Wednesday, February 29, 2012

30 Days Until Thirty-Years-Old

In 30 days on March 30th, I’m turning thirty-years old and I don’t feel like I’m ready.

During the past weeks I’ve mentioned my feelings about turning thirty to a couple people and most have disregarded my feeling as being a little ridiculous. So I’m going to try to explain myself. I can’t be the only person this year turning thirty who’s dealing with these feelings so I’m going to try to lay this out for you.

When I was a teenager I never yearned for independence or wanted to be an adult. There were times that I wanted more freedom but the idea of being an adult seemed impossible. The difference between adults and kids in my teenage mind was that adults just had things in life figured out. They knew how to handle finance, speeding tickets and how to fix random things. My mom has this way of understanding people that seemed unattainable. I figured there would be time for me to get there but it seemed so far away because as teenagers so much in life seemed so hard to understand.

On my twenty-first birthday I was on a plane flight coming back to college from Spring Break. I remember thinking “I’m an adult now, but I still don’t have anything in life figured out.” But I had time to figure things out.  Nine years later, I have that same feeling.  The difference is that I'm no longer new to being an adult.

Almost every person who is older than me that I respect has told me that they have no idea what they are doing in life and have yet to figure their lives out. I know that this feeling of constantly figuring life out is a good thing, it’s a sign of growth. I’m just having a hard time letting go of the illusion that at thirty, things would just feel a little bit more . . . together.

Don’t get me wrong; I have had an amazing decade. I’ve made some amazing friends and married my best friend. I live in a great place, have a dream job and a beautiful family including quite possibly the cutest dog on the planet. But for some reason, being thirty, being an adult should feel more natural.

At work I talk to other teachers and administrators who seem so much more adult than me.  They talk to me on an equal level, and I’m thinking to myself “you’ve been teaching longer than I’ve been alive, how can we be on the same level?” I feel like a little kid playing dress up. I even see people my own age on television and for some reason they seem older than me.

I know this is all perception and that I have proven through many different situations that I am in fact an adult and that I do have my life in a good place. I just can’t shake this feeling that there’s something I missed in my twenties, something I should have figured out by now.

Maybe that’s exactly what this past decade has been about: the realization that adulthood is just an illusion for the youth. Maybe we never have things “figured out,” we just learn to act like we do for the younger people in our lives so they can feel secure.

I don't really feel like I'm ready to be thirty but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.   I didn't feel ready to be twenty and look how well that worked out.

Life goes on and that really is something to celebrate. 

Here's to spending the next thirty days doing just that. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen

In about two weeks Bruce Springsteen is releasing his newest album Wrecking Ball. The first single “We Take Care Of Our Own” came out a couple weeks ago and I discussed the power of this song in this earlier post.  One of the fascinating things about this album is that the title track is almost three years old.  

“Wrecking Ball” was written to commemorate the closing of Giant Stadium. This song and the shows Springsteen played there served as one last hurrah for that legendary stadium. So why is a song about a football field the title track to Springsteen’s 17th studio album? Because, like with most of his songs, this song is about so much more than what it seems.

The first time I heard this song I thought it was simply a way for Bruce to see how many times he could feature the word “ball” in this song (which by my count is 45, heehee, ball). And no, I am not a 5th grader but I do teach them and some of their humor rubs off on me. Once I got over my initial fits of giggling what Bruce lays out in the first two verse is pretty much a tribute to Giant stadium.

Bruce makes references to  New Jersey, the Meadowlands and past championships. While reminiscing about these memories Bruce calls on to the imminent destruction of a wrecking ball. Maybe it’s bravado or maybe it’s something deeper.  However as he sings “hold tight to your anger, don’t’ fall to your fear,” the song becomes very different.

Something he loves, this stadium is being destroyed and only if he stays angry can he stand up to the destruction of everything he loves. In the last verse, Bruce talks about a game that is already decided while “your best hopes and desire are scattered through the wind.” Then he repeats, “hard times come, and hard times go,” over and over. The conclusion he comes to is that they will simply come again.

This stadium is our lives; everything we build up will eventually be torn down. Hard times will keep coming.  The wrecking balls in our lives are inevitable. So what do you do? Let fear overcome you? No, you’ve got to hold tight to the great memories of the past and know that after the destruction you can rebuild.

