Stuck Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere

Quincy California Sierra Nevada Mountains Small TownWhen I was 16 years old, I decided to move to the Middle of Nowhere. With high school graduation behind me, I packed up my sparse wardrobe, shabby bicycle, and cardboard boxes filled with books and thrift-store kitchenware, and moved into my first apartment in Quincy, California.

“Why on earth would you want to live there?” asked pretty much everyone. Quincy, after all, is a tiny town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When I moved there, it had no traffic lights, far more trees than people, and zero chain stores, unless you count the 24-hr. Safeway supermarket in the center of town. It was nothing like my Bay Area home, nothing like the dull suburb where I’d lived during high school. Quincy had no shopping mall, no Target stores, no roller skating rinks. The only movie theater had one small screen and played the latest blockbusters about two months after they’d been released.

Plus, Quincy was in the middle of nowhere.

Middle of Nowhere Sign

But I loved that little town. It was quiet, but filled with character. It was isolated from the rest of the world, but only because the outside world couldn’t be bothered with traversing the long, winding highway leading up to our Main Street. It was different from typical California suburbs, with its seeming lack of sophistication and modernization, but how is that such a bad thing? Quincy was an awful lot like me.

When I woke up in the mornings in my tiny apartment, the first thing I liked to do was throw open my bedroom curtain. The view outside was stunning — picturesque, snow-capped mountains, tall, elegant pines, and a huge meadow, where deer and other wildlife scampered around in the sunshine. Everything was green and gold, and lovely. As I hiked through the trees to my college campus, all of the darkness and stress of my high school years melted away. In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the woods, I was in the middle of transforming into a confident and joyful young woman.

Of course, Quincy wasn’t really in the middle of Nowhere. It was literally in the middle of Somewhere. For people with cars (unlike me), you could drive for exactly one hour in one direction to get to the city of Chico, and an hour in the other direction to get to the city of Reno. At times, my college buddies and I would pile into someone’s vehicle and head out on the highway, in order to escape the calm and serenity of our little town and seek out a shopping mall, or a real movie theater, or a Target store. No matter how isolated we sometimes felt living in Quincy, we knew that we could always choose one direction or another and find ourselves somewhere, eventually.

Isn’t life kind of like that?

Sometimes, we just find ourselves in the Middle of Nowhere, like when that ex-con dropped off Pee-Wee Herman and drove away. We don’t know how we got there, and are pretty much stuck until Large Marge shows up with her big rig to cart us away.

PeeWee Herman in the middle of nowhere

Okay, bad analogy.

But sometimes, we place ourselves in the Middle of Nowhere. Unable to deal with something in our lives, we pack up our cardboard boxes and head off to live in the woods, where we can forget about the noise and crud that plagued us back in Somewhere. Sometimes, we need the Middle of Nowhere in order to heal ourselves. Or to recenter, as we transform into a better person. Kind of like a caterpillar in a chrysalis.

And for some of us, the Middle of Nowhere is where we choose to hang up our tattered wings and retire.

Just know this. The Middle of Nowhere really is a misnomer. No matter your reasons for finding yourself where you are, no matter how long you choose to stay, you are never really stuck there. When you’re ready for a change, just open up a map, get in your car, and drive. Or hitch a ride in Large Marge’s big rig. Whatever. Just pick a direction and go. You are always in the Middle of Somewhere, and you can get there, eventually.

More Honest Names for College Classes 101 (aka: That Time I Let my Teens Write the Blog)

Because I’m apparently suffering from Blogger’s Block, I decided to let my 14 year-old son and my 17 year-old daughter write this blog post. They were sitting around sharing goofy titles they came up with to replace the boring titles of typical college courses. I’m sure that their imaginary university would be pretty interesting to attend!

