Friday, March 18, 2016

Time: A Matter of Perspective #SOL16 Day 19

I awoke at 2:30 a.m. our first morning in Hawaii. I didn't expect the four hour time difference to affect me much since the time change from MST to London didn't bother me last spring when I traveled to Europe.

How we spend time, how we think about time is very personal and cultural. It's impossible to define or explain how we each think about time adequately enough to covey all notions of time.  A moment may speed by for one person and drag on forever in the mind of another. St. Augustine recognized this paradox of time: 

"What, then, is time? I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me; but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled."

In western cultures we live by the clock. We hurry to travel from point A to point B only to spend time waiting

-at the airport for a flight to board, 
-on the plane for the plane to land, 
-in line at the grocery,
-for others to arrive, 

Literature immortalizes time in ways the calendar and our own perceptions can't conceive. 

In "The Great Gatsby" a broken clock symbolizes Gatsby's desire to recover his past with Daisy, to make time stand still. 

Similarly, in "The Sound and the Fury" William Faulkner puts these words in Quentin's  mouth: "clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." Quentin is speaking about his father. 

Fairy tales often begin "Once upon a time," reminding and exporting us to the past. "A Christmas Carol" allows us to experience time travel so that we might journey through our own lives a little wiser and kinder to those less blessed than ourselves. 

I could go on, but "time is simply flying," and the literature of time is far too vast to catalogue all the titles. 

Similarly, music also struggles to explain time's personal nature. 

"Time, why you punish me?" Hootie asked in a song back in the 90s. 

Jim Croce imagined how he'd spend time if only he had more: "If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I'd like to do is to spend every day like a treasure..."

I'm a believer in the idea that we make time for the things that matter most to us.  Yet even as I bid my time awaiting the beginning of spring break, I now find myself mindful of the temporal nature of this holiday, and as I age, I'm acutely aware that this opportunity may be my last. 

"We may never pass this way again," such is the world of limited time. 
"The Persistence of Memory" by Salvadore Dali. Wiki image. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Houdini Dogs #SOL16 Day 18

As though attempting to thwart a break-in to our home, Puck and Snug burst through the doggie door as I raised the garage door when I arrived home from RPM class this morning at 6:30 a.m.

We were already on a tight schedule for our drive to the Salt Lake City airport where we would catch our flight to Honolulu. The last thing I needed to deal with were my puppy loves attempting a breakout. 

I opened the car door and yelled, "Puck and Snug, treat time." Sensing my lie, they headed toward their search for adventures.

Ken peeked around the corner as I entered the house. "The dogs ran off."

"Great, I'll go find the little Houdinis." He grabbed his keys and headed for the garage. "Which way did they go?"

I pointed toward Whitaker Road as I headed for the stairs. 

My brother stood in the kitchen sipping coffee from a giant mug. 

"You could help hunt for the dogs," I hinted with a less than subtle tone. 

"I was thinking about that." 

Fifteen minutes later I heard the screeching garage door and saw two white heads running my way. Puck carried a ball which he dropped at my feet. Snug sniffed my leg for lotion and turned his nose up as he trotted away. 

I finished packing, and Ken and I petted and hugged and kissed our "children" as we promised to return home soon. 

Puck licked the tear that streamed down my cheek as I hugged him one last time, a bittersweet moment on our way to paradise. 

Puck sits in his bed as we say our farewells. 

Snug keeps watch from his bedroom window. He'll be sitting in the window when we arrive home.

Aracelli and Gloria #SOL16 Day 17

The ninth annual Slice of Life
Story Challenged is sponsored
by the team of teachers at
Two Writing Teachers. Thank you
ladies for creating a 
community of writers.
Araceli and Gloria, two students I taught at Kofa High School in Yuma, Arizona long ago popped into my memory today.

Both girls carried green cards indicating their legal status as Mexican immigrants. Both girls worked diligently in my classroom, which at the time was a temporary trailer that had been permanently located nearly a block from the nearest restroom on the Kofa campus. The school had a large migrant population, and Gloria and Araceli belonged to that demographic. 

As the school year progressed, the girls started babysitting my boys. Often I'd take them home to San Louis after school activities. 

When I first met Araceli her family lived in a dilapidated trailer I was forbidden to enter. 

