Paperback Regrets

March 11, 2020

Living without regret is mighty tough. I strive to be that way, but there are some things that just cannot be undone, and I fervently wish they could. I am speaking, of course, about all the books I’ve gotten rid of over the years. Paperbacks, specifically, that I sold to the used book store. Alas, how I wish I had every one of them back in bins under my bed. Even the bad ones. I think I owned one Gor book, and I wish I still had that piece of rubbish. I mean, seriously… what a terrible series.

I had a friend who just loved those books. He thought they were brilliant. Now, this fella was a geek through and through. Loved the entire discography of Rush, used a computer with a mouse (this was the early 80s), and obsessively read Gor. Didn’t see the problem with it. When I brought up the sheer, vile sexism of the entire series, he shook his head, certain that my pretty little brain was missing the point. I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of women enjoying being subjugated by men, and also liking to be nude a lot.

He had one girlfriend that I know of, and she proved to be too much for him. It didn’t last. I know this because I introduced them. Not sure why. I mean, she was a good friend for heaven’s sake. However, she did not suddenly develop a penchant for bikini-based garments, nor for being a brainless beauty.

Those Gor books are a blast from the past, for sure. A sad reminder of a sexism that I do not think has changed much. In the world of nerds, there is still that fantasy alive and well: Me strong man with sword. You big-chested, tiny waisted female who just wants to be rescued and dominated. I suppose the anger simmering under the surface… the anger of so NOT being that warrior… is what fuels the hatred for women, the need to make them creatures easily daunted, simple to understand, and servile. I don’t know, because I am not one of those fellows and I have long since lost touch with this old friend. I saw him once in the late 80s. I think he said he wanted to be a Methodist minister who would base his ministry on theology and strict scholarship. I recall raising my eyebrows, standing there a moment with my mouth agape, and finally replying, “Well, okay. I’m sure if one of your parishioners has a problem, you can fix it with a well-cited essay.” I believe he heard the sarcasm in my voice. He ignored it, however, because I probably could not understand what he meant, with my two X chromosomes and all.

So yeah, I have regrets. I wish I had every single paperback book I’d bought in the 80s and 90s still. Some to read again and relive those worlds, some to show as artifacts of a long-distant day and age. These were small universes, created by hard-working authors, some good, some wretchedly bad. But I know now that each and every one of them wanted to send something out into the world, something to let all of us know they had something to say. The voices in their heads wanted to be heard, seen, read. I miss them all. Even the ones I have forgotten.

I know some would call me a would-be hoarder, for it is literally hundreds of books I’m talking about. But they just don’t get it. I’m not collecting things. I’m collecting worlds. And they fit so neatly in those bins…

Not gonna talk about death

February 9, 2020

So another one of my students died. I hadn’t taught him in a long time, but still, he died, and it’s sad. He was a nerd and I always have a soft spot for the nerds. Of course, when you teach in a relatively small school, nerds are not exactly pariahs, nor are they bullied by the so called jocks. Oftentimes, they are jocks as well as nerds. This kid was a well like, respected student and human being, and now he is no more and it is sad. I hate that I have a category into which I file the long list of students who have died. I suppose all teachers have that. As Updike said, youth is a many headed hydra. One class moves up and another is there to take its place. There’s just no way that some would pass on to the next world. It’s just perplexing when it happens. In my mind these kids stay forever young, forever in their uniforms, forever living at home and going to varsity games and saying hello to me as that quirky, sarcastic lady that taught them about either evolution or Zeus’s bad relationship habits.

But that’s not all! One of my own friends from high school died. A girl from my graduating class. She was very popular and friendly. My class, too, was so dang small that popular and non pop was not even a thing. It was one big class. She lived in Dallas and did the whole Dallas woman thing. She must have belonged to every prestigious organization for which one could volunteer, and I am very impressed. How was that even possible? I mean, it was something grown-ups do, and neither she nor I are grown yet. Right? I mean, in my head, I’m only a few years out of high school and I’m still confused and wondering what I want to be when I grow up. How could this girl who was a kid with me, die? From a brain cancer that plagued her for a decade no less. It just doesn’t make sense.

