Sunday, June 25, 2017

Not Ready to Be Invisible

Full-on gray, December 2016
"That guy looked right past you, and that pissed me off." This observation by my husband Ken dominated our conversation as we drove home from our Sunday shopping excursion. 

A little over two years ago I decided to abandon my monthly hair-coloring and let my hair go gray. I wrote about this decision and the myriad factors that led to it.  Today's shopping experience represents only one in a plethora of incidents that have altered my perspective and led me to change course as I consider abandoning the gray hair.

I first noticed a change in how strangers speak to me as the gray strands outnumbered the blonde locks. More sales associates called me "honey." The tone of utterances changed from one of respect to a saccharine sweetness that suggested accommodating my perceived frailty. I shared these observations with my husband. He never contradicted me but often indicated he hadn't notices. 

Today marked a tipping point. 

I stood at the fish counter in a local store as I awaited my turn. I visited with a young woman who also eyed the sockeye salmon. She explained to her son that "all sockeye salmon is wild, so there's no need to indicate that on the sign."

"A redundancy, " I added. 

"Yes," she agreed, turning her attention to her young son. "Don't put your hands on the case. It gets dirty, and someone has to clean it."

We chatted about the salmon and a sunburned splotch on her neck I hadn't noticed until she mentioned it. "I went on a long motorcycle ride and guess I missed a spot when I put on the sunscreen." Her comment belied her own insecurities about a physical mark I had not noticed until she mentioned it.

The middle-aged, graying man behind the counter finished with another customer and took the young woman's order. "I'd like a pound and a half of the salmon." He weighed the salmon and indicated it's not quite 1.5 lbs, which she accepted. "That's fine." 

"Fish doesn't work well as a leftover," I said. 

"I agree," the young woman responded as the associate wrapped the salmon and emerged from behind the counter with the fish and handed her the package. 

During this entire exchange, I stood to the woman's left, and the associate emerged from behind the counter to my left.  


he looked right past me and turned to my husband as I stared at his back.  

Ken had been waiting several feet behind me so that he wasn't blocking the corridor. 

"Is there something I can get for you today?" The associate asked Ken. 

"He's with me," I said simultaneously to Ken's, "she's the buyer." Ken pointed at me, prompting the associate to redirect his gaze and acknowledge my presence at the counter where I awaited my turn. 

Uncharacteristically, I said nothing about the slight. I saw the shocked, dumbfounded look on my husband's face. In that moment we shared the knowledge that the man behind the meat counter had failed to notice me. To him I was invisible. To him I am invisible. He looked past me, a 58-year-old woman with gray hair. He looked past me to my 69-year-old husband, whose hair is also gray. 

I don't need a Harry Potter invisibility cloak to be invisible.

In a 2013 issue of Salon, Tira Harpez wrote: "If you want to make a person invisible, just put them in the shoes of an over-fifty woman and abracadabra, watch them disappear."

We still live in an age when society entwines a woman's value with her ability to birth babies, a society that celebrates youthful exuberance and frowns on a woman's frailty in late middle-age and our senior years. Gray hair may be popular among teens and twenty-somethings, but it's also a marker of menopause and shriveled ovaries for the over 50 crowd. 

This past week we've witnessed the political castigation of Nancy Pelosi as a member of the "old guard." She's blamed for Jon Osoff's loss in the GA-06 special election. In contrast, her fellow independent turned democrat Bernie Sanders and democrat Joe Biden enjoy a loyal following of young and old alike. 

For years I've read the research about Hollywood starlettes' shrinking careers as they age. This age discrimination extends beyond the silver screen into the workforce. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Lauren Stiller Rilkeen says, "Hundreds of women in their 50s and 60s have shared their stories of demotions, job losses, and the inability to find another job—outcomes they attribute primarily to their age and gender." And in 2009 the Supreme Court made suing on grounds of age discrimination more difficult, Rilkeen explains.

A 2015 study in the National Bureau of Economic Research offers empirical evidence of the difficulties older women face in the job market when seeking employment. My own anecdotal experiences of seeking a part-time online teaching gig reinforces these findings, although I must admit my inherent bias. Even as older female teachers become more valuable during this time of teacher shortages nationwide, we also witness those younger looked upon as experts whose opinions deserve voice while ours get marginalized. In effect, older women in the workplace and public sphere live the Nancy Pelosi effect day in and day out. 

