Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Painting, a Whale, Spillage of Water

Three souvenirs from Italy: some salmon shorts, a pizza magnet, and a little painting from a street vendor in Florence. I have been very troubled in the past couple weeks because the painting is missing. I have no clue where it went. It was wrapped in brown paper. I am fairly certain I took it home from Europe, but then I schlepped things across the country, around the midwest, made trash piles, etc. I kept thinking the painting would pop up in some box, but now I've gone through everything in the apartment, and it's not here. I think it's a goner.

The painting was 20ish euros, which isn't a huge sum, but also isn't money I feel good about throwing away. I don't remember what the image was--just that I really loved it (enough to say "let me hang this in my new home!"). I'm not sure why this is making me so sad. Sometimes I go through my shoe boxes one more time in a frenzy. Eventually I make some kind of reasonable speech to myself about how I have a lot of lovely art in my home, and I really didn't NEED that painting. The pizza magnet is on the fridge. Am I being serious right now? I went to Italy, and I mourn some tiny art that is of basically no value to anyone else.

I'm sure you (whoever you are) can't really commiserate with me. There are far worse problems. More importantly, there are far better, more wonderful things to think about. I'm a person who tries to keep my possessions limited, and I still have a lot of things. Things I love a lot. Things I would be sad to lose. Although, eventually I will lose them all because you can't take it with you. Just as energy is transferred at lower and lower rates from grains to cows to humans, so is sentimentality. I could give that painting away, but it will never mean half as much to that soul as it did to me. So actually I'm just cutting to the chase. Nothing you can own is ever that important. The less stuff that is running your emotions, the better. I know this. I know this.

I am reminded of a small purple polka-dotted whale I lost as a child. I had brought it down to a hotel swimming pool on some trip. I left it by the edge of the water. The next morning I went to retrieve it, and it was gone. I really liked that whale, and I think I cried about losing it. I had earned it with tickets at Chuckie Cheese's. I missed Jelly (his name) for days. My mom told me she heard some people in the hotel were staying there because their house had been in a fire. Maybe the children who ended up with my whale had recently lost their toys. This didn't really comfort me because I still considered grabbing an abandoned whale theft. If someone had stolen the whale from my hands, I doubt the experience would have stuck with me. It is the burden of guilt that stays so permanent in my mind. If I had just taken better care of what I care for, it could be with me now. This painting experience smacks of the same melancholy.

I told Bisque this morning I hate that stupid painting for ever even entering my life. He thoughtfully pulled up a photo of us from Florence. That was comforting. Even if the photos were destroyed, nothing could erase my memory of those tan roofs.

The spring musical my freshman year of college opened right around my birthday. The cast celebrated by all wishing me a happy day during mic checks. One of my new pals secretly had the entire cast sign a card for me. 40 names and messages in that card! I was so touched. That night I knocked the vase holding flowers off my desk. The card was drenched. I was crushed. And then! The friend who had been with me when I ruined my gift called every person in the cast individually and got them to resign a new card. It is still one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me, and it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been so clumsy.

Some days I really think I could get rid of everything. I really think so. Others days I am not so sure.

Monday, September 29, 2014



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Extra Mile

Tonight we finished the Costco tub of peanut butter filled pretzels. I already miss them. It was a quiet night of grading. At about nine Bisque started lacing his sneaks for a run and asked if I wanted to join. It is particularly perfect fall evening, so I did. I mentioned as we passed the harbor how nice it is that I can run three miles just because. That's not something I could always do. In fact, until about five years ago, running three miles would be a pretty sizable challenge for me. It is really hard to understand how that was ever possible because it's just a half hour activity! Why did I ever think jogging for half an hour is something to fear? There are 48 half hours in a day. I do so many things for half an hour. Why didn't I see running could easily be one of them?

