I’m circling the proverbial drain here. It’s October and I’m a teacher. I just fed my family a perfectly reasonable meal and THEN I ATE GOLDEN GRAHAMS FOR SUPPER. We’ve been talking about symbolism this week, and I thought if my students could see that bowl of sugar cereal on my counter, well they would recognize it as a SYMBOL of a GIANT MIDDLE FINGER.
This week I actually had to remind myself that it is OCTOBER. And in October, we only aim to survive. The bright side here? I actually have been so in love this new bunch of students that I forgot to begin dreading October in the beginning of the month. And looky here – we’re almost to the end.
But here I am, at my kitchen table (which is actually not in my kitchen because it doesn’t FIT in my kitchen, but that’s a story for another day). Husband and kid are on the couch. Watching some godforsaken Halo move. CIRCLING THE DRAIN, PEOPLE.
*Side Note: If my child, who has participated in society just fine until now, becomes one of those people who talks only about Halo, watches only Halo movies and reads Halo books – I’m moving the damn kid to Alaska. I’ll go too. I don’t fucking care. I’m JUST NOT HAVING IT. I said ‘no’ to a book request for the first time in his WHOLE LIFE last week. Halo.
And yesterday. Sweet Jesus yesterday. Here’s the setup: I’m sick. I returned from my after lunch walk, grabbed my stuff for class and was cut off by administration with a student question to handle. DURING the conversation, there was an audible pop, and consequent crumpling of my shelf tank INTO my tee shirt. Conversation continued. I rushed to my class to find them all a’ frickin’ twitter. My carefully planned day was sitting exactly where half of my tank top was – halfway down my torso. Teaching that class was like trying to pick Skittles off an escalator. Dangerous, colorful, and oddly entertaining. As soon as the bell rang I ducked into the restroom, tied the strap of my broken tank top to my bra to cover my underdeveloped boobs and made it back with time to settle before the end of the day. Not a disaster, but not an ‘A’ day, friends.
I’m going to keep reminding myself that it’s October, and of my favorite Momastery mantra: We can do hard things. Hard things include: laundry, using a tissue instead of just sneezing into your t-shirt, and navigating difficult work situations. For now, though, I’m going to eat apple crisp, watch one inning of this ball game, and go to bed.
And about how we pretend like we know what others are living through, and how we can fix it.
Most of us don’t know how it feels to be an addict.
We don’t know what it’s like to feel un-loved.
Most of us have never been truly starving.
Or utterly alone.
This makes it impossible for us to opine, with any authority, about the origins or solutions to any of the above problems. Scholarship be damned – if we haven’t felt it, we don’t know it.
I judge and hypothesize as much as, if not more than, the general population. Today, I’m remembering why that’s not okay. Every court news story, every mug shot, every obituary belongs to a person. A person with a story. The person may be someone’s son, a favorite student, the kid next door.
A person is more than the sum of their bad decisions.
I haven’t worn pants all week. Also, I told my friend’s daughter that the best thing about running shorts was that the underwear are built in, and much more comfy than regular undies. She looked at me like maybe it is not socially acceptable to tell people that. Whoops.
If I were a cartoon character my name would be Ms. Webb No Pants.
It’s no pants week because I said so. In a few days I will be forced to don teacher clothes. They are itchy and pinchy and no fun. My abdomen and thighs are enjoying their last week of freedom.
One needs to know me for about five minutes before they know without a doubt that I am not a morning person.
Just a couple of days ago, Matt tried to wake me up in, let’s say, a very unsatisfactory and much too creative way. It didn’t go well. I did end up fully awake by the end of the encounter, which extended beyond thirty minutes, but I also maybe told him any of the following: “I JUST DON’T WANT TO SEE YOUR FACE RIGHT NOW!!! ARGH! I DON’T WANT TO BE IN THE SAME ROOM AS YOU. I WANT TO BE ON A DIFFERENT PLANET! YOU FUCKING SUCK SO SO SO MUCH!” I picked up my head to sneer and then flopped it dramatically on my pillow. I tried to punch him in the penis, which was not where it, ahem, should have been in the first place. I pulled the covers over my head and rolled around until I was wrapped up like the tightest little burrito in the freezer bag. I was, we could venture to say, not ready to wake up yet.
