Analog web comics: self(ie) esteem

This one is based on a true story. The moral of the story is, don’t worry about your looks and just enjoy your life.

   
   
The end.

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Analog Web Comics: Superpowers.

I recently came to an important conclusion.

   
    
    
    
   

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A Window into Someone Else’s World

Lately, I’ve been getting really into Instagram (although I’ve been neglecting posting much). I think I’m following close to 200 people/places/things on it. Some of the accounts, of course, are the obligatory internet-famous and utterly adorable dogs and cats. Others are a few people I know personally, whose adventures I want to poke my nose into/live vicariously through/admire. And let us not forget National Geographic, which I’m beginning to think should just come as an automatic follow on any account created.

But the vast majority of accounts that I follow are world travelers, interesting natural areas (such as national parks) from around the world, conservation organizations, and individual photographers from around the globe. The latter are my favorite to follow, because not all of the photographers are professional – they’re just everyday hobbyists or people who find a snapshot of their day to share.

It’s beautiful, really. From my own little spot on this planet, I can share a moment of my day that was meaningful or lovely or exciting. I can share a memory when I’m feeling nostalgic; it doesn’t even have to be #throwbackthursday. Similarly, with the press of a button I can scroll through someone else’s experience. I can learn about their culture, and see what their life is like no matter where they are.

What I really appreciate about being able to look through that little bitty window into someone else’s every-day experience is that, regardless of location or culture, there are some human universals. People have friends, and they do fun stuff together. They love their families. They eat delicious meals. They get excited about little things, like school or work or a new purchase. Overwhelmingly, people love animals.

It’s very humanizing. I think everyone should take a moment to look at the world through someone else’s lens. Experiencing even a single photo from someone’s life makes it harder to “other” them, and in a world of so much animosity, we all really need to stick together. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have internet access, or a camera, so I definitely don’t take for granted this privilege, but those of us who are able should definitely partake in this opportunity!

And this is why I love Instagram ūüôā

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People who really overthink cartoons

Recently, a friend and I were discussing “Hotty McBody-San, Captain Li” because of this Buzzfeed article. While Li Shang is clearly the hottest Disney “Prince” there is, that is really neither here nor there for the intents and purposes of my little soapbox here. As KJ mentioned,¬†Mulan is an underrated movie. It has a kick-ass female hero, solid bad guys, fantastic soundtrack, and distinctive art. But it’s more than that.

As a child, I loved¬†Mulan because of aforementioned strengths of said film. Something about it just made me sparkle inside. Even now, I get excited watching it. Like, “Yeah! Kick his ass! Be the best! Woo!”

But that isn’t really important, either.

Watching this movie as an adult, I can see and appreciate Mulan’s “different-ness.” Mulan is someone (or anyone) who can’t help but to fail at being what society expects of her, because her strengths lie elsewhere. She finds outstanding success and, ultimately, external acceptance once she finds her strengths and utilizes her talents in novel ways. We’ve all been the person who doesn’t fit in with the norm, who fails, who struggles at one point or another.

But more than that, I can now see Mulan as a gay or possibly transgendered person. It’s a pretty easy leap, I think, to argue for either. The entire song “Reflection” is about her not recognizing her own reflection, not being able to pass for a perfect bride or daughter, and not feeling comfortable in her own skin generally. It’s a kids’ movie, so the message isn’t overt, but (and this is from a straight, cis-gendered person) I think there are a lot of kids out there who could relate more than the writers of this movie ever intended.

And that’s beautiful. Mulan saves her entire freakin’ country, simply by being herself and using her own unique skills and ideas. What a great message to anyone who feels lost, wrong, or inferior for any reason! Sometimes simply seeing another person, even a fictional one, overcome their hurdles can inspire you to overcome your own.

Yeah, reality is harsh and sometimes we don’t find acceptance or love from those around us. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be true to yourself, because you have a lot to offer the world just as you are (well, you might want to hone your talents, but the point is to go with what you’re good at or interested in rather than make yourself miserable trying to be something you’re not or please someone else).

This is what I’ve learned from¬†Mulan.

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Analog Web Comic: Hanging in There

more analog web comics, also about cats ūüôā

   
    
 
What? Were you expecting something else?

Sorry. I got tired and also couldn’t come up with a punch line. So, you’re welcome? 

~fin~

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What State am I in, and What is the Speed Limit? – A memoir, by me.

