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!

Writer’s Guilt

November 4, 2012

So here’s the thing. I know I’m supposed to be writing. I mean especially now in November for the Nanowrimoheyho or whatever it’s called. I get emails from them almost daily reminding me of what I need to be doing, which is feeling guilty for not writing.

So I go. I feel guilty. I stare at blank pages on my computer screen. I change the color from white to pink, because I read somewhere that pink is a calming color. Or was it inspiring? Anyway, I figure it can’t hurt. Unless it does. Because I still don’t get anything done.

So I do what all good writers do. I play Solitaire. Obviously it was for this exact purpose that Microsoft installed Solitaire into its operating system. When I had a Mac, I had to find a good Solitaire since they rudely didn’t give it standard. I don’t know… maybe they do now. For the writers.

So I play Solitaire for a while and try to make my brain work, try to awaken my muse and feed her strong tea and chocolates. Sometimes it works. Other time I have to resort to Mahjong on the internet.

Sad songs on my playlist. Or heavy metal. Or classical if I am feeling more wordless. What I don’t do is watch television, because that is the kiss of death for writing that evening.

Eventually I find my way back to the writing. I berate myself and sigh a lot, and get my particular friend to give me his best “What the hell! Just do it!” look, and I type words and words and words and sometimes a lot of them make sense. Others are detritus… the flotsam and jetsam of a brain off course, or lost in a storm.

And when things get really bad, and I can’t even string together a single creative sentence, I sit down and express just how frustrated I am into the realm of the blogosphere, and Voila! I feel the creative juices flow again, and my muse smiles on me, and I go back to whatever little universe in my mind that now has awoken and is ready to show me its secrets.

So thanks for listening! I’m going to go write now!

It may be revelation… or it may be a brain sneeze.

October 19, 2012

I’ve figured something out.  This may not be news to anyone but me, but hey, it felt a little like revelation to me.

See, I remember in my teens and twenties.  I was looking for love, but love looked a lot like the stuff of romance novels and movies.  It wasn’t real, but golly it was fun.  As my twenties waned, I realized “Oh yeah, I’d better do that whole marriage and house and babies thing or whatever…” and so I did.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t looking so much for love then as I was looking for the house and the kids and the marriage.  I think most people are like that.  We marry because we feel it’s time.  If love is there too, great.  But for me, it was all about the marriage and the family.  I loved marriage, and I absolutely loved my kids.

Now most people follow the same pattern.  Marriage, house, kids… then they are in their forties and suddenly life changes.  Now I don’t know why it changes in the late thirties or early forties.  Is it genetic?  Is it environmental?  Don’t ask me.  But everyone I know who goes through what I did… it happens in the fourth decade of life.

In my case, it led to divorce.  The man I started that whole journey with was not the man I will end my journey alongside.  And this is where I’ve done a lot of thinking and had my little revelation.  You see, I think most people have the moment in life where they are changed.  So if someone is married, and both of them look up and say, “Wow, I am changed, and so are you!  But I think the new people we are get along just fine!” then they just go along on their journey as new people, still married, still in love or at least in a lovely, comfortable like.

But if, like me, that epiphany occurs and the two people are incompatible… well what then?

Well, perhaps what happens is that the new person they are is ready and able to fall for someone in a new way.  Now is the time for someone whose personality matches my improved self.  Now is all for me.  Not for finding a house, not for building a family, not for riding those new and untested rapids.  I can sail with him.  I can surf and waterski and enjoy myself, hand in his, heading forward and forward and forward…

Am I saying things that everyone already knows?  Perhaps.  But I am glad I have learned it.  I feel like there are things that can be shared orally, read about in books, seen in movies.  Themes of life we can hear and write ten page papers on in school, but until we live them, we just don’t understand.  This is one of those things I guess.

Unlike the advice my mom gave me about marriage when I was young: “Always have separate bathrooms.”  I didn’t need to experience that to know the truth there.

Stories from my friend Formica

October 17, 2012

So I haven’t been able to meet my friend Formica in months, and that’s probably why I haven’t written on my blog lately.  Also I’ve been finishing my novel, which will be out very soon via Amazon so yay!

Anyway, I finally got to hang out with Formica again and hear her stories of love and loss and the ridiculous situations she gets herself into.  I love her, but Lawsy, she can put herself into some pickles!