Eventually, Araceli's family moved into a house, which was built with government funding for migrant families. Araceli's parents didn't speak English, but Araceli would invite me into the house to visit with her parents anyway. The house had no furniture, sans mattresses on the bedroom floors, so I would sit on the kitchen floor and lean against the wall with Araceli's father sitting across the room where he leaned against the cabinetry. Araceli stood to my left, to her father's right. From her standing position, Araceli translated as her father and I talked between sips of Tecate beer. 

Mom spoke few words. She labored at the stove to my right and served the father and me tamales. These lovely people treated me as an honored guest in their home, and I loved them the way I loved Araceli. They gave me the best they had. 

More importantly, Araceli's parents gave this country, the United States of America, their best. They gave their children to American schools, and their children blessed me by being my students. They gave their physical comfort as they labored in lettuce and cabbage fields, labor that fixed their hands in permanent bowl shapes, labor that froze their posture in permanent bows, labor that began when they awoke at 4:00 a.m. to catch the bus to the field at 5:00 a.m., labor that ended at dusk. 

The Sotos worked harder than any people I have ever met. They are vertebrae in the backbone of this country, as are all other farm laborers who do the backbreaking field work and do it for wages far below the minimum. They are the reason why we have cheap food. 

Like most migrant workers, Araceli's and Gloria's families had little money, so I started taking the girls to San Louis, Mexico to see a seamstress I had employed. I could show this lady a picture of a dress, and she'd make it for me for $8.00. That was in the late 1980s. I took Araceli and Gloria to the seamstress to have their prom dresses made. 

On the night of prom, Araceli and her date, Misael (the spelling may be wrong), stopped by my home to show me the dress, which was a lovely drop-waist, t-length, asymmetrical satin gown, black on the bottom and teal on top. Misael had a matching cummerbund and boutonniere. 

On another occasion, Gloria's parents invited me to their home for an anniversary party. My husband and I went. We were two of fewer than ten people who spoke English, but language wasn't a barrier. We ate goat, a delicacy in Mexican culture, and had a glorious time experiencing traditional Mexican culture. 

Gloria taught me to dance. Growing up Baptist, I hadn't learned, so when Dirty Dancing came out, and we were all swooning to "The Time of My Life" and going gaga over Patrick Swayze, Gloria rescued me from my two left feet and gave me some dance lessons. 

Teaching in Yuma afforded me a chance to experience a culture I knew only from a distance. In Yuma a developed a personal relationship with the Mexican culture by getting to know Mexican people. That's something impossible to do through soundbites and headlines. 

I hadn't thought about Gloria and Araceli in a long time. The revolving door of students from year to year fixes a teacher's gaze in the present, but a memory sparked returns me to the past where I can reflect on the lessons I've learned and the ways I've grown and changed. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

734.8 Miles #SOL16 Day 16

My sister Gaylene, me, my step-mother Jean, and
my brother Steve on one of our Colorado trips. 
My father never owned a new car. Often our family automobile arrived at our home after a stint in my grandparents' garage. I suspect my father purchased these hand-me-down cars at substantial discount, that my grandparents carried the lien on the vehicles, or that they gave the cars to my dad. 

The latter would be fitting since we rented our home at 1018 W. Daugherty in Webb City from my great grandmother Estelle Cowen after she moved her family to Lyons, Colorado to escape the flooding of southwest Missouri. prophesied by the Bahia faith.  That was in the early 1960s, at least before 1963, the year my brother Steve arrived to fulfill my dad's dream of fathering a son. 

One of the cars we owned was a 1962 Ford Falcon station wagon. It had a white exterior and a camel-colored interior--sans an air conditioner. We took the car on several summer road trips to Colorado to visit my great grandma Estelle and her daughters Babe and Ethel, whose son David lived in the basement of the mountainside house between Lyons and Estes Park. 

The 734.8 mile drive took us up U.S. highway 71 to Kansas City and across I-70 into Colorado. In those days U.S. 71 had two lanes, making the trip drag at the pace of John Steinbeck's turtle crossing the road in The Grapes of Wrath. 

I loathed and anticipated those drives. Often I was stuck in the back end of the car with the luggage and styrofoam cooler holding bologna sandwiches and liverwurst. Unable to sit upright, I was forced to lie criss-cross in a semi-conscious recombinant position, beads of sweat dripping from my head, my glasses sliding down my nose. 