On August 9th, I picked up my packed belongings, a gerbil, and a box for my grandmother, and set out on a very long, sometimes tedious, journey. I left my home in Denver, and also my cat which I’ll elaborate on in a little bit, and moved to the Georgia coast for a new job. See previous posts alluding to the new job/move.

However, I didn’t arrive at my current location for over a week. The breakdown of the drive went like this:

8/9: Drive 15 hours. Nebraska was boring but fun to drive because you can speed easily. Nobody in Iowa knows how to drive, though the scenery was better. I wondered frequently, “Where the heck is Illinois? Oh, there it is.” Gave up driving for the day and stayed the night in a squicky motel.

8/10: Drove like 3 hours to get to my grandparents’ hometown in Indiana. Visited with relatives last seen in 2011. Chillaxed with cousin. Talked with uncle about fish for forever, which is cool.

8/11-13: Loaded up on family time in Indiana. It was pretty fun; my cousin took me to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo!

8/14: Sneaked out early in the morning, and drove 10 hours to Atlanta. Kentucky was pretty, but Tennessee was my favorite state to drive through; utterly gorgeous! Though Chattanooga had some of the worst rain I’ve ever experienced, right at rush hour. Survived driving in Atlanta, and made it safely to my friend’s place. Met some of his family, who also happened to be visiting.

8/15-16: Took some much needed naps, watched some much needed Netflix. Also cuddled kitties and hung out, and waited for my friend to be freed from his night job.

8/17: Hiked Stone Mountain at dawn. It didn’t go great, but I made it and didn’t die/kill anyone! Then we just kind of relaxed some more, before I had to leave at 1 to make the final leg of my journey.

Since then, I’ve done a little bit of exploring the Island, and a LOT of training. My new job is incredibly rigorous, with four 12-hour days, and one 8-hour day. We’ve even done training overnight on another island. Even though it’s intense, I’m learning a lot and I feel that this will be beneficial to whatever semblance of a career I am building towards.

Pros include beach proximity, beautiful sunsets, afternoon showers, sunrises over the ocean, lizards everywhere, lots of snakes, cool new job, owls, alligators, dolphins in the river, room and board, humidity is good for your skin, walking to work, and flourishing flora.

Cons include bugs that bite everywhere, bugs that bite are everywhere, bugs in general are everywhere, it’s hot, it’s humid, I might be stinky, far away from all my friends and family, I can’t have a cat, I miss my cat, I almost broke my thumb, and the South is giving me culture-shock.

The hardest thing has been leaving my cat at home. I love him so much, he’s absolutely my favorite non-human thing in the universe. Whenever I’m sad, which has been often this week, he knows and comforts me in exactly the right way. I’m not really one for physical contact, but I snuggle him all the time and miss the affection. Right now I’m doubting my decision and regretting taking a job that forced me to leave my cat behind, but I know that I will get past this and grow. See “Scar Tissue” and painful growth and all.

As hard as the next week or so will be, and I know that it will all be worth it, and I’m excited to bring you more stories of my little adventures! Also, pictures, which I will get to someday.

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Scar Tissue 

I don’t remember for sure where I saw it (probably Skip Beat), but the idea was that a heart was broken, like glass, and could never be put back together the same.

I really like that. Heartbreak, from loss or betrayal, is painful but eventually you put yourself back together again. Yet it won’t be the same. You won’t be the same. Being hurt fundamentally changes who you are.

Maybe it isn’t just heartbreak, but any experience that chips away a little bit at who you were. Sometimes you get stuck in a rut and feel tarnished, and sometimes you become bitter. It’s okay to feel how you feel.

What’s harder, for me at least, is to be different – but that’s good, too. The things that make you grow that are fun, like travel and developing hobbies, are easy. They just add on a little bit to your heart or identity. It’s the painful things that cause fissures in you that are difficult to accept.

But once you’re able to accept those cracks, you can heal. You can grow. I want to go back and look for the things that I lost, but a lot of it might be gone forever. In its place, filling those cracks, is scar tissue. It’s a memory of something difficult, but it’s important.

It made your heart bigger. It made you grow. It’s a sign of strength. Maybe one day you can look at them and be proud, because although who you were is gone, who you are is someone just as valuable. Someone who didn’t give up or break down permanently. You are courageous.

There are many good things waiting for you. Look forward to what lies ahead, think of all the wonderful things coming your way. Or think of what could be. Have the courage to suffer and the strength to grow.

