GRE Thoughts, Finale

1. It went better than I thought. I started out fast, ran out of gas a bit, picked it back up at the end.

2. I wasn't too worried, but I hadn't sat for a long test in more than a decade so it really was an alien experience to some extent.

3. The security measures were insane. Talking about have to sign out each time you use the bathroom. Are people coming in with identical twins or proxies? That's so much work.

4. Frankly, maybe I'm lucky, but I do believe that most folks, barring certain disabilities etc, if given the time and the inclination, can improve at most basic skills. We all have the capacity for growth and should never let it flounder for too long.

5. Last time I took a standarized test, I was far too young to have a cocktail afterwards. This is no longer true.

6. I still have to figure out the financial aspect of this possible degree. But that will come another day!

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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

No More Can't

When I started writing about all this, I was straight up full of "can't." It just seemed ridiculous to imagine I could run a mile faster than 8 minutes. Or a marathon faster than 4 hours.

A few years have passed.

But in trying to reconfigure my mindset, I've realized I've come up with a new box of "can'ts" from which I need to extricate myself.

There are the straightforward ones, where I start racing, see myself miss a time goal in the first or second mile and tell myself I was foolish to think I could run at top speed. There are the big ones, the overarching mileage goals, or even the placement on the team in a given race.

But I want to talk about the little ones here.

When I started, in 2012, I was absolutely certain I couldn't run without very specific music of a certain length. And if I didn't have music, I'd give up. There was no point in running.

I resolved to change this, and I did.

It swung all the way to the other direction, though. Eventually, during my nearly-two-year streak, I only ran inside 5 or 6 times, despite two really difficult winters and several vacations (poor me!). I couldn't even think about running with music, and surely not on a treadmill.

I was that person who hated everything indoors, who was outside running on ice just to prove myself. But I've proven everything I need to prove. I don't have to be superman to be fast and strong.

Fact is, I can and will run however it makes sense for my body and my life on a given day. Do I have a shorter time period? Then I'll have to run faster or shorter. Do I have to run inside? Then I will. Do I have to listen to music to get through it? Then I will.

I stll don't race with music and I still tend to glare at cameras. But it's time I release myself from these smaller shackles, the way I dropped the original ones 6 years ago and pushed my speed up considerably. 

I always thought it was just getting new shoes that showed me I could be fast. But in truth, it was seeing that there was no reason to be held back. And this year, every goal and every mile, is about finding a way forward that doesn't hold me back.

Miles for the day: 9.05

Miles for the year: 27.5

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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

Running Maturity in 2018

When I started this running thing, I was fueling myself with fear and insecurity and all sorts of unhealthy things. I started, in earnest, six years ago, and back then I was determined to run 13 miles once a month, and I prepared for it by psyching myself up. I couldn't even walk afterwards, and legit planned to invite people over rather than going out for the night because of that. Times have changed.

But I think I got used to this idea of punishment being closer to godliness. I did, at the start, truly have to force myself to go run through the snow and the cold in the winter. I never cut a run short, never skipped a run, and it was a point of pride, even when I came home so cold that I couldn't even open the door to my building or bend my fingers for several minutes.

There is no reason for this, unless you truly to think that suffering is the only way to find success. And I associated my early struggles with the improvements that followed.

There's a level of pain you have to deal with in endurance sports, sure. You are going to want to give up before the race is over. But after six years of this now, there's no reason to spend the half-day after a marathon barely able to function, or to run races with the latent fear of this possible result.

Honestly, after Boston last year, I was determined to make that the only time I had to drag myself to the finish. I didn't want to go through that in NYC last fall and it's why I stopped right as I felt my body beginning to fall apart, a feeling distinct from fatigue that one can only really gain through experience.

I say all this to say that, though hardly so compared to people who have been out there for decades, I think I'm finally getting to where running should actually just be fun. 

That doesn't mean it's not hard - it's not fun for me if I don't push myself. But am I really going to be out there hurting myself when it's not mile twenty-plus of a race? No.

