Monday, June 15, 2009

Feed Me!

I post this picture because it reminds me of everything I love about my job: it's unpredictable, I get to eat, kids sometimes make me laugh, and there are opportunities to be challenged on an intellectual, emotional and creative level everyday. But as this year comes to a close, I'm more exhausted than I've ever been. I'm reminded of the words my mom left me in a note when she visited in February. Something to the effect that just because we're good at something doesn't mean we have to do it. I've spent a lot of time this year alternatively joking and seriously thinking that I would become a cheesemaker, breadmaker, touring snow-cone seller, write a musical, move to a foreign country and go back to school, or just fall of the face of the earth for awhile. Interestingly, all of these things involve a solitude and quiet that I don't find very often in my life. So, while I love the joys of my job, I despair in the personal expense I make to feel those joys. There's a sense of emotional compromise in serving others and, even an intellectual compromise, in the idea that most of my brainpower goes into the analysis of and reflection on my pedagogical practices. I am too tired to read the New Yorker every week. The Harper's Index might get read. I've re-read Hamlet and Macbeth 6 times now, but I couldn't finish my most recent novel because it, in addition to the woes of my students, kept me up at night. I'm too hungry for resolution all the time, and when there's the intellectual and emotional chance for it, I jump. I'll stay up thinking until 2 a.m. if it means my lesson or Sarah B's behavior might make more sense to me. And I'm really tired.

A couple of the songs I've thought about for Teaching: The Musical include: "Papers, papers, papers" (the light-hearted introduction to the not drugged out lead); "There's Always (at least) One" (the ballad about the particular "problem" student); and "Gregarious" (the strife-ridden, over-sampled, rock-rap about -- yes, you guessed it -- talking in the classroom). I haven't decided on the love angle for the musical. I think it's in there as teacher-counseling-youth-through-unrequited-love fiasco, but that will probably be in the arch of the up-coming fall TV show, Glee, so I'll have to be more creative. Anyway, these are the things I think about when I'm tired and can't sleep.

But, since summer is here and I've planned little traveling that takes work, I've instead planned my summer around a theme I feel increasingly compelled to explore: solitude and quiet. I've sworn to myself that this doesn't mean I won't call my friends or eliminate all contact via modern technology. I just miss my bones. Who was it that said that? I don't think it was me. I miss my bones. I want some time to feel around for my composure, a grace that I once carried. A confidence, even, in the belief that my life can be balanced with integrity and passion. I need some space to hear my own voice, just mine. I'm turning 30 in August and, though I've never been the kind of person who said things like, "By 30 I will have published my first book," I am certainly the type of person who says things like, "By 30, I will understand how to do the things in life that feed me and those around me." Maybe even that is too lofty, but I feel starved and I know that's why I'm so tired.

So, my round-up of the year is about the 30 things that I've done this year (and when you're talking to a school teacher, you must understand that year means Sept. - June) that "fed" me. The accomplishments, maybe even the successes. 30 is a lot, so bear with me.

1. I started this blog! Yay!
2. I started 3 short-stories.
3. I stopped reading design blogs every night and, instead, bought some art.
4. I talked to Pete about our laptop habit and we got better
5. I ran a 1/2 marathon
6. I ran a 10K
7. I run with Pete
8. I got a CSA and I cooked on most Sunday nights with Pete
9. I learned that I fucking love parsnip puree
10. I laughed and drank wine with my mom
11. I bought new music...that I was not emailed about
12. I kept my hair appointments
13. I got an acupuncturist
14. I was proactive in managing the various "pain" issues in my body
15. I went to a bookstore more than once to buy a book, not for school
16. I kept poetry by my bedside and read it
17. I got out of bed when I couldn't sleep and tried to do something about it
18. I tried to help a friend in trouble
19. I fall in love with my husband all over again when he cries with me during the West Wing or The Wire, or some other TV Show that shouldn't really make us cry.
20. I taught a cooking class with my colleague and seriously loved every minute of it. 21. I got a little better about writing thank you notes.
22. I relished every day of teaching Macbeth to my students and feeling like the teacher I want to be: knowledgeable, introspective, honest, silly, risky, authentic, excited.
23. I wondered about my life and felt lucky about my life.
24. I volunteered in the wilderness.
25. I went to plays and talked to Pete about them.
26. I thought of my Dad and all the ways that he would be proud of the way I live my life.
27. I thought of my Dad and all the ways that he led a life of integrity and action and where he was when he was 30.
28. I tried to be better at calling my brother, who also leads a life I'd hope to emulate.
29. I gave myself a break every once in awhile
30. I admitted that I've got time to do the rest of it.

