Memories through music (inspired by another slicer's post)
1. She's So Unusual was the first tape I bought with my own money. I was at the drug store, spinning the tape display (is this even a real memory? What a weird way to sell tapes). I knew "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" but when I found the tape and saw Cyndi's funky outfit and riot hair, I knew in my rebellious 4th grade heart this was the music for me.
2. I moved to the Hudson Valley and would listen to Vassar's student radio station. I had never heard music like this in Michigan. From The Pixies to Wynton Marsalis (who I saw in my first concert on the Vassar campus chapel) I loved it all. Listening to college radio made me feel cool and sophisticated. I believed my taste in music elevated me above the other 8th graders of Wappinger's Falls and even above those of Fishkill (I swear--these are the real names of the towns). I tried to cultivate my air of hipster music knowledge (I still do, a bit. It's hard to let go of that).
3. Does everyone, at every age go through a phase where they listen to Led Zeppelin since there has been a Led Zeppelin? Back in Michigan, I listened to classic rock with all the other 12th graders, my hipster musical pretensions sensibly covered up for the sake of conformity. I would skip school and spending the whole afternoon sprawled across my friend's sofa listening to Led Zeppelin IV. I actually would still love to have four hours to spend with that friend and that album, doing nothing but listening and laughing. It is not as likely to happen now since we both have jobs and our families would eventually expect us to start making dinner.
Another blogger wrote a post that ended with the line, "tiny pockets of the day hold the most goodness." I love every cute move of that sentence, and as a gratitude and appreciation, her are the some of the tiny pockets of today.
Touching my dog's soft, sleeping body to wake him up for breakfast. He can no longer hear over the whirr of my son's fan, but he woke up happy and grateful for my face and food in his bowl.
Hearing snickers from around the room as we are reading The Importance of Being Earnest. I dress up the text and present it to them on a salver, hoping for just that thing to happen.
Swarms of baby insects on my walk home. In March? in Michigan? When snow still hides under that old blanket of leaves? Brushing them away and smiling.
My son, "We got our Yearbook pictures taken today. Leaping out."
"Awww. I can't believe it. It seems like you just leaped into Kindergarten."
"Yeah. I guess I don't have to go to school tomorrow. I already leaped out sooo..."
Mischievous 8th grade boy laughing. Can't be sentimental for more than a second.
Talking with my husband over a puzzle. Angling my story to make him laugh. He hands me a piece, lets me connect the sections. Our words slip and click into place.
Today at my professional development, we wrote about a time where we felt empowered.
When I was in high school, my friend "ran away" from home and lived with me and my family for about a week. She was a work friend, didn't go to my school, and we hadn't know each other that long. I admired her sense of humor and the confident way she floated around her big, glamorous group of friends. I felt lucky that she picked my house.
One day, while she was at her boyfriend's, I picked up the diary she left near my bed and, somehow, convinced myself it would be fine if I read her private thoughts. Maybe I was looking for information about myself (probably). What I found were poems. Pages of poems that rhymed. Lots about the boyfriend. I knew, suddenly and with weird certainty, that I could write too.
I started with a teeny tiny notebook, and I wrote about teeny tiny topics: descriptions of sunlight the hayfield, a haiku about my crush's freckled lip. Ideas that were easy to hide.
Several years later, I lived with that same friend, and we would regularly read work each other from our notebooks. My friend told me my poems were "like acid" and I felt hugely flattered.
My writing soon grew out of that baby notebook and spread messily all over notebooks that followed me from apartment to apartment, stories in Word documents, essays on floppy disks and hard drives. Feeling empowered to write is one of the biggest gifts and pleasures in my life, and is the reason I am a teacher today.
I'm reading Ben Lerner's book The Topeka School and there is a reoccurring idea in the text called "the spread," a linguistic device used by high school debaters in a policy debate to overwhelm their opponents with information that they won't have time to rebut. There is a beautiful line late in the book: "But there are no grown ups, that's what you must grow up to know fully; your parents were just two bodies experiencing the landscape and weather....cutting profound truths with their opposites as the regimes of meaning collapse into the spread" (226).
