Friday, September 27, 2013

Tidbit.



The kids are 8 and 10 years old, so we're working our way through "classic" PG-13-ish family movies. They've seen all the Indiana Jones movies now, and last Friday E showed them Jurassic Park. (Back to the Future is queued up...)

I didn't watch JP them, but it was a kick listening to them yell at the TV from my bedroom.

"No, no no no no! Don't do that! THAT is a terrible idea!"

They loved every scary minute, and it helped me and E remember how we felt watching it for the first time.

E said that when the kid climbs the electrical fence and gets thrown off and shocked, Ad's response was  to yell, "throw him back at the fence; maybe his heart will start again."

We about died laughing, thinking about that. E told Addie this week that he didn't want to be in her care if there was ever an emergency situation.

It's also become a bit of a meme around here...

We're currently watching Star Trek: Into Darkness with Miss Roo, and when the Admiral died, she just said "throw him at the electrical fence!"

Life is insane right now, but funny kids make everything better.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Plumb Line

You can't say you make me feel that...

That's what they told us when we went through Retrouvaille. When we broke our marriage so bad that we had to go to a retreat for the nearly-divorced to learn how to be human beings who could live in the same house. We had to talk in these really specific scripts. I feel... I feel like... I feel that... always me, never you. Like sixth grade conflict management. And none of that sneaky "you made me feel" stuff. Rules, rules.

Owning, only. Feeling, only. Just being.

Hard to do, though. Hard to think about feelings as being completely my own and not inspired by events in my day, a misunderstanding, someone else. Tough to accept: the fact that my feelings are random. And uncontrollable. And not good or bad.

Man, that shit is still hard four years later. Not just with E, really. Just in the being a human being who doesn't go around looking for a fight or a way to get hurt sense.

I want my feelings to have meaning! And to be controlled! And I want them to be good, only good!

"I think you're blowing this thesis thing out of proportion."

That's what E said to me last night, as we lay on our bed--an island of quilts in the middle of our house that was so messy we've had to call the housekeeper twice to ask her not to come. Because we couldn't even find the time to pick up so she could come scrub anything. Dishes crusted with spinach were piled up to the ceiling (I already can't take my own advice--please, have a laugh), our bathroom counter looked like there had been a coup of teenage girls, and based on the amount of clothing on the floor throughout the house, it would've made a nice nest for a giant rat.

The issue wasn't the housekeeper, who will come next week, I'm sure. And even having her come is an indulgent luxury I'm reticent to even mention because it makes me look like a selfish asshole. But that's where we are. I need help. I told E as much. Not just hers, but his. At least for two more months, until this thesis is off my plate.

Our house is out of balance, which means I feel out of balance. It doesn't take much.

When I was still teaching ballet, I found breaking down a pirouette to be complicated. There's a center of balance that runs like a plumb line through a ballet dancer's body from the top of her head through the ball of her foot to the floor. But since her body isn't symmetrically balanced in the turn--one leg is up or out while she stands on the other--the tiniest shift can send her falling out of the turn rather than spinning. A shoulder, lifted. A head, not spotting quickly enough. A hip, tilted. Disaster. Barely anything out of line, and boom. Pirouettes are balanced by feel, not by science. You can't show a student exactly how to turn, only give her tools to learn how to align and support her muscles, then allow her to find her center for herself. Even once she's learned a turn, the tiniest shift in posture can throw her out of it.

Right now I feel as though I'm trying every turn with my back arched and my hip lifted. Every day is a struggle--not just to make it around to the start, to the next new day--but to try to fight my way back to center and the routine that I know makes things work for us in the house. I'm falling and fighting to right myself in the turn.

I went to the cabin last weekend and made a plan for writing but I didn't make a plan for living. So what's happened in the little over a week since I've been back is that I've been a writing champ--I've gotten up every day at 4:45 or 5:00 and I've written for at least an hour before I had to go teach. That's a god-awful time to do anything, but I know if I get it done first then it will be done. The house is remarkably quiet at 5:00 AM, and at that hour it doesn't matter that I don't have an office. It's getting done. But getting up so early means going to bed early. Means not doing things I normally do. Means not cooking/ cleaning/ shopping/ organizing/ running the house like usual. Means people are not taken care of. Means I am feeling too tired to do an adequate job, plus also feeling bad about the not doing.