Life isn’t reliving and maintaining past triumphs. It’s about building up to new ones. By screaming, “bring on that wrecking ball,” we’re saying that we’re ready to move on.  We want that destruction to plow through our lives so that we can start again and achieve something greater than we could ever imagine.

"We Take Care Of Our Own" asks us about what it means to care for people in our lives while "Wrecking Ball" challenges us to face the trials of life with hope and strength.  I can't imagine what else Bruce has to tell us with this new album, but I can't wait to find out.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Year 2: Week 23 - What Special Education Taught Me

I just needed a job.

It was October a couple years ago and I was an unemployed teacher.  If you’re looking for a job in a school and haven’t found one by that time of the year, you need to start being creative. Going through the numerous job websites I kept seeing opening for “associate” or “assistant” teachers.  Over the summer, I didn’t bother applying for any of these positions thinking that I would find something. But I didn’t and it was September. So I applied to associate teaching job and got called in for an interview a week later.

After two short interviews, I got the job. I was now an associate teacher mainly in charge of assisting students with special needs when they were integrated into the main classroom and instructing pullout reading and math groups.

All teachers in the state of Illinois regardless of specialty are required to take a course on special education. One of the main reasons for this is the trend of “mainstreaming” students with special needs. When I went to high school I was aware there was students with special needs in the building but I never saw them. I think they even left the school through a different door. Now it’s a very different situation as students with special needs are integrated into the classroom as much as possible.

This is great for students with special needs to be socialized and included as part of a larger class room and it’s also great for students without special needs to learn and accept the diversity in different learning styles and abilities. Wow, “students without special needs” sounds really funny doesn’t it? The thing is all students have special needs.  The label "special needs," is a little silly the more you think about it.  

So here I was on my first day assistant a fourth grader with special needs. I had no idea what I was doing. My only previous experience was teaching high school band and here I was trying to help kids with organizational skills and basic math and reading.

Even though I felt like at time I was inadequate and useless as a teacher, I was there and I tried. I literally taught kids how to read. I spent fifteen minutes one time trying to explain to a student why three plus two equaled five and not seven. It was incredibly frustrating at times but it was also a lot of fun.

I did this for two years and I believe it was two of the most important years in my development as a teacher. When you teach high school band sometimes people get in their minds these ideas of teaching these lofty pieces of high art. Sometimes this focus distracts from what kids actually need to learn. When you are teaching basic skills that you don’t remember learning, it’s not about the mastery of the content but your skills as a teacher. That’s what teaching is really about.

It takes teaching skill to explain the form and playing techniques associated with a Beethoven symphony. That’s the kind of things we often focus on as teachers. However it takes a different level of skill to teach a student how to read who has language-processing issues and make seemingly insignificant, but incredibly important progress every day.

Teaching special education changed my approach to teaching from "teaching music to students," to "teaching students about music."  I don't think every teacher needs to teach special ed to get this, but every teacher needs to understand this philosophy when it comes to teaching to truly be successful.

I do miss teaching special education sometimes.  I miss the small groups, of course I miss my past students, but most of all I miss the work.  I love teaching music, but there's something about breaking down skills that come so easy to the rest of us and helping someone understand them.  I do this on a different level nowadays, but it's not the same.

I don't teach special education anymore but I'm proud to say that I did and I feel grateful to have had that opportunity to work with that group of students.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Politicians Singing

We need a talent portion for the upcoming presidential election.  Let's see what we got:

We have Santorum singing "Strangers In The Night"

Mitt Romney singing "America, The Beautiful" (which I have mad respect for):

Recently Obama sang some blues:

I'm not being sarcastic. I really like seeing candidates do musical things.  One of the things I liked about Cain was how much he loved singing.

That's cool stuff and former presidential candidate Huckabee often plays bass with guest on his show.

The guy can actually play, this isn't a joke.  Americans love music and we love seeing the people we like to elect people who enjoy the music the way we do.  Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, show us a little about what music means to you, it could only help your campaign.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Open Letter To Men About How to Understand Birth Control, Abortion and Woman's Issues

I will never know what it’s like to have menstrual cramps. I will never know what it’s like to give birth. I will never know what it’s like to have to go to a doctor to get a prescription to get a contraceptive. I will never know what it’s like to be reminded once a month of my womanhood and I will never know the feeling of menopause knowing that your ability to have children is going away.