You’ve got this.

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For the Gorgeous Girls in a Less Than Beautiful World

I was recently looking over Amandla Sternberg’s tumblr page, because I wanted to learn a little more about her after her name keeps popping up in my facebook newsfeed thingy. For those of you who don’t know, she played Rue in the Hunger Games a couple years ago. For those of you who don’t know what the Hunger Games is, feel free to Google that. For those of you who don’t know what Google is, you need more help than I can possibly give and also how did you even get here.

Anyway, Amandla Sternberg is all about empowering people of color, and especially women. She wants black women, especially, to be perceived as beautiful in the media without being fetishized. Her blog is wonderful and eloquent and full of beautiful pictures of beautiful people.

Race is a touchy subject no matter where you go, because humans are sometimes, and sadly, very stupid and we cling to our vestigial need for the in-group. Western media has mainstreamed the idea of “white beauty,” where Caucasian women are the epitome of ideal beauty. This hurts women of all races.

First, and most importantly, women of color are damaged because they must grow up in a society that views them as less-than.

Not even touching the more deeply significant and pervasive plight of institutionalized racism that treats huge portions of the population as inferior based on a phenotypic difference. Not even looking at the society that strives to keep people in cycles of poverty, segregation, and poor education. Not talking about the media that criminalizes innocent people – or at least criminalizes people that would have been given the benefit of the doubt had they been white.

Not only are little girls growing up dealing with all of that (up there) mess, even their very faces aren’t good enough.¬†It’s bad enough that women in general are treated as sex objects; worse for women of color who are implicitly (sometimes explicitly) told that they aren’t beautiful unless they’re being sexualized, who are so rarely depicted as scientists, princesses, politicians, doctors, superheroes, horticulturalists, engineers, ballerinas, whatever.

Keep in mind that Amandla Sternberg was a little girl when she played a twelve-year-old black¬†(African-American, if that’s your preference) girl who is murdered brutally – and yes, the character is explicitly described in the book as having dark skin. And when people “found out” that Rue was black, the racist idiots stormed Twitter to complain that the character’s death “wasn’t as sad because Rue was black.”

Imagine being a child and having people go on and on about how “your” death isn’t as sad as it would be if you were white. Saying you’re less-than because of the color of your skin. That’s fucked up.

Everyone is hurt by the misconception that beauty is found in only a narrow range of the human race. As a white woman who doesn’t really fit in with what the media tells us is beautiful, my self-esteem has also been hurt by these standards. The women of all colors who starve themselves, who poison their bodies, who undergo dangerous and unnecessary medical procedures, to fit in with what we are raised to believe is the only definition of beauty, are hurt. I won’t try to argue that my minor damage is anything equivocal to pervasive racism, but I make the point because some people are selfish enough to only care about things that directly affect them.

Women are indoctrinated with the belief that being beautiful outside is the ultimate goal. This is wrong. But it’s also wrong to inundate the media with images of one type of beauty only. Everyone would benefit from depictions of beauty as varied as humanity. Everyone benefits from treating people as people and not as objects.

All of that aside, Amandla Sternberg is a stunning girl. She’s beautiful, with dark skin and curly hair, but more importantly, she’s truly beautiful inside. She isn’t hateful to anyone, she only wants to show the world that people of color are beautiful in so many ways, and strong, and smart, and talented. This girl is all of those things, and cares about much more substantial things than I did at that age (good for her!!).¬†Her tumblr,¬†here, is very interesting to read.

Girls, remember that you are gorgeous and that beauty comes from within. Be someone who cares about others! Be someone who takes pride in her actions, her words, her work and accomplishments. Be someone who fights for what’s right. Be someone who isn’t afraid to get dirty to get work done. Be someone who laughs until she cries, or cries until she laughs, who gets angry at injustice and loves freely.¬†Be someone who apologizes when she is wrong, and who forgives when she is right. Be proud of who you are, of your face, because if you are healthy then your body is wonderful as it is. If you want to change something, do so because it enhances who you are, not because you think it will make anyone else like you more. Take no shit, hold no prisoners, bear no grudges.

Gorgeous girls, remember that the world is going to try to tear you down. Stand strong and tall, like so many people have done before you, so that those who come after you will take heart from your courage. If you can do that, or try to do that, then your beauty will shine from the inside out. The world will someday begin to see us for the gorgeous girls that we are rather than what they tell us we should be.

