Monday, October 31, 2011

Finding center. Let's try again.

I'm such a freaking baby.  It doesn't take much for me to feel completely out of whack and start whining about how I'm all tired and stressed.


So, there's that.  It's entirely my fault.  I know what things make me feel like a normal human (as opposed to the eye-twitching Crankypants McGee that I've been since Friday morning) and I know it's not too complex a recipe: enough sleep, some running, good (read: homemade) food, careful planning.  You guys, I have abandoned every single thing on that list for about three weeks. Yes, in addition to struggling to complete my homework.  Time to get back on the normal person wagon and quit being angry that I have to do everything all the time.

I think that's a normal expectation, right?  That I have to, like, do stuff.  All day.  Every day.  And NOT feel angry about it.  But I feel myself approaching the border to Crazy Town--I'm starting to resent things (like waking up every day, grading, feeding children and/or husband, household chores, homework) that I absolutely cannot hate because I absolutely have to do them.

In light of this desire to be completely zen about my own regular responsibilities (three cheers for adulthood!), I'm setting some goals for this week:

1. Get in bed every night before 9:00.  Take a Benadryl if I'm wound up tighter than Jennifer Lopez' ponytail.  Be asleep before 10:00.

2.  No TV until I've finished my packet for UCR this week.   None.  Not even a reality show.  Not even Tyra.

3.  At least 3 days of running, maybe 4.  No pressure on mileage, since I haven't run a single mile after my last half marathon.  But it's time to build that stress-relief back into my week.  I need to get my patoot out of bed and do it even if I'm tired.  I know I have more energy when I run.  I just do.

4.  Salads.  Lots.

5.  Laying things out the night before.  No excuses.  That always makes life better in the morning for everyone.

You wouldn't think any of that would be too tough, but I haven't been able to get my act together for about three weeks to do any of it.  I need a reset.  Putting it on the internet will make me one thousand times more likely to do it since I don't want to wimp out.

There you go.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nerd fun: mo' books.

Here's the latest installment of book reviews... I'm letting my Nerd Flag fly today.  Yay books.

Even though I'm a little bit behind on my reading from my trip, I spent today doing major catch up and finished another book.  As it seems to have been the case lately, my most recent batch is rather eclectic.  I know.  Again.  Weird.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

I was supposed to read The Awakening in college. I owned a copy.  I skimmed it.  But I didn't really sit with it and try to absorb the story.  Consequently I didn't get much out of it.  So when I was making my reading list for my fiction class and my student teacher suggested it, I figured I would go back to it and learn more about it than what I knew: A) Edna doesn't like being a mom and B) Edna does that whole "into the sea" thing at the end.

Edna is a wife trapped by her decisions.  She marries a man who is good enough; she has children because it's what she is supposed to do, not really because she is enthralled with the idea of motherhood or children.  She falls in love with another man.  She meets and interacts with a single woman who doesn't really make excuses for being single.  She questions her decisions.  She questions her existence.

Knowing more about the historical context of the novel helped, too.  It was published in 1899.  It's one of the first examples of a woman who isn't happy with traditional roles of wife and mother, and it's narrated without judgement.  It raises some interesting questions about the expectations of women around that time, but honestly it struck me how modern and relevant the themes still are.

My recommendation: A good, (and short!) read.  Stylistically it's a little dense and wordy, but I was happy I gave it another look.  It's one of those books on my I-feel-smarter-because-I-know-what-people-are-talking-about-when-they-reference-it list.  I recommend it if you think you can hang with the 1900's vocab.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I think I said this before I started reading it, but I'm almost embarrassed by how little Didion I've read.  I'm a traitor to Sacramento.  But I'm trying to make up for it (and for my general unfamiliarity with nonfiction writers).  My first exposure to Didion was to a passage from Slouching Toward Bethlehem (her famous short nonfiction pieces--it's also on my to-read list) at a teachers' workshop.  Her writing is full of ease and beauty.

The Year of Magical Thinking is nonfiction; Didion describes a horrific period of her life when she lost her husband suddenly while her daughter was in a coma in the hospital.  Heavy stuff.  She went through experiences that are unthinkable, and as a result she began to think in a warped--she calls it "magical"--other-logic in order to deal with her grief.  Parts of this book were really hard to read, and I think I read it with a kind of distance just to get through it.  I think it helped me to read it with an eye to technique rather than the emotional experience.  I know this is the kind of stuff that affects me on a really deep level, but since I was looking to it to see how it was written for my nonfiction class, it wasn't as hard to deal with.

It's interesting that I also recently read another memoir on grief, Light Years.  This is so different.  While that one was about moving into nature in order to deal with the narrator's grief, this one was about living in it and trying to function, still.  Interesting.  Heart-breaking.  Tragic.  And, also, beautiful.  Didion has a way of repeating benign-sounding phrases to bring the reader back to the same idea over again.  It's almost musical.