I will never know what any of these things are really like because I’m a man.

In the past week the issue of birth control pills and other contraceptives as part of health care plans with religious organizations has brought about a flurry of discussion about issues related to religious freedom and woman’s reproductive health.

As with any important issue in our society, this is not a singular issue. This isn’t simply a religious freedom issue. This is a states’ rights issue, a health care issue, a political issue, and woman’s rights issue. It is all of these things but at the end of the day the one group of people who will be most effected by this are woman. All of us men will be able to go on our daily lives and be able to forget this issue while woman in our society will continue to wrestle and deal with the consequences of last week's events.

Just because you don’t belong to a group doesn’t mean that you can’t have an opinion about a issue related to a group. You can have an opinion on African-American gang violence even if you aren’t African-American. However if there’s an African-American in the room, be sensitive, because it is far more personal for people belonging to the groups you are talking about than it is for you.

You may be better informed and know more statistics but you don’t live with these issues everyday.  This may be a research topic for you, but for these people it's their lives and it's personal.  When these things get personal, feelings get involved and it becomes less a political discussion and a conversation about the lives of the people around you.

So if you’re with a group of friends and a woman’s issue comes up, or even an issue that is tangentially related to the unique experience of what it means to be a woman, shut your mouth, let the woman speak and take your cues off of them. If they say something you disagree with, think long and hard before you open your mouth, because if you quote some line you hear from a pundit, it’s not going to go well.

If you are a man who really cares about issues in our society that effect woman like abortion and birth control than sit down with the women in your life and talk to them about their feelings and experiences. Talk to your mother, your aunts, your girlfriend, your sisters and your grandmothers. Hear their stories, ask them where they stand on these issues and form your opinions from their voices.

You will be amazed at the stories you hear and it will make you rethink the way you view these issues.  They will share more than their personal stories but also stories about their friends full of struggles, pain, triumphs and tragedy.

In the past week I’ve been thinking about stories women in my life have told me.  There's one of my friends telling me how before she went on birth control she had cramps so bad she couldn’t walk.  There's my friend holding back tears as she told me about her first miscarriage.  I hear the voice of a woman raised during World War II not realizing until after her third child the connection between her sexual activity and reproduction.  I’ve realized that there are women in my life who not only have opinions on all sides of these issues but have had to live through making incredibly hard decisions about their bodies.

These aren’t easy conversations to have but as men, it’s our responsibility. We will never know what it means to be a woman but we have to try. Nothing you read in the newspaper or hear on television will help you get closer to understanding these incredibly important and controversial issues in our lives than learning about these issues from the women who are close to you.

When you argue a side of an issue that deals with women's lives, don't argue for a political party, fight for the women in your life.  As men we only truly understand what it's like to be a man which is why we must support what it means to be a woman for the people in our lives.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Year 2: Week 22 - Working On The Weekend

This weekend is the first weekend in about a month that I’m not going to do any work.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been completing my grades and comments for the semester. I turned in the last batch yesterday and I’m going to take a break for doing work for school.

Now this post is not about complaining about working on the weekend. I think it’s more than a fair trade to work on a couple weekends if it means that you get summer break. What I do want to reflect on is why teachers work on weekends and what that means to the community.

My first teaching job was a high school band position. I had limited time during the day to prepare for the classes I teach. I probably had about an hour in the day. I would get to work early and stay late to plan my lessons but it wasn’t enough. My department head actually told me outright that the only way I could keep up with my teaching was by working on the weekends.

So every Sunday morning and often on Saturdays I worked. That added onto the many Saturdays through out the year that were taken up by festivals and competitions pretty much obliterated a good percentage of my weekends during the school year. This was exhausting and even with doing work on the weekends I barely was able to keep up, which was one of reasons I eventually left that job.

One of the things I mentioned during my job interview at my current gig was that I wanted to maintain a life outside of school. Now this may seem like a dumb thing to say at an interview but the response I got really attracted me to the school. I was told that a lot of teachers put in extra hours, but a lot don’t and many have very interesting lives outside of the school which the school values.