It's early yet, and maybe I'll change as the year rolls along. But I'm focused on a sustainable, enjoyable, productive year of running and racing, a year filled with joy instead of just fear and anxiety and then disappointment.

I won't detail every single mile I run here - I don't have time for that, and you don't want to read it - but when something major happens I'll write down the good things I'll hope to cherish.

It has taken me until just recently to realize that all of my initial running success was just a mix of talent and repetition - I have some skill that I discovered, and I kept putting the work in. But it was the work that made me faster, not the sadistic body-destroying feats I underwent when there wasn't much else in my life I looked forward to.

Of course, maybe I'll trip on the treadmill tomorrow and crack my face open, but the fact is, I see this as the best way forward, and one that can be adapted to any life circumstances.

Here's hoping.

Miles for the day: 9.4

Miles for the year: 9.4 (lol, the only time these two numbers will be the same)

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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

In Praise of the Accessible

If your favorite thing - be it a movie or a TV show or a musician or whatever - is resolutely inaccessible, fine. If every single thing you love is inaccessible, maybe you like feeling different more than you actually like anything.

Challenging subjects can absolutely be accessible. And accessible is not the same thing as dumbed-down. Look at Kendrick Lamar for example. He's putting work into his music. But is it unpleasant to listen to? No. On the other hand, there's every dumb sitcom on CBS.

I've gone around and around on Oscar movies over the years. When I was younger I was like the typical American, wanting the big movies I'd seen to win (to wit, the "Titanic" year is still the most-watched show, I believe). As I got older, I got very far up my butt and decided I needed to see every movie nominated for every award. And I prided myself on finding a way into movies that were objectively and deliberately offputting (eg A Serious Man).

I've had the same shift in TV. But the fact is, unlike movies, which only require a two hour commitment, people just don't stick with TV shows full of characters they don't want to spend time with. And music, once the critics have their say, is purely personal reaction. If a song or an album just doesn't sound great after the third time through, it might never hit you the right way.

You can take this too far, as I've mentioned. You can try to make everything appealing to everyone and end up with a bland wet fart of a four-quadrant movie. No one needs that. That's how you get some of my former friends in Korea being genuinely excited for every Transformers movie, even to this day.

But if you have the ability to make your output accessible to someone who isn't just, you know, YOU, you should. If I see two pieces of output with the same basic goals but one succeeds at being openly communicative and resonant, it's going to be better to me.

You are welcome to disagree with this. But ultimately I think prizing obtuse and inaccessible output is just a way of cloaking oneself in postmodern pretension that does nothing but make people look far worse than they realize.

All of which is to say, The Leftovers is bad and you should feel bad.

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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

My TV Journey in 2017

So, real talk, I consciously changed my TV habits this year, and was much better off for it.

I used to try and consume every well-reviewed show. And do you know what finally ended that? 

The Handmaid's Tale.

I watched the whole season. I respect it. I see why it's worthy of its awards. But my god did I not find it compelling. And yes, I read the novel. However, this is not new: I never liked Mad Men either. Maybe I don't like Elisabeth Moss (well, Scientologists...).

However, the real, real, real end of my prestige-chasing was The Leftovers. Because every single (white) critic considers this unpleasantly inaccessible show to be the mark of quality. And I read that novel, too (and never liked it). But having a difference of opinion isn't all that significant. It's the tone of the arguments made. That anyone who doesn't give it a serious, long-term chance is somehow lesser and someone whose tastes are lacking. And is that really what TV is for, to just torture yourself to be included in the Prestige-watching club? This is dumb. And I'm done with it.

I also never liked The Americans (and have been told by more than ten white people why I am stupid for this). I don't ignore these things - I have given all of these shows more than a full season and never got hooked. It's the job of a show to hook you within three episodes, I feel, because, especially in the case of a drama, that means, if it hasn't hooked you, you've wasted an entire feature-length film hoping to be locked in. I am way too old to waste my time. 