So I hear her latest story that involves a married man.  Need I go on?  You’ve figured out this cannot end well, right?  Of course it didn’t.  But she can tell a good story.  Always had.  I figured out years ago, not long after we met in graduate school, that she was a collector.  Collector of men, collector of experiences, collector of stories to share over tea at Starbucks.

She’s collected all types of men over the years.  The nerdy geek type, which included the student priest and college professor; the bad boy type, which included the biker and the heavy metal musician; and the army type, which included… well, the one soldier she went on maybe three dates with.

So now do we add the married type?  I hope not.  It was rough on her, alas.  I’m used to seeing Formica talking to the Chinese waiters in Mandarin, yelling at the Lebanese waiters when they sneer at our hummus, flirting with the flamboyant waiters just about everywhere.  Seeing her subdued and heartbroken saddens me.  Is that selfish?  Probably.

I am not going to repeat her story here.  It’s not for me to tell, and when I typed it out and reread it, the words seemed like gossip.  Let me sum up by saying that she thought she was in love.  It looked like love.  It sounded like love.  It even smelled like love when the fellow sent her flowers.  But when they were finally together, when they finally let their lips lock and their tongues tango, it didn’t feel like love.  It felt sordid.

I’ve thought a lot about Formica’s stories.  Next week we will have tea again, and I guarantee you she’ll have her sunny disposition back, and she’ll be flirting with the barista and laughing off this latest tale with all the insouciance I’ve come to love in her.  But what about the feeling of love?  Did she feel it?  Is her heart broken?  I don’t know.  I myself have felt that pain, and it’s pretty devastating.  There’s nothing romantic or funny about it.

I worry that Formica will take on the attitude that feeling deeply only leads to hurting deeply.  She’s good at maintaining shallow, casual relationships.  They make good stories, but not good relationships.  Selfishly, I want the stories for myself.  They liven up my days, and make me glad for the things and people in my comparatively boring life.  But I love my friend and I want her to be happy.

Ah well, to each his or her own, and all such platitudes.  I do think she’s had the right idea all along to collect experiences.  I know the ones I’ve collected over the years have made my writing what it is, and more.  Now if I can just get Formica to sit down and write that memoir!!!

Obnoxious people from my brain…

October 15, 2012

It never ceases to amaze me how those darn characters we invent and invest in can turn on us.  Sometimes it’s no big deal… no bigger a deal than when someone flips you off on the highway.  You’re mad about it, but only for a few minutes and then it fades from your memory.  Other times it’s like a beloved, dear dog suddenly turns and attacks you, and you end up in the emergency room and find out you have rabies and fleas and mange and distemper, all from that dog you fed and nourished and loved and gave your precious time to…

 So those characters in that story I was writing?  You know the one where they fall in love after two previous breakups in a magical kingdom, etc.?  Well, the story started out swimmingly!  They were young, in love, passionate… the supporting characters were funny and fun and clever.  I believed in the love and the magic and the desire…

 Then the betrayal!  Oh no!  Such pain!  Yeah, that part worked too.  Even when they got back together again, unable to resist their love, it was ok.  And when he was sent off to the front lines to defend the kingdom, and she had to stay behind in the palace to defend the king… yes it was good!  Acceptable, anyway.

 But then he came back, disillusioned and on the run, ready to go rogue, and take his love with him.  Yet she refused.  He may have seen horrid things on the battlefront, but she had achieved a place of status and stature with the king!  How could he ask her to give all that up now?  So they separated, hearts broken… and then oy vey.

 My heroine sits on her fainting couch, hart shorn in hand, vinaigrette by her side, lace hanky drifting to the floor, saying “Ah me!” about a thousand times (or the equivalent).  My hero sets his steely stare out on the horizon, his chiseled jaw set, unsmiling, as he silently vows never to love again.

 And I just know she will get advice from a wandering Gypsy fortune teller.  He will listen to the wisdom of his sagacious old valet.  And somehow this book which began so promisingly, has become a melodrama written in the purple prose of 1895.

 So I was perturbed, then I was disappointed, and now I pretty much am resigned to setting this story among the others… you know the ones.  Back burner tales.  Spare novels to work on when I have nothing else going on.

 But that’s the breaks, really!  Life happens, and the muse comes and goes like luck.  I’m not mad at the muse, or even at myself.  Or really even at those silly characters and how far they have fallen in my esteem.  I already have something new and fecund in my head, fermenting and brewing up characters with backbones, with modern voices, with vision.  That’s how it goes!  And that’s one of the reasons I love writing!