Another boy from my class also had died. Last year. I never even processed it. Couldn’t. I’d known him since we were eleven. He was still in high school, and forever will be with me. Possibly middle school. He is a child and I am a child.

I’m not ready to grow up if this is what it’s all about. I think I’ll stay in the moment of chapters of books. Hide in there as I have done since my own 7th grade. A book in my lap, sneaking a read whenever I thought no one was looking. Believing I fooled my teachers (I did not.), and living those lives. At least if people die in the books, I can turn back a few pages and look! They live again.

The Biggest Problem in Education

December 6, 2019

A nice inflammatory title. You’re welcome.

But I’m not going to talk about what you think I am. Probably. You see, I read an article today, is the link, and it got me thinking. I have told more parent than I can count, “Your child has a problem,” and I have received a plethora of responses. Now, I haven’t been told verbatim that it was my problem, not the kid’s. But I know for a fact that the response that occurs sotto voce at least, is BLAME.

Yes, that’s the biggest problem in education today. Assigning blame. You see, parents are terribly afraid that they suck. Some parents do, but most don’t. But when they start to face such harsh truths as ADD or ADHD, they automatically search around for someone to blame, like a monstrous tentacle of a tentacled monster searching around for a human-sized snack. Some lay their blame tentacles on the teacher. They may not say it, but they do. Others gladly stick their blame tentacles all over their own faces. Others pull the monstrous and stupid schtick of blaming the kid. Yeah, right. Because most kids want to fail, right? Most kids, after having been told like a million times to do something right, and failing all million times, LIKE it and keep doing it because wow what’s more fun than enduring the parents’ disappointment? Ha ha ha ha ha… maniacal laughter.

See here’s the deal, I’m a teacher. I teach at a private school and it’s a college prep school and I have one goal for my kids… can you guess what that goal is? You’re right! College! So what I have to teach them is a rather limited set of skills, the main (and possibly only) one being: Critical Thinking Skills. I teach students skills to get through high school and college, and get through it well. So when a kid has trouble with that, I report those problems to the parents. When I see a kid who struggles with reading comprehension, I report it. When they have trouble writing, I report it. When a kid is in my class and can’t take notes, can’t pay attention, can’t prevent him or herself from turning around, bothering other kids, takes notes no better than a chicken pecking at a paper with an ink-covered beak, I report it. I have never ever said to a parent that they should give drugs to their kids. Not once. And I won’t. I’m not a doctor and I’m not the kid’s mom. But here’s the deal. I am not assigning blame, I’m saying “Hey, there’s a flickering glow from the window of your kid and some smoke billowing out of his ajar window, and seriously folks, FIRE!” And guess what happens if you get to a small fire quickly. It does not become a large fire.

Now, what do I do when there’s a fire? I add what form of water I can. Is this metaphor getting tedious? Okay, I will stop. Here’s what I do when kids struggle. I offer extra help in tutoring. I offer study skills. I move them away from friends. I help them with notes. But the parents have the ultimate responsibility of getting with some expert in this field and seeing if there is a way to help their kid.

It’s not about tentacles, people. It’s about help.

Long time no see…

December 5, 2019

Hello blog readers, I hope both of you are doing well! So what shall we discuss today? Well surely there is something since it’s been over a year. Or three. Four? Wow. I don’t even know.

I’ve experience deaths since then. Not my own. That’s probably self-evident. Both my folks died, a year and a half apart. My dad of ALS, my mom of Alzheimer’s. Both diseases are really not at all funny or amusing, so I’m not going to linger on either of those. Someday maybe I will discuss. Not today. Probably not tomorrow.

