Dear Kali – You were another person whose facial expression I could never quite read. With all you had going on personally, I never knew if you were going to show up to class, so I’m glad you always did. During that semester you spent in my class, when you told me that you didn’t have much family or support in the area, I remember saying to my wife how I wanted to invite you to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. But I was too cautious and wary of the social stigma and mixed message that would have sent. My wish for you is that you dare to dream! Even without a support system, you can accomplish anything that you want! But first, you have to dare to dream it, in order to make it your reality! And don’t lose your positive attitude. It’ll serve you well in the years to come. I’d like to hear all about your endeavors; I wish we could have kept in contact.

Dear Colleen – People often say things like, there is no such thing as perfection, and I laugh. From the moment my son was born, he has always been, in my eyes, perfect. He cried himself to sleep some nights, or threw temper tantrums, or wouldn’t eat his vegetables, but he was always, perfect. Likewise, you were perfect. Whenever I need an image of how I’d like students to approach my course, I think of you – always being on time, always taking notes, always giving your best effort. (Surely, if I could have given you a grade higher than an A, I would have.) The way you carried yourself was even more impressive – leading by example, displaying patience and flexibility, accepting challenges and never taking the easy road. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. If I had attended SCCC, you would have been one person I’d want to be friends with, and have in my circle of friends and support system. By now, I hope you’re pursuing your dreams of becoming a social worker. I have no doubt you will get there. I’d love to hear from you, someday, and catch up over lunch. Stay perfect.

Dear John – One day you’re going to wake up and find yourself living the life you have dreamed about for so long. Trust me, but more than that, trust yourself! Your passion and drive reminds me of myself, once upon a time. I’m sure we could be cousins, somewhere down a family line. I know you’re always seeking advice, and I always talk in circles because, well, there’s nothing I can say to you (in some contrived fashion) that will instantly change the way you see and approach the world. So I will say to you, what I wish I had known during my first year of college – First, the way you see things is just a reflection of your background and upbringing. It doesn’t make you right or wrong, it’s just your perspective. Harm comes when you hold people to your standards, like how I used to think girls were sluts and hoes simply because they wore short shorts. If that were true, that would have made most women I knew, and even my wife, a hoe. So be open to expanding your perspective. Secondly, the world isn’t small, it’s big. So dream big. Dream bigger than New Jersey or Florida, dream about sipping wine atop the Eiffel Tower or going sightseeing in the Serengeti. Dream bigger than what you have experienced, like writing that book you never thought you could. Then, use the college experience to help you achieve those dreams. And don’t let anyone rob you of your dreams!

Dear Haley – Even though were just a student, there were times you felt more like the little sister I never had. On those days where it was a struggle for you to be in class, all I wanted to do was caution you to the carnal nature of men (or boys!), and help you bring light to your dreams that had been trapped in darkness, and give you a hug and tell you everything would be okay. A big, burly, comforting bear hug. To show you that a man’s touch could be supportive and nurturing, without being at all sexual. But I couldn’t show favoritism. I pray that you’re doing well, wherever your journey has taken you. Now that you’re no longer the pupil, don’t hesitate to reach out should you ever be in need. I hope we get to have lunch sometime soon, and that I get to meet your son, Caleb!

Dear Kim – You’d probably never guess, but my favorite singer is Alanis Morissette and she has a song entitled, “So-Called Chaos”, the theme of which fits you perfectly. I know you’re wracking your brain over majors, schools, careers and the like. But what if I told you that you will find answers as soon as you stopped looking? I don’t have any empirical evidence to support this notion, I just have anecdotal stories. Like the time the guy was searching so hard for a girlfriend because he didn’t want to be alone. Yet, when he decided to embrace being single and concentrate on himself, magically, a girl walked right into his life, as if she already had the key to his heart. Fret not about what major you’ll pursue or what career you’ll end up having. What’s most important now is YOU. I almost wish you would leave the community college and go to a four-year school. There, you’ll have a greater exposure to different majors (you could choose between Molecular Biology, Emergency Medicine or Physical Therapy, but at SCCC your choices are Bio, Chem, and that’s it!); professors (who can help you distinguish/differentiate between all of those majors); and students (who can share with you the cool things they are doing, so you can formulate your own career path). Things are not supposed to be perfect right now, because you’re still figuring it all out. They’re supposed to be nerve wracking and chaotic, and that chaos is what’s going to help you get where you want to be. So embrace it. Kick off your shoes. Take a leap of faith and enjoy the chaos.

What a Person’s Take on the Ray Rice Assault Really Say

As a final word on the Ray Rice case…

After listening to various people comment on the Ray Rice assault, the suspension, the press conference, and the role he played (or lack thereof, depending on one’s perspective), I come away with one impression: people’s take on the assault says something. For me, it speaks to how much they value men AND women.