Two ideas about the regimes of meaning collapsing under the spread--
1. I thought age and experience brought certainty. (Maybe it does for some people, but not for me--see, an example). Instead, as my knowledge and experience compound, I get lost in the spread of facts and experiences. This is especially happening at school where, after 17 years of teaching, I have accumulated so many different techniques, projects, passions and ideas the hard part is just shifting through it all.
2. The spread is also the internet (obviously). Waves after waves of little bits of information until truth doesn't seem knowable or even objective.
3. The Topeka School is so much a book for me that I feel like it was a book written for me. I want to write the author a letter and call him Ben and talk about growing up in the 90s and how language makes and simultaneously obscures our identities, how everything feels like the spread when you are in your 40s and decades of songs, phrases words and sounds vie for space in your head.
If you read it, tell me what you thought.
On deciding to respond to a political post on Facebook
It's so tempting. The post is hanging there, maybe a link to an "news" article. My teacher brain turns on and thinks I can explain to a 44 year-old-person I drank with in high school how to find unbiased sources, how to read sources. I think if I just write my post reasonably enough, I will make some sort of connection with someone I disagree with.
Of course, it does not work. They miss my point, or ignore my post. I feel the pain of signal given/signal not received: not being recognized or acknowledged.
Is it worth it to try? I would normally say no, but here is a reason I may be wrong.
It's important to talk respectfully to people we disagree with. The political rhetoric right now is so harsh that it is not uncommon to read someone of a different viewpoint being labeled as evil. It's clear that party leaders are using this kind of rhetoric to drum up enthusiasm, but it is at the expense of our society, of being able to compromise and work together. I don't want to shy away from trying to have a conversation between two humans who are not evil, just disagree. Maybe we can change the channel one conversation at a time.
Is Facebook the right place for this conversation? Maybe. Maybe not. I guess I will wait for the next post.
I wasn't up to the challenge of writing everyday in March, this time. I think there are a couple of reasons why:
1. I'm out of writing form. Like a middle age lady doing her first 5K run, I needed to work up the stamina Writing is not yet part of my everyday, but I wrote enough in March to imagine what it would feel like to write everyday, to glimpse it, at least.
2. I struggled with the challenge to write narratives. When we were given the nudge to craft stories from our lives everyday, I realized a story is not always what I felt like writing. I often want to write about unformed ideas or impressions--things I want to work out in writing that don't have a middle or end yet Trying to craft a story everyday forced me to write about more discreet or settled moments, not the wild, unruly ideas that I cannot put a last line on that are really calling to me. Then I lost a little momentum in the process.
3. I struggled with having an audience. I have a sort of outline of the ideas and voice I am looking for in my writing, but I'm not sure that voice is one I'm comfortable sharing yet. I'm thinking about Roxane Gay or Claudia Rankine, writers who write with terrifying vulnerability and honesty about their thoughts and lives. I am trying to find my way to that honesty, to be able to write ugly truths or observations.
Here's what I got from the challenge: a taste of the pleasure of thinking and working on words everyday, a clearer understanding of purpose, which for me has less to do with an audience and more to do with finding words that help me unlock a certain space in my head, that get me out of my to-do list brain and into the brain that notices, wonders creates. What I do need is commitment, so, for now, I will work on the practice of posting at least once a week. For writing that at least echos the voice that I hear when I'm running or walking, that has beautiful or ugly things to say. For finding my voice.
April 1st--try again.
I was inspired by another blogger's slice that I found on L squared, and I decided to try my own. A poem(ish) description of the first day of spring:
I glimpse the colors the sunrise paints through the long, vertical windows at the end my long hallway, reminding me there is an outside, that the day is cracking open beyond the mechanical sound of the bells.
Inside the orange glow of the classroom, students read and talk, using fledgling intellects to craft arguments that stand or don't stand, but the attempt itself is what is beautiful, the movement toward logic.
Afternoon rain like a bitter, stingy aunt (maybe I'm reading too much into it because of The Importance of Being EarnestI). Maybe it's not personal, but it feels like it as it slaps down the afternoon run I planned, the sunshine I planned..