So, I'm off for a little feasting. Maybe a little gnawing. Down to the bone...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What do I do with this notecard?

Okay, so I'm quickly realizing that I am making promises on this blog that I'm not keeping. Here are a few:

1) To discuss restaurants, cafes, and places that cater to people who want to be warm
2) Including bits about "warm" fashion, e.g. my promise to roundup rain gear
3) Not talking too much about my students.'s the thing. I have to talk about my students. I need to cleanse each day; wash the good and bad off my skin, so I can start back the next day feeling like I didn't just camp out for a night with 3 bottles of wine and not enough water. And, well, when you have to hike out feeling like that, it's just not a good thing. So, to put an end to that metaphor, I'd just like to wash up a little here from time to time.

Here's today's laundry: I call this one "What do I do with this notecard?"

"What do I do with this notecard" affects approximately 3 in 25 students. You know these students, you went to school with some and you probably had to sit next to one at some point in your academic career. These are the students who want to throw their pencil into the ceiling (to see if it sticks) when the teacher has turned around. These students are also very likely to sneeze obnoxiously loud, because clearly that is funny. "What do I do with this notecard" affects students who display attention-seeking behaviors like comparing the illegailty of marajuana to the institution of slavery or changing the clock while you lean down to help a student. Additionally, "what do I do with this notecard" does not get good grades. "What do I do with this notecard" is secretly ashamed of this, but doesn't know what else to do, so he or she is constantly asking the teacher, the person next to him or behind him: "Wait, what am I supposed to do with this notecard?"

Common responses:
"Oh my god, she's told us 3 times."
"Are you kidding, just write your name on it."
"I don't know. Why do you even have that? She didn't pass them out."
"Leave me the f--- alone!"

So today, "what do I do with this notecard" struck. It seized one of my students by the neck and shook him for all he was worth. At close to the end of class students were instructed -- after we had spent about 20 minutes discussing the steps and norms of a Socratic Seminar (a graded, student-led discussion) -- that they were to create 2 questions of their own to contribute to the discussion for the next day. We brainstormed what made a good discussion question (the answer isn't "in" the text, it's not a yes or no, the answer can be debated, etc.) and then I passed out notecards for students to begin thinking about their questions. They had 10 minutes. The lead up to this activity had taken approximately 30 minutes. I began to wonder the room, helping students with their questions, reading great ones, pushing other kids to ask something deeper. And then there was a voice, soft at first, ignorable even. But, then, then I heard it. It was a sort of high-pitched, strident but controlled yelp coming from across the room. As the pitch registered and its composer became clear, my heart found its pace: fast, faster, faster. An internal chant came galloping from the bottom of my throat, "no he didn't, no he didn't, no he didn't. Not again."

And then I heard it again. Undeniably clear. And this time, the hand shoots up, straight up, reaching for his pencil, maybe, still stuck in the ceiling. No, reaching for me. Freaking out, in fact, bleating a plea for mercy. I'm looking across the room, glaring, his hand waving back and forth like an anxious kindergartner who is literally about to load his pants when IT happens a third time, his last time. He says,

"Hey, what the hell do I do with this notecard?"

Aggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggh! The internal teacher finds her rage and pounds it out against her rib cage, rage that pushes its way up to the bottom of my throat. It feels like I'm going into anaphylactic shock. I can't speak, my tongue is swollen. I want to take the notecard and give myself a papercut. I want to take the notecard and rip it into a thousand pieces and tell him to tape it back together again. And all of these thoughts occur in the 4 steps it takes me to get to him before I say, "What do you do with this notecard? Sure, I'll tell you. You take this notecard and you write 2 questions on it."