Sadly, women unwittingly contribute to the invisibility of other women. During our recent vacation to the Grand Canyon, we boarded a bus as the driver, a woman older than I, announced: "The first eight seats are for handicapped and seniors." 

"How old do you need to be to be considered a senior," I asked.

"You qualify," the driver answered. She saw gray and responded accordingly. 

But I'm not ready to don an invisibility cloak.

With my granddaughter at the Grand Canyon, June 2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

13 Ways of Watching "Thirteen Reasons Why" on Netflix #SOL17

I binge-watched Netflix's adaption of Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why this past weekend. Monday, I asked students who had viewed the series their opinions. Their perspectives differed considerably from my own. What they saw as an accurate portrayal of teen life, I perceived as a flat, one-dimensional depiction of educators and teens, whom I know don't get stoned en masse every weekend. 

I've taught students who committed suicide and have written in this space about their tragic deaths. I've heard the grief of their parents and the sorrow of their peers. Suicide baffles me, and I know schools, despite all our best efforts, can and should do more to address the mental health needs of students. Yet I refuse to believe educators bear the lion's share of responsibility for the values of students; nor do I accept the portrayal of educators as seemingly omniscient beings who gaze into the private lives of teens during the summer and on weekends. 

We simply aren't privy to every communication via text, note, phone call, or personal encounter our students have with one another. Nor are we prone to ignore drinking during school hours or graffiti on the bathroom stalls. 

The above is the subtext of Netflix's adaptation of Asher's 2007 YA novel, and it's why I wrote what follows, with apologies to Wallace Stevens. Poetry is not my strong suit. 

"13 Ways of Watching 'Thirteen Reasons Why' on Netflix"

On a windy weekend,
The most anticipated show
Was a YA adapted television program.

I was on the couch
Like a mother
With three frames of mind.

The drama unfurled in fragmented strips.
It was a segmented flashback of past and present events.

A teen girl and boy
Are one.
A boy and a girl and a suicide
Are one storyline.

I do not know whom to believe,
The hubris of self-interest
Or the fragments of gossip and teen angst,
The victim whispering
Or moments before.

Blood seeped through glassy water
Which shredded innocence.
The memory of the girl
Pierced it, above and below.
The tone
Scribbled on the witnesses
An unspeakable blame.

Of incompetent educators,
Why do you ignore the sirens?
Do you not hear how the teen
Paces through the halls
Among the students around you?

I hear the righteous echoes
And the lurid, incomprehensible beats;
And I comprehend, too,
That the teen is culpable
In what we know.

When the teen sank into oblivion
She tainted the rim
Of youth's innocence.

At the sight of teens
Soaring in substance-induced stupors,
Even the shrills of cacophony
Could hum calmly on the screen.

She spoke from Sony
Over a magnetic strip.
Once, loneliness taunted her,
In this we viewers comprehended
The trace of her desire
For revenge.

The grave is sinking.
The teen must find rest.

It was oblivion each daybreak.
It was haunting
And it was 
The teen who spoke
Through the limits of time.

Stories about multitudes of people never offer one story arc, one plot thread, one point of view. They deserve and demand a multi-dimensional treatment absent from Netflix's adaptation. Perhaps this is why Asher tells readers, "You don't know what goes on in anyone's life but your own." Even then, I question each of our ability to be fully self-aware.
It's Tuesday. Time to Slice with TWT.
Join the slicing community at

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hitting Pause and Hitting the Road #SOL17 Day 16 #EF

Coastal view of Cinque Terre on the eastern Mediterranean.
Image via Google search, labeled for noncommercial reuse.
When I began this hike through the Slice of Life Story Challenge, I knew I'd face the added challenge of posting daily during spring break since I'll be tripping around Europe for eleven days. 

The SOLSC corresponds to spring break, and I travel during spring break. 

Last year my husband and I went to Hawaii for nine days. Still, I managed to post every day, often getting up early and staying up late to compose lines about the beauty of Hawaii. 

Two years ago I traveled to London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, with side trips to Bath, Stonehenge, Versailles, and Vatican City. I continued blogging during the 13 day trip but did miss a couple of days because of time changes and no internet availability. 

Some of my personal favorite posts have been inspired by summer road trips. I like sharing my awe-inspiring travel experiences. 