How about we talk about something fun, like teaching? That’s a small subject. Sometimes I question why I ever got into it. Sometimes I wish I were doing anything else. But then I get a message from a mom telling me I have fired her daughter’s imagination regarding Greek mythology and I know that with all the insanity and disappointment from kids who just won’t read or who frankly don’t care about learning anything… I know that I have reached one person and it’s all worth it.

Which sounds like a platitude. I want to explain why it’s not. You see, when I was in 7th grade, Mrs. Wildenthal taught Our Latin Heritage, which was the class in which we learned basic Latin grammar and mythology. It fired up my imagination like never before and engendered in me a lifelong love of mythology. It truly changed my life.

So see here, if I have actually given that to a student in my class, then I have succeeded. I got that email this week. It made my day… heck, it made my year. This girl may not recall any grammar I teach her. She may not know all the vocab when she leaves. But she will keep reading and exploring Greek mythology, and then Roman and Norse. She will devour the books of Rick Riordan, and then she might decide to write her own books.

You might think it’s not enough to change the life of one student. If you say that, then you haven’t ever done so. I do not believe that Ms. Wildenthal is still among the living, but I hope that she is in Heaven and knows that one year in 1980, she changed a young girl’s life, and that legacy still continues and is changing the lives of at least one student a year… and will do so as long as I keep teaching.

So long story short, I’m not quitting my job.

Shame on me

June 30, 2015

I haven’t written in a year. Month over, actually. And here I am in summer again with June almost over. And what do I have to show for it? Am I rested? Am I recharged after the end of the school year? Have I accomplished any of the tasks I wanted to when school finished?

Why yes indeed.

I have recharged and refreshed after spending a thoroughly restful June reading books I wanted to read and writing on one of three novels I’m in the middle of. Of which I am in the middle. Middle I am in them. And those tasks I accomplished? They were 1) Read. 2) Write.  So Woo Hoo.

But now June is ending. Like a wonderful old friend or relative who has visited for four weeks… leaving. I don’t want my friend to go. June means the summer is BEGINNING. June means school JUST ended and won’t begin again for a long time.

But July? Sheesh. July is that annoying friend who constantly reminds you of that stupid thing you did in college… or brings up that moron you dated in high school who, honest to gosh, was a drooling idiot but very good looking and you had to dumb down even your salutations, and all you could talk about was where you wanted to eat because he was too simpleminded to have conversations. July tells you, Oh, hey school is starting again! Soon! More school! Back to teaching! Back to getting up early! No more rest! Get going! Buy supplies! Stop enjoying everything!

July is a boot camp sergeant masquerading as a pal.

Ok, so now I’m going to write more blogs. I might as well spend July being productive in this way, right? Sigh. Goodbye June, you dear friend, you gentle soul, you warm cup of tea on a cool breezy morning…

Yeah, Hi July. No, I don’t want to hear about your amazing weight-loss routine. Just shut up and sweat.

Horrible horrible freedom

May 30, 2014

I am done with school.  My kids are done as well.  Our summer has begun.  Oh, sure, we have some summer reading to do (and I do mean me… don’t get me started on summer reading.  I have a lot to say about anyone TELLING me what to read. I can’t even join a book club because I WILL get kicked out), and there are appointments and wee- long camps and other obligations…

But we are in summer mode!  We don’t have to get up early!  We can stay up until… gulp… ten o’clock!  OMG it is anarchy.

Now I can do all those things I’ve been meaning to do, and I will do them, but it will be at my leisure.  Leisure is the key word, isn’t it?

Nope.  Boredom is the key word.  So today was the first day with actually nothing to do except a late-day ortho appointment, and what do I hear from my Two-Days-Short-Of-Being 10 year old?  “I’m bored.”