"What kind of questions?"

"Whatever kind you want to write, based on the book and what we've been talking about today" I offer.

"Well, I don't know. What have we been talking about? Which book?"

"You tell me which book, John." To keep myself calm, I'm now using my mom's recommended 4-count breath in and out.

"No, you're supposed to tell me."

And at this point, I take the card and I write a zero on it. I ask him to write his name on the first line and then I scoop up the card and walk away, hearing him ask the student next to him, "Hey, why did she put a zero on that? Was she grading those? What was supposed to be on that?"

Monday, March 02, 2009

Teenagers are hella random

Here are a list of words that I commonly associate with teeenagers:

In Love.

So, what happens when you walk into class everyday to face 25 people who are feeling this way? You take a deep breath and practice paciencia! Today was full of tests of will: first, there was the pile of books dumped from my bookshelf onto the floor, clearly done by someon in my last block on Friday while I was out sick. Each kid was required to come pick up one book and place it onto the shelf. I then called a student -- whoever that student could possibly be, "and-you-know-who-you-are!" -- a jerk. What I really said was something like, "I'm not asking people to snitch, I don't need to know who did it, I just want that person who did this, or the group of people who did it to know that they are mean, they're bullies, you are someone who takes advantage of another person's weakness and exploits it for personal gain, in this case to be funny or cool. You are not funny or cool. In fact, you are a jerk." That was my first block.

During my advisory, I had no less than three conversations with students who are struggling to do work because either an adult in their life is sick, absent, or unaware of other problems. And, all three kids said that it wasn't a reason to not be turning in work. Amazing!

During my last block of the day, I had two students, head down, asleep. Within the first twenty minutes of class. Right after lunch. This is what I call, "Too high for school" syndrome. It usually sets in as soon as the lights are turned off for the overhead and almost always after lunch. Other associated symptoms include blood-shot eyes and flaming hot cheetos. Persistent symptoms may include the random raising of the hand in the middle of an explanation to ask: "Can I get some water?" or the declarative: "I have to pee." Ocassionally, "too high for school" may evidence in "very engaged" behavior. Such behavior may at first look like note-taking, but on closer inspection reveals itself to be a series of circles followed by seemingly erratic patterns. "Too high for school" is not to be taken lightly. Very often it leads to such conditions as "referral" or "several calls home." In severe cases, "too high for school" can lead to dropout or expulsion.

But what else? Well, then there's the "random" part of being a teenager. He's a roundup of the random, good things that teenagers did for me today:

  • Put the books back and glared very obviously at the person who dumped the books (ha, no snitches needed!)
  • Sat and talked to me one-on-one, believing that it was worth their time.
  • Came in the room, singing "Hulloooo! Where were you on Friday?!"
  • Pulled out a small, stuffed animal version of Pluto, clearly meant for someone else, but instead given to me as a gift.
  • Analyzed the tone in a short paragraph when you know they didn't really want to.

Just a few. I like ending my day thinking about that. Much warmer...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dry Up!

This is Edgar. Edgar the Bulldog.

He lives with my mother and father-in-law and likes to sleep next to the floor heater. His look in this picture perfectly describes my mood today: a little exasperated, a little edgy, a little annoyed. I woke up fine, though perhaps a little cloudy from over-imbibing wine last night with friends (of course bocce ball at 3 pm with a few beers turned into opening up wine until after midnight!). But what's really bothering me, what really has me furrowing my brow, growling, panting at the slightest distraction: it is still raining! It is 55 today and raining; just like it was yesterday, which was just like the day before and this is just what it will do for the next 5 days. And, yes, with this rain comes cool breezes, late night chills, and a general uneasiness about putting on the right clothes in the morning. The rain also means that any establishment -- with workers who are overheating and customers who have just come in to warm up and stay dry -- invariably has the door open. For instance:

Friday Night -- Beretta

8 p.m. -- Waiting for bartender to make my first drink of the evening. I am very patiently waiting, because he is ever so busy making these cocktails for people who come here because the pizza is so hip. And when I say people, I mean people who travel all the way from the Marina, for goodness sake. I am staring at my boring sweater and jeans as the ninth girl in a small black dress passes by me. I whisper to my husband, "I should have worn something nicer. I forgot how hip this place was." He responds, "Your hottest in a sweater." I retort, "I don't believe you," but he actually looks at me in that "I'm serious" way, so I lean over and try to make out with him a little.

