Got That Fire

For myriad reasons, I needed a break. Some privacy. A solo ride. 

Naturally, I decided to drive to New York to make this happen. We know I don’t do things the easy way. 

  

While I did really need to get the fuck out of town, the most valid reason I needed to leave was to write a paper I had been saving to write during April break. Virginia Woolf famously said that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction;” and I can argue that this must happen in order for a woman to do, well, anything. I knew I would not accomplish anything surrounded by animals and laundry. I needed to escape. 

I booked myself a room at The Inn at Green River in Hillsdale, New York for its free wi-fi and breakfast and its proximity to my main event: Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Austerlitz, NY home at Steepletop. Total home run. The innkeeper emailed me this morning to check in, and she met me at the door when I arrived (after an eerily easy and beautiful drive). The inn is settled in a little valley in the Berkshires. It’s early spring and the trees are just beginning to bud. It’s my favorite time. You can see the bones of the trees and the landscape but everything is softened by that smoky fuzz of budding limbs. Nature’s airbrush? Maybe. I can barely keep my eyes on the road, and I am completely enamored with this place. “No wonder she (Millay) moved here,” I said to myself as I drove back from dinner, “I want to move and I just arrived.”

  
 

A graveyard outside my bedroom
 
 
I really hate this.
 
 
Graveyard after dinner
 
  
 
grilled eggplant with charred tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella
 

After I settled in (washed my face and read in my underwear for an hour) I got dressed and ventured into town for dinner. Innkeeper Deb suggested Old Mill, a pub/bistro in Egremont, and since I do enjoy not having to make decisions for myself, I went with that. The drive into town was all hills and valleys and old homes and cows. I waved to them, as always. 

I sat at the bar flanked by two older gentlemen, both engrossed in their phones. I was served quickly, olives and bread straws and a Sheffield Big Elm lager (delicious- I had two), and the place was obviously banging for a Wednesday night. I pulled my glasses and book out of my bag and settled in with the menu. I noticed a quotation at the bottom of the hand-written specials menu: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf. I opened my book, a worn, blue, paperback copy of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and found the same passage on page 18. 

I ordered a small plate for dinner knowing full well I didn’t want leftovers but I also wanted dessert. It was good, but oily for a grilled dish. What the eggplant lacked, though, was made right with strawberry shortcake and conversation.

strawberry shortcake and Virginia Woolf

Once the early dinner rush subsided, the bartender looked up and asked me what part of Maine I was from. We hit all requisite conversation pieces (fishing, weather) and got to the reason for my visit. I told her about my grad paper and my sort-of Millay pilgrimage and THAT is where it good good. 

My bartender? Her grandmother was one of Millay’s roommates at Vassar – THE Charlotte (Charlie) Babcock mentioned in Nancy Milford’s biography of ESVM, Savage Beauty. 

Now I am not a believer in kismet or fate or true love or destiny, but the whole situation practically shimmered. I half expected to ride home on a unicorn. 

sheeeeit.

I’ve already finished outlining my paper. And here I am. Having a terrible time, drinking wine and talking to you while I sit by the fire. 
Xoxo
Heather

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Teacher Brag: On end-of-the-year projects and Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers

I’m mad proud of my freshmen right now.

student artwork inspired by The Dovekeepers
student artwork inspired by The Dovekeepers

We’re coasting into finals week in English 110. Students have finished their LAST essays, reviewed their finals study guide, and completed their Multi Genre Book Projects. This is my favorite way to end the year. It allows our stress dissipate before the frenzy of finals week. This space gives us time to reflect upon the year, visit, and best – talk about great books. That, my friends, is EXACTLY what we are doing this week.

One student chose a favorite of mine, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. She asked early if she could go over her time limit. I didn’t tell her: It’s the last real week of school. I didn’t care if her project consisted of cupcakes and cartwheels. I said “of course, as long as it’s relevant”.

I wish I had recorded her presentation. She was so concerned about communicating the book accurately that her voice was shaking. She took us beyond the plot of the book to examine different literary elements and how they wove together to create meaning in the text. She was articulate and passionate and so utterly in love with this book.

