GRE Thoughts, Vol 4

1. These word problems (yes I'm still in the math section) are written in such an absurd way. No one writes this way, and if the point is to make the skills truly applicable, then writing questions in a convoluted manner does not actually achieve this. But I suppose that isn't the point. It's like a mid-career Shyamalan movie, just trying to trick you for no reason.

2. What graduate degree actually involves figuring out how long it would take two individuals to complete the same task? This is such a common word problem that there is apparently a formula for it that I guess I'm going to have to memorize and mourn whatever piece of knowledge falls out of my head to accommodate it.

3. What's frustrating about this is that, unlike a lot of things, as an educator, I can kinda sorta see how the skills could really help. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I end up doing math on the treadmill or in races more easily. And everything sort of turns into a word problem without thinking about it. But it's just, like, two turns of the screw away from being really concrete and grounded, and that's disappointing. Math is a necessary part of life, even if calculators and computers can do all the arithmetic. But people hate it because it's taught and tested so poorly, and here this test is, perpetuating that same line of nonsense.

4. A small part of me remembers how much I once enjoyed solving a math problem. But back then I had few interests that involved other people, so math was I guess a way to escape or hide. These days, everything else is far more compelling to me. But I can see why it was fun twenty-five years ago. 

5. I actually think I'll do pretty well on this section, better than I expected at the start. I've been hurriedly doing practice sets on my twenty-five minute subway ride (it's longer than that, but that's how long I usually have a seat). With actual time and focus, I should do okay. I wasn't thinking that would happen, but, you get out what you put in, and it's going better than I thought.

On to the writing section, which I expect won't be as challenging. This was kinda fun, even though I really do not care how long it takes Latisha to paint a damn wall.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

GRE Thoughts, Vol 3

Still slogging through the math.

Did a question on the graphing points section on the subway this morning. Did the work in my head because I didn't feel like finding a pen, and then went to check it and it said I was wrong. Hmm.

I'm wrong often enough on the math section - trying to access my 8th grade brain is just a lot of effort sometimes - but this didn't seem wrong. So in the explanation for the answer, it said what I'd expect, except for one of the values, it used 10 instead of -10. Well OF COURSE the answer is different is the value is different.

Clearly I have been getting every single question right and the book (and therefore test) is just all typos like this one.

I suspected as much.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Trust the Process

Finally had a race where I ran faster (on the same course) than last year. I wasn't nearly as fast as 2015, but, well, baby steps.

In the past four weeks I've been doing three longer runs, one hills run, and one cutback speed workout. It seems to be paying off. 

And I never ever felt slow or heavy, even though I didn't have that extra sprint speed. In early 2018, I get that top speed back and add it to my resurgent endurance.

First good race that was longer than a 10k, too.

Two weekends off (will still run during the week!) have been earned. Back to longer miles in 2018!

Feels good not to feel bad about a race.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

GRE Thoughts, Vol 2

Aye, I have reached the math section of the book. Fun!

1. Everyone says, when they're a kid, "I'll never need this stuff again!" False! You'll need it again as an adult just to forget it again after that.

2. The forced arithmetic practice is helping me do math on the treadmill and when running overall. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

3. Some of the more advanced stuff I think I'll just shrug and give a quick answer and really focus on the other ones.

4. I appreciate that Kaplan (whose book I have) is trying to make its questions more diverse. The names in the word problems included "Latasha" today. Bully for you!

5. But is Kaplan trying to be progressive or does the GRE actually do this? Kaplan tries to replicate the test, but changing a name doesn't change a practice test, so maybe they're ahead of the curve.

6. If they really wanted to be accurate, I'd see a lot more Juans and Xiaomengs and Maliks, but, baby steps.

7. Some of the tips are amusing. "Eat an energizing breakfast before the test." It's like marathon advice.

8. Unfortunately, doing all the work and being slightly wrong is the same as doing none of the work and just guessing wrong, except it takes more time.

Only 300 pages left in the book! (sigh)

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Somewhere between Soft and Hard

For most men, "soft" is a pejorative. It's weakness, it's cowardice, it's, horror or horrors, female. We want hard hearts, hard heads, hard bodies, and I'm not finishing this list with what you are thinking of. Being a man means being HARD.