Means we are all blinking out from beneath piles of laundry going, what now?

I am right on thesis schedule but I am struggling to keep up with my life, which continues to happen around me.

"I think you're blowing this thesis thing out of proportion," he said, and I caught myself just before I spoke back.

I wanted to make him understand why this matters so much to me. Why writing my thesis has to equate (at least marginally, or perhaps on a stress level, or maybe on a family support level, or on a making-me-want-to-cry level, or perhaps just on a requiring-more-junk-food-than-normal level) with what the Bar Exam was for him. (He will say he did not cry.) Why having 185 pages in a word document isn't the same as having a rough draft that's done and ready to turn in on October 15. Why I feel so much pressure to let other things go so this can be my best work. Why so far I haven't been successful at doing any less work at work, despite all my best intentions to do so in order to focus on graduating with my MFA in December.

I wanted to fight.

I'm pretty sure make you understand ______________ is in the realm of unsuccessful statements and sentiments, just like you made me feel _________.  Both are certain to inspire an argument. Or at least, that's what I decided in the moment.

For what it is worth, I could not call up a single time in my memory where "make you understand something" was a strategy that ended successfully for me. Even though I know it's been a go-to. It's hard for me when I feel like someone misunderstands or has the wrong impression. But last night I abandoned it. Peace by surrender, on Monday night 9/23/13. In H & E world, getting up to a fight and then not having it is something. And I'll take it.

And today, I managed this:

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I cleaned the kitchen, I took a bath, I shaved my legs, I changed my sheets. So life got a little easier. I haven't figured anything out yet, but with shaved legs and clean sheets I feel like I have a better shot at it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Like Thoreau.

So, I spent a weekend alone at my family cabin. And I did more reading and writing there in one weekend than I have ever done in one sitting. EVER.

The only other soul I saw was a random giant dog that scared me as I took a coffee break by the river.

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Here are the details:

Rough draft of my thesis is due in exactly one month.

For the first time this weekend, I put all of my stories together to see how much writing I have done. I have about 180 pages. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY PAGES, YO. Who knew? That's about seven stories, and about 5-7 more short things that are maybe short-shorts or maybe unfinished things or maybe who-knows-whats as of yet. But this weekend was a weekend of assessment, and I feel good about what I have.

I also finished a story, wrote two flash fiction pieces, finished reading three books (hello!), and wrote one review.

I took a few small breaks to visit the river, but mostly I was working away in the big, big quiet.

My game. I was on it.

And you know me, I can't do anything without a plan. So about 4 hours of Saturday was spent working on a giant chart, breaking the next month down into manageable chunks of revision.

I feel like I can do this. It's not like I have a choice, anyway.

Onward.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kitchen Math and the Secret of Adulthood

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Don't let him fool you. He has never washed a dish in his life.

Last night I stood at the sink and tried to force a kind of math that I know just doesn't work. But I tried anyway. I had exactly one dishwasher load-worth of energy in me. But it had been three days since I'd had time to wash any dishes. So, as you can imagine, it was going to take me (probably) about as long as it would take one to do three days worth of dishes. Instead of just sucking it up and spending that amount of time in the kitchen, I tried to rush and rinse fast and scrub like a madwoman and make it happen in less than an hour because I was tired.

Duh, it didn't work. I pooped out too fast and ended up getting only one load in the dishwasher. The rest of the dishes I left in the sink to soak--the grossest ones--and stacked on the stove so they could continue to form a crust of filth.

Last night wasn't my most shining moment, but I have been relatively successful with kitchen upkeep lately, and it's thanks to acceptance of something I've basically been trying to avoid for my whole life.

Now, I'm a fan of The Happiness Project, and she has a feature there called Secrets of Adulthood (good stuff, check it out): simple truths about making life easier. And if I was going to contribute, this would be mine.