I am obviously a big proponent of exercise. I think it improves basically every aspect of one's life. Duh: physical health, mental health, time to relax, whate'r. But since moving to the city I have been very conscious of how my exercise regimen allows me to go the extra mile in a literal sense. When the bus is coming, I can run to catch it. When it's time to pick a dinner place, I don't feel like I have to stay on on block. I'll walk and walk and walk to get what I want. It wouldn't occur to me to stay in because I am tired of climbing stairs--even though by going out I am guaranteeing I'll have to do the three flights yet again. I'm down.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Back There, In the Place We Used to Start

Third Eye Blind is on my work-out mix right now. The first time I heard the doot doot doot dootdodootdoot it was squeaking out of a boombox in the multi-purpose room of my middle school. I was 10 and attending a summer pom camp. The eighth grade girl leading my dance class jumped onto the radiator to turn up the radio. "This reminds me of camp!" she pouted to her co-counselor before kicking off with her white cheer shoes.

We had just stopped for pizza puffs. We were halfway to the state school for cheer and pom camp. It was 2001, and there was little better than traveling in a mini-van stuffed with my friends. I think Peppermint's mom drove us. Third Eye Blind came on the radio, and I realized that I was that girl on the radiator now.

Poms camp was so special. We screamed out school fight song every time we entered the gym with all the other teams. We learned dances to Aaron Carter on the corner of the soccer field. The grass was yellowed and dry. The watter bottles were piled high. It was a week, but what did we do every night? We practiced I remember. We imagined how cool it would be to live in the old olive dorm rooms. There were mini-fridges and I took a strawberry from the cafeteria to see what would happen to it in the freezer box.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Private Room Syndrome

One of my students hums when she writes. I don't think it is conscious, and it is just quiet enough that it would feel strange to make a fuss about it...but not so quiet that it's not annoying. I am contemplating how to approach the issue because this student is autistic and has confided in me that certain things can really fluster her. What if she can't stop?

I am reminded of a very bubbly student I often worked with at my old post in the disability center. She was talkative and happy, but when she was alone with a test suddenly she would let out the most aggressive strings of curses, tell herself she was stupid, scream, pound on tables. We put her in a one-person study room for exams. The one-person study rooms were highly coveted. No door opening like in the ADD room. No scratching of others' pens. Lots of space to stretch. Students who had mild anxiety would often try to weasel their way into those rooms. "They are reserved," we would explain. We didn't allow anyone in even if they weren't going to be used all day so no one would get used to the treatment.

But I would show this girl to her room and she would say, "Oh, no thank you. I would like to be in the bigger room." I would explain she was placed in the private room. "No, I don't want it." We would explain she was a distraction to others and she just couldn't believe it. She fought us basically every time.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Workouts for the Modern Woman

Just finished a week of Daily Burn. It's a great program--catered to you, different every day, fab and fun trainers...but I still get the sense I'm not quite the right audience for these videos. These are smiley little ladies who live to squat. If they mention their personal lives, it's like, "Aww, she's a newlywed or a dancer!" So, here are some workouts I'd like to see added to Daily Burn:

1. Workouts in which the "models" just come home from being lawyers or professors and sort of slump along with the workout. During breaks instead of the instructor making small talk about their glutes, they explain how the judge was being a real tool today or how many papers she has to grade.

2. Workouts in which the models' boyfriends are sitting nearby half-watching them do everything. This is the type of situation women at home are often in. I'd like to see the models deal with it. Maybe every few minutes the model boyfriends could ask when the workout is over so he can watch TV.

3. Instead of the canned cardio music playing, maybe a soft undercurrent of speeches Eleanor Roosevelt has given?

4. All Beyonce.

5. The trainer translates the exercises into real life scenarios. In spinning classes the trainer will talk the group through hills and valleys they pretend to ride through. In this workout if you're lunging for instance it's like, "Reach back behind the pile of clothes in your closet! That sweater you can't find is there somewhere!"

6. Book club workout. You read a chapter of a classic novel and during the workout your trainer asks you critical thinking questions about it.

7. Routines that guarantee you don't need to wear a bra. If there is any bouncy cardio, the models will incorporate wrapping their arms around their chests.

8. There is at least one model who just plain has no idea what she is doing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Writer He

For some stupid reason it has been very hard for me to find good persuasive essay examples to share with my classes. Most persuasive writing available in media and online doesn't follow the five-paragraph-essay formula believe it or not, and that's where my classes are right now. I pick some reading from the textbook, okay, but solid, legit, simple persuasive essays about, you know, why we should be allowed to burn the flag or not just aren't easy to find apparently. So, I decided to write a sample essay myself. I used the school's writing rubric to write an essay about the benefits of school uniforms.