This year, however, I've decided to hit pause and eschew blogging during my travels. I don't want to miss a moment of the beauty of Europe I'll be sharing with my husband, friends, colleagues, and students, as well as the new friends I'll make during this year's travels to 

  • Milan
  • Cinque Terra
  • Monte Carlo
  • Barcelona and 
  • Madrid
We'll have side trips to some other places, too, including a day trip to Toledo, which is an hour from Madrid. 

Simply, I can't be present in two places at one time, so I'm choosing to be in the moment with my beloved man, my best friend, my soulmate, and the others sharing our journey for the next eleven days. 

To be there, I can't be here, so I'm hitting pause and hitting the road. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.
*I'll be back March 27. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Exclamation Points in My Teaching Day #SOL17 Day 15

I shared the NYT obituary for Amy Krause Rosenthal with students in my general speech classes Wednesday. These students are currently preparing eulogies of teaches, a project I wrote about last spring, and AKR's death offered a sad but timely teaching moment.

After, I read Exclamation Mark! to the classes. I purchased the book because it's about a punctuation mark, and I thought it would offer a fun way to teach students about their unique ways of standing out from others as well as provide a fun lesson on the importance of punctuation. 

Certainly, Amy lived life with the full vitality of many exclamation marks. 

My day was punctuated by lots of exclamation points, mainly from the rush to get things done before leaving on spring break. 

For teachers, however, the real excitement, the professional exclamation points, arrive as students. Today offered many stand out moments. Here are a few:

  • My Communication 1101 students delivered the best first day of speeches ever. I heard informative speeches about 
    • the history of makeup
    • eyebrow abrasion
    • cockroaches
    • Toni Morrison
    • CTE: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
    • Buddy Holly
    • Celiac disease and 
    • Trombones (technically delivered Monday)
  • My AP Literature and Composition students peer evaluated their As I Lay Dying and Song of Solomon essays using the "Way to Go/Way to Grow" strategy I taught earlier this year. I eavesdropped on their conversations and am amazed at their perception and honesty in critiquing one another, as well as their reflections on their own writing as they read their papers to their groups. 
  • I ate dinner at school with some colleagues and administrators who all stayed late to assist incoming freshman with registration for the 2017-2018 school year. During our time with next year's ninth graders, I met some lovely young people and their parents and enjoyed the company of some of my colleagues. 
In teaching, we find lots of little ways each moment and each student stands out from the rest. 

Breanna and Abby arrived prepared to deliver
their speeches wearing matching skirts.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

And I Saw Guernica #SOL17 Day 14

Pablo Picasso. Guernica, 1937. Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina SofĂ­a collection, Madrid

During my recent trip to Madrid, Spain, I visited the Reina Sophia Museum where Pablo Picasso's anti-war painting Guernica" is on permanent display. Getting to see "Guernica" fulfilled a longtime dream of mine and without question was the most moving art-viewing experience of my lifetime. 

Picasso painted "Guernica" after the Basque town Guernica was bombed by German Nazis and Italian fascists at the request of Franco during the Spanish Civil War on April 26, 1937. The morning after the bombing, Picasso saw a newspaper report of the atrocities and sought a way to paint a memory that would become engrained in the collective consciousness and remain there long after we see the painting. 

When I showed an image of "Guernica" to my students, they first noticed that animals and humans all "scream" from the painting. Next, they mentioned the twisted and impaled bodies. One student mentioned decapitated bodies and heads without bodies. We talked about the "hash" marks and various meanings. Perhaps they are graves. Perhaps they are news reports. Perhaps they represent a tally of the dead. 

I included "Guernica" as part of a "Poetry and Art in Conversation" unit and introduced the unit with the painting, to which I'll add T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." Both works resonate as powerful modernist works that articulate the fragmentation of war and critique its value. 

"Guernica" is a large painting, and its size contributes to the emotional experience of seeing it. I also find it fascinating that the Reina Sophia Museum was once a hospital. It's corridors are arched, giving it a cathedral-like quality that invites reverence from visitors.
The "Guernica" gallery at the Reina Sophia. Google image
labeled for noncommercial reuse. 
As with many museums, Reina Sophia does not allow photography, so I found an image online for this post. It does not begin to do justice to Picasso's masterpiece. First, the color is off. "Guernica" has a grayish-blue hue to it, and a photo does not reveal the many hidden images Picasso sketched into the painting. 

