How the Face of Poverty Helped me Grow Up

Poverty is something most young people can’t comprehend until they experience it or even just see it. Seeing it transformed me on a trip I took to Mexico at age 18. I was forced to grow up in an instant (or a series of instants).

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “When Childhood Ends.” Write about a defining moment in your life when you were forced to grow up in an instant (or a series of instants).

This is me graduating with my first degree, AA General Education. That's my Grandpa with me. My experiences at a Tijuana orphanage at 18 influenced my desire to be college educated.
This is me graduating with my first degree, AA General Education. That’s my Grandpa with me. My experiences at a Tijuana orphanage at 18 influenced my desire to be college educated. I’ve gone on to get two more degrees and a teaching credential. Every day I seek to help children of all socioeconomic backgrounds as a teacher.

When I was 18, I went with a group of Southern California kids and adult leaders to give food and supplies to an orphanage in Tijuana. I had the opportunity to give a child a bike. The place was actually situated behind a dump. It was regular practice for the kids there to trash pick for food and other items. The leaders gave me a rebuilt bike to give to a boy who they told me had just discovered his parents stabbed and dead in the dump. It was sobering and sad.

I learned a lot on that trip. As an OC brat, I took a lot for granted growing up. That experience really made me grow up in an instant. I saw that security was not granted for everyone as it was for me. Poverty is real. I think all children growing up in the lap of luxury with Disneyland right in her/his backyard should spend time in poverty. It made me thankful for my parents and my family. It made me realize that I was always just a couple paychecks away from being in poverty myself and that I needed to invest in myself in college and savings to ensure a life far from poverty. I also learned that Tijuana poverty is far below any poverty I had seen in Southern California all my short life.

When in the Valley, Look to the Mountaintop

I would call my second year as a Pizza Hut Manager a valley that I rose to a mountaintop from. I left teaching because I was overwhelmed and the result was a valley I thought I’d never rise above. I control my destiny, I decided where my career would go, twice.

The Daily Post writing prompt: Describe a time when you quickly switched from feeling at the top of the world to sinking all the way down (or vice versa). Did you learn anything about yourself in the process?

Damien Riley Jet Propulsion Lab WrightwoodFrom 2000-2002 I managed the Pizza Hut in Dana Point, California. I had 10 years prior experience there and I was bilingual and highly educated, perhaps beyond necessity. They took me in and made me a manager. The first year was exciting, it was different from teaching and I liked that. The second year was drudgery. I couldn’t make the numbers they set for me and I didn’t have much time off. I felt lower than low. I was living alone and dreading each day walking into the place. I think they could tell as well. After some highly revelatory personal experiences, I knew that teaching was for me so I quite Pizza Hut, started subbing and within months has several interviews. In August of 2002 I was hired as a 5th grade teacher, I was 33.

I think what makes me proud of my valleys is that I looked up at the mountaintop and I didn’t let despair take over. This is an important life skill: When down in the valley, look up at the mountaintop. If you can see it, don’t take your eyes off it as your destiny and you’ll get there. I’ve been a public school teacher now for 16 years. ALL my experiences, especially the valleys make me the great teacher people recognize today.

Definitely Literally and not Figuratively

People have been overusing and hence misusing the word literally for many years now. It’s literally reached a point of no return.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No, Thank You.” If you could permanently ban a word from general usage, which one would it be? Why?

Literally is a word that signifies the opposite of figuratively. If you use a similie, metaphor, idiom or other form of figurative language, you do not mean what you say. For example: I am starving to death. This is a phrase to emphasize ones hunger, not ones nearness to the undertaker. It would be correct to say “literally” if one had gone weeks without food and the literal distinction could be made.

Literally is a word that should only be used as a colorful distinction when a figurative statement is in fact true. People in our world use the word literally incorrectly and too much. It has become an adverb to signify intense degree. Example: I am literally going over there to complain to the manager. Before the grammar books start bending this usage and making it acceptable, I vote we scrap it altogether, for the good of English communication.

On Being a Listener More Than a Talker

The best advice I ever got from my father and others but didn’t take, through much of my 20’s and 30’s, was to be a listener more than a talker. You give more to people that way than you will ever know. I started to get it in my 30’s and am now still working at it in my mid forties. The challenge marches on.

Damien Riley ListeningAll people in my circle from my family to the strangers I see in the supermarket could use more of a listening ear from me. Can you listen when someone is silent? Yes, it’s called giving someone your attention. This advice is really about being focused on someone and giving them your attention. Listening to someone’s words is just one way to give that attention, it’s not always easy. You can listen to people’s body language, their clothing, their mannerisms, gestures and more. You can even listen to the way people walk by you. For my purposes, the most important way to listen is through listening to other people’s words. This doesn’t come naturally for most people, and I certainly need a lot more patience in this area.

I’m learning more and more that the quotes like: “A closed mouth gathers no foot” and “I would rater remain seated in a group and be thought a fool that stand and speak removing all doubt” are among the most profound. I see every day as a chance to do a listening experiment. At the same time, listening is an act of love because it embraces someone else’s perspective if only for a moment of consideration. It’s not important that you agree with the other person but that you listen and attempt to comprehend what she/he is saying. If I could offer one piece of advice to those seeking a fulfilling life, I’d offer the advice to be a listener more than a talker.

Is there any advice you should have taken through the years from Dad or anyone else?


This post was inspired by Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop, prompt #3. It is also a response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take It From Me.”