The world is less than beautiful, but you are not.

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Life in Boxes

Now that I have officially unofficially given sufficient notice to my current employers, I feel slightly less guilty for admitting that I am leaving my current life – yes, the one I just raved about loving – for a scary new shore.

So, to set the mood, here’s a soundtrack you can enjoy that more or less sums up my feelings:

I love the unknown, but I also love to be comfortable. Right now, I’m very comfortable where I am: I love what I do, I love (most) of the people I work with, and while I don’t make much, I make enough to put a little off to the side each month. Also, I love my cat and my bedroom.

Where I’m going, I’ll make barely enough to scrape by (darn student loans). I don’t know any of my new coworkers. My cat and bedroom will have to stay here, because it’s a dorm-type situation. The only thing I know is that I’ll love what I do, because it’s education, even if the setting is entirely different.

What’s more to the point, though, is that I know exactly where I fit in with the world right now, even if it’s not exactly where I want to be. In fact,¬†a large portion of my identity is an aquarium educator.¬†When that time is up, will the last three and a half years have really meant anything?

Even though I only have a month left, the future seems so unreal! It feels like I’m just going on a vacation, and I’ll be coming back to be an educator at the end of it. But in all likelihood, this is a chapter of my life that’s closing. The things I’ve accomplished there will be left behind to be passed on to the next person, integrated into the fabric of daily operations, remembered fondly, or completely forgotten. That’s the way it goes, right?

But it sort of breaks my heart all that I haven’t accomplished. Yes, there are a few things I have accomplished and, though very few of them have my name on them, I will have to be satisfied with my legacy. There were so many ideas that I had, so many more things that I wanted to get done. Now, it looks like that won’t happen there.

However, I have to believe that they didn’t happen for a reason. That reason is, the company that runs the aquarium stifles creativity and passion. It demands so much energy in the here and now that future growth is almost impossible to actively work towards. It demands immediate profits, so the idea of spending money (even to make money) is shot down. Anything remotely controversial, like evolution or climate change, is taboo.

Living like that was killing my soul. When I started, I was such a happy and positive person! I smiled at everyone, wanted to solve problems, and just thought everyone was the bee’s knees. Now, I feel like I hardly ever smile, I resent some of the duties that I should love, and I complain about things without bothering to think of a solution. Worse, I’ve become unfriendly and unkind towards perfectly nice people. That really isn’t me.

There’s a reason I’m moving on. I need to regain what I’ve lost, nurture what few good facets remain to my personality, and find my optimism again. I need to live somewhere new, and in a place where I won’t have to worry about awkwardly running into my ex. Living right by the shore has been my dream since college and, though it won’t be the coast I wanted, it will be good for my soul.

Plus there’s something exciting about the new and wonderful unknown. I don’t know what the future holds. True, nobody ever knows what the future holds but there’s something to be said for having a pretty good guess. “If I don’t figure something else out, I guess I’ll be here,” I said to myself for years.

My new job is seasonal, so I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next summer or the fall after. It’s terrifying to have enough faith in myself to take this step into uncertainty. Maybe it was less faith and more desperation, or maybe it was just my noncommittal spirit. I don’t know anything! It’s scary, but it’s even more liberating. New starts shake things up. Facing the unknown fills me with a wild kind of hope.

I’m already sure that, whatever lies ahead, I will make it good. And if I can’t, well, I’ve always said that adversity is good for a person.

Despite my eagerness to get the next four weeks over with, there’s a lot of dread, too. First of all, I have many fantastic friends here. I moved far away from college and made a few fantastic friends there, too. It was hard to leave them, really hard, but coming home, I got to reconnect with people I had missed out on. I made some great new friends here, too.

Where I’m going, I have one friend that will live about 5 hours away from me. My grandmother lives that far away, too, but I haven’t seen her since high school, and I’m afraid I’ve fallen out of favor with her. Even an introvert like me loves her friends and misses them. Luckily, I’ve moved away to a new town before and survived, so I can do it again.

Furthermore, I will miss my coworkers. The ones I see every day feel like family, and I’m willingly giving up my place in the family. We have a pretty great dynamic. I’ll miss them like crazy. But I’m already feeling nostalgic even for the people I barely see and rarely talk to! Just because I’m actually really shy doesn’t mean I don’t respect the heck out of them and like them as people!