I still enjoy some well-regarded shows. I watch Veep. I like Curb. But those shows are fun. And yeah I still watch Stranger Things. eh, why not.

Among dramas, though? I must admit that, really, I only tend to get into limited series these days. I find them more compelling. And no one shouts at me if I don't watch them. 

I say all of this to say that, in terms of dramas and other TV, I have made a specific effort to focus on works created by people of color. Since mid-2015, instead of just having "Black-ish" on my regular rotation, I've added "Master of None," "Atlanta," "Insecure," "Queen Sugar," and "Greenleaf." These shows aren't all great, to be clear. Some are kinda dumb. But so is most mainstream TV. And I enjoy TV all that much more.

I can't tell you how much more rewarding things are for me when I seek out these more hidden regions. And I think you should do it too. You, yes you, need to seek out things outside of the mainstream. Merely having white women in it doesn't make something outside of the mainstream. We need to suffuse ourselves with color and varied stories. We need to make this effort.

Does it mean I'll be less able to root for Emmy nominees? I suppose. But I don't miss it in the Oscars, and so I don't miss it in these awards either. Besides, plenty of these shows are nominated anyway. I'm not watching random stuff.

Find some color, watch it and consume it, even if you aren't compelled naturally or don't find it something you can relate to. Newsflash - many of us can't relate to the mainstream stories.

Diversify and include. And read. And discuss.

And stop telling me why "The Leftovers" is the best show ever to exist unless you want to put your masturbatory whiteness on immediate and constant display.

Peace.

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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

A Funny Thing

A few years ago I was working at a senior center, and a person who came through to visit was an actress, not a famous one, but an actress nonetheless.

And let me tell you, it wasn't just any actress, but the woman who tried to explain her "wall" in such a way that her friend had to say, and you know what she said, "That's not how this works. That's now how ANY of this works."

And that remains one of the very best ads in the last decade.

I hope everyone has enjoyed their holidays. Next post will be about my favorite 2017 movies I saw, after I see "Lady Bird" on Friday.

For the record, the 2017 songs I enjoyed the most this year were "Humble.," "Unforgettable," and "Lemon."

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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 6

This is the penultimate version of this, in case you're bored.

1. I made it through the whole book. All that's left is the actual full practice test and then a bunch of advice.

2. Somehow it's exactly 500 pages to this point. I wonder if they planned that.

3. The essays worry me slightly. I can write an essay. I've written essays at the graduate level that have received As. What they want is actually just a standard five-paragraph essay, the type I used to teach my ESL students. I can't say I've ever written something so straightforward, at least not since second or third grade. 

4. With that said, I know how to shift gears to be understood by people who don't speak English or people like my current students.

5. In my appointment, I brought up studying for this and it was assumed that it was stressful. It's stressful in that I have to do the work, but I realize one way I've always been fortunate is that, when I have bothered to do my homework, school hasn't ever really been stressful unless it's a subject to which I have no connection (eg Economics classes I never wanted to take). Most folks don't have this experience and I am sure it is really hard. I always liked school and being a student, and my teachers. I was always kind of sad at the end of each year. I struggled when I lost focus. 

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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 5

Only three more weeks. But there's less running, and I'm not getting as deeply personal on here anymore, so GRE thoughts are what you're going to get!

1. I found another typo in a question that makes the answer the opposite. Come on, Kaplan. You had one job!

2. The writing section doesn't seem super hard. It mostly reinforces how sad it is that so few young Americans are taught to write or to use critical thinking well.

3. That said, many other countries don't teach this at all - I remember having a discussion with a colleague in Korea about this and he didn't know what I was talking about. I also had many students in my ESL writing class simply regurgitate summaries to me. Essentially, essays were book reports.

4. Does that make it less sad that we suck at writing because we do, on some level, try? Or sadder because, having decided that critical thinking is important, we fail to teach it well? I don't know.

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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 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