DIV Class Movie Meta – Brought to you by the word divide

I write quite a few movie reviews every week here on my blog. I’ve spent several years developing ideas on how to structure them and I am beginning to repeat some traditional stuff that “sticks” long after I’ve posted. One of my reviewing mentors is Roger Ebert. I read every thing he wrote when he was alive and even now, I visit his blog frequently to steal technique and presentation ;)

After seeing “The Witch” a few days ago, I realized I wanted a more professional layout so I checked out Ebert’s site once again. Turns out, he had a really cool effect there with his meta movie info. He was using css shading for some subheadings just under the movie poster. Rather than try to explain it, check it out below:

Notice the title in Ebert's meta data is white font on a black line. I got to thinking these could be achieved by simply adding a little Css to the style sheet and then wrap that text under the poster photo through  short code.
Notice the title in Ebert’s meta data is white font on a black line. I got to thinking these could be achieved by simply adding a little Css to the style sheet and then wrap that text under the poster photo through [caption] short code.

I added the following CSS div classes to try the effect on my theme “twenty fourteen”:

<div class=”movie-meta-title”><b>The Witch (2016)</b></div>
<div class=”movie-meta-subheading”><b>Cast</b></div>
<b>Anya Taylor-Joy</b> as Thomasin
<b>Ralph Ineson</b> as William
<b>Kate Dickie</b> as Katherine
<b>Harvey Scrimshaw</b> as Caleb
<div class=”movie-meta-subheading”><b>Directed by</b></div>
<b>Robert Eggers</b>
<div class=”movie-meta-subheading”><b>Written by</b></div>
<b>Robert Eggers<b>

I was so excited when I achieved an effect I liked even better than Ebert’s. Of course, I thank him and his webmaster for the inspiration! You can see how the DIV style looks on my site below:

Click on this image to see the full review and how the effect fits in.
Click on this image to see the full review and how the effect fits in.

Here’s the writing prompt that inspired me too write this post today. In other words, blame them:

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt. Not sure how to participate? Here are the steps to get started.

Source: Divide | The Daily Post

The Smelly Zombie

The Smelly zombie next door needn’t be a bother anymore.

This post is in response to:

Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.

Source: Mad Libs | The Daily Post

If it’s been months or even years since you’ve been hearing that tapping or banging snarling sound, chances are that smell is a zombie who’s chained up or otherwise trapped in an abandoned house.

For an affordable price, Orkin exterminators will come into the house, approved by the city, drill a hole in its brain, and discreetly remove the cadaver on a stretcher. This will appear like a normal death has occurred to avoid zombie looky loos and camera crews.

The smelly zombie that’s been making the cul-de-sac putrid will be gone. The smell will disappear soon thereafter. As for her/him? Don’t worry, she/he won’t feel a thing: It’s a zombie!

Writing Prompt and Diary Entry Rolled into One Post

Writing prompt starts here:
The Daily Post asks:

What’s the most significant secret you’ve ever kept? Did the truth ever come out?

Source: Evasive Action | The Daily Post

I was late coming back from a pizza delivery and my new boos asked me what took so long. I made up a lie about how I helped some kid who had fallen and hurt himself. I claimed I too him to the ER with his mom since they had no car.

Satanic, I know.

I’ve learned through the years it’s usually easier to tell the truth. There are situations though when telling the truth, or oversharing, is not wise and can hurt you irreparably.

That’s life kiddos.

Diary entry begins now:

I have been tested and found to be a personality type that is always selling itself short when it is doing at least as well as everyone around it. It sucks being this way. This week I have been taking things easy to test that theory and I can actually see that my half-ass efort is still better than people around. Awesome. As you can probably read between the lines, I’m tired.

Thank good next weekend is a three dayer. I need that incubation time to recover rom this funk malaise I seem to have fallen in. I’m getting a massage Saturday so that should probably start the process toward awesome well. If you’re reading thise post I hope you don’t write me off as a liar. My daughter says I can tell no lie. I’m a realist though and I stand by what I said. What do you think?

Yeah We Could Talk About “Dream Jobs”

There is no dream job because if one is dreaming about it one isn’t doing it yet. If one starts doing it and finds one loves it, it’s no longer a dream but rather a job one loves. At that point there are inevitably things about the job that are not ideal but one clings to the memory of what was once the dream.

I dreamt of being a recording artist but look at Kurt Cobain.

I dreamt of being a bestselling author but look at David Foster Wallace.

I dreamt of being a college professor but look at Dr. Friend (My miserable American Lit professor who hopefully has retired for his sake)

I never dreamt of being a 4th grade teacher but It has become my career and I embrace it. I should note that I would never have been given the opportunity unless I had worked for an advanced University degree.  I didn’t sit around through my 20’s waiting for someone to show me the way.

Here’s the story: in 1997, Santa Ana School District grandfathered me in and hired me to teach on an emergency credential. Three years later I earned enough experience and college classes to obtain a preliminary teaching credential. A few years after that I cleared my credential. I’ve been teaching now for 17 years. It’s not an ideal job by any stretch of the imagination. There are a few things about it though that you might find dreamy:

  1. My contract requires me to work only 186 days a year.
  2. I some days get off work in time for the matinee movie price.
  3. I develop skills in people not financial profits.
  4. I have a reasonably static routine.
  5. I have a respected profession in my community.
  6. Some years I get to go on field trips.

I read a story once told by a psychologist. He described a place where every discontented person was directed to put their life’s burden. When all had done so, they were released to take back whichever person’s burden they wanted. The end of the story was that after weighing enough of them, everyone took back her/his own.

Money for Nothing | The Daily Post