Our school includes published writers, a internationally known professional musician, stand-up comics, a boxing coach and many other things. Because our teachers have these outside interests, it makes them more relaxed and interesting people who are better teachers.

A big reason why this happens is because we a good deal more prep time in our day than most teachers. While it’s not enough time during grading time to keep work off of the weekend it is most of the time.

The other reasons sometimes I work on the weekends is because, well, I teach what I love. “Working” consists of me singing music, writing arrangements, and researching the history of songs, which is stuff I do for fun in my free time. What do you do when your hobby becomes work? Get a new hobby? Hence, the blog. . .

I know that there are plenty of people who have jobs in which they have to work unpaid overtime on weekends. For most teachers, it’s part of the gig. Should it be?  I'm not sure.  I know at least for me, having less work to do on the weekends has made me a happier person and a better teacher.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why Chris Brown needs to go away, why Jeremy Lin should stay and issue with the Westminster Dog Show

It's been an interesting week with some issues that I take very seriously.  What has been really cool is that I've found some articles that capture the way that I'm feeling and bring some great perspectives to the table.

First there's the issue of Chris Brown performing at the Grammy's.  I’m not okay with Chris Brown performing at the Grammys and I'm not sure why you are provides the history of the beating of his former girlfriend Rihanna and why this is still an important and relevant issue.  This blog also covers why it is unacceptable that he is so widely accepted by our culture.

Then there's the this brilliant article Why Jeremy Lin's race matters.  It's been a rough couple months to be Asian-American and the success of Lin int he NBA is a breath of fresh air.  Unfortunately his success has revealed further racism in our culture we need to deal with.

Oh, and then there's the whole thing about a Pekingese winning at the Westminster Dog show this week.  This is not a good thing.  The breed standard for this dog creates pressure on breeders to create dogs with massive health problems.  This BBC documentary talks about a former Pekingese champions health issues (about 5:50 in).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Whitney Houston-The Voice

When I wrote this post a couple weeks ago about Whitney Houston.  I didn’t imagine that less than a month later I would be writing about losing her.

As much as I would like to think that I’m an expert on music, at the end of the day, I simply a man who loves music. What I speak from is my experiences and my life.  So when Etta James died, I didn’t feel much. I respect her as one of the most important artists in music history and I never formed an emotional attachment to her music. Hearing the news Saturday night that Whitney was dead hit me in the same way that the death of Michael Jackson affected me. It’s like her death left an open space inside of me somewhere and it hurts. No it’s not the same as when my grandparents died, but it's hard to deal with.

Like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston was an idealized picture of what it means to be American. The image of her singing the National Anthem at the Superbowl and her singing “I Will Always Love You,” is my vision of what was a pop star. But when I was a kid, I needed that. And when things started falling apart for Whitney, it was at the exact time when I began to realize that no one is perfect and the fact that we all have our battles. And as this reality came crashing into my idealized worldview, Whitney’s life came crashing down right in front of us.

Even though, I know now that Whitney like all of us is not some super-hero, the image of her smiling, dancing around and being that perfect artist is one of my fondest childhood memories. Whitney at her best was one of the greatest singers in American history. She managed to balance her soul and gospel background with pop sensibilities influencing every musical artist that heard her. Now we may have artists who didn’t grow up listening to her but I bet they listen to people who did. Her image was sensual, but not overly sexualized. The grace she carried herself with was something that we just don’t see anymore.

When pop music got dark, she kept to her guns and melded modern sounds, which other female artists utilized to objectify themselves and continued to spread a message of love and strength.

We all have to grow up. We all have to go through a stage when we realize the heroes of our youth are flawed, that the images we look to have dark edges and the that sometimes, no matter how much we hope, we have to watch the people who inspired our souls pass along to another place.

I just wish it didn't have to be this way.

Thanks Whitney for the music, the memories and the dreams.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Year 2: Week 21 - What Difference Can 7 Hours Really Do?

Children go to school for about 7 hours. For the other 17 hours of the day their parents or whoever is responsible for raising them controls their lives. Also, there's the weekend so in a week a students will spend 35 hours a week at school and 133 hours away from school. So basically if a child's parents doesn’t agree with what a school is teaching it's a losing battle.

