Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Threat of Obligation

I like to volunteer. I've been doing it since high school, when I far surpassed the "service learning hours" required for graduation. I used to volunteer at Hosea Youth Services giving sewing lessons to any of the street kids who wanted them. I volunteered as a "tutor" at Nuestro Lugar Teen Center which mostly meant hanging around with teens and shooting the breeze, playing Clue and learning to juggle. I sometimes would come to the youth group organized by my church leaders to help out. I'm learning to run the planetarium at the Science Factory so I can be a volunteer presenting planetarium shows.

But this weird thing happens when I sign up for something. I get exhausted. The stress of something on my schedule makes my neck and shoulders hurt so bad that all I want to do is lay in bed and act selfish. There are tons of people who work through pain and serve themselves to the limit and they love it, but I just get cranky. Also, things that I want to do for fun always seem to pop up on the days that I've got to do volunteer work, so then I'm cranky because I wanted to go have fun.

Maybe there's really something up with my body that needs rest, but I'd like to work on my motivations. I'm passionate about all these different things, but I can't expect all my wishing to fix them. I also can't expect to fix them all myself. "Obligation" is this dirty word that makes me bitter; so is "commitment". I don't equate relentless volunteerism with being amazing, more like a responsibility because I've got it so good and there's so much work to be done that I can't bear not to be a part of a solution. I don't really care about being amazing. So what is it about my optimism that turns sour once I sign my name to the clipboard? There's no epiphany here. Just the tension of 24 hours in a day.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Project 50: August

If I spent as much time reading as I did Harry Potter on a regular basis (does that sentence even make sense?) I'd be reading many more books per month. Novels are good stuff.

“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling
This book had the same kind of plotline as the first in that the three main characters had to find something hidden at Hogwarts and broke all the rules to find it, but the twists and turns and reveals at the end were absolutely brilliant. I’m still trying to figure out the motivation of some of the characters, kid and teacher and this book changed my mind about some. At first I thought Draco Malfoy was a harmless snotty brat, but now I think he’s going to be a much more serious player later on. A

“Talking with Alzheimer’s” by Claudia J. Strauss
This month has the potential to be a really depressing reading list, since I went to the library and checked out a metric ton of books about Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, and a couple on grief for good measure. My grandpa has been diagnosed with dementia, and I wanted to read up on what to do when he starts forgetting my name and things. This book is short and simple. It offers phrases and techniques to use when talking with someone with Alzheimer’s, for example, asking “yes or no” questions instead of open ended ones like “What would you like to eat?” and leading conversations in a way that won’t frighten or confuse them if their reality tells them that they need to pick up their kids from kindergarten or be picked up by their parents. The book is written mostly to “visitors” who come to see people in homes without family, so some things didn’t apply to people who have known their loved ones for a long time, but I still think it will be useful. A-

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
I really want Snape to be not such a bad guy. Or at least I’d like it to be a little less obvious. I’d seen the movie for this book, so there wasn’t a lot to surprise me, but I’d forgotten about the dementors, which are a pretty cool beast when you think about it, if what they did wasn’t so awful. They guard the wizard prison and suck the happiness out of your soul. Heavy. This book tells a little more about Harry’s dad, since all of the new characters were friends of his.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
When my grandma’s eyes bugged out at the size of the book I was carrying, she asked how many pages it was. It’s over 700 pages, but there’s never a dull moment. I appreciate the way that Rowling doesn’t go off on unrelated tangents. This one was a kind of cute because all the little wizards have crushes on each other. There was another twist at the end that I totally wasn’t expecting, although one secret had a kind of lame reveal. This book also started differently than the others, not with Harry, but with a foreshadowing scene of Voldemort. I thought it was kind of inconsistent for the characters in this book to refer to Peter Pettigrew by his nickname throughout, when no one really had in the previous book. Minus for those sticking points. A-

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
The danger really ramps up in this one. How do I write these now without giving away any spoilers? I will say that Dolores Umbridge, the Ministry of Magic approved Defense Against Dark Arts teacher is COMPLETELY insufferable. The Ministry of Magic is trying to discredit Harry, Dumbledore, and anyone else who tries to talk about Voldemort, and every move that Umbridge makes is to that end. But she does it in such a crafted, bureaucratic way…I definitely felt the frustration that I was supposed to get from the story. The saga of young wizards in love also continues…I don’t know why Ron and Hermione don’t just get it over with and stop arguing like an old married couple. A

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Even though a major part of this book involved Dumbledore giving Harry lots of information about the task they were about to carry out, I can’t help but think that he’s hiding a lot more than he’s telling. I still want him to be merry old Dumbledore, who just looks out for Harry, but he’s creating an awful lot of mystery and not answering any of Harry’s questions. Ooh, tension. I felt like the “Half-Blood Prince” twist at the end was kind of unbelievable, though. I have a feeling that the “big spoiler” is not the last we’ve heard of that. A-

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Honestly, I was kind of bored with most of this book. Watching Harry and Ron and Hermione running and hiding from Death Eaters and arguing with each other for three-quarters of the book is not really my idea of an engaging story. Too much use of Invisibility Cloak, I say. That said, I did cry a little, when the “ghosts” of Harry’s loved ones showed up to help him. I don’t know how I feel about the whole truth about Snape…I still wish he had been a little nobler. The rest’s all spoilers, so you’ll just have to read it yourself. B+

“When A Family Member Has Dementia: Steps to Becoming a Resilient Caregiver” by Susan M. McCurry
I think this book was written by a counselor who works with families in which someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s. It contains a couple of acronyms with steps to dealing with a loved one’s condition in a way that keeps you sane and respects his or her dignity. I thought the acronyms were a little unnecessary, and the one titled “POLITE” was a little absurd in that it had little to do with being polite. Along with helpful tips, the author includes anecdotes about families that she has encountered that put them into practice. It’s going to take some creative thinking to make life livable as my grandpa progresses, and it helps to see other families doing the same thing. B