As I began sharing my experience of seeing "Guernica" with my students, I felt myself overcome with emotion. "Guernica" is now a part of me, and is as embedded in my memory as strongly as Eliot's words at the end of "The Hollow Men":

This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"I Contain Multitudes" #SOL17 Day 13

I contain multitudes.
I am a teacher.
         ----Glenda Funk

Recently, I copied and pasted one of those Facebook posts penned by an anonymous author. This one resonated with me because it spoke to the ways people live complicated lives. 

The post began 

For all of you who aren't sure, it is possible to be...

From there, the writer lists the binaries inherent in each person and concludes

We are all walking contradictions of what 'normal' looks like. Let humanity love and win.

Walt Whitman has something to say about this idea that we are walking, talking contradictions in "Song of Myself," from Leaves of Grass

Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

As much as it is a celebration of the spirit of individualism, "Song of Myself" also offers tribute to the multitudes that live and dwell and work and play in the United States of America. 

It is possible to be an individual, and it is possible to be part of e pluribus unum. We are literally "from many one." That idea embodies the American paradox, that seemingly self-contradictory ideal that expresses an essential truth about our nation. 

I find it fitting that Whitman chooses to add the lines about being a contradiction toward the end of "Song of Myself." They are in section 51 of 52!

To find ourselves, our national identity, we need only look to Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. 

We should not lose sight of Whitman's words. We are all, regardless of party affiliation, religion, racial identity, gender, occupation, or other, part of the grass, the fiber of America if we call this place home. 

And Whitman admonishes us to lift our voices as the embodiment of contradictions, the containers of multiples:

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. 

That's because 

I contain multitudes.
I am a teacher.

And each time I lift my voice, I speak as myself and the totality of my experiences with each student I've known. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Color Your World with Writing Slices #SOL17 Day 12

“Did you ever want to be a writer?” “No,” she said, and she would have told him. “I only wanted to be a reader.” Ann Patchett, Commonwealth.
After seeing the Libra Bray meme featuring slices of oranges posted on today's TWT blog call for Day 12, my mouth tingled and I thought about slices, a variety of delectable slices of writing that feed my soul when I'm tired, exhaustion born from Saturday's marathon of writing and editing. 

Having a slice of time stolen by a return to Daylight Saving Time, I decided I'd simply slice slices and feature them this Sunday. 

When I write, I see lemons. 
Sometimes when others read my writing, they taste lemonade.

I have a list of "50 Blog Post Ideas" for when the cacophony of thoughts 
clanging in my head, begging for a slice, go silent and abandon me for neglecting them.

A blog post, by its very nature, embodies green. It's an idea quickly penned, 
often the first thought that enters my mind as I open this platform, 
as when I hurry to dress after hitting snooze three times too often.

How often do I eat a pomegranate? Rarely. Yet when I do, I wonder why 
I don't more often. For me, writing is like that. I
 don't write often enough and wonder why when 
I write something that works.

When I dig into an idea, inspired by markings notched in my mind, 
occasionally a splatter of genius gobsmacks me and the words work magic.

I'll never understand how one idea can take on many hues. 
Words do it, too.

Kiwi writing is my specialty. 
Thoughts full of fuzz await peeling. 

I'm hunched over ideas, picking them from the black keys touching my fingers. 
These ideas remind me of the migrant workers I knew in Arizona.
Their hands bent toward the fruit in a permanent arc, the pain of which
refuses to ease its hold. I feel that way when pecking at these keys I ask to yield the fruit of words.

If you plan words, they might yield Honey Crisp apples. 
Ask Johnny Appleseed.

Some ideas can't be sweetened with fluff. 

I prefer tomatoes to ketchup the way 
I prefer the classics to popular romance. 

Sometimes all the right words gather in a line, 
and I can't resist sampling every one.
The way words connect to form a whole 
reminds me of the ways slices form a community of writers. 

*This month I've struggled with what often feels like the "duty" of writing. I have not felt contentment or satisfaction from my participation in the #SOL Story Challenge. I've thought daily about quitting and have had to push myself to remember that writing is in no small way a solitary, self-indulgent enterprise. I don't know if anyone will read this post, but I do know writing it was for me cathartic after a day of obligatory writing born from professional responsibility. That alone makes this a fruitful slicing moment. 
March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team 
for sponsoring this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.