The moment after I signed up, for sure, for this new position, I had a brief moment of panic. What am I doing?! Am I CRAZY?! It passed, sort of.

I just have to remember that everyone moves on, or everyone gets too comfortable. I was comfortable, but more comfortably numb and less make yourself at home. Even with miles of land or oceans and years between us, the people that I love will still love me – and I can love them better if I’m happy. Time and space aren’t enough to cut the ties that bind if I work hard enough to keep that connection.

So now my life is in boxes. I have a separate box of work pants, jeans, shirts and dresses, bras, underwear, socks, shoes, jackets, towels, bedding, toiletries, and canned food.

I have my anticipation in one box, my breaking heart in another. My hope is totally separate from my relief, but a little bit tangled up with my fear. Guilt is in its own box, right next to the one full of all the people, places, and pets that I’ll miss here. I have yet to sort the bitter from the sweet.

But the good news is, I get to take my gerbil with me! He’s all settled in his box, too.

To all the people that have supported and nurtured me over the years, thank you for that. To everyone who has listened to my endless anxiety, thank you. To those who have told me exactly what I needed to hear, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, thank you because that must have been hard. To all who love me and whom I love, I wouldn’t have had the courage to change without you. And to those that have given me hell, it might not have been your intention but it made me stronger so thank you.

Now, “Here we go, going in alone into the dark and wonderful unknown, let us go.” Let’s find out What Adventures Await us.

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Adventures as an Educator

A few days ago, I reblogged a post from MotherOcean entitled¬†Why Being an Aquarist is the Most Awesome Job You Have Never Heard Of. It eloquently explains what an aquarist is (someone who takes care of fish, basically), and what that career entails. Aquariums would not function without the highly dedicated, trained, and skilled aquarists, without a doubt. Also, aquarists are some of the coolest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call my colleagues.

Coworkers who leave a bunch of magnets in your drawer when you go on vacation.

Coworkers who leave a bunch of magnets in your drawer when you go on vacation.

It may or may not be well known that I am an educator at an aquarium, and I would like to take a moment of your time to explain what it’s like being an informal, professional educator in an aquarium setting.

First of all: mad props to all the people I’ve worked with over the years, both in education and not.¬†A lot of zookeepers and aquarists tend to prefer to work with animals rather than people – that’s why they do what they do. So, kids really just aren’t their thing, and every time they see my kids their eyebrows go up as if their faces are saying “Nooo thank you to that.” I get the impression that most of my coworkers respect my patience with children.

Without meaning to be, some parents are a bit condescending when they (constantly) ask me what I’m studying in school. As if being an informal educator is on par with babysitting in an aquarium setting. Sorry, parents, but I went to college and have a bachelor of science in Environmental Science – so, yeah, I know about a lot of different topics. And thank you for noticing that I am good at teaching; I have about 7 years of experience with it.

I do miss having regular students. They bought me lovely cards and presents.

I do miss having regular students. They bought me lovely cards and presents.

The other people who sometimes patronize me are classroom teachers, again without intending to. As if I couldn’t handle being a classroom teacher. Sorry, teachers. I love you, but I intentionally did not become a classroom teacher specifically because I don’t want to be pressured to teach to standardized tests, deal with disciplinary issues, or grade homework. There are a lot of things that I would love about being a classroom teacher, but I also really love being a fun part of the kids’ special experience.

That aside, I am a full-time (read: 40 hours per week) educator at an AZA-accredited aquarium and a part-time outreach educator at an AZA-accredited invertebrate zoo. I’ll explain what I do at my full-time job.

So what do I do? Well, that depends on what time of year it is.

I love the fall. School is back in session, and most teachers don’t know their students well enough to trust them with a big ordeal like a field trip yet, so this is the perfect time of year to do projects. In August, my department always spends about a week just putting labels on mailers with information about school programs and then sending them off to teachers. We do about 1000 a year, I believe. We watch movies, chit-chat, take it easy. You’ll see why this is well deserved after we get through summer.

This was at the end of a big painting project a couple years ago. We got a little silly.

This was at the end of a big painting project a couple years ago. We got a little silly.

But we do actually complete real work!

But we do actually complete real work!

In fall, we teach a few sporadic classroom programs, as well as teacher workshops, day programs where we introduce kids to the aquarium field, homeschool days, and special events for teachers. In between all that, I spend a good portion of my time completing long-term projects. One of my projects that I’ve decided I’ll never really finish is inventorying our storage room and putting that into an Excel document so that anyone can find anything, if we have it. But more likely, I’m working on developing some sort of curriculum.