My recommendation: I'm not sure this one is for everybody.  I'm sure it would help someone who was grieving to read Didion's thought process.  The writing is spectacular.  It's very good, but just make sure you know what you're getting.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Man.  I wanted to like this book.  I wanted it so bad.  But I just didn't really like it.  It's unfortunate, because I was shouting the praises of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close from the rooftops.  I had high hopes for this one to be equally good and equally touching.  Something about it just didn't resonate with me, though.  I tried to start it about five times and I just couldn't get hooked; I finally decided today to just sit down and get through it.  It was okay.

This is from Amazon:
The simplest thing would be to describe Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer's accomplished debut, as a novel about the Holocaust. It is, but that really fails to do justice to the sheer ambition of this book. The main story is a grimly familiar one. A young Jewish American--who just happens to be called Jonathan Safran Foer--travels to the Ukraine in the hope of finding the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He is aided in his search by Alex Perchov, a naïve Ukrainian translator, Alex's grandfather (also called Alex), and a flatulent mongrel dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. On their journey through Eastern Europe's obliterated landscape they unearth facts about the Nazi atrocities and the extent of Ukrainian complicity that have implications for Perchov as well as Safran Foer. This narrative is not, however, recounted from (the character) Jonathan Safran Foer's perspective. It is relayed through a series of letters that Alex sends to Foer. These are written in the kind of broken Russo-English normally reserved for Bond villains or Latka from Taxi. Interspersed between these letters are fragments of a novel by Safran Foer--a wonderfully imagined, almost magical realist, account of life in the shtetl before the Nazis destroyed it. These are in turn commented on by Alex, creating an additional metafictional angle to the tale.

See, my problem isn't with the whole metafiction thing.  Sometimes that's fine.  And it wouldn't have been with the very clear voice of the guide, Alex, except that it just got to be too distracting and it wasn't funny.  It seemed cruel and derivative.  I guess I couldn't figure out what Foer wanted to accomplish with all the mistranslations and malapropisms.  I guess on another level it just wasn't my cup of tea.

As a Holocaust narrative and a quest story, it had an interesting story to tell, but I felt like it would have been so much more powerful if it was just told in a straightforward way without the gimmicks.  At times it was emotional and moving, but much of the time it just seemed like it wasn't about anything.  That's not really my favorite.  It feels like this might be the kind of book I'd like more if I had someone to talk to about it, but as it was--just me alone on the couch in my sweats all day--I can't say it was my favorite read.  Maybe I just didn't get it.  There wasn't the same sweetness here that Foer had in Extremely Loud.

My recommendation: Skip it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Here's what I like.


Just kidding.  I think Halloween is kind of dumb.  I'm just waiting for it to be over so we can do the real holidays.  You know, the ones where we get pie.  And honestly those are just to hold me over until it's summertime again.  I've had enough of Halloween.  And by "Halloween," I mean pictures of my former students in their underwear on The Facebooks.  I'm just in picture-ignore mode until about the end of next week.  Yeah, you're a really cute bumblebee or whatever.  You like your sparkly underpants and hooker shoes.  I get it, being skinny is fun.  Just remember the internet is forever.

I'm not mad about Halloween or anything (or bee-whores, for that matter), I'm just over it.  It's not my favorite.  I like my own kids getting all dressed up and I like driving them around to see family but I'm not really one for walking around in the dark on a school night.  I think that's going to be all E this year.

No, what I like is the fact that for the last two nights I've actually had a little fun.  I know, who would have ever guessed?

Source: via Becky on Pinterest

Yesterday was Homecoming at my school and in between parade and game some of my favorite people had a little gathering to blow off some steam.  I realized it's been a while where we haven't really made time for fun and it was nice to get together and laugh.  Even the game was fun, although the extent of my football knowledge and sports fan enthusiasm is my love for the high school fight song.  No matter.  Homecoming is, like, totally a thing.

Tonight E and I went to see a company I used to dance with, but first we had a honest-to-God date with dinner and drinks (and dressing up!).  I swear it's been about four hundred and seventy five years since we went out. I looked at him at dinner tonight and realized we hadn't had a conversation since high school.  Or maybe since before I went to New York.  I could be exaggerating a bit.  But it felt like a long time, either way.  I really like him.  I'm glad we have the most generous babysitter ever--being able to go out is such a gift.

First day truly OFF tomorrow since 10/15! My plan?  To stay in PJs all day.  Oh, yeeeeeah.  All.  Frickin.  Day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Photo on 10-27-11 at 8.56 PM

I realize life is a set of choices, but this week I really feel torn.  I am exhausted since I returned from New York. I am also way behind on my schoolwork for UCR since I returned from New York.