Because dammit, there is just no way around it. And my mom will read this post and say "Heather, I told you so," and I will say "of course you did, but then I didn't always see it happen in our house growing up, either, because life is crazy, you know, and I get why that was, too... but I also never let go of the hope that you might have been wrong and I might not have really had to do this every day."

Anyway, this. Time to let go of hope and accept reality. This is my great realization. My secret of adulthood. My reluctant truth:

You have to do the dishes every damn day.

Damn it.

I don't want to. But I have to.

I am at a place in my life, an age--34--where there is no more getting around this. No "I'll just wait until tomorrow," no "maybe I can do them every two days." No "maybe someone else will do them for me." Who was I kidding? And I have put some serious avoidance behavior into this task. Since I was a child, I've been avoiding and putting off this job. Even though I know how to wash things--Quiet, husband, this is not the time for debates about my dishwashing skills!--and get the job done when the job needs doing.

The unavoidable, ridiculous, no good, very bad truth is that my life is just better if I do one load of dishes in the dishwasher every single day. And if I don't do a load every single day, tomorrow I will be looking at two loads of dishes in my sink.

Don't tell me it's so easy. I've heard that whole bit from Grandma already. That thing about how if you just put them right into the dishwasher when people use them, it's no big deal. Nobody EVER puts anything right in the dishwasher when they use it around here. And rinsing after they use a plate? Forget it.

I'm just gonna spend some time scrubbing. Every. Single. Day. Until I die.

I am a smart person. You would think this would be a conclusion that would have come to me sooner than the age of 34. No. I was hoping there was a magical solution, one that didn't involve me scrubbing cheese from plates on the regular.

I don't like living in filth, so I have no choice but to accept this truth. Stupid truth.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Buried Under Notebooks, etc.

Before I forget, let's talk about this amazeballs new recipe I just made: Broccoli White Bean Sausage Soup. So good. Even when you make it on a day that's 104 degrees, as I did yesterday.


I have to remember to start checking the weather before I plan my dinner menu for the week.

So, anyway, why am I not writing anything here lately? Well, mostly because I was buried underneath all of these notebooks all day Saturday:

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Yeah. My goal this year? Don't work as hard as I've been working. That way I can get my thesis written and graduate.

Reality (so far): So far I appear to be working harder than I've worked in a long time.

I have a feeling I'm going to accidentally be the best I've ever been, this year. Crap. Because I can't not, you know? I don't know how.

Reasons:

a) Teaching a new subject = up all night the night before I lecture on something, prepping lessons
b) Working with a more challenging set of kids = lots and lots of management happening ALL DAY
c) Wanting to use all my AVID strategies in the classroom = having to up my game, on the regular
d) New schedule = I am running in circles every day and teaching an extra class two days a week

The thing is, all of this is for good. (Well, the jury is still out on that whole "teaching an extra class" thing.) But I am so tired by the end of the night that I can still barely lift my hands to the keyboard.

You can see how this will work out nicely when I'm putting together A120 PAGE BOOK BY NOVEMBER 15, RIGHT? Sigh.

There's just a lot on my mind.

In addition to those things:

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One day last week I wore a shirt over a dress and I tried to pretend like that was a thing.

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Another day I did manage to get to work early, I dropped a vase, it shattered, slicing open my two big toes. Blood and glass everywhere. Ta-da: PDawg.

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Saturday I also got out of bed early, did my makeup in the parking lot of a Hometown Buffet (it's behind the salon), got my roots fixed, drove home, and took a selfie. There you go, America. From Fraggle Rock to Not Tragic in less than three hours.

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These two are good. As always.

I'm taking this weekend to do a little solo writing vacation. Something I've never done before, but I need to sit down and spread out my drafts and not be able to allow myself any kind of distraction. I have five weeks until draft one of my thesis is due, so this weekend is going to be a time of assessment, to see what I have, and planning to see where I need to go in the next month or so. I can't do anything--obviously--without a plan that's broken up into smaller, manageable chunks. So this weekend I'll be creating a month of weekly (maybe daily?) writing tasks for myself that will get me to that October 15th deadline of my first draft. I'm nervous about it, but also kind of excited to look at everything I've produced, all together. I've been putting that part of the job off for a long time. This weekend is my chance to tackle it, and to have some quiet time to myself to stay in my own head about writing.