  • How to Take Over the World (Political Science 101)
  • Destroy Anyone in an Argument by Insulting their Innate Human Tendencies (Psychology 101)
  • How to Design Buildings that Won’t Fall Down in the First 5 Minutes (Architecture 101)
  • Math, Except All the Numbers Are Replaced with Letters and Weird Symbols (Calculus)
  • How to Go to the Party Without Really Being There (Quantum Mechanics 101)
  • Mindfulness and Meditation (Mortuary Science 101)
  • How to Talk to People Because You Didn’t in High School so Now You’re Making Up for It (Communications 101)
  • How to Get One Step Closer to Ending the World (Robotics)
  • How to Be Totally Fake But Make Everyone Like You (Drama)
  • How to Have a Slim Chance of Striking it Rich but Probably go Bankrupt (Business 101)
  • How to Get Away With Blowing Up Entire Buildings (Chemistry 101)
  • How to Beat Someone in a Fight Without Violence (Dance 101)
  • Turn Your Parents’ Money into Art a 4 year-old Could Make (Art 101)
  • How to Make Everyone Mad at You (Gender Studies 101)
  • How to Relearn Your Own Language Because You Spent So Much Time Texting (English 101)

This is NOT Only a Test (aka: College Admissions, pt. 1)

So my daughter, a junior in high school, just took the SAT exam last week, because she heard that some universities out there think it’s “important” that high schoolers have test scores to prove they’re “capable” of being successful students, or something. As if they couldn’t prove that by their Instagram feeds.

Anyways, she says it was pretty easy, for the most part. I hope that doesn’t mean she just randomly filled in a bunch of scantron bubbles. Because yeah, that’s pretty easy to do. I may or may not know this from experience. Lots of people have taken the SAT, but most of them don’t use the word easy to describe how it went. Those are probably the people who actually read the questions and did their best to answer them. Well, we will find out how my daughter did in another week or two. Hopefully well, because those exams aren’t free.

Standardized test scantron

Speaking of exams that aren’t free, in a couple of months, she will get to take even more exams. Only this time, they will be super-hard ones called International Baccalaureate exams. Which are a lot like Advanced Placement exams, but harder to spell. And possibly more expensive. IB exams cost about the same as buying a used car. A really bad used car that probably doesn’t run, but still. Not free.

student overwhelmed studying exams

I actually do get why colleges insist on SAT scores for the admissions process. With a nation full of overscheduled super-brains raised by a generation of Tiger Moms, the schools have to have some way to separate the chaff from the wheat, so I guess it might as well be by test result.

Tiger Moms

Well then, why don’t we take that a little further? I mean, lots of jobs (including mine) require potential candidates to pass an exam before they can be hired, right? Well, why don’t we apply this concept to other important things in life? Like, you should have to pass some sort of basic test just to get a gym membership. The questions might look something like:

You’ve just finished an intense, sweaty, 40-minute workout on one of the exercise bikes. Do you:

  1. Rub on the readout screen with your forearm to try and clean it up a little.
  2. Wipe down the equipment with anti-microbial solution, because ew, germs.
  3. Wipe down the equipment with anti-microbial solution and wash your hands, because ew, germs.
  4. Go home.

Or a test before you’re allowed to cook anything, ever:

You’ve just finished cooking a pot full of yummy spaghetti (Congrats!). Do you:

  1. Turn off the stove.
  2. Turn off the stove.
  3. Turn off the stove.
  4. Leave the stove on and walk away.

An exam for people trying to lose a few pounds:

Which of the following choices may assist you in your weight loss goals?

  1. Spending all of your free time Netflix bingeing and eating pizza.
  2. Drinking a 300 calorie smoothie in addition to your meals each day.
  3. Eating a low-calorie diet consisting mainly of plant sources.
  4. Adopting a Hobbit-style diet. (Second breakfast, anyone?)

Want to become a parent? Get a high score on this exam, first!

Your baby is crying. You:

  1. Pick her up and try to figure out what will soothe her.
  2. Put him in a bouncy seat and tell Alexa to entertain him with jokes.
  3. Ignore her and keep playing Overwatch/Roblox/The Sims.
  4. Give him away to the neighbors.

Of course, these exams wouldn’t be free. You’d have to pay the government to test you, so that we could use your money to come up with newer, shinier exams for more subjects. And the test-takers with high scores would flourish in the brave new world! And the lower classes would subsist of all the people who refused to study and failed the tests. And…what’s that? Oh, you’re wondering if these exams are part of my super-secret INTJ plan to take over the world? Nah. I was just testing you to see how you’d respond.

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.