I really like writing programs, but it’s trickier than just writing what I am interested in. I have to decide on an age-range, and take into consideration the developmental needs of those students. Preschoolers, for example, need to wiggle around, kindergartners love to repeat phrases and do silly hand motions, high schoolers like to roll their eyes. I also have to write the curriculum to state/national standards. Teachers need to justify their field trips, so our classes need to meet some of the educational standards (or benchmarks) for their grade. Once that has been sorted out, I have to think of what would be feasible given our various resources, and relevant.

Another thing to consider when teaching and developing curriculum, whether it’s worksheets, classroom programs, or interpretive programs, are best practices. There’s a surprising amount of research into what makes interpretation (translating natural resources into terms of the guests’ experiences) effective. There are also, of course, trends to contend with – right now, informal education is moving away from traditional classroom lecture style to hands-on, and especially inquiry-based learning (which might be the best thing to happen to my life; I love it).

So, when I’m writing curriculum, I have to tie all of those things into conservation messages promoted by our facility, the AZA, and the kids’ background knowledge. It can be a lot to keep track of, but I really do enjoy it. Writing continuing education programs (called enrichments) for our volunteers is really similar – consider your audience, their interests, best practices, trends, and engagement – but I don’t have to worry about state standards. Ka-ching!

I have inadvertently gotten pretty good at whiteboard art

I have inadvertently gotten pretty good at whiteboard art

Then winter rolls around, and classroom programs start to pick up. We teach in the morning, give lunch breaks to our interpreters (those nice people who talk to you about the animals on exhibit/in the touch pool and tell you how to be safe. Fun fact: they are also college educated, or in college, so you can, in fact, take their word for it), then get supplies ready for various programs.

Winter is probably my least favorite season because it involves a lot of silly programs that I personally believe are a waste of my department’s time and talents. Yeah, we “get” kids and truly like them, but I don’t enjoy sitting at a table that’s empty for 30 minutes at a time, then overrun by kids who are half interested in the resource-intensive (read: wasteful) craft they can do/take home/whatever I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. The best part of winter is when we do teacher workshops and have lots of day programs.

my true feelings about menial crafts

my true feelings about menial crafts

Then, after the new year, we ramp up for spring. Spring. Is. CRAZY. Around February, we start getting inundated with field trip reservations (be nice to the girl on the phone; she works really hard to accommodate everyone fairly; it’s not her fault you’re disorganized/can’t read the paperwork or turn things in on time). January and February are generally pretty quiet, so this year when I took my two-and-a-half week vacation to Europe, I was really surprised to see how much I missed.

But around mid-march, we get in at 8 AM, set up for programs, and then teach straight through from 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM (sometimes 2:30). That might not seem like much, but we have to carry the same high-energy, happy vibe like each class is the first we saw. We also have to quickly set up the room in between different programs, answer questions, and help wrangle school groups. Then I will give the interpreter a break, take my own, do whatever else happens to be on my docket (menial tasks like paperwork, cleaning, sorting t-shirts, etc.) before I run home.

Although we have overnight programs every week, springtime sees them increase. It’s actually nice, because I get the day before/after off and get to sleep on the clock – for all of the 4 or 5 hours it usually ends up being, IF nobody gets sick/has to go home/has a problem with the exhibits. If I’m not the one leading the overnight, I still get to come in an hour early to help prepare for/clean up after breakfast.

Luckily I'm really good at overnights.

Luckily I’m really good at overnights.

Yes I am awesome.

Yes I am awesome.

Springtime flies by, but summer is no break. As soon as classroom stuff finishes up, I have to put together all the supplies for summer camp, organize paperwork, look out for allergies, etc. Then, because of my work schedule, I get to work a full 40 hour week…then work another full week right after before getting 2 days off and starting all over again.

And summer camp. Oh, summer camp! It’s like day programs, but you have more kids, and you have them all week so they have enough time to lose respect for you and each other! If you’ve never been alone in a play room of 20 running, jumping, screaming, pushing, shoving, crying, tattling, bullying 7 year olds, then consider yourself lucky.