8:15 p.m. -- Still waiting for the first cocktail. Pete has become catatonic because all he can think about is a drink and food. The conversation between us has dwindled as we wonder why on earth we didn't just go to La Ciccia. Oh, right, the cocktail.

8:20 p.m. -- Pete has flagged down the bartender and we're waiting for the drink. As we wait, I take my jacket off and sling it over my purse because there is no place to hang it hear. I nearly wack 5 people doing this because I'm not the only one who had this idea this evening. As I begin to sip my first drink, I feel my hair moving and, wait, what's that...that, that's a...that's a breeze people! A breeze. A cold one. I turn and I stare and what am I staring at? The door is open.

8:21 p.m. -- Diners are now staring with me; we are all in shock. We were just trying to get a drink and eat some delicious pizza while staying out of the rain. None of these things are happening now for most of us. We have: no drink, no pizza, and cold breeze. Pete tries to distract me by rubbing my cheek, but all I can do is glare while gulping my drink down.

8:24 p.m. -- My drink (the londsdale: gin, apple, lemon, basil, honey) is gone. I'm cold. I've been standing for 25 minutes. Apparently, the waitstaff is warm. I'm very sympathetic to overheated servers; I've been one, but isn't there a backdoor where you can stick your head outside? Seriously? Shut the...oh, yes, you must have felt me. The door is being shut. Pete is flagging down a second drink. Maybe my weekend will be ok after all.

9:15 p.m. -- 8 23 year-olds are seated next to me and Pete at the communal table. They have been drinking for awhile. At least two of them, you can tell, will be hooking up this evening. Pete and I reminisce on this point and decide, then, that we like Berretta on Tuesday nights. The food was bold, mostly impressive (except for the baccala, which just seemed a little too dry), and I am comforted by the gregariousness of all these people who waited so patiently for their drinks and pizza, despite the breeze.

So, I'm trying to put my game face on for this week, but, deep down, I really just want to stay inside and sleep by the heater. Hurumph!

Coming this week: I'm hoping to post a "rain-gear" round up. We'll see if my students let me get out of this room to take any pics. I guess the weather will provide me with plenty of chances.

Classroom Chaos...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SF Vs. OC -- is one warmer?

Here, I've excerpted a debate between myself and another person over what may or may not be an imaginary letter written from a boss to his employees. It deals with the stimulus package and how he interprets it's being used.

Realistically, the OC is warmer and has better beaches. However, there's a definitely a cold shoulder that both the OC and SF feel they need to turn on one another, based on the differing political beliefs of the populations that reside there. It intrigues me how these geographical patterns develop throughout the United States (clearly tied to a complex history), but even more how they develop within a State. And California isn't the only state. Illinois, where I grew up, though it goes "blue" everytime, has one of the most conservative counties in the mid-west in its grips; the county right next store to my home town: DuPage County. We could talk about average incomes, levels of education, socio-economics and really get into why these differences exist, but I bore my students enough with these things, so I'll just give you a more entertaining snippet as evidence of the difference. By the way, all three writers grew up in the same town (it's me, and two others here).

Read the letter we're responding to first. Here: "To All My Valued Employees"

Speaker #1 (excerpted)

This letter is an extraordindary oversimplification and generalization of what is currently happening in this nation and what has happened in the previous 8-10 years in this nation.

I would wager to bet that this 'boss' is someone who probably supported the idea of invading Iraq, a war that has caused us thousands of American lives, a war that solved nothing, a war that shouldn't have been entered into in the first place. We were willing to (and most republicans want to continue to spend) so far spend over $700 billion dollars in Iraq, rebuilding a country that we destroyed in the first place for no reason (other than for private American contracting firms to be brought in to rebuild Iraq with no bid contracts), but now people are not willing to spend $1 trillion dollars to try rebuilding our own nation. This is twisted....