Now, this is not a surprise.  I know my son and he is prone to boredom.  My daughter is like me.  She can amuse herself with nothing but a pen and a scrap of paper, or a salt and pepper shaker, or nothing at all except a window to gaze out of… But my son must be DOING.  He needs to be ACTIVE.  I know, you’re asking yourself how I, the least active person around, gave birth to an athlete.  Go figure.

But I have adopted a new mantra to use against my son: “Then do something about it.”

He hates this.

However, there are some positive sides to my new mantra.  I WILL drive him to a friend’s.  I WILL allow a friend to come over.  But I will NOT be responsible for his boredom.  Giving in to that will make my son a tyrant, and that would be bad parenting. Because don’t get me wrong, he could become a tyrant in a SNAP. Most kids could.  Heck, most adults could.

So what was I saying?  Oh yes.  Now we are free.  Free to be bored.  My dad told me a story of when he was in the navy during the Vietnam war.  He was on an aircraft carrier, and when he and his fellow officers would get leave, there was one fellow who would not go ashore, would not engage with his friends, would not drink or party or carouse.  He sat in his bunk and stared at walls.  When asked why he did that, he told my dad that HIS leave lasted twice as long as everyone else’s because for him, time did NOT fly.  Boredom made time crawl… Hm.  Perhaps so.  I do not plan on testing that hypothesis.  Not while there is a window to daydream before, or neglected chores to accomplish.  My son can test it if he wants to.  But I will not participate in the whiny portion of the experiment.

Happy summer everyone!

Lost Boys and Girls

September 3, 2013

Now some of you who spend time with me might come to the conclusion that I am occasionally sarcastic. Your conclusion would be wildly, amazingly CORRECT. I have lots of sarcasm ready for distribution, because I teach 7th grade. You remember middle school! You recall the insecurity and fear and that menacing monster known as hormones causing you to try to flirt with the opposite sex, usually with disasterous and humiliating results.

Ok that memory is in no way flawed, and has in no way changed. Middle school is still like that. But here’s what you have forgotten perhaps: These small people, these larval stages of adults, are still smart and funny and sweet and full of the EXACT same needs we adults are. You know what their most basic need is? To feel like they are wanted. Perhaps a better way to say it is: they want to feel like they belong.

You see, very few of us really comprehend that about kids. I think we teachers see it clearest when we encounter the inevitable kid who is NOT wanted and who belongs to NOBODY. These kids may have friends, they may be well liked by the teachers… but the secret they carry around is that their own parents don’t want them.

I have always taught in private school, mind, so I don’t see the worst of what happens in poverty. But when a kid is unwanted by his or her parents, it doesn’t matter if there’s a mansion or a hovel to go home to… they still go home to the knowledge that their mom or dad or both couldn’t give a rat’s patoot whether the kid has clean clothes, has his or her homework done, has food… These are the kids who learn silence as a defence mechanism because they’re so afraid of being slammed for the words they try to share. These are the kids who sleep in class because their parents’ fighting all night keeps them awake, because the parents don’t bother hiding the racket. These are the kids who will end up doing drugs and falling away into death or worse… and the mansion-kids will have an easier time falling away because their parents often replace the missing love with cash.

I wish everyone could be like Harry Potter. He was raised by parent figures who made no bones about how much they hated him. He turned out better than ok. He saved the world and had friends, fame and a happy ending. But it is seldom that life imitates art. When it does, it’s usually imitating a Dickens novel. And honestly, speaking as an English teacher, I’d rather rinse my eyeballs with vinegar than read Dickens.

I’d also love to pour that vinegar into the eyes and ears and mouths of those parents who do so much harm to their kids… harm that never even involves laying a hand on them. But apparently that would be illegal. So I let them sleep and I give them a break on their homework and I smile and nod and pray for the kids and hope that inside their twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year-old selves there is an inner Harry, and a store of magic that will help them survive and succeed, and one day never see those horrible grown-up muggles again.