I’ve learned plenty about myself over the last few years. I like to think that I was pretty self-aware before I met Matt, but the truth is that you don’t know a lot about yourself until you are living with another person. Matt, most days, wakes up and begins his day immediately. I, on the other hand, need Time. The alarm clock blares thirty minutes before I need to get out of bed. I don’t talk (or think or eat or do anything) until I’ve finished my first cup of coffee, and sometimes even the second. If it’s a weekend, I read in bed for a bit. On a work day I tend to review my schedule and skim a few news sites for interesting info to incorporate into lessons.
I’m slow to warm up.
For me, this goes beyond mornings. It means knowing what is coming far in advance. It means accepting homesickness a full year after a move. It means the first two miles of any run will always be the hardest.
We’ve adapted at home to try to negotiate this. I keep a color-coded Google calendar and I’ve only totally messed it up once in three years. Matt does an admirable job keeping me updated (why, God, won’t he just use the Google calendar?!) on any changes in his plans. We meet during Sunday night dinner and The Simpsons to talk about the upcoming week and review our meal plan. Colby accepts gracefully when he asks a question that I answer with “I’ll get back to you on that, okay?”.
It also means that I need to learn some new skills, as in, How to Deal When Something Comes Up and You Want to Totally Lose Your Shit.
Because life happens whether I’ve put it in the schedule or not. Games get canceled, plans change, kids come home sick and boy, there is nothing like a last-minute assembly and/or fire drill and/or lock down at work.
When I begin my runs, I start slow. I walk for a bit, jog for a bit, and hit my pace when I’m ready. If I’m training I reign those times in, but the setup stays the same. By the time my first two miles are over I feel like going another two. This is why the 13.1 is my favorite distance.
Two things have come from this realization:
1. I’ve been consistently running two milers. I figured if those were the hardest miles, those were the miles I needed to work on.
2. I’ve translated some warm-up activities into my life that help me deal with the unexpected.
I plan out my whole school year before it begins. I mark all scheduled holidays, teacher in-service days and the estimated weeks/months where testing shows up. I still won’t know a lot (field trips, sports games, flu season, pep rallies), but I’ve accounted for everything I can. I know what units come when with ?# assignments per unit. Two miles.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I begin and complete one short task: clear dishwasher, sweep, fold laundry, etc. Voila! I’ve accomplished something. Two miles.
I’m working on those two miles, friends. I enjoy the warm-up, whether it is the first two miles of a run or the first two hours of a Tuesday, but it would be so nice to enter fully into everything just a little bit sooner.
Nothing juicy here, just a little Sunday morning productivity. To me, the productivity part is a bigger surprise than an unintended pregnancy.
I’ve been up since 4:30. I had a dream that I was signed up for a sprint triathlon (which I recruited friends to do with me) but I was late because I was folding laundry at my parent’s house. We made it there as the starting gun went off but I couldn’t find my bike and watched all of my friends start without me. As-freaking-if any of those things (aside from my lateness) would ever happen. Surprising I couldn’t fall back asleep after that . . .
Some good came out of that adrenaline-producing dream, though. Both of my yearly syllabi (behemoth-like documents including yearly plans, quarter-by-quarter schedules listing all school events, expectations and grading guidelines, sample assignments and more) are FINISHED. Finished as in: spell-checked, date-checked, major assignments and due dates included complete.
“Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Note: I began a draft of this post on January 18th. Today is June 10th.
I have a little more to say now.
Earlier in the year, I asked my students to write about revision. I gave them no parameters, but asked them to explore the concept in a free-write activity.
As I read through their semester portfolios, I was amazed at how many students chose to continue this prompt, and to explore the many things, for lack of a better term, that can be revised. Especially as it applies to life, decisions and ourselves.