I meant to read when I was there.  I meant to write.  Neither of those really happened because after the first day of craziness we just really didn't have any down time.  Yes, I sketched out a very bare draft of a nonfiction piece on the plane ride home, but my mind was mostly on the 9/11 Memorial and it consumed my thoughts.  I wrote and wrote on that while we flew, and it eventually became yesterday's post.  It felt more important to get that down before I moved too far away from the experience.  I'm hoping I can turn that into a larger piece or use it as inspiration for a short story.  To be fair, I took a metric ton of pictures, so I have a lot of inspiration.  But actual work?  Not much.

Tuesday night I fell asleep at the computer while I was editing.  Yesterday I dropped into my bed at 3:00 PM like a ton of bricks and I didn't really recover for the rest of the night.  But I couldn't really relax--even in my sleep I was thinking about how I need to start finish reading Everything Is Illuminated and Some Girls before this weekend.  (And start writing a 12-20 page fiction draft?  Yikes!)  And that's my amended/ reduced reading list for the week.  I keep vacillating between the thought that maybe it's better to just take a day or two and get the rest I need and the thought that I need to just push on and get my work done like a big girl.

Usually what happens in this situation is that I do nothing.  I don't really sleep well and I don't really do any work.  Neither of those can be what happens, you understand.  I also don't want to put everything off until this weekend because I know I'll end up killing myself both days to get everything done and I won't feel like I had any time off.  I'm already running on about a week and a half with no rest day--that isn't going to make the situation any better.

As you can see above, Twinkle isn't encouraging productivity.  She's lobbying hard in favor of sleep.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

9/11 Memorial | Reflections

Negative space

Church street buildings, stoic grandpas, look over my shoulder. Their faces reflect in the pool. We saw it, they whisper. We saw it and everything changed. Feel it for the ones who died. Tell this story. Be in it. Look down.

It’s a negative space, a heavy footprint, a hollowing-out. It's the inverse, a shadow, a deficiency. Absence. Passing on. Seeing what's gone.

The world is heavy for me here.

It’s ominous, that dark hole. It’s my mouth that fell open while I watched them go. It’s our panic, exposed. It’s the silence of all the laser-cut names, the emptiness of the skyline when the buildings weren’t there.

It's an open grave, water tumbling into a void.

The bottomless chasm.
The sick dread, remembered.
The horrifying line our eyes followed twice.
A visual refrain.
It's pulling me in.

Trace it down again.

In the space is everything that can’t be the same.

Keep looking down. Commit it to memory. Remember them falling, remember you saw it. Remember.

This ground is scattered with souls.
They went to the earth and you have to remember. Feel it. Tell what you saw.

The water pulls down and down and then down again.
A whirlpool, no whirl.
Every second, again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It got better. (NY post #2)

Well, our first day in New York sure didn't get started on the right foot, but it ended up being a really nice trip.  After we finally got our rooms things started to improve.  Thank the sweet Lord.  I might have had to hurt somebody.

The tournament kept us busy for the better part of three days, but we made our way into the city whenever we had the chance.  (I got much more proficient at riding the subway and I did a half-decent job of helping our group navigate.  Plus two imaginary extra credit points!)  We took the kids to Rockefeller Center and Times Square, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to South Sea Port, and we visited the 9/11 Memorial and the financial district.

The first time I packed for a New York trip (in 2008), I couldn't find my camera.  I spent the entire trip feeling frustrated that I couldn't take pictures when there were so many new things to see.  I had to hoof it around and just try to remember everything I saw.  This time I brought two cameras, my SLR and my small point-and-shoot, so I could capture everything.  I wasn't going to miss anything this time, thankyouverymuch.  New York's differences from my small-town comfort zone just amaze me.  When I'm there it feels like everything's a picture waiting to be taken.  Something about the old mixed with the new, the history mixed with the technology, and everything covered with a layer of grime.  I wanted to capture as much as possible, especially since I wanted to write about it when I came back.  I gave my cameras quite a workout.

Brooklyn Heights was nice, too.  I enjoyed staying away from Manhattan because it seemed like we had a glimpse into a different side of the city and it didn't feel quite so busy outside our hotel.  One of our nights we had dinner at a small Italian restaurant called La Traviata.  Since I was traveling with a rather large group, I was a little amazed they fit us all in to the tiny little restaurant.  My dinner was delicious--minestrone soup, a great big salad, chicken and mushrooms in white wine sauce and chocolate gelato.  We walked back to the hotel and stopped to listen to a trumpet player sitting at the courthouse steps.  It was like something out of a movie.

Ending our trip at the 9/11 Memorial really brought a lot of perspective and some powerful emotion.  I was hoping I could write about my time in NY but on the plane I was really moved to write specifically about the memorial.  I'll probably post some of that tomorrow.

I'm not sure why I like New York so much.  But it pretty much rocks my socks.