Summer campers drew this picture of my coworker

Summer campers drew this picture of my coworker

my coworker and I drew this one

my coworker and I drew this one

In between summer camps, we have day programs, teacher workshops, and the occasional vacation coverage. Every week of the year, we set up for overnights, mop, vacuum, and scrub the classroom, take care of our animals (including water changes), renew supplies, do pathway interpretation, provide crowd control for events, and handle between 200 (fall) to 3000 (spring) school/daycare groups.

So, hopefully you can see why we like August when everybody goes back to school and we breathe a couple sighs of relief.

No, we aren’t running around caring for animals all day. That’s its own animal, pun intended but I’m not sorry for it. It’s hard, when an animal doesn’t want to participate in a training session, doesn’t feel well, isn’t getting along. And it’s hard to spend so much of your day cleaning up.

A lot of keepers get their start as educators, but I never will. As much as I love the animals, I really hate to do dishes and cook, and keepers spend a significant portion of their day preparing food, cleaning exhibits, and washing stinky dishes. Educators have to care for a few animals, which is fine, but I get to enjoy all the animals without having to do the unfun stuff.

though I did have a friend who would let me play aquarist sometimes.

though I did have a friend who would let me play aquarist sometimes.

As an educator, I’ve been puked on, spit on, punched right in the boobs, scratched, and poked. Every time I teach a program, some shark-obsessed kid will tell me why megalodons still exist (they do not), or hear the same stories. Every time that I do exhibit interpretation, I get to hear someone say about how they swam with stingrays or ask what about the Crocodile Hunter. I have to discipline kids who pick on other kids, and console ones who miss their parents. I have to try to make picky eaters happy, and make sure that not a single french fry touches the lips of a kid who is allergic to shellfish. I get to hear every complaint that parents have, no matter how unreasonable it is, and enjoy the wonderful adults who talk through me, who disrupt my classes by coming and going or yelling at me, who text and make phone calls while I’m trying to teach.

Despite all that up there (all 1700 words of it), I love what I do. I really do. I love inspiring children to look deeper into natural systems, to look at animals in a new light. I love when a class goes quiet with thought as I describe a world without tigers, as they ponder the gravity of extinction…and then empowering them to protect endangered species with simple steps, and bigger actions. I love breaking down exactly how much fresh water is available for all 7.1 billion humans to use, and making kids hold water jugs to feel what it’s like for the people who must carry their water miles from the well. I love speaking to a few guests, or a crowd of 100 or more.

Inspired by a tiger

Inspired by a tiger

And I love giving teachers new tools to educate their children. I love giving teachers a break from teaching, to enjoy learning along with their kids. I love changing misconceptions. I love encouraging all students, but especially girls and people of color, to be scientists. I love seeing stuck-up high schoolers light up with legitimate excitement as they dissect a squid; or, failing that, I love seeing them get squid guts on their clothes.

Even when my campers are upset, I love seeing the compassion that their peers have – sometimes, the other kids are much better at consoling their classmates than I ever could be. They’re also better at punishing the bad ones, it’s great. I love the hilarious and sweet things that kids say. I love hearing a parent gush about how great a program was, or how much their kid enjoyed it. I love seeing the same faces for day programs and summer camp over and over again.

When they're being cute

When they’re being cute

I love having the chance to be creative. I love knowing that ideas I had are being used in other classrooms across the country (cough OCEARCH cough). I love exchanging ideas and techniques, and hearing about others’ experiences. I love learning to be a better educator and constantly improving myself. I love teachers in general, because who has a better sense of humor about kids than them?

I love my coworkers. The other educators are hilarious, talented, exasperating people, and they feel like my family. The trainers and aquarists operate on varying levels of hilarity and familiarity, but they’re all eager to help out. They’re all interested in connecting with the public to various extents; they have so much knowledge and passion. It’s my job to relate that knowledge and passion to the guests, and I love that too. Of course I love the animals; what’s not to love?

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She's basically a big pokey guinea pig?

She’s basically a big pokey guinea pig?

So, there you have it. Anywhere you go, there will be things that are hard about your job. But if you’re as lucky as I am, there will be a positive side to the same coin and when you flip it, it mostly lands on that side. Working in the zoo/aquarium field is hard: hard to get into, hard to afford, hard work once you’re there, no matter which department you fit in. But it’s so, so worth it.

Even if the animals sometimes do weird shit like point at you when you're trying to feed them.

Even if the animals sometimes do weird shit like point at you when you’re trying to feed them.

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