My students said powerful things about the concept of re-visioning anything. Today, though, I am in the middle of a down and dirty revision. I’m feeling like maybe I’ve been asking my students to do this really really incomparably difficult thing without knowing a true thing about it.
The thing, of course, is the act of revision itself. I’ve been working on an essay as part of an independent study since January. I had a comprehensive (read: overkill) list of ideas I wanted to explore over the course of the semester, but I settled on one that I couldn’t shake. I was still recovering from the most serious depressive episode I had experienced in many years. I thought it would be cathartic for me, and helpful to others, if I could communicate that experience as it really and truly happens. I may have been wrong.
My first draft came out like it was a self-propelled grenade. I wrote it down on legal paper, page after page after page, while watching tv on a Sunday night. I couldn’t believe it! I read it over and made notes and more notes and then finally typed it up and proudly sent it off to my advisor.
He replied with some basic feedback: clean up the story, keep writing, look for inconsistencies, keep writing. So I did. I dug up a folder of handouts from a memoir class and decided to plot out my story. I color-coded, I plot-graphed; I revised and typed again. I sent it out, he replied suggesting I review the very same handouts. WHAT? I thought. I used those to drive the entire story! I went back into the essay, read it through (orange marker in hand), and felt myself circling the drain. Passive voice at one turn. Unspecific vocabulary at another. Split-infinitives. Narrative break. Inconsistent title. Tense shifts. Lack of focus. Swisshhh.
I put the draft away. When the semester was about to end I, ashamed, asked for an ‘Incomplete’. My advisor accepted. This was all good, but I still had to complete the essay. I asked then, and continue to ask now: Why didn’t I just write about the motherfucking pie crust?
As much as I just.want.to.quit, I can’t quit this. But I have figured a few things out along the way:
If you are a teacher, you should experience the act of dirty and personal revision once a year.
I let my essay turn into a story which I now need to let just be an essay.
Life is harder than it looks. So is writing.
So back to the writing porch I go, but this time without the bajillion drafts.
So what if I opened my new issue of Brain, Child to find my essay (yes, same topic, setting, context. same same.) already written, and written well? It may tell the same story, but not my story. I keep thinking of the Annie Dillard quote that I use to tell my students to write anyway. I must listen to this.
The confession is this: revision is incomparably difficult. Whether it is in writing or in life, going back to a thing, daring to imagine what it could be in light of what it is; this act requires a courage as flexible as it is strong.
That makes me giggle. Believe me, I am not becoming more mature or less impressed with scatalogical or vaginal humor thanks to this book. You should read it, but only if you won’t judge me and my love of it.
Anyway. This is what’s been happening in our neck of the woods.
Because I inherited a set of sub-par genes, I needed to have fasting blood work done. I am a coffee fiend, so Matt left me this kind note to remind my morning-zombie self to abstain.Then he gottheeffout before he had to deal with me.
My dear friend (and concert partner) and I once took Colby to see Phish in Portland, ME on a school night. Neither my mother nor his teacher were impressed. But hey! Family values! We all do things differently. We see music. This most recent time, though, fortuitously occurred on a long weekend. It was lovely and affirming and Colby slept the whole way home so Angie and I could gossip.
I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here, but I obviously thought it was photo worthy. Sometimes I have to be the foreman on our homework, work-site. It’s, uh, not so much fun.
And I read this book. And also this book. And this one. And another one that was meh. The one book you all need to buy and read, though, is We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood. I took a class in memoir with Monica while she was writing it, and I smiled as I read because I could recognize her method as so completely her. She tells the story of an industrial Maine town, but at the same time she tells the story of every industrial town. This is a story for everyone who witnessed the end to a simpler way of life, and for everyone who wonders what that life could have been like. Buy it in hardcover, because you will read it many times.
My friend Jane let me babysit her delightful little girl. I promptly fed her sugar, got her dirty, let her dress herself, and whisked her off to a rowdy middle-school basketball game. It was the best day ever.