We like hard skills. We're tough. We're rigid.

But what if we feel the other things?

What of the men who are sensitive?

I think there's a value to being rigid in certain circumstances. You don't really want to be "soft" when you're, saying, racing towards a deadline (or a finish line). That's a time to avoid excuses and weakness.

Yet when we pretend that softness is bad, all we do is deny ourselves honest feelings. And denying authentically felt emotions is toxic.

No one can or should be soft all the time. But we men need to be allowed to feel and express our feelings. This isn't to say that men are barred from emotions - it's just that the emotions we're allowed to express are things like anger, lust, jealousy, but not fear, longing, doubt.

I've become sort of a soft skills guy in my job, at least in the courses I develop and teach, which is interesting because for however many years I swallowed as much of my feelings as I could. Swallowing too much just leaves you feeling sick, though, and it's going to come back out one way or the other, probably when you would rather it didn't.

I'm glad I am able to work on soft skills at work, and to develop my own as well. I think it's important for men to see that soft isn't necessarily bad.

And all of you who call athletes "soft" when they're emotional, cut that out. Those men have had to be hard for decades to get where they are, and a little softness and gentleness is a good thing.

(Side note: I'm not sure what you call a mix of soft and hard. Slush? Slush is terrible. Sand? Also terrible. Clay? Clay isn't bad.)

The point is, we need to celebrate the innate sensitivity in (most) men instead of trying, through peer pressure and other things, to beat it out of them or just make them feel like it's not okay. And to be clear, I got these messages almost entirely from my peers, because young boys are very keen on pointing out each others' weaknesses and you better not let them see yours.

I'm pretty sure not letting men truly feel their hurt is what gave us the country we're in right now. We covered up our pain by taking it out on others, other races or genders or sexualities. And it's why this moron is all up in his feelings on twitter every day, because I'm sure no one ever let him feel whatever he was feeling back in the day. Instead of our feelings, we seek attachments - car? house? trophy wife? daughter you're way too attracted to? - and point to them.

And now we're all suffering for it.

So let's stop this, men. Let's stop saying the only kind of man that's prized is a joyless, dominant titan or a captain of industry. Let's big up the soft ones as much as the hard ones. Let's make masculinity warm and inviting instead of toxic.

Or we can keep doing what we're doing.

 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

What Problem Do I Want To Solve?

Last night (or, afternoon, what do you call 5 pm when it's dark outside?) I met with the director of the program I am circling my wagons to apply to for next fall. It was a pleasant conversation with a committed and kind man, and it made me think that this, if I can figure out the financing, really would be a great path for me to take.

We talked about a lot of the logistical aspects of the application - and the GRE - and he seemed impressed I was ahead of schedule on planning everything, which is good.

But at one point he mentioned the importance of the essay on the application. Not just proving one's skill as a writer, but in expressing, with detail, the goals one would have as a doctoral student (and let's be clear, for all the people who aren't, that it's an EdD not a PhD, because the goal isn't a post at a research university).

And I mentioned race and education, and he pushed me to get more detailed, as well he should have. But that has left me with the titular question.

I know from the five years I've spent out of grad school that I don't really get my hackles up for the pure act of language acquisition, despite that being my nominal discipline. (Note: I love teaching English, before you get mad at me, mentors/professors.) It's fine, but I can't see myself devoting half a decade to it (and perhaps many years after that).

The best way to remain motivated, far as I can tell, is to identify with a subject, which is why I mentioned race, but what specifically about it?

I've spent a lot (a LOT) of time reading and writing about behavioral science and design over the last year, and I think there's a lot to that. So how does it connect to race and education?

Or maybe the question is another I've kicked around in my brain, how to concretely have a positive impact on intrinsic moviation? We know we can demotivate individuals and students, and we know we can apply pressure, but can we, for all intents and purposes, reach into someone's brain and light a fire? If so, how? And can that "how" be studied and proven based on reliable data?