I shared this example with my students, and we had a discussion about why the piece deserved a high score on the rubric. I felt weird saying I had written the essay because a. it's kind of weird/sad(?)  I spent an hour of my Sunday writing a five-paragraph essay and b. I didn't want our discussion of why the essay achieved rubric success to look like a veiled attempt at me making my class an ego-boost activity. I didn't mention anything about the author, and no one asked. So, during the discussion the author became "he." Everyone kept saying, "This guy used examples really well," etc. At first I would correct statements by saying, "Yes, he or she did use good examples, like the one about the cost of fashion." But eventually that was cumbersome, so without my even knowing it, I also just started calling myself "he."

And that is how patriarchy is a thing.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Be Somebody!

The first assignment I gave all my beginning writing students was a brief essay answering these four questions: How do you feel about writing? Why are you in school? What do you hope to accomplish with your life? Is there anything else I should know?

These questions help me get to know my students (as much as they want to be known) and get a feel for the mindset of the class. Are these people who enjoy this subject or not, you know? Anyway, I've asked these questions to basically every class I have ever instructed. This semester a patterned answer has cropped up in the "Why are you in school? What do you want to do with your life?" sections. A large percent of students at some point used the phrase "be somebody." I have never gotten this response before, but now, teaching community college in downtown Chicago it's all over the place. "I am in college so I can be somebody." "After I graduate I want to get a good job and be somebody." "People have told me I won't ever be somebody."

The phrase is so foreign to me first because it is so vague. What does that even mean? I couldn't tell anyone how to be somebody. Aren't we all somebody? How can we be it more? I had to realize not everyone feels like they are a somebody. I mean, they are. If you breathe, you're a body, and you are a body--a somebody. I am excited by the drive of these students who felt less than and are taking active steps to be more than. At the same time I want to tell them it's a fruitless road--the one where a diploma means being. Sort of a Dorothy was wearing the ruby slippers the whole time thing. Considering this helps me keep in check what my version of "be somebody" is and just how stupid it is.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday in the City

Breezy and clear, soft sunshine. Too dim for sweat. I planned my lesson on compound sentences at the Picasso statue. Children ran up the sloped based and slid down on their butts. A tour guide next to me explained about the courthouse nearby to a small group of tourists and said the statue is said to be a woman although I have always seen an ape. A Chinese guy kept accidentally/on purpose getting in the way of my photos. Finally he sat next to me and explained he didn't know how to get to Van Buren. I looked up his train stop and showed him the map on my iPhone.

One of my adult students designed sound for a play at the fringe festival way up there in Jefferson Park. I've never been. "People on the red line can't be friends with people on the blue line. It's just too hard," Belle joked this morning. We were on the corner of the Chicago River. It's sort of true. You'll have to take at least one randito bus. But I was downtown so no worries. I waited in the belly of the stop. The train was late and ran express all the way up there. I don't see these parts of the city. The 20s homes and cars on not packed side-streets.

It was such a nice stroll. A Thomas J in bronze. The play was 50 minutes, which is good on a Sunday afternoon. It was in a church basement and the two-weekend run was ending, so everyone was happy as peaches in cream. It's a huge city here and there are a lot of smiles. I stopped at the CVS to buy 99 cent Halloween cards with my coupon and on the bus ride home I read the novel with bowler cap on the front and thought about Communism.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Unwanted

1. I saw an ant on my windowsill. I crushed it with the corner of tissue that was sitting nearby. Suddenly, five ants. I banished them all from this world. Later I left a handkerchief on the sill. Not more than ten minutes later: antpalooza. Bisque brought the Windex, I shook the hankie over the sink and drowned the survivors. I Googled it. Apparently some ants are more concerned with protein than sugar. Snot is yummy organic food to them.

2. If you were designing a perfect human, you would probably leave out earwax. Because who likes earwax? But actually earwax is your lil ear protection. A lil drum saver, if you will.