Since the car had no air conditioning, and the wind roared through downturned windows, when the windows were down, and since my step-mother's comfort prioritized that of the three children sharing the back two-thirds of the car, often stale air lingered in a caustic stillness when mom felt the stress of "too much air." At those times we cranked the window up and steeled ourselves against the suffocation.

With my hair knotted in pig-tails, even sleeping posed a challenge, so I rode in misery. Sticky. Tired. Cranky. I fixed my eyes on the Rand McNally road atlas and equated distances between Salinas and Gardner, Kansas, between the next rest area and Gulf gas station, or Texaco, or Phillips 66.

One year, to appease my step-mother and to silence her complaints about the humidity and stale heat, my father installed an air cooler in the car. It encroached on the space engineered for the front passenger's feet. It looked like a mini roof-mounted swamp cooler and had a louvered panel on top. A fan spun inside the mechanism and cooled the front passenger corner of the car by circulating air over water. Consequently, my step-mother's internal temperature decreased while the heat index rose for the children in the back. Keeping the windows rolled down was out of the question while mom used the air-cooler. 

We made the trip from Webb City to Lyons four times, after my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade school years. 

Each summer my father dreamed of visiting Yellowstone National Park, and he had planned to take us on to Yellowstone during our 5th grade summer trip. But we know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. 

During our stop in Colorado, my father became ill, much sicker than the normal illnesses that accompanied his juvenile diabetes. Severe headaches plagued him from the moment we arrived in Lyons. After a few days we headed home. 

That fall my father's doctor gave him the diagnoses that changed his life: The blood vessels in the back of his head were bursting. Eventually, without a medical miracle, he would lose his sight--permanently. 

No miracle arrived.

My father did go blind. Experimental surgery in April of my sixth-grade year failed. We never again drove the 734.8 miles as a family. 

Tomorrow I will drive to Salt Lake City with my husband. We will fly to Hawaii for spring break. I will think about my father and remember the road, the miles, the memories. I'll count the mile markers and savor the moments as they tick by on my next journey. 

The ninth annual Slice of Life Story Challenge
is sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers.
Thank You!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

We Don't Owe the World Our Beauty: Thoughts on Political Rhetoric and "Frankenstein" #SOL16 Day 15

“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
The ninth annual Slice of Life
Story Challenged is sponsored
by the team of teachers at
Two Writing Teachers. Thank you
ladies for creating a
community of writers.
These days I feel unattractive. I've gained some weight. I joke about being vain, but I am. I think about how I look. All the time. I've searched my soul about why, and two reasons stick in my mind: 

First, I was born with a birth defect: I have strabismus. My left eye crosses. Or did until I had it surgically corrected in eighth grade. That's 13 years I lived with my left eye focused on my nose. Gilbert Vincent (his real name) tortured me in grade school. He resurrected the torture in eighth grade. I went home and announced that I would not return to school without having my eye fixed. I had the surgery in March 1971. I spent three days in the hospital. 

I've had two additional surgeries to fix my recurring eye problem. I'm obsessed with my eye. Sometimes it looks droopy. I worry that students will not know when I'm looking at them. That's how I knew I needed the second surgery; a student asked me about my eye. 

The other reason I think about my appearance stems from my relationship with my sister. "Gaylene is the pretty one. Glenda is the smart one." That's the refrain my sister and I grew up hearing from our paternal family. 

You'd think I'd be past such shallowness now. In many ways I am, but this election cycle has made appearance an ugly issue that heightens my awareness of my own insecurities, especially as a 57 year old woman. I've long passed the "cute young thing" phase of life. Consequently, when a friend posted Diane Vreeland's words about beauty on Facebook yesterday, they hit the mark: 
Yet here we are in 2016 with a man--a frontrunner, no less--screeching about how ugly some women are and how important it is for a man to have a physically attractive woman as a possession. 

"Arianna Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man--He made a good decision." 

"You know, it really doesn't matter what the media writes as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass." 

And these are only two of the egregious remarks Donald Trump has sneered. Can anything be more shallow? Can anything be more offensive? Can anything matter less? Words are the beginning of marginalizing women.

I've spent a lifetime trying to measure up physically to the shallow mantra of the media and fashion industry, and so has nearly every other American female. I remember the 90s when Hillary Clinton tried to start a national conversation about healthcare and childcare to have the talking heads castigate her for wearing a headband, for having bad hair. 