...It's an extremely ignorant and poorly researched statement to insinuate that this stimulus package is specifically focused to help the lowest of the lower class...the people on welfare. That is a ridiculous statement and it's ridiculous to applaud a comment like that. That statement is not at all founded in facts.

This country needs to be fixed by our ingenuity. Ingenuity cannot be motivated by financial possbilities. It has to be motivated by creativity and intelligence. This country and the major corporations that in essence sway the pendulum of how our economy shifts have been led by greed and not creativity and intelligence....

"There is no balance in our system and very few things run well without balance. We need a balance between realism and idealism in this nation. I would argue that most of the financial messes that have been created have been a result of a lack of either of these things, let alone a balance of the two.

People might think things are moving in a socialist way with all this regulation, but the only reason regulation is being talked about is because the capitalistic model created a completely out of balance situation and has single handedly (actually coupled with an American public that stupidly continued to buy products and support these giant companies) created the mess we're in now. Our nation is in this current problem because in the eyes of the powers at be, greed and $80 million dollar ceo salaries were found to be more important than anything else. There were no checks and there were no balances. And the chances are, if you found that "boss' letter to be profound, then these are"

Speaker #2 (Me!)

"Hooray to you for taking the time to post such an empassioned reply. There's an obvious sense of injustice that exists on both sides of this argument. However, I think the boss's inability to understand the opposite side rests in a pretty shallow belief that both his workers and "welfare moms" have never known hard work. This is a statement that I hear often from people who merely observe the lives of others who seem to struggle. My personal, everyday work with families who deal with this has provided enough evidence for me to believe otherwise. There is also a pretty fascinating assumption that everyone wants to work enough to drive a mercedes, have a big car and a vacation house. Since becoming a professional, I've never worked less than a 60 hour work week, but I do it for entirely different reasons that "the boss" assumes.

If I were single, I would barely make ends meet. But, I would find a way. Does that mean I don't think I'm worth more? No. Does that mean I'm complaining? No. I like my job, but the reality is that there are many people who work very, very hard at jobs they like and have chosen (and that this country needs them to do!), that don't make very much money. "The boss" assumes that these people are lazy or have no drive. The alternatives are abundant, but he has probably not taken the time to explore these.

I understand frustration when I see and hear it. And his note is exasperated frustration that I do feel sorry for. My hope is that there is a clear-headed, balanced answer for all the people who are suffering right now. And that will take patience and understanding from us all.Hooray to you for taking the time to post such an empassioned reply. There's an obvious sense of injustice that exists on both sides of this argument. However, I think the boss's inability to understand the opposite side rests in a pretty shallow belief that both his workers and "welfare moms" have never known hard work. This is a statement that I hear often from people who merely observe the lives of others who seem to struggle. My personal, everyday work with families who deal with this has provided enough evidence for me to believe otherwise. There is also a pretty fascinating assumption that everyone wants to work enough to drive a mercedes, have a big car and a vacation house. Since becoming a professional, I've never worked less than a 60 hour work week, but I do it for entirely different reasons that "the boss" assumes."

Speaker #3 (poster of "boss" letter)

I love how everyone just proves the point of this letter. Welcome to the United States of America where we all have the choice to do what we want with our lives. We have the CHOICE and that is exactly it!! I have no sympathy for anyone who chooses a career path where there is no MONEY. You know that going into the career so quit your bitching! Others choose career paths that will give them financial independence and happiness. This is the LAND OF OPPORTUNITY!! Take your fearless leader for example. He is a black man that became the President of the United States! So don't sit here and act like people are just unfortunate and don't have the opportunity to do something with their lives!! It's people like you who JUST DON"T GET IT!!

Speaker #2 (me!)