So all you muggle parents and all you magical ones, stop and really listen to your kids. They have good things to say. Are you listening? I hope so. I hope you are not just letting their words come into your ears, but not HEARING them… seeing where you can insert your corrections, your lessons, your “wisdom” to “help” them. Stop it. They are trying to tell you something. Give them the credit they deserve. Help them feel like they are important. You were probably never treated like a human being in 7th grade. Don’t pass that sad tradition on.

The Tube of Toothpaste

August 30, 2013

I remember reading once in some magazine, you know the kind… marketed to women, full of advice for life, liberty and the pursuit of mascara that lasts all day and alerts you to the presence of employed, semi-intelligent men within and forty yard radius. ANYWAY, I was reading and there was a survey. I took the survey. It asked if I squeezed the toothpaste from the bottom up, or (and this other option somehow oozed scorn so I just knew it was the option chosen by degenerates and thieves) from the middle of the tube.

I said I squeezed from the bottom, of course. I’m normal. I’m a healthy American girl. I like baseball and apple pie… ok, I don’t like apple pie. I like the idea of apple pie, and I would cook an apple pie for you if you really wanted one and I knew how, but I’m not fond of fruit cooked with sugar. I like my fruit as nice, cold fruit. Raw. Where was I?

Oh yes, I claimed I squeezed bottom to top. In my defence, I thought I did. I really believed that I was a regular gal who carefully pinched from the bottom and diligently mashed out every… last… glob of toothpaste, doing my part to prevent waste and saving pennies for my folks… then later for me.

But it was a lie.

I think it took the ending of my marriage to make me see it (you know how it goes when every last flaw is dragged out for display and makes good cannon fodder for the final volleys over the mast… I’m losing myself in this metaphor so I’m going to stop). I squeeze from the middle and always have. I wrap my hot little hand around the middle, and I just make that fist, and half the paste goes to the bottom, and the other half comes out the top, and I do that until the middle is all crumpled. Then I squeeze from the TOP. Oh, sure. Eventually I have to squeeze from the bottom. I mash it against the counter and force the remaining Crest through the wrinkled, exhausted center, and finally to the top where I must perform the Side Press maneuver, pushing the deceased bottom off to the side, so I can push what remains inside out.

I’m sure you’re thinking I’m going to reveal how all of this discussion was really about something else entirely, like American economic policy or the role of women in the modern Episcopal church. But alas no. It’s just about the tube of toothpaste. The tube I have squeezed out. From the middle. Like the rebel I am. Like the outcast paraiah it makes me. Like a heroine of some dystopian YA novel soon to be made into a movie and badly cast.

It’s how I brush.

Warning: This blog contains God stuff, so if that’s not your thing, read another blog.

August 28, 2013

Ok so have you ever gotten something into your head, and you were pretty much obsessed with that thing, against all logic and clearer thinking?  And had you confessed what you were obsessing over to your best friend, that friend would have given you a slap upside the head (metaphorically speaking… because if you have a friend that really slaps you, you are either in an abusive relationship or into some weird stuff and hey I don’t judge) and told you to snap out of it?

Now, my OCD friends just said, “Duh, I do that, like, ten times a day!”  I am talking an UNUSUAL obsession.  One that came onto you like some kind of possession. 

Yes, obviously this happened to me.  So it all started with I joined a neighborhood social media group.  A good thing, really, but that’s another story.  Someone on it needed to find a new home for her shih-Tzu.  My mom recently lost three pets in a row and she’s been blue and mopey and INSISTENT that she wants no other pets once Methuselah the 900 year old poodle (real name Beau, age unknown, blind, deaf and perpetually sleepy) dies.

NOW, as you already suspect, I decided Mom needs animal companions.  She’s depressed without them.  I should know, as I am the same.  So I told her about the shih-Tzu and she was all no, I can’t, really, it’s the wrong time, well maybe, find out if it is male or female and neutered, but no probably maybe no call me back.

Male, not neutered.  Deal breaker.