There's a thread coming together here, where behavioral science is used to motivate students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have to do some more thinking. But I can see it coming together into something great, and something that will help these students.

More to come.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

GRE thoughts, Vol 1

About 5 and a half weeks until I take the first standardized test I've taken since 2002.

I have thoughts.

1. I haven't really looked at the math stuff yet, but I know it's going to be painful. I'm great at arithmetic and division and multiplication, basically the things calculators do way better. I was never good at conceptual or theoretical math. Yaaaay.

2. On the one hand, I get that a lot of colleges just straight up do not prepare people for graduate-level work. Graduate schools do not want to bring in a lot of people just to watch them fail.

3. On the other hand, studying for this test does not really mean people will be able to sustain that sort of knowledge over several years. You and I both know that we dump test-memorized words right out of our brains when it ends.

4. Some of these questions are absurd, and I'm just talking about the grammar part now. Just look at this nonsense: "Afterward, the deceased man's wife could not stop crying; his daughter was similarly dolorous." This is a sentence that is grammatically correct but so incredibly awkward. In fact, the grammar/vocab section sort of flies in the face of the essay section, since essays require smoother writing (or maybe they don't, for this test).

5. On the other hand, I'm an English teacher by trade - most people wouldn't notice how awkward that sounds. Thanks for always pointing out when something was technically right but a little bit off, Ms. Avrich!

6. I have some issues in retrospect with the freewheeling nature of my adolescent schooling, but looking at this - and knowing, at heart, that it is built this way because of deficiencies in undergraduate education - makes me feel very fortuante for what I had access to for most of my life. And I only hope, if I do have children, I can give them a chance to learn and grow the way I did.

7. But seriously: "No matter how hard Benjamin tried to coax the kitten off of the tree branch, the tiny creature remained obstinate." WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE.

 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

To the Black

So since late 2015 I've been doing something, in bits and pieces.

When I was much younger, I listened only to the music my parents played. Then my cousins realized I knew nothing contemporary and introduced me to hip-hop very suddenly in 1997. Boom, world asplode.

I still sang along with boy bands with my sister at home, but now it was all hip-hop all the time.

But then I got to the end of high school and into college, and a lot of my friends were into 80s music and classic rock, and to not sound like a fool, I tried to learn up on all of that.

Ultimately, these days, I know what I like, and especially so with music.

But now let's talk about TV.

For decades I watched what critics and friends recommended. This led me to great places (Breaking Bad) and less great ones (Season 3 on of OITNB).  But as I age, I realize I need to be more in tune with what people of color are watching. I can't watch everything, and I'm still not going to be into all of it, but I wasn't into all of the mainstream stuff either.

I won't ignore the mainstream, either, by the way. I will go see all the Nolan and Scorsese movies that come out because I enjoy them. But I need to consciously nurture the part of myself I sometimes have drifted away from. Thus, Queen Sugar, Greenleaf, RHOA, and some other things. I don't love all of it. I dislike some of it. But there's more out there than Stranger Things and Marvel and I want to make an effort to embrace it, because it's part of me. Note: the existence of Black Panther (and things like Get Out) makes life easier, and better.

And it's funny that this balancing act is something that many of us, who exist in two worlds, even have to consider. But that threshold is where I've always lived. 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Inward

I'll admit that the one thing I always wanted to do professionally is write. Novels, articles, whatever, my goal was to write. But I didn't have the singular gift that seemed to come easy to my classmates because, whether through lack of skill or writing for the wrong audiences, the only thing I've ever been able to write very strongly about is myself, or things intimately connected to me. I remember a marked improvement in my college writing when I stated writing about racial dynamics on campus.

But you can't always write about your life story. So what I do, consciously or not, is find a way to connect myself to whatever it is I'm reading or writing. I tend to get bored if if I can't find a way in, but I'm fairly good at finding a path on most topics.

This can be both a limitation and a gift. If you do it poorly, you come off as if only your thoughts matter, something I've been accused of. I don't know that I agree, but I do understand it can come off that way. The only way I know how to successfully empathize is to almost literally place myself in the shoes of whatever or whomever a story is about, but if I explain this by saying something about my life, it comes across as narcissistic, even though I'm trying to express a connection.