"We do have choices and that's a wonderful thing. For instance, I made the choice to use language in my reply that wasn't insulting. And, frankly, I'm insulted. I chose my career because it would make me happy, and, yes, I could have chosen a much more lucrative career. But, I find my job very satisfying. I wasn't complaining; I'm very grateful for the life I have and do not see financial freedom and happiness as synonomous. I do see my job as important and, frankly, it allows people who have no concern about how the impoverished in this country work themselves out of poverty-- which is through education not tax breaks, we agree there-- to not have to worry about who does the "dirty work" of actually helping people out of poverty. The point is, this country is not just about business and profit margins, and take-home pay, the greatest decade (and most prosperous) was also the most progressive: The New Deal.

This country is about finding the creative, yet untried solution to our problems. It was then, and it will be still today. That's something I do get."

Speaker #3


Well, it goes on from there, with people weighing in, mostly with more thoughtful refutations, experience or fact-based. Certainly, I find it amusing to be thought of as a crystal gripping hippie. But, the real scary part is the tone of hatred that comes across here. I was pretty shocked, but perhaps I wasn't being as nice as I thought? There are so many arguments to be had over ideology, but the problem with ideology is that it is just that, ideology. When people get locked into these firm beliefs, we tend to ignore the experience or fact that proves otherwise. I know I have done this, I'm guilty of it, but so much of what I believe politically seems tied to my ethical and moral values that ideology often prevails. This is true of the other side. However, I don't hate those on the other side. Though, Speaker #3 makes it hard not to believe that she merely imbibes rhetoric. Beware of the talking points, kids...

And this is when one of my students raises his hands and asks, "Can I go to the bathroom?"

For fuck's sake! I mean, "Yes, after you tell me what ideology is."

Monday, February 23, 2009


This image is for my sister-in-law. This pictures is a view from my apartment, a view of what January, February, and a good deal of March looks like in SF. Not warm. But not cold. Foggy.

"The fog comes in on little cat feet."

Carl Sandburg wrote that about Chicago, but today it's helping me feel connected to here. And, despite what I may write here at times, I find the fog rather friendly and non-judgmental. I appreciate its consistency and predictability. More later...

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Why is the door open? Because there's produce inside! Because there are so many people in and out of this place, that there's hardly any reason to keep the door shut. And, this is one of those San Francisco places where I a metphorical "door open" policy exists. Though you can't come in if you shudder at 3.99 / lb for oranges, or if you're looking for pop, this place welcomes almost everyone with free fruit and cheese samples and ridiculously friendly employees. Well, except for the cheese guy who scoffed at me when I asked what kind of parm to put in my risotto (BTW, the photo above is actually cheese from my trip to Paris this summer). I am now fully aware that Italians do not put cheese in their seafood risotto. I, however, still do. So, with that one exception, I'm happy the door is open here. I don't expect this place to have the heat on, because the true warmth comes from the smiles and excited employees who really just want you to like their stuff. Here's a snippet of my recent, more pleasant encounters:

Encounter #1

Me: "I'll have a Cypress sandwich."
Deli Counter Guy: "Ok, and what was your name again?"
Me (in my head): "Wha? They remember names here? Is he flirting with me? Are they really this nice?"
Me (in reality): "Erin"
DCG: "Ok, hi, I'm Tom" (not his real name)
Me: "Hi!"
DCG: It'll be just a few minutes.

Encounter #2

Me (to the people at checkout): I seem to have lost my keys. Did you see them up here?
Checkout Girl: Let me look around. Hang on.
Checkout Guy: What do they look like?
Me: It's a huge key chain, annoyingly big, with lots of school keys on it...uh, and my car keys. My car is parked right outside. Doh.
Checkout Girl: I don't see them here.
Checkout Guy: Let me help you look around the store.

*****5 minutes later, no keys*****

Me: Well, maybe I dropped them on my walk down here. I'll have to go look. Thanks a lot for helping me look.
Checkout Guy: Sure. No problem.
As I smack my head with the palm of my hand, both Checkout Girl and Checkout Guy seem to be feeling my pain. They frown in collective frustration with me. Two hours later my car was, not surprisingly, towed. But I'm sure they still felt a little bad about it...

Coming soon: Cafes, Part #1.