So that should have been the end of it, but NO!  I became obsessed with finding a pet for my mom.  I was scouring shelter sites, craigslist, taking the kids to Petsmart, but nothing fit.  Nothing called out to me.  All I knew was that this pet (dog, I figured) was out there SOMEWHERE!

Now let me pause to assure you that this behavior is not really like me.  I have things I like, and things I do with regularity, but I don’t get obsessed with stuff.  I can take it or leave it.  So when it happens, something is UP.

So Saturday, still obsessive and driven, the kids and I were going to take the train into Dallas for an event.  Well the train station is on Lancaster, and what else is on Lancaster?  Why yes!  The Humane Society!  So I hurried the kids along, hurry come on get dressed, socks and shoes, did you brush your teeth, no brush your hair in the car let’s go! and we got to the HSNT and parked in the only shady spot in the lot!

Upon exiting the car, an older man says to me, “Do you all want two cats?”

It seems that Mrs. Man’s sister had died.  She had asked them, on her deathbed, to take care of her cats.  Sadly, Mr. Man’s idea of doing this was to bring them to the Humane Society.  But Saturday is apparently a big day for dropping off or dumping (depending), and Mr. Man was told to come back in an hour. 

I said, “Can I see them?” and he showed me two terrified, traumatized, HUGE cats, one a long-haired Himalayan, the other a Ginormous short haired possibly Siamese-ish Leviathan.  So I called my mom.  Can you guess her response?  You know my mom… or you should.  She couldn’t bear the thought of their being dumped (HSNT is a kill-shelter, unfortunately), and she said, OK.

So we went to Mr. and Mrs. Man’s house later that day and brought the poor, HUGE kitties to our house and in our bathroom (the reactions of our own two cats is fodder for another blog, which I will title, Warning, this blog contains references to cute cat antics).  The next day we put them in the crates again and trekked to Dallas to give them their new home, Mom’s Spoiled Rotten Rest Home For Traumatized Fat Cats.

So here’s the God part.  I know why I was being driven so hard.  I know why I was obsessing.  It was all to get me to that shaded parking spot at HSNT so that I could help save two poor animals whose only sin was to have their owner die suddenly.  God has acted in clear ways before in my life, ways which I was unable to deny.  I am grateful when I see it and feel it.  It’s cool. 

Aw nuts.

April 24, 2013

I know I haven’t written in a while.  I’m sorry.  Stop looking at me that way.  I could sit here and tell you about ALL that’s gone one.  I mean, I even had another former student die, so sheesh, why haven’t you been blogging lady?  Well because there was all this other stuff.  Here’s a list of words that could be mixed up and doodly-fonted and put on a poster and I would title it “My Last Four Months” and it would sell big at art galleries (galleries that exist in my imagination, that is.)

  • Shock
  • Death
  • Mental
  • Money (repeat several times)
  • Kids
  • Students
  • Curriculum
  • Novels
  • Dog
  • Mother (in law, but never so distant as that)
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Baseball
  • Ballet
  • Hips
  • Home
  • Carpeting
  • Friends
  • Cleaning the litter box (ok, there’s really nothing significant to this over the past few months.  I have done it most of my adult life, but I figured I’d end the list with something dramatic.)

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.  If I wanted my blog to be a place where I could complain about my life, which would then become immediately and obviously worse or better than an equal number of people on either side of the bell curve… I would have called my blog “Do You Want Whine with that Cheese?”

So instead I will give you some really REALLY important advice: If your pistachio is incompletely split, do not search in vain for a nutcracker.  Pick up one of the halves of an already eaten pistachio, and wedge the edge of that half into the tiny slit of the whole nut.  Jimmy it around a bit, using the simple tool physics you learned in 8th grade, and pry that sucker open.  Works every time.

You’re welcome.

Shall I promise that I’m going to write more?  As e.e. cummings said in “since feeling is first,” “Lady, I swear by all flowers…” that I shall write weekly!