I’ve fought this battle to different degrees and on different fronts. I’ve had high school parents lie on notes to get kids out of band concerts, claiming family emergencies while in reality they were doing homework. I’ve also had parent who disregarded my phone calls about their child being disruptive and made excuses. While these situations are annoying, in the bigger scheme of things, they aren’t huge issues.

If a parent wants to teach a kid to lie and make excuses in the face of authority, that’s there prerogative. That undermines some of what I’m teaching at school, but in other situations, it feels like parents are undoing everything we try to teach.

A couple years ago I worked with a student named Thomas. He was a fourth grader who a really likeable kid who was very creative. At home he was allowed to do anything he wanted to do without any consequence. He went home after school, played video games, ate junk food and feel asleep whenever he felt like it. So when I saw him first thing in the morning he was tired and cranky and didn’t want to be at school because he didn’t get to do anything he wanted at school.

Thomas would throw fits, hide underneath tables, run around the school and do whatever he could to get what he wanted. Slowly but surely as the week would progress Thomas would get better and he would start following rules and get in the groove of school. By the time Friday rolled around, he usually had pretty good days. He would go home for the weekend, live an unstructured life for two days and come back to school Monday a complete disaster.

After a while, I had to ask myself, what’s the point? Thomas’ parents basically undid any work we got done in school

Thomas was put in an impossible situation for a fourth grader. He had to operate completely differently at home as he did in school. Adults do this all the time acting different at work, home, out with friends and in other social situations. Developing children can’t make these distinctions easily. For kids in these situations in order for them to be successful they have to learn how to adjust their behavior to situations earlier than other children.

Was Thomas capable of developing these skills? I don’t know.  Over the year, he made little to no progress academically or with his behavior. But we kept trying with him. Why? Well, because he needed to know that there was an alternative, that life could be different. All you can do sometimes is just show a child that there’s more than one way to live life and eventually, hopefully, they will catch on.

It’s difficult, annoying and aggravating, but this is the gig we as teachers sign up for.  Not every parent will be on the same page as you and you’ve got to make it work. Sometimes like with Thomas’ parents it seems hopeless but for the kids sake you can’t give up.

I love talking to parents who back me up as a teacher. It’s not an ego thing as much as a feeling that we’re a team. This could not be more important. It’s the foundation of successful education because we only get the kids 7 hours a day.  If that time is valued at home and supported there's no limit to what we can do for a child.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Civil Rights In America: Good News & Bad News

Good News:

Bad News:

Unfortunately we've got a long way to go. One Town's War On Gay Teens is an important article in the new issue of Rolling Stone.  The lead is:
In Michele Bachmann's home district, evangelicals have created an extreme anti-gay climate. After a rash of suicides, the kids are fighting back.
This article is deep, powerful and brings into focus what this discussion really is about.  This is not a questions about marriage, or sexuality but rather an acceptance of diversity.  The lawyers behind the anti-Prop 8 case have allied themselves with Republicans and are characterized as conservative lawyers, but they went beyond politics and saw this as exactly what this is: a civil rights issue.

The heartbreaking research that was part of the Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court Case, which featured African-American children characterizing caucasian-style dolls with light skin as being prettier than African-America dolls with dark skin proved how devastating segregation was to children.

What research do we have that the anti-gay marriage movement and similar anti-gay arguments are causing damage to our children?

The ones who are dead from hate crimes and suicide.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dear Jessie by Madonna

In the 1980s, Madonna’s role in pop culture was clear. Like Lady Gaga she was a pop musician using provocative ideas and ways of expression to both entertain and shock audiences. In the 1990s, things changed as Madonna took on the challenging lead role in the film Evita and tried to redefine her role as a more mature musician.

This made it hard to know what to make of Madonna’s Super Bowl performance last weekend. Madonna has continued to tour but she’s not a mainstay on television the way she used to be and doesn’t fill up the tabloids like she once did. Our popular culture has moved on to people like Lady Gaga to give us that shock and awe fix.