When I teach Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I begin with a project designed to draw students attention to the gender issues inherent in the novel. I have them select "beautiful people" from magazines. Then I have students cut out various body parts: eyes, ears, noses, hair, torsos, legs, arms, lips, etc. 

We collate these into piles based on the respective parts. The kids then select parts from each pile. Next, the students take the individual parts they have chosen and organize them into a "beautiful creation." To finish the project, this year I had students compose museum placards. 

We had a gallery walk, and each student introduced their piece by reading the placard. 
Vanessa and Parker display their projects.

Jhonary with his "beauty." 
Before we took the tour, I shared the passage from Frankenstein that informs this project. It's from Chapter 5: 

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. . . . I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! -- Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.

It's the intent to create beauty, to create a physically beautiful being by SELECTING each part based on its physical beauty that I want my students to note and discuss. 

As readers of Frankenstein know and my students discover, Victor Frankenstein's beautiful ideal goes terribly wrong. His singular focus on beauty brings multiple catastrophes

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, continued a long time traversing my bed chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured; and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavoring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. 

There are many reasons I dislike Donald Trump, but the most personal one is his obsession with the way women look. An article in Vanity Fair asks, "What's Behind Donald Trump's Obsession with Beauty Pageants?"  The rhetoric that suggests a woman's value rises and falls based on her looks scares me for the young women I teach. 

Donald Trump is a media construct, a composite pieced together from headlines and embellishments, theirs and his. The media has it's "dream" candidate, a object for the 24-hour news cycle. "Breathless horror and disgust fill my hear" when I think about the potential outcome of the November election. If the nightmarish scenario of a Trump presidency is one we awaken to the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in November, we'll be forced to remember. We'll have no opportunity for forgetfulness. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Eulogizing the Living #SOL16 Day 14/31

When my colleague Robin approached me about assigning our speech students eulogies and then suggested we eulogize our colleagues, I worried the morbid index would rise. After all, aren't eulogies speeches about dead people? Well, typically; however, Robin and I decided that a speech of praise, one that would give students a chance to get to know their teachers on a more personal level would be a perfect segue into the informative speech assignment. 
Robin, in her natural habitat.
Robin set to work creating a questionnaire to email to the teachers in our building, close to 100 people. I offered some suggestions and Robin finished the document and sent it off into cyberspace. We gave teachers the option of emailing back their responses or submitting a hand-written response. 

We were on a short timeframe, so once we had enough responses to make the assignment work, we gave the kids the assignment. Again, Robin created the assignment sheet. Students had the option of working independently or pairing up to share the assignment in a partner presentation; this latter option is the one most students selected. 

Robin also found some eulogies on YouTube so students could get more of a sense of how a eulogy sounds. We made copies of the questionnaires, a set for Robin's class and one for my three speech classes to share. I numbered the questionnaires to make keeping track of them easier. 

I left the assignment for my sub to distribute last Monday while I was home convalescing. The students had last Tuesday to complete their eulogies prior to presenting them on Wednesday. 

Our school has over 1,400 students in grades 9-12, but the building's design is not conducive to collegiality. When it was built in the early 1960s the architect sold the district on the open campus design popular in California and Arizona. A renovation in the 1990s enclosed most of the buildings, connecting them to one another, but it's still cavernous. Thus, I can go weeks without seeing most of my colleagues; I don't even see all the teachers in my department every week. 

Through the eulogies, I learned some fascinating things about my colleagues, and many of the students took time to visit with and interview teachers to improve their eulogies. 

From two students' paired eulogy of George Yarno, a science teacher and assistant football coach, I learned that he has been donating his hair to Locks of Love for over a decade. 
Yarno with his hair down. It's normally
in a ponytail or bun.
Many of my colleagues shared the reasons they became teachers, their concerns for students, and advice they'd give their teenage self if they were able to do so. 

One of my favorite stories was shared by Chris Wilkinson, a math teacher whose son Parker is in my AP Lit and Comp class. 

I loved organizing summers with my kids. We would go to the pool one day, have a craft day an outdoor activity day, and a day for reading and doing worksheets. 

Only the bit about "doing worksheets" made it into the eulogy! 
Chris at her desk. 
Every teacher who responded shared their love of students, and the kids talked about this during their speeches. Every teacher who responded shared the joy they experience when a kid "gets it," when "the light bulb goes on." 