Manhattan from the courthouse
La Traviata in Brooklyn for dinner.  Yum!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

So far New York is kind of a bust.

Our red-eye was supposed to leave Sacramento last night at 11:40 PM.

Since we're traveling with high school kids, we had to be there about three hours early.  We got there and discovered our flight had been bumped back to 1:45 AM.  So.... we had about FIVE hours to kill in the Sacramento airport.

Okay, not so bad.

Eventually I just lay down on the floor, zipped my sweatshirt up and tried to get a little sleep before we left.  I think I managed about an hour.

We got on the flight pretty quickly but it was a turbulent one.  So, not much sleep then, either.  I figured I'd sleep when we got to the hotel.

We'd arranged early check-in and we were going to be two hours later than our scheduled arrival time, anyway.  We got to our hotel at noon instead of 10:00 AM.  We'd be fine, right?

Nope.  The hotel was overbooked and unprepared for the teeming hoards of high school Mock Trial teams.  We were told we'd have to wait until 4:00 PM to check in.


We busied ourselves with lunch and a lot more sitting around... 4:00 came.  Management told us "we have no idea when your rooms will be ready."

Every single other team that has arrived has been given their rooms already.  We're just sitting, sitting, sitting.  I am beyond tired.  I'm not even sure I want to go into Manhattan tonight because I'm so delirious.

Boo.  I'm not good when I haven't gotten any sleep.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Things I am doing when I should be packing for New York and/or reading for school:

1. Writing this blog.

At least I'm doing laundry.  Well, I can't really claim that I'm doing anything.  I was but then E took over.

It's E who is in the know about all things laundry.  
Most of the time I shove it all in with a Shout Color Catcher and hope for the best.


I'm impatient to just go to New York.  I was all set on Sunday and then school (teaching school, not ME school--I need to hurry up and come up with a better name because if I'm not saying UC Riverside all the time everyone is getting confused) got really really crazy.  Oh wait, it was crazy last week too--I guess it just didn't stop being crazy when I needed it to.

It's fine, but I ended up with a bunch of little stuff to do and I want to have all my loose ends tied before I go.  I'd hate to come back in a week and have things be another week overdue.  I keep thinking I'll have some down time but I started two new units this week that are very labor-intensive and I have not had a moment to breathe.

The little stuff is stressing me out.

I couldn't stomach the idea of dragging the kids back to school with me today so I just have to hope I can get it all done tomorrow.

Did I mention the flight is a red-eye?  For someone who goes to bed at, oh, let's approximate and say 9:00 PM each night, things are about to get interesting.  You might want to think a good thought for my teenage charges since I'll have to, you know, talk to them and remain awake until close to midnight.  Lord help us all.

So I'm torn right now between more laundry/packing/starting to listen to Zadie Smith's White Teeth and just taking a long hot bath while I continue to read The Year of Magical Thinking.

I feel really guilty admitting to the world that this is my first venture into Didion's work, but I am so hooked that you have no idea.  I wish I'd been brave enough to venture into memoir before now.  School shouldn't be this awesome.  On a (slightly) related note, I have no idea what the frick I am going to write about this week when I have to jot down an 8-10 page autobiographical draft.  Sigh.

Two days and I'll be in New York.  Hurry up, Time.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend stuff

I'm taking this whole enjoy a little break thing very seriously.  Having the pressure off about uploading grades and writing has really helped me to get some other stuff done around here.  Here's a little skip through my Saturday.  Thanks, Pinterest.

Source: via Linda on Pinterest

Checking out the subway maps in NY

Learning about Brooklyn (exited to see it!)

Source: via Heather on Pinterest

Looking at pics of the Brooklyn Bridge, dreaming about being inspired to write while I'm in NYC

My first PSL of the season (delivered to me while I was grading!)

Blasting Mumford in my empty classroom while I got ahead on some grading

Wishing there was some shorthand for writing comments in notebooks

Seeing Moneyball with E, enjoying the performance of Mr. Brad Pitt, mostly because..

Source: via Heather on Pinterest

he reminds me so much of this guy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cookie's Great Escape 2.0 | October 2011

Or, How To Lose Live Animals For a Couple of Hours


To borrow a phrase from Church Lady: well isn't that special.  I am really kicking Being A Parent's ass right now.

I lost our cat tonight for the entire time we were sleeping.

You know, the cat who we rescued because she ran away from wherever her original home was (a house? nature? we don't know...), crawled up under the hood of a Honda CRV, and took a 30 minute ride to my school.  Since she survived, we decided she should come live with us and have a quiet life...


Yeah, we're keeping them in.  Twinkle is already an inside cat basically because our neighbor is a Grade A Cat Stealer (more than one worried night I would go outside to call Marms and hear their door open so she could go outside first).  Not cool, bro.  I only leave Stan outside because he won't let himself be anybody's cat, so I know we're safe.