So that should be fun.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Any words you want.

They looked at me, incredulous, with half-smiles of disbelief. They waited for the other shoe--the predictable, uncool, adult one--to drop. Their teenage faces showed equal amounts of cultural and generational distrust. There simply was no way I could be telling them the truth.

I was, though. "Any words you want."

A skinny boy in the back raised his hand. "Like, you mean, any. Like..."

"Yes, like any words you need to tell the thing you want to say today. If you need to get angry, use angry words. Go ahead and make a list of every 'bad' word you can think of, if you really want. But I think that would probably get old really fast."

They laughed. He smiled.

"I'm serious. Words are fun, right? Especially the bad ones."

I changed my curriculum a few years ago as a result of seeing a lot of studies that said most adults don't read much (or read at all) after high school. I started blocking off Fridays for free reading and giving the kids choice about what they read. It was hard to let go. I had to make space by making everything else I had to cover fit into the other four days a week. And letting them choose any book in the universe led to some interesting results. But I took away any "project" kind of things I had associated with those Friday books. All I required was that they read.

I guess I've really been thinking about that since I read Outliers, which was quite a while ago. That book (and many others, since) make the claim that it's a kid's access to books that make the difference--from a very young age, just being surrounded by books in their houses and having an opportunity to read can make a huge difference in their academic progress. Not just reading difficult texts (which they're already doing with me the other four days a week) or reading important historical documents. But reading things they choose. Just reading improves everything. Reading like a kid would read. Like I see my children doing every day after school. And honestly most of them don't: read or have access to books. Even if they did, they don't know how to sit quietly and concentrate. They don't have the stamina, and the world is certainly willing to offer up distractions.

So we started doing that Friday thing and the more I did it with them, the more I started to think about what my ultimate goal is for my profession. No, not my goal that's aligned to the Common Core State Standards, or the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, or any of that other stuff that of course I am all about, but my heart goal for the kids. My reason for being in that classroom every day, even though I know what kind of odds we all face. It is this: I want them to leave my class knowing that reading is awesome when you're reading something you want to know about. And I want them to know that if you can read, even a little, the world is more accessible to you.

That's tough though, right? How do you teach someone to love something? (Or even to tolerate it?) You can't really. All you can do is set the mood. Help them find each other. So we practice. A ton. And they fight me tooth and nail, but eventually they learn to sit still. And after a year or two of this free choice reading, I started to want to also incorporate periodicals--"Smart People Magazines," I call them--into the routine. And creative writing. Because writing is fun too, or at least it must have been when they were little. And writing freely and creatively has to improve their academic writing, right?

Which was why they were staring at me last Friday. I had just set the guidelines for our creative writing Fridays, explained the behaviors I was expecting to see (the ones that show me they're on task, rather than off), and I had just told them that unlike their other, more academic work, this was for them. They could go buck wild with the vocabulary if it made them happy to fill the page. They got to write for a short period of time--anything they wanted--and I wasn't going to hold anything they wrote on these days against them. I wasn't going to read it unless they wanted me to, really. Because it's not the thing I'm interested in. It's the act.

I was surprised not by their reactions when I said they could write anything they wanted, but by what they said as they returned to school today after they'd had the weekend off.

"Mrs. P, I really actually liked that thing we did on Friday."

"Are we gonna do that again, when we can write anything we want?"

"That was pretty cool, you know."

Listen. I'm not trying to create my own Freedom Writers. There's no end game here. Just reading and writing things they want. I just want them to sit and learn to be still and do it. But I didn't realize until those conversations today that many of them don't think this--writing--is a thing they can do on their own. At home. They think I have to give the okay. And that struck me.

How is it that kids feel they need permission to be creative?