Most of my colleagues are from Idaho and attended college locally. We do, however, have some transplants, among them Kristen Berger who came to us from New York. The students who eulogized Kristen spoke about her activism in New York. She shared how she worked with students to raise $20,000.00 to lobby Congress. Kristen earned her B.A. at Swarthmore and her M.A. at N.Y.U. The students had not heard of either university, so I had a chance to talk to them about upper-tier schools. 

Some of my colleagues bravely shared their own challenges in school. My neighbor across the hall told about being treated as a weak person who gained strength through dancing.

Danielle danced to be strong!
One student who interviewed Kyle Jenks, one of my English peeps, shared his most embarrassing moment in school. It's uncanny that it involved taking an all-day test and a certain biological need. Kyle and I joke with and tease one another often, and we even shared a student teacher two years ago. Now we have something else in common, and I told him so after hearing his embarrassing moment! 
Kyle is smiling because he's almost done with his PhD! 
I've only mentioned a few of my colleagues who responded to the questionnaire and who my students eulogized. I'm hoping to get some more pics and perhaps share some more stories from around the halls of Highland. 

And if you're sensing a theme her in terms of Robin's ownership of this assignment, you're right. I must say that having her as a collaborator has been a joy. She and I work closely with our colleague Debbie, and the three of us also collaborate with our friend and colleague Wendy, the debate coach at Pocatello High School. We are a team, and that alone deserves some praise, perhaps a eulogy is in order! 
The 9th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge
is in full swing. Thanks Two Writing Teachers team
for this spectacular opportunity to engage as a community
of writers. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Forget, Forgetting, Forgotten, Forgetfulness #SOL16 Day 13

During March I'm participating
in the 9th Annual Slice of Life
Story Challenge sponsored by the
fabulous team at Two Writing Teachers.
Billy Collins's poem "Forgetfulness" is one of my favorites. I laughed the first time I heard it, but I cringed a little, too. As I age my ability to remember, to avoid forgetting, continues to wane. 

Take Saturday for example: 

First I went to the gym. I came home and wrote my slice for Day 12. I vacuumed. I cleaned two bathrooms. I jumped in the shower---and remembered. I had a 1:00 p.m. hair appointment, and it was 12:45 p.m. 

Since I was rushed for time, I hurried down the road at the same time a cop arrived on the same road. Yes, I got a ticket. This time my forgetfulness will cost me $90.00. I deserved the ticket, but I would not have been speeding had I been remembering. 

Sometimes the list of the forgotten seems longer than the list of the remembered. 

I worry more about my inability to recall information at work. The titles of works and authors frequently slip my mind--although momentarily--these days. 

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot, 
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, ....

This can be a problem as I have a new prep this year. I feel vulnerable and insecure when I can't remember the page number for a passage I want to share or discuss in AP Lit and Comp. Will I seem unprepared? Will I seem stupid? My students are smart. One is a National Merit Finalist. They don't miss much, and they often remember what I can't. 

These days I struggle to learn the names of students. I soon forget the names of most once the trimester ends. I see them in the halls and recognize faces, but I can't remember most of their names. 

I know there are parents I meet who wonder why I can't remember their names or which child they belong to. If the parent is someone I met at school and see at the gym, my memory has no chance of recall. 

As a young student I memorized. That's the way we learned in the 60s and 70s. I memorized bible verses at church, poems at school, historical documents in history. I've lost much of that skill. I see my short-term memory skills slipping away. 

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets, 

something else is slipping away...

Forgetting leads to fear. I'll retire in a couple of years (2 or 3). I've longed to move to a warmer climate. I've dreamed of retiring in an urban, walkable city. I want to live on a beach and drink umbrella drinks. 

Now I worry that I won't remember my way around if I move to an unfamiliar place. Already I sometimes forget I'm going to school and not to the gym. Sometimes I forget appointments. These are minor memory transgressions.

But as I watch my neighbor next door forget. As I watch her forgetting. As I observe that she's forgotten which house is hers. I know forgetfulness crouches in the dark recesses of my mind, awaiting an opportunity to steal my memories.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember, 
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue...

I don't worry about not being remembered. I worry about remembering. I don't concern myself with colleagues and former students forgetting me. I'm concerned about my forgetting them.