And when did my boy turn into a middle-schooler anyway? No fair.
One of my favorite parenting books says that whenever you have doubts about your children (say you suspect they are heading down that road of sociopathic behavior or maybe that they are learning how to be drug dealers when you’re in the other room on facebook), anyway, the book says when you have doubts you should observe your child in his or her natural environment. When you have a school-aged child, that environment is pretty much anywhere that is not home and not directly involving you. International Fair night made me feel better. Much better. Phew. Even though I could use some – nevermind.
My friends Megan and Justin are new members of the parental clan, and Colby loves their baby. As do I. Just look at his little shadow!
Colby attended his first District V festival with his school’s jazz band. They were awesome, of course, and scored well enough to compete again at the end of this month. Wish them luck!
Everyone has finally realized that when I say “I’m NEVER going ice fishing again”, I mean it. I am, though, quite happy to cook on the wood stove and read books while the boys are out fishing. Also, peeing outside when it’s 20 degrees provides perspective you can’t get anywhere else.
We took in the last game played in the Bangor Auditorium. It didn’t hurt to see my alma mater (and a group of wonderful young men, some former students of mine) win the gold ball.
Matt grew his hair out all winter. This was fine until he decided to cut his own bangs one morning. Any woman who has ever cut her own bangs knows exactly what happened next. They sprung up. It looked as if he had either passed out by the fire and they were burned off OR he had passed out on the couch and had bacon grease in them so the dogs chewed them off. It was horrific. I couldn’t even look at him. When he finally agreed to cut his hair I went to bed, dejected, he had refused to just. go. get. a. fucking. haircut. He woke me up 30 minutes later with the joe dirt mullet and blacked out tooth. I went back to bed, sure that I would have to deal with Joe in the morning. Much to my surprise, I woke to find a nearly normal looking human next to me. I finally won. Heather-1, Matt- 87.
I am coming back to my mat thankfully and more frequently these days. We have an interlude of a slower-paced life in-between sports seasons, and I plan on making good use of it.
That’s it for now, friends. I have a piece of salmon to turn into supper and a kiddo who needs cold medicine and a new box of tissues.
Last night it was Michelle Obama cutting my hair, and me teaching a class on symbolism. I’m not joking.
I woke up at 10, 2, and 4. From approximately 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., Colby and I visited the White House, where Michelle gave me her signature bangs while Barack and the kids watched. Barack showed me their kitchen cabinets and laughed at his foolhardy idea to drill extra holes for all of the hardware. “Can you believe this shit?” He asked me, laughing, holding the various screws and handles in his hand. Let’s file this under “what the?”.
From 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. I was teaching a wild and dynamic class on symbolism and literary device in David Barnett’s room at Bangor High. It was standing room only – freshmen and seniors. I kept repeating “a symbol is something that stands for something beyond itself“. This was, of course, the most recent in a month-long series of school dreams. All my teacher friends – you know that teacher dreams reliably occur mid-August, every year. I just can’t stop. I’ve tried everything. I could understand if I were behind or truly preoccupied with a happening at school, but everything is FINE.
Do I have any therapist friends out there looking to donate some time? I love my job, really, but this school 24/7 is too much.
But, Oh, this winter. I love it and hate it. I’ve had lines from “Those Winter Sundays” running through my head for weeks. The blueblack cold and the splintering wood and reticence to rise from bed and enter into a sometimes angry world.
I love this, but it makes my heart splinter just like the wood in the poem. What do we know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
The emergence of the sun and some warmer (above -10) temperatures have made it easier, though, to get out and breathe fresh, if chilly, air and move my body. A good friend and I recently commented on how we would prefer to hibernate during the coldest stretches of winter, and I’m enjoying my willingness to enter into the wide world these days. I’m exercising a little patience with myself, I’m tromping about outside when I want, and cuddling up by the fire with my dogs when I just can’t bear face a -20 wind chill. This, this kindness is what Anne Lamott would, I think, include under the “radical self-care” umbrella. Whatever it is, it’s working.