Waiting in the chaos of after-school pick-up, I recognize my son's hoodie first. I see his lovely face that never looks not lovely to me. He tells me about a prank his friend played on him and laughs, trying to figure a way to get her back. The ride home is too short--he drops tidbits about his day, and I clutch them up before he gets sucked into his private afternoon world of friends or practice or video games.
The ritual of making coffee, finally time to sit down in an empty room, the noisy quiet of my house. First day of Spring so far.
I'm watching my son play basketball. The music of dribbling balls, the squeak of shoes on shiny gym floors. Coaches yelling, boys yelling, moms giving advice from the sidelines, it all blends together into a kind of music, a song I have listened to for years now.
I've watched my son's limbs stretch up to meet the basket, his hands expand around the contours of the ball. His feet in specially selected, gorgeous basketball shoes look like strangers. The little boy goofing on the court is now streaming through the drills. He is graceful and fluid one moment, awkward and lanky the next. In the first quarter he sulks about bad calls, but by the end of the game he shakes the ref's hand and looks him in the eye.
There is he is across the court. A man's cheekbones starting to jut through a little boy's face. Faking, sprinting, crossing over.
Once, I was walking in my neighborhood with my husband, and we were behind two very young girls, maybe 11 or 12. It was a beautiful spring day, and the girls were wearing shorts and tank tops, letting their pale, vulnerable legs get some sun. They were at that delightfully awkward age where their limbs seemed like they just grew 5 inches, and they were walking like baby deer. Everything about them screamed, "I'm new to this world and this body." Suddenly, someone driving by yelled out at the girls and honked the horn. Afterwards, I overheard the girls talking about it. Who was that? Was it Samantha’s dad? He doesn’t have a car like that, does he? What was he saying?
I felt my rage building on behalf of these beautiful baby deer girls, and I told my husband that I was going to go teach those girls the correct and only response to that: the middle finger. I thought about explaining to them it's not Samantha's dad, but even if it were, he would understand why you gave him the middle finger (or he wouldn't but who cares?) But, not wanting to appear like the crazy woman I am inside, I let the moment pass.
Later, I thought about the countless times that same situation has happened to me and the fear and uncertainty it always provoked--Did I do something weird? Am I wearing something too sexy? Am I safe right now? I also thought about my 10 year old neighbor girl and my 8 year old goddaughter: girls I have watched grow since the day they were born; they, soon, will be experiencing the same thing.
I wish someone had taught me the proper response to catcalling because I spent years just trying to smile at it or not respond at all. Even now in the few times it happens, my first reaction is to not confront but to placate the person, as if I don't want to hurt their feelings even as my heart is racing, and I am left feeling small.
This is just a small slice of life of what it is like to be a woman, walking around in a woman's body. I hope I can teach the girls in my life to wear it even more bravely than I have.
Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague, and I told her that she made my list of the "10 Things that Make Me Laugh." She said, "I'm glad, but I do it for myself. That is how I get through things."
Laughter is one of the most precious tools in the fight against bitterness. When I was little, my family went to Canada with another family. Over the 10-hour car ride, almost everything that could go wrong did, including getting lost, getting a flat tire, getting stuck in the mud and, when we tried to get out of the mud, getting leaches on us. Mud-splattered, leach-covered, every member of that family laughed their heads off. I think about that a lot when I accidentally book a rental car 25 miles from the airport, or when a student tells me my favorite author looks like a "tool" in his author's photo, or when I realize I have 10 hours of grading to do in 2 hours of "free" time. Laughing at myself, or at a situation that could make me yell or cry in frustration, makes me remember that I'm not so important, and neither I, nor my students, will remember that it took a few extra days to get their essays back.
Laughter is also the glue of all of my strongest relationships. I have been friends with Sara for over 15 years, and I have laughed with her at everything from her temper tantrum trudging up a hill in France in 100 degree heat to that fact that my college beauty regime consisted of combing a little bit of my long hair with a free comb that I got at a funeral. There are so many times when something happens, and I can't wait to tell it to Sara to make her laugh.
Mark Twain wrote, "the human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." In my life, I have experienced times where joys seem few and anxiety or sadness threatens to overwhelm me. In those times, and really every time, I'm glad I have laughter by my side.