But here are some things you should know about Cookie:
1. She is not fixed yet.  (I know, I know... just haven't had time.)
2. She has not had all her shots yet. (See above.)
3.  (Most important!) She is NOT right in the head.  She's just a little... special.

She is not allowed outdoors, but she tries to escape all the time.

Anyway, when I was cleaning yesterday afternoon I opened all the windows to air out the house, even some windows I normally don't open.  Hurley dog has torn the screens along his dog run to shreds, so the one in our dining room has a sizable hole in it.  Since the cats were locked up when I was cleaning I didn't worry about it; I had our front door wide open too.

So of course when we ate dinner I closed the front door and let out the cats.  I never gave a second thought to the torn screen, and Cookie was asleep in another window for most of the night.

When E and I went to bed about 11:00 (abnormally late for me, but I was working on some things for school), I couldn't find Cook.  Usually all the animals run down the hall to beat us to bed.  Our room is a freaking menagerie.  I couldn't find her and Twinkle seemed a little on edge.  After looking around a while (unsuccessfully) I just cracked our door and went to bed.  I figured she was under a couch and didn't want to be found.

Hurley wanted to go outside three times during the night.  I got pissed, but I let him out.  He didn't seem to want to come back in.

One time I thought I heard Cookie crying.  I figured maybe she was stuck in Henry's room with the kids and I'd get her out in the morning.

At 5:40 A.M. I gasped.  It came to me in my sleep.  I woke Eric up.  "Oh my God, I know where Cookie is.  I shut the window when I came to bed.  She went out the screen!"

What ensued was a bunch of me in my PJs, running around in the dark, calling my cat like a loon--front yard, side yard, driveway--and a bunch of me worrying about how I was going to tell the kids that I lost one of their cats.

Side note: The short story I just submitted yesterday was based on the time we lost Lucky Puppy and based entirely on my sense of guilt when I have to tell my kids bad news (or that I lost something they care about).  Strange coincidence.

Eventually I heard some mewing and we did that thing where you run around and listen like a crazy person so you can try to figure out if it's coming from inside or outside the house.  Eventually she came running up to our screen door, fluffy and loud.

I'm going to try not to lose track of anything else today.  Stupid cat!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The wrong color worms.

Costco. Meatloaf. Internet. TV. Peanut butter M&Ms. Vacuuming.  Cats.


A night off.

I finished up my short story, autobiographical vignettes and (for lack of a better term) book reports last night.  I celebrated with a large bowl of Breyers Natural Vanilla ice cream topped with Hershey's syrup and a bag of chips on the side (Kettle Salt and Pepper, duh!).

Today I reread everything to make sure it made sense, double checked my formatting and uploaded to my school website.  It felt like taking my kid to kindergarten for the first time.  I hope the world is kind to my stories.

GAH, I am so nervous about turning in my first bit o' work.

I've been basically ignoring my house and family for about three days; grades were due today at school and I wanted to get the packet off my plate before the weekend.  Once I did all that I could pick up where I left off around here--in the kitchen, the bathrooms, etc.  Everything needed some work.  I put my nose to the grindstone this afternoon so I don't have to worry about cleaning all weekend.  It's just done.

And now it's on to the next adventure!  Not only do I have another packet due in three-ish weeks just like the one I uploaded today, next week I am traveling with my school's Mock Trial team (holler!) to Brooklyn, New York for an invitational.  These the easiest kids in the world to travel with, and watching them perform is inspiring.  We will have a little bit of time to see the city, too, which I am most excited about.

We'll be there from Thursday to Monday and on Monday we've got tickets to the 9/11 Memorial.  I'm glad we're including a bit of history for these kids, and honestly I feel lucky to go see it too.

Other things I'd like to do in NYC: check out the Brooklyn Bridge (we're staying close), run somewhere cool (and safe... yes, Mom), explore a bit more than I was able to on my one and only day to explore the last time I was there, and buy another cheap knock-off bag.

I really feel like I'm off tonight--no looming deadlines, no grades to upload, nothing to clean.  This was an INSANE week of parent contact.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it all.  So tonight is a welcome break before I jump back in to all the action this week.

Now if you excuse me, I've got a date with a bag full of sour gummy worms.  It's not as great as it sounds--all that's left are the red and yellow ones.  Somebody else got to it first.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I'm employing a keen sense of self when it comes to my MFA work... specifically this means knowing that: 1) I need sleep like a fish needs water and 2) I need plenty of time to revise or I am bound to shame my family with the horse shit writing I turn in.

This necessitated a very specific schedule.

I divided my quarter up into deadlines and then I subdivided the deadlines by week so I'd know what to do with myself.  Basically I'm on a rotation that looks like two weeks of reading and writing my own creative work (drafts) and then a week to revise the creative work and write my critical papers (or as E calls them, "book reports").

So I'm not reading much this week which is weird (and also, a great little break) but I am revising like it's my job.  Last night I moved paragraphs forward and backward and I went through my nonfiction piece like I was weeding a garden.

I'm rethinking metaphors and trying to weave them delicately through each piece.  I'm cutting and cutting and cutting.

I'm tired.  Most of my creative energy is going into those drafts because I'm scared to submit them.  Actually most of my non-creative energy is going into being creative.  I haven't been out for a run since Saturday.  That explains my absence from this space too.

My first packets are due this Saturday.  20 pages of my own fiction.  10 pages of my own nonfiction.  Five critical papers (E says "book reports" makes more sense).

Everything we submit goes into a public folder.  This means everyone in the class reads it.

Our professor's comments also go into the folder.  This means everyone in the class reads those too.

I want to do a good job.  I want to be authentic.  I want to take risks.  I don't want to embarrass myself.

I feel pretty good about what I've done so far, but I know I'll feel better once I hit "submit."

I'm so nervous.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday afternoon RANT.

You know, here's what I would like:

Say you need to email me, your kid's teacher.  Say there's a mistake in your kid's grade or you have a question about the homework or you need to excuse your kid for something he should be taking care of himself or ask a question about your kid's grade that she is too afraid to ask me.  Fine.  All that is normal.  That's why we have email.  I'm happy to talk to you.

But you know what I would like?  How about a little kindness out of the gate?  Just a touch?  Or if kindness is out of your reach right now, how about just not rage?  (To my knowledge, not rage is the generally accepted guideline for civilized human communication.)  How about just some basic respect instead of an accusatory tone?

Could we just take it down a notch?  Neutrality, anyone?

How about you don't jump right in with your angry pants on when NOBODY HAS ASKED ME TO FIX THE PROBLEM YET.  Give me a chance!  I'm willing to look at the situation and what I can do to make it better.  Have you considered that your teen (the same one who pisses you off on a regular basis) could be part of the issue, here?  How about you don't assume I'm some crazy, ridiculous person?  BECAUSE I'M NOT, you know, I'M PRETTY FREAKING NICE and you're writing me an email like you've already got a defense attorney on speed dial and you're 100% sure I'm Hitler.

Seriously, if you think I'm the meanest and most unreasonable teacher on campus, you are delusional.

Anyway, I really like your kid and I want all kids to pass my class.  I think I am a reasonable person.  I am helpful as can be, and patient, and I try to be kind to all living things, including you.  When you send me an email replete with disdain as subtle as Richard Simmons' gym shorts, I DIE A LITTLE INSIDE.

What the heck did I do to deserve your rage?  I thought we both wanted to help your kid?



Sorry for shouting.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

This week's books | Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close & The Paris Wife

Hey world, guess what? Reading this much is a little bit overwhelming... BUT I am so so so so (infinity) so thankful that I am in a program that requires me to read and lets me pick what I want to read.  In just two weeks I've already happened across some good stuff.

I feel really lucky.

Here's what I finished this week: two great books.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

This was another Audible audio book, which means I listened to it on the treadmill.  I've heard that the text version is almost a scrapbook of different media--letters, pictures, diagrams--and after listening to it I can imagine that it would be intriguing.  I have to admit that it was a great listen, though, and it was done so well.  Even without all the extra stuff I really enjoyed it.  This book was made into a movie that opens this December--I can't wait to see it.

Oskar is a nine year old boy who lost his father in one of the twin towers.  The book is told in Oskar's perspective intermixed with letters from relatives and celebrities.  He's precocious; his speech is peculiar but in a good way.  Foer does a good job of making him seem like a kid.  He's not the too-wise teen that has all the answers; he's just a (really smart and kind of weird) kid being a kid.  Oskar is on an Odyssey through New York City to solve a mystery about his dad.  The author's mixing of different points of view kept things moving along but Foer also managed to keep looping back.  I like books that use shifts in perspective to tell an interwoven story and this one wrapped up in a way that felt satisfying.

This book had a soul.  I can't think of any other way to describe it than that.  Though it might seem like it would be sad because of the subject matter, it wasn't.  It was really witty and made me smile in the same way I smile at my kids when they say things that are unknowingly true.  I found myself thinking about this book after I finished it and I know it left a little imprint on my heart.

My recommendation: Read it right away.  This is a sweet and touching book.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Before I get into this book, here's a funny story.  Once upon a time I started teaching AP English.  For a few years I taught The Sun Also Rises with my teaching partner because that's what AP students at our school had been reading for years.  I'd even read it as a senior, though 98.5% of it was lost on me (for example: Jake's accident?  Totally escaped my notice.  Whoops.).  Anyway, I taught it and taught it and taught it but I hated it.  I'm just not a Hemingway fan; I'm sorry.  I'm all for a little subtext, but how much fishing and bullfighting can a reasonable person take?  So eventually I worked up enough nerve to tell my teaching partner that I hated the book.  We stopped teaching it.  The end.

So I read The Paris Wife.  I'm not opposed to reading about Hemingway, I just don't want to read anymore Hemingway for a while.  His work is too stark for me, but his life was so interesting.  Make sense?  I like the time period, and so many people have been talking about this book that I figured I should see for myself what it was all about.  Plus, recent ventures into historical fiction have left me with a little curiosity about heading that direction... maybe someday?  All good reasons to add it to my list.

This was a good book.  I'm not going to say it was the best thing I've read lately, but I liked it.  There were moments in the middle where I felt a little bored (and oddly, much of the description of the bullfights and the fishing trips reminded me of TSAR and I was similarly disinterested).  Here's what I liked:  the recognizable homage to Hemingway's stories, the dialogue inspired by his writing (like Hem telling Hadley he wanted to "write one true sentence...") and the inclusion of his contemporaries, who also seemed to be living out their works of fiction before they wrote them.  I guess it's strange to think about writing a story by using the stories the authors wrote to tell their own true stories.  It's all very circular, which is cool.  Plus it made me feel a little smart to recognize little allusions to the original works.

Part of the criticism of this book was that it reads like a travel narrative with a bunch of name-dropping.  I didn't really see that.  I found it to be enjoyable and easy to follow; it was enough of a story to move beyond "journal."   Sometimes Hadley bugged me--she seemed overly needy and prone to fantasy when it came to her marriage--but she was the more dynamic of the two and in the end her character grew a lot.  Hemingway seemed like a shadow of a character; I think he must have been the hardest for McLain to write.  It worked for this story, though.  Though he shows himself to be seriously flawed, he remained a little distant and mysterious.  It seemed right.

My recommendation:  A nice one to add to your list, though maybe not to the top.  A nice peek into the time and Hemingway's early life.  A fun little jaunt through 1920s fiction for those who will recognize its bits and pieces.  A good book.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Crazy day

Yikes. I can't remember the last time I was so productive.  I mean, I actually did all the stuff I set out to do today.

6:00 AM
Up to begrudgingly put on running clothes and head out the door.

6:30 AM
Start running on the treadmill.  Goal: run 8-10 miles and finish listening to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (only $2.99 right now for the Kindle version of the book! Great deal!).  Reality: Did 5 miles on the treadmill and then I got bored.  I stepped off to take a little break and then did 2 miles on the elliptical.  I did finish the book though, and I LOVED it.  Loved.  It.  Such a sweet story.  7 is close enough to 8 to feel like a win in my book, anyway.  Totally counting it.

8:00 AM
Drive home, play on the computer, see the kids, bathe and get ready to go do stuff.

9:30 AM
Pick up a sandwich and a cup of coffee so I don't have an excuse to leave school or quit working.  Drive to my classroom so I can get some work done in a quiet setting.

10:00 AM
Start writing the great American Novel a crappy rough draft of a short story (with the goal of kicking out a 12-15 page start to my 20 page fiction packet).

10:10 AM
Stop writing because the band's drum line is practicing RIGHT OUTSIDE MY DOOR.  Eek.  Ask them to maybe please relocate to another area of campus.

10:20 AM
Start writing again (with the drum beat) because this is about as good as it's going to get.   Pray the kids take off soon.

11:30 AM
When the band kids leave, switch to Pandora trance music station; kick writing into high gear.


3:15 PM
Finish story (not just the start!), stop writing.  Grin with pride about crossing things off the list.  Drive home.

4:00 PM
Decide the house is gross.  Clean it for a while.

5:00 PM
Make a grocery list, a Costco list, a Walmart list and a Staples list.  Get close to falling asleep on the couch--but don't.

5:30 PM
Brave the mean aisles of Winco because the only food in the house is tuna.

5:31 PM
Decide that Winco is best enjoyed early in the morning on a full tank of patience.  Curse humanity, buy vegetables and BBQ sauce.

6:30 PM
Drive home.  Unpack groceries.  Make kids help.

7:00 PM
Eat a metric ton of cheese pizza with a bottle of Great White.  Drop dead on the couch.

Friday, October 07, 2011

At a threshold

One of the funny things about my job is that I get asked a lot of "Mrs. P, how did you...?" kinds of questions.  Kids always want to know how I met E or how I got engaged or why I ended up at my college.  I spend a lot of time thinking about what I wish I knew then just because I get asked my opinion so often.  Of course I can't do much more than to tell them that this was just my own unique experience and ultimately they have to figure this out for themselves, but it is interesting to have to examine life with the benefit of hindsight.

I don't wish I could do any of it differently, but I do try to look at how I was changed by my decisions.  Sometimes, like now, that musing spills over from school life into real life.

To that end I've been thinking a lot lately about my separation from E in 2007 and 2008.  For long after it happened I concentrated on what it meant to our marriage that we moved apart, redefined our relationship, and came back together on new terms.  I'll admit I thought of it mostly in that vein--how we were different together because we had to choose to find a way to make things work (because what we were doing before was destroying both of us).  The reaffirmation of our vows and the subsequent year or so of difficult work to repair our marriage did have that effect.  Marriage went from being something we just did because it was the next step in our relationship to a daily set of exercises in working together toward a common goal.  It was entirely different.  It was entirely better.

But I'm beginning to see now how that separation changed me as an individual, too.

Separation meant living alone, managing a house, two kids, four pets, four trashcans, one mailbox, a whole system of plumbing, a plethora of bills, and a host of creepy crawlies.  At 20 I had gone from living with my parents to living with my husband.  I never lived alone until I was almost 30, and at 30 it scared me.  While I'd been a teacher and was a competent adult, the solitude of all that managing weighed on me like a brick.  It wasn't the doing that overwhelmed, but the sense that I alone was responsible for all this shit and if I should forget to do any of it, the whole deal might go to hell in fifteen minutes.  In the beginning that was paralyzing.  But having to do it and then knowing I did gave me a sense of accomplishment not unlike running the marathon or giving birth:  I did that, and I know I can do it again if I have to.  I think everybody should be lucky enough to have that confidence.  It didn't show me that I didn't want another person around--because I did--but it showed me that I was strong enough to deserve my place in the adult world.

The other part of being alone that bothered me was just the empty space.  It wasn't until I had to accept that emptiness that I learned it is actually good for me, and eventually I'd find that I really savor being alone.  For years I'd been filling rooms with conversation and I thought I needed to be with someone, when in fact the being alone actually allowed me to recharge.  I had to get through my discomfort to figure this out, though.  Some nights the empty house scared me.  Sometimes I missed physical contact with another person; I discovered how much I really rely on the physical presence of other beings--I like to be hugged and loved on.  The nights seemed so long when I was alone in the house.  I learned that I will always feel emptiness deeply, but I needed to come up with other ways to handle it (that didn't involve E being my security blanket).  It confirmed for me the necessity of children and pets, too.  That time has served me well; I know now that being alone is a beautiful thing and that if I need others then I need to go seek them out.

That time also showed me not to trust people as much.  I know, I know...  How can that possibly be a good thing?  Because in not trusting everyone I learned that there really are people who I can trust.  And I learned that trust has nothing to do with someone letting you down--really, we all do that to people we love if the relationship is good enough for us to get to hang around for enough time.  I learned that trust is most clear in apologies and forgiveness, in how persistent someone is in caring for you.  Before we separated I handed my trust away too easily to people and to the world.  I trusted that things (like marriage) would just work out because that was what things did.  I had to look around to see who I could really rely on and I had to place my trust in action rather than words. I don't know if I'm more guarded, but I've learned where to place my faith.  I am not likely to give away a piece of my soul unless I think it's going to be handled gently.

It also made me selfish.  Before then I gave away all of my time to other people.  I was always saying yes to things I didn't really want to do because I thought they were what I should do.  Some of that was a necessary evil at work, but I took on more than I could handle.  My marriage suffered.  My sleep schedule suffered.  My kids suffered.  When I was faced with divorce I finally gained the guts to tell people no.  No, I won't hang around if you're going to treat me like that.  No, I don't want to coach that team.  No, I don't want to go to that meeting.  No, I don't want to be in charge of that project.  No, I can't make it. No, I that isn't what I want to do.  By saying no I was able to say yes to things that made me happy and made me healthy.  Yes to cooking dinner more often.  Yes to planting a garden.  Yes to running.  Yes to creating a blog, writing, finding my voice.  Yes to a very regular and demanding sleep schedule.  Yes to parenting my children more.  Yes to enjoying my home.  Yes to more time with E.  I've said no enough that I can now say yes to an entirely different venture and it's all for me.  Delicious.

What spurred the topic about our separation was a passing thought that I wouldn't be starting grad school right now if it weren't for that time.  Oddly enough I know I also wouldn't have started running if I didn't have to find a way to deal with my anxiety.  It's a strange thing to say out loud that something negative had to happen for a reason.  It seems weird to say that I wouldn't be as confident as I am now or as willing to go the direction I'm headed if E and I wouldn't have headed for divorce.

As I stand at this threshold and continue to think about the new life experiences that school will bring, I'm also looking back into the few years that brought me here.  I can't say that time was good.  It sucked.  I was so miserable (and I think, rightly so).  But I know our marriage is better for it.  I know I am a fuller, more adult version of myself because it happened.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

{Quote of the Day}

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”

— Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, quote via Little Reminders of Love)