So I have to recalibrate that, at least in the way I try to explain it.

The novels I wrote were very different from each other. The first one was very specifically navel gazing, and a friend told me, while trying to hurt my feelings (and succeeding), that it was terrible because all the characters sounded the same (ie: like me). He may have been making a point of cruelty, but it resonated, and so the second one I made a point of not having an avatar at all that was very clearly intended to be a version of myself. It was better, but I ran out of ideas and the second half is rushed.

With all this said, even the very best writers have tropes and the tendency to explore their own fixations through their work. How many young, depressed, beautiful, suicidal women appear in Murakami novels? How many alcoholic writers in King?

I am not comparing my meager skillset to such masters. But only making the point that, sure, expressing how I came to connect to a subject needs to be rethought to some extent, but forcefully removing myself and my own passion from my writing won't make it better. The point is to make the words stand out and resonate even if they cover similar ground. No matter what you write, someone has probably written something like it before. The question is, what makes it yours?

Turning inward is only a problem if you don't use it to then assess the outside world. We can only truly see from our own perspective, and pretending otherwise is folly. Each of us has something that can make our perspective vital and fresh. The difficult part is finding it, and expressing it in a way that others can appreciate, if that's what we want.

I am aware I come off self-obsessed on occasion - to some, the mere fact of writing this publicly is a search for adulation - and maybe I am. But my goal is always to try and find something that anyone reading can connect to and see themselves in, in the way I always try to when reading or listening to someone else.

 

Going forward, I hope to tap into more subjects that my own psyche, and spend more time really considering particular topics, especially race and education. I hope you don't mind if I still inject myself into my essays, though, as they wouldn't be mine otherwise.

 

Peace and love,

Justin PBG

 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Moving On

I'm pretty sure I said what I felt the need to say to the people I wanted to hear it.

I'm not going to go totally surface-level here - I don't think I'm capable of it - but I don't think there are any more dungeons to dive into. Maybe someone close to me will pass away at some point and I'll eulogize them.

But, for now, barring a crisis, it's time to focus.

I have much work to do in my career, and there are long term plans personally. And running must return to prominence.

You all know the story with running, right?

I learned the wrong lessons.

I was at my best from March 2015 to about August of 2016. This was a time when I could screw up in a race and run 1:21:44, as opposed to running hard to end up slower than 1:23.

In August of 2016, I ran something like 345 miles, to average 11 miles a day, in what was a really, really hot summer month. There was no reason to do this. I did it because I could, and I could! But then I fell apart. I was still near top speed but it was much harder to generate it. And my form suffered. And my hip tightened. I started having trouble at long distances.

I wasn't dumb enough to ignore this. I assumed what I needed was less volume, so I dropped way down to 40s, low 50s weekly during my early training last winter. But that really isn't enough for me to do what I want. I can't be someone other than me. Other people have decades of running experience and can top out and 50 and run their best. Other people can handle 150 miles a week or some such (or the 80 a week I was doing that August). That's too much for me.

So it will be back in the sweet spot, about 60 when it's not marathon time, about 70 when it is. Three bridge repeats Tuesday, track work Weds and Sat, with longer (SLOWER) runs on Mon, Thurs, Sat and Sun, aside from exceptions like travel and race days.

The whole point is that, if you work that hard, when things come up (sickness, events, holidays), it doesn't really matter if you miss one because you're so on point.

And my form is better than it ever was at my best. If I can marry strong form with the same level of fitness I had just 18 months ago - it doesn't even really need to be BETTER, just the same - then 2018 is revenge all year long.

I'm trying this new plan for four weeks leading up to a race I usually don't care about, the 15k in the park. If the approach pays dividends, it will be refined for 2018.

I think, if this goes well, I will switch to pacing longer races and helping people achieve their goals. I'll still race, probably up to and including halves, but if I can do what I'm trying here, I will have done everything I set out to do as a runner when I started. 

I won't have much to say on this until after that race. But trust I'll be out there putting the work in.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality