Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The dark side of teaching

I hate meetings. This week has been full of them, and they makes me so crazy I feel like one of the poor victims who gets stuck in my class listening to me ramble on and on. Today was a district-wide meeting, and the highlight was that I got to see many teachers with whom I used to teach. One of the teachers I encountered is one who I now really respect, but I used to refer to as my nemesis.

His philosophies on education often smacked brutally against mine and as a newbie teacher I would whimper away from meetings in horror at the atrocities I believed he must've been inflicting on his students. I was silly and green and everything was larger than it would ever be again.

After one particularly frustrating incident, I walked through a bookstore and saw a daily calendar that was on sale for a dollar. It was entitled 14,000 Things to be Happy About. I bought it, and slipped it in his box with no note attached the next day. The following year, I saw the same calendar on sale for a dollar and chuckled to myself "why not?" I bought it and put it in his box with no note yet again. He switched schools the following year, but it didn't stop me. I sent it to him anonymously. I did it again last year. Four years now. I have no idea if he knows. He has probably suspected me, but I wasn't the only one who viewed him as a nemesis. Every year he receives the exact same anonymous calendar, and every year I wonder if my little private joke qualifies me as some sort of stalker. I am so easily amused by myself.

I know that Kory used to have sneaky little things she'd do to get back at people (by the way, I wasn't trying to get back at him as much as save he and his students from a year of misery) but anyway... I wonder how many have sneaky little things we do just to amuse ourselves. If anyone is still reading this and would like to share, I'd love to hear what they are and live vicariously through your own little sneaky worlds. I am so easily amused.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Down the rabbit hole

I love childrens' stories. I think that they are more true than just about anything else I read. Alice in Wonderland has always been a great favorite of mine. A little girl who falls through a rabbit hole and pops out into a new universe (a much prettier tunnel than the way most of us got to wonderland). Soon she is greeted by various odd creatures who celebrate at arbitrary times, have serious meglomaniacal control issues, or who just can't seem to stop puffing away on a pipe. It's almost as odd a place as the one in which we all reside. Even as a very young child the world and its accepted norms has baffled me, and Alice's plight has resonated with me in an oh-so comforting way.

But all classic childrens' stories speak of truth.

My favorite one to share with my students is the one about the magic lamp. I remember as a kid how delighted I was if someone asked me what I would wish for if I had only three wishes and I could proudly proclaim "ten thousand more wishes." Pretty soon we (like all kids) all wised up. Since that was always the response, we had to include the special disclaimer that you couldn't wish for more wishes. This is necessary. This is where so much truth comes in.

I sincerely believe that we all get around three big wishes (give or take a few) and barring some impossibles (growing a foot, healing a permanent disability, etc.) we generally get exactly what we have wished for.

Wanna be rich? Done. You may not get to keep your integrity, have a family, etc., but if it's in the top three, you'll get it.
Wanna be beautiful? Have a pleasant life? Be "right"? Be deeply spiritual? Great at ping pong? Done. Done. Done. and Done.
Except that, again, you only get to secure three; others may come if you're lucky, but there are only enough hours in a day to secure three.

So....the advice they always give?
You guessed it... Choose wisely.
Choose wisely.

And for those of us who keep looking for the loophole to get more wishes before we really confirm what we want? I'm starting to think that it just might not be all that productive. Huh. Well, I was so much smarter when I was ten.

Friday, August 10, 2007

fyi. i love my job.

There's a line in You've Got Mail where Tom Hanks is excited about the fall and says he wishes he could send Meg Ryan a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils. It's the way they smell. I'm with him.

I do love my summers off (today I slept in, wrote while lying in bed, read some New Yorker, bought the most amazing veggies from Chino farms- the white raspberries are phenomenal-, played tennis, had lemonade, fresh corn on the cob, and an heirloom tomato with good goat cheese and a rich vinegarette and now I can write late into the night with only the sounds of my fingers typing and an occasional plane flying overhead.) I am very blessed, but I can't wait to get back to work.

I miss my captive audience. I miss the way they will find exactly the insight I need in life in some poem I've handed them. I miss writing new vocab words on the board and drawing little hearts next to the verbs (I do have a crush on great verbs). I miss after school chats when a few will stick around and talk to me about their boyfriends or life dreams. I don't give advice on the boyfriends, but I love the rush of strategizing how to stand out to a good school and helping them take a vague dream and nailing down the steps to getting there. I miss coaching a willing student to becoming a better writer. I miss watching my kids' faces when they get back their DWA scores and seeing how well they've done. I miss going to a place where I can hand someone a piece of candy and a compliment and have it make their day.

I'm admitting my nerdiness, I know, but man I love my job! I want my freshly sharpened pencils. I want to dive so deeply into meaningful work that I don't have the luxury of much self-centered thinking. I want to go back to the place that reminds me each day that I have to strive to live up to the ideals I spout out or I'll never be taken seriously by people I love who need to take me seriously.

Well, enough of my excitement...I've always gotten too excited about things...I stayed up all night Christmas Eve every year(sometimes even jumping up and down on my bed with enthusiasm) until I was 21. I just thought I'd put some happy karma into the world while getting out some of my passionate impatience.

PS... It's been a while since I've had a chance to share a poem I like with anyone so here's one I absolutely love by Anne Sexton. I always think of it on late nights when I can't tear myself from my computer and I wonder why I can't be content with leaving work at work and then going off and spending my life just sorta hangin' out. I can't even just do teaching; I have to push myself to write, write better, etc. It's a trait I actually kind of like about myself, but after reading the poet's bio, I hate to admit the author... Anne Sexton was one totally messed up woman (never read the bios for writers you like if this sort of thing taints the writing for you. writers are notoriously messed up and poets are the worst.) If you finish reading the poem, I'll give you the dirt on her at the end. It's really gross and juicy.

The Ambition Bird

So it has come to this
insomnia at 3:15 A.M.,
the clock tolling its engine

like a frog following
a sundial yet having an electric
seizure at the quarter hour.

The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
that warm brown mama.

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin.

All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird.

The bird wants to be dropped
from a high place like Tallahatchie Bridge.

He wants to light a kitchen match
and immolate himself.

He wants to fly into the hand of Michelangelo
anc dome out painted on a ceiling.

He wants to pierce the hornet's nest
and come out with a long godhead.

He wants to take bread and wine
and bring forth a man happily floating in the Caribbean.

He wants to be pressed out like a key
so he can unlock the Magi.

He wants to take leave among strangers
passing out bits of his heart like hors d'oeuvres.

He wants to die changing his clothes
and bolt for the sun like a diamond.

He wants, I want.
Dear God, wouldn't it be
good enough to just drink cocoa?

I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
There is folly enough inside this one.

***Messed up and juicy dirt on Anne Sexton: She was a fashion model, admitted to an incestuous relationship with her daughter (EEEEWWWW), and like so many other poets, she killed herself.

Have a nice day, and if you get a chance, smell a freshly sharpened pencil.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Something Peppy

Many of you know I'm trying to write a young adult novel this summer (I'm currently at over 16K words- 59 double-spaced pages and kinda proud of myself in an "it's not enough nor good enough, but at least it's there" sort of way.) It's an interesting venture peering back into my own past to dig up stuff to use. My favorite story I've found as I've trudged through those bygone horrors is one that I didn't even appreciate until a few years ago. It's a little too young for my novel, but it delights me nonetheless.

As the only girl in the neighborhood crew (Kaylene was often too young) I was in charge of baking the goods for the lemonade stand, and making the signs. I probably should've known better than to go into business with a pack of ten-year-old boys with a penchant for mooning and fart noises, but they were cute, and I'd always been boy-crazy. After six hours, twenty-three dollars split five ways, and more teasing than a prissy little white-dres-wearing pink and white polka-dotted toed girl could handle, I broke. I lit into them. Well, most of them.

As a teaching natural (ha ha) I thought I needed to be accurate and give the guys someone to look up to- someone to inspire them to be better to prissy little girls in white dresses so I singled out the only one of the pack who had not teased me once that day so at the end of my tirade I turned to Jason Conforto (who would, only a few years later, become my first boyfriend for an awkwardly glorious two weeks before I got so terrified that he'd break up with me that I broke up with him) and I thanked him for being the only one to respect me that day. He promptly turned to me and smashed a cupcake in my hair.

This was not a pleasant memory until a few years ago when my brother was visiting Jason, and the two of them were re-living old moments. Jason told the story and then when he got to the end, Jason was angry. Not because I had yelled at them, but because I'd outed him. He said he'd never have been able to live that down and so...the cupcake. Huh. Apparently he'd had as much of a crush on me as I'd had on him. Apparently ten year old boys are cruel to each other if they sense that one of their own might be at risk for cooties. Who knew?

It's funny how inaccurate all stories inherently are. How biased we are. How much my love life had still not changed sixteen years later when the story was told. How fascinating it is to have someone else tell you a story that you have been telling for years. How a good summer day can make any story feel like home. How thirsty I am for lemonade right now.