We spoke about the book, similar novels (I suggested more Hoffman, Marquez and Olbrecht). She could barely stop talking, and I was sad that the bell had to ring, the conversation had to pause. Before she left I asked her permission to share her (can you believe this talent?!) artwork with you – and hopefully Ms. Alice Hoffman!

Please remember that these images are the property of my student. Please contact me at frommidnightoil@gmail.com with any questions.

 

Yael
Yael
the orchard
the orchard
role and symbolism of the doves
role and symbolism of the doves
Aziza
Aziza

She also wrote about the book – check out her book review in Teen Ink here!

 

How are you all ending the school year?

xoxo

Heather

 

 

 

 

 

System Overload

Sometimes my work life and my home life do not complement each other.

Work, at 12:30 p.m. Students enter the classroom and simultaneously begin talking to me, all thirteen of them. Despite my best efforts, even after a gentle “heads down, make a pillow with your arms, breathe” time out, this continues. For say, ten minutes or so.

I teach in multiple rooms throughout the day, so as the verbal assault continues, I unpack. Take attendance, pull together late work, give reminders. In an attempt at proximity control, I walk the semi-circled desks and check in with students. Any problems with the homework? Where? All set now? Good.

I go back to my desk. Put lecture notes on the board, and begin. And as I talk THEY ARE ALL STILL TALKING! THEY ALL WANT MY ATTENTION AND TO TELL ME:

I GOT A HAIRCUT LAST NIGHT MY BROTHER’S COMPUTER CRASHED I FINISHED THE FAULT IN OUR STARS I LOVED IT I HATED IT HOW CAN YOU HATE THE FAULT IN OUR STARS YOU’RE A MONSTER! I pop in: No, we don’t call each other monsters. We respect each others opinions. Apologize. WHATEVER. SORRY. STUDENTS ARE ALL STILL TALKING: IS IT OKAY THAT I MIXED UP ACT AND SCENE AND ONLY READ THE FIRST SCENE THIS IS STUPID THIS IS BEAUTIFUL MS WEBB WHERE DO YOU LIVE CAN WE COME VISIT YOU? WHO IS QUEEN MAB? DID I DRAW ENOUGH PICTURES? WHEN IS THE FINAL? WHAT’S ON THE FINAL? WILL YOU HELP US STUDY? IT’S XXXXXX’S BIRTHDAY. YOU SPELLED HIS NAME WRONG! NO YOU SPELLED HIS NAME WRONG! MS. WEBB HOW ARE YOUR CHICKENS? CAN YOU TELL US A DOG STORY? ONE DAY MY DOG (every student tells a dog story then a cat story then whether they had a gerbilferretguineapig or goat, their story) HEY – MY NAKED WEAPON IS OUT? IS HIS PENIS OUT? WHAT FRIGGIN LANGUAGE IS THIS THERE IS NO WAY PEOPLE USED TO TALK LIKE THAT. WHAT’S A ‘MAIDEN HEAD’? OH – OHH! GROSS. DID YOU SEE THE BIRTH MOVIE IN HEALTH CLASS? IS THAT WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE? HEY THERE’S A BIRD! BASED ON THE PRODUCTIVENESS OF THIS CLASS, CAN I GO GET A MATH BOOK? Me: Oh, no kid. You can start us off. Begin with Mercutio.

This ends with me finally locating the YouTube bypass code and showing multiple Romeo and Juliet episodes of Crash Course literature. So be it.

I love these dear, sweet, children. But when THAT occurs on top of regular life, when I’m trying to find time in my schedule like I try to find money in my bank account, and I have to go home to my own homework, one teenager (with his own homework), one husband with un-medicated ADD, two dogs (one injured), twelve chickens, and multiple gardens? I need a re-boot.

I had more to say, but I forgot. Here’s a picture of my chickens:

IMG_4062

 

xoxo

 

Circling the Drain

Oh, friends.

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.

Glass Houses

I’m thinking about empathy today, friends.

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 homeless.

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.

Two Pics That Say Everything.

What happens when you are planning a wedding, renovating a barn for said wedding, wrangling produce and an unruly flower garden, driving to soccer practice and planning for seven classes?

This:

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See how fluffy and pretty Bella is here? She escaped and found (last night) something dead and (today) a large pile of cow shit (Sorry Mrs. Thompson!!!). Summer lovin’.

The Week of No Pants

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.

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