Looking back on Madonna’s career, what really sticks out? The music. So much of what made Madonna controversial has simply become irrelevant in many people’s memories.  It’s amazing how people forgotten that “Like A Prayer,” the closing song of the show was promoted with a music video that featured burning crosses and Madonna kissing a statue of Saint that came alive. There are probably still some people who would take issue with this video but everyone else has moved on (I discussed this song and video in depth in this previous post).  Through all of this what has maintained her relevance is her wide variety of innovative and interesting songs.

The album that showed the most diversity and depth of Madonna’s musical ability was Like A Prayer. A solid album from start to finish, the album covered a wide variety of topics and interesting musical styles. It also features one of my favorite Madonna songs, the heart-warming ode to childhood, “Dear Jessie.”

The ode to childhood joins a group of songs in pop music that celebrate the innocence of childhood including “Forever Young,” by Bob Dylan and “Never Grow Old” by Taylor Swift. “Dear Jessie” was inspired by the daughter of one her producers, Patrick Leonard. He wrote this letter for his daughter and Madonna agreed to record it after meeting Jessie.

Some have compared this song to music the Beatles and this actually is a fitting description. Like many of the Beatles' greatest songs, it’s not about a subject that most pop singers focus on. The instrumentation is interesting and inventive and it features a fascinating meter change, a musical device the Beatles often utilized that most pop musicians stay far away from.

With fairy-tale like imagery, Madonna takes us on journey through the imagination of childhood. Hopeful and gentle, she points out to Jessie how amazing the world around them something many adults overlook and kids often revel in. Swirling strings, dynamics horns and a flurry of other instruments take us to a magical sonic world that pop music often doesn’t take us.

Is this song the definitive Madonna song? No, of course not. She is far too complicated an artists to relegate her expression to one song. But this is a song that defines one facet of the artist that Madonna was and the artists she continues to be.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Year 2: Week 20 - The Mystery Of Third Grade Boys

When I was in third grade I remember looking at the other boys and not understanding them at all.  All they wanted to do was run around and play sports.  Also they kept laughing at things and being silly in a way that I thought was below my level of maturity and now that I’m teach third graders, I still don’t understand third grade boys.

Third grade boys laugh when they are happy, when they are uncomfortable, when they are confused and when they are excited.  They try to act like they are into things that older boys are into but are entertained by things that you would expect only first grade boys to enjoy.   They have the potential to work through abstract thought and understand concept of multiple solutions to a single question.  While at the same time many of them have yet to develop spatial reasoning. 

This is only the third year that I’ve taught third graders.  My first two years teaching was with high school students.  Then there was the one-year as a fourth grade assistant and the year after I entered third grade land. 

Now my first year teaching third grade seemed simpler.  Part of it had to do with the school atmosphere, the expectations ofnthe music teachers and my own skills as a teacher.  That third grade was a relatively calm group of students and while we did accomplish a lot, I didn’t really push them very hard.

Last year, which was my first year at my current school, it was completely different.  Music was integrated into the curriculum, the philosophy of the school was different and there was a very different school atmosphere.  There were a lot of moments when I didn’t really feel like I knew what to do with my third grade boys. 

I wasn’t sure how hard I could be on them, or how goofy I could be.  I wasn’t sure what to expect out of them musically and I didn’t really understand why they were so different than the third grade boys I had previously taught.

Over the year, I figured out a lot of these things the hard way.  Because of this, my relationships with these boys did not end up the way I would have liked but I did the best I could at the time.

This year things are going a lot better with my third grade boys.  I have a better sense of what kind of teacher they need me to be, what kinds of activities appeal to them and how to pace the class to keep them involved.  Most of all, I’ve given up on trying to “understand” these boys and simply focus on getting to know them. 

At every developmental stage there’s a lot of generalizations that one can make, but you can’t forget that regardless of what stage kids are in, they are still people.  The foundation of teaching is knowing your students not as an age group but as individuals.  While I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand my third grade boys, I feel like I know them pretty well and they are great people.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Northern Soul = Happiness

Long day at work, lots of stuff to do, huge headache. . . bleh. . . the solution a little lesser known but taooly awesome Northern Soul:

oh that's the stuff. . .and forget "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)," here's the Four Seasons REALLY rockin'.

Oh and then there's Smokey

Seriously, it doesn't get much better than this.