Saying Ray Rice was provoked suggests that he has no control over his actions. As an athlete, if he can control himself enough to juke a player out of his jockstrap, he can certainly control himself enough to not hit his wife. (Parenthetically, Mrs. Ray Rice wasn’t just hit. She was knocked unconscious. Do you know how hard you have to hit someone to know them unconscious?!) See, I studied psychology, and I have a love-hate relationship with the subject. I know all about theories on controlling emotions and behaviors. Here’s my take – we can control our emotions, but only sometimes. Here’s what I mean (and this is a surface level example, so bear with me) – whenever I arrive late to work, I feel rushed and hurried, and I let that feeling taint what I do, how I do it, and when I do it. But, I could certainly choose to do a mental check-in, and decide not to let my tardiness affect the rest of my day. (It’s positive thinking, or whatever you want to call it.) In the one scenario, my actions (being late) caused my emotional response (rushed). In the other scenario, I gained control of my emotions to put forth a healthier action/behavior.

So even if you go off the notion that Ray Rice was provoked, what does it say about him, that he would resort to hitting his wife (and let me reiterate, Mrs. Ray Rice wasn’t just hit. She was knocked unconscious. Do you know how hard you have to hit someone to know them unconscious?! Sorry, I know that’s overkill!) whenever he’s angry, upset, frustrated, or….(gulp!) provoked! When you use the Ray Rice was provoked argument, it say something about how you see men – that they can beat the crap out of someone if they get angry, upset, frustrated, etc. Wait, I’m sorry, I thought there was never a time or place for a man to hit a woman. (Yes, that’s sarcasm you smell!)

So was Ray Rice really provoked? Or are people justifying his act because Ray Rice is a man, and his wife is a woman. Let me ask this another way – do we accept the violent act because Ray Rice is a man and his wife is a woman? You can say no, it’s never okay to his a woman. But, the words – he was provoked – say something much deeper.

Let’s look at this from a 30,000 feet level, and peel back the layers where our musicians sing/rap about hitting women, and when they do in real life, we give them second chances and see their apologetic actions as endearing. (See Chris Brown) Ditto movies, TV shows, and magazines. Was Ray Rice really provoked, or was he merely existing, as a man, in our society where we tell men (both covertly and overtly) it’s okay, you can hit women…just make sure you apologize afterwards. You can even be redeemed! Let’s look further, shall well – what about politicians and political pundits who say damaging things about women, about how women can’t be raped because their bodies have a way of “shutting that thing down”? Or the scores of men who try and take away women’s reproductive rights? So was Ray Rice really provoked, or was he merely breathing, as a man, in our society where we tell men it’s okay, you can control women…it even says so in the bible! Don’t stop there, let’s look even further – what about the countless men who abuse the women in their lives and are never held accountable? According to RAINN, 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail. That means only 3% of rapists are convicted! So if rape is such a horrible crime, why don’t more men who commit rape spend time in jail? Here’s a dirty little secret – because, for many of us, domestic/dating violence, like sexual violence, is only bad when it’s happening to you, or someone you know. When it’s happening to someone else, that’s when people will say – she provoked it. When it hits close to home, though, then it’s time to march or raise money. Then it’s time to take action.

Worse, we don’t convict abusers and rapists because, well, we tell ourselves they didn’t mean it…she put herself in that situation…she let it happen…she provoked it. And when we say those things, what we’re really saying is, men have a RIGHT to act a certain way (violent, sexual, sexually violent, etc.) and if women don’t want to get caught up in that, they should not date men, they should not let abuse happens, they should not wear short shirts, or they should run like hell the first time an argument with a boyfriend ensues. When we say Ray Rice was provoked, we are granting abusers and rapists all the privileges in the world and we are failing to hold them accountable for their actions. Instead, we are putting the blame and onus on the woman. Wait, I’m sorry, did I just write that?! Yes, when we say Mrs. Rice provoked her husband, we are blaming HER for the incident! We are blaming her for her victimization. Wait, who was it that was knocked unconscious. That’s right…Mrs. Rice. But, she should have known better, right?! Because, after all, getting beat unconscious comes with being a woman, right??!!? (again, more sarcastic odor) When you say bologna like she provoked it, it say something about how you see women – that they can be hit, abused, knocked unconscious, raped, and exploited all because a man got, angry, upset, frustrated, or just felt like it.

So don’t tell me that a man shouldn’t hit a woman, BUT…, and then go on to give some BS rational. Because when you say Ray Rice was provoked, what you’re really saying is, it’s okay for a man to hit a woman, because… 

When men talk about the Ray Rice case and say things like, she provoked it, for me, it says something about how those men view and value men (and men’s actions) and, more importantly, how those men view and value women.

The conscientious men out there will get it, and will know that this does not even apply to them. For all the other men, here’s a mirror, maybe it’s time to take a look at your reflection.

%d bloggers like this: