"Things that interfere with writing well: Earning a living, especially by teaching."

-William H. Gass

Thursday, January 31, 2008

maternity bites (volume two)

Step one complete! It went a little something like this:

As a result of being weirdly uptight about punctuality and therefore consistently arriving at appointments at least forty-five minutes early, I am superb at killing time. My half hour in the waiting room is chock full of activity. First is the requisite contact-information-update marathon with the receptionist, which is always fun. Then: an iPod, a book, a journal, a camera (probably not a good idea to use that in this context), a phone, part of a newspaper, and a stack of mail that has been stuffed in my backpack for inspection going on three weeks now. If ever a person wanted to film a little clip about what it's like to have ADD, this would be the time and place. I read two pages, then open my journal. I write three things down, then find the paper. I open the paper but decide to go back to the book. I switch albums on the iPod and go back to the journal. Then I stop to bite my nails, which I only do the day after I cook because my hands smell like garlic, then I go back to the backpack for something new to look at. (You can trust that this adds up to me being very, very attractive.)

In the middle of my charmingly insane little routine, Cancer Lady makes an entrance. I am not being insensitive; she was superhero-ed out. Her bald head was covered by a neon pink bandana, and her sneakers were hot pink Reeboks reminiscent of a pair I had circa Paula Abdul. Hot pink spandexish pants were barely visible under her shiny fluorescent green floor length CAPE, on the back of which she had sewn (quite adeptly) giant fuzzy pink letters that spelled "Chemo Girl." Her shirt, which could only be seen for a split second when she unfurled her cape to take out her insurance card, said "Fuck Cancer."

She was totally upstaging me.

Now, at this point my brain does something that it does a lot, which is make me think funny things over which I have zero control. My iPod is playing the Decemberists, and my brain whispers to me, "Heh, Chemo Emo." And so I chuckle at my sick, sick little brain. And then The Worst Possible Thing happens, which is Cancer Lady's assumption that I am chuckling at her. Now, if Larry David created me (oh, would that it were) this would be super. But in real life making cancer patients feel bad is not funny.

...is it?

Anyway, I got saved by the nurse. This moment is always awkward, because she's waiting for me by the door and I have nine thousand things to pick up out of the three closest chairs over which I have draped my stuff. She's very nurse-ish, like a couch - well-worn, calming, cozy. She says her name and I immediately forget it. She puts me on the scale, and puts the weights where she thinks, approximately, they ought to go. This is my favorite part of the day.

Nay, the week.

She estimates that I weigh somewhere in the 110-115 range. Oh, sweet sweet sweet nurse, no longer the drudge and toil in my delight! I pray thee, thy news is good?

This poor woman was pushing the weight up pound by pound: 115. 116. 117. Finally I had to break it to her that the thing would need a good shove to the right before she was even close. And she said, "There's no way you're over one twenty, you're so tiny! You must be all muscle."

Let's just pause and enjoy the hell out of that for one second.

Two seconds....

Moving on.

She leaves me in the room to flex and feel my muscles in privacy until Dr. H gets in. When he finally knocks on the door I feel suddenly nervous. I feel like I have to sell him a car. He starts right in with an update, looking over my chart. A quick check in on all previous jottings down, inquiries, ailments, etc.

"How's the cough?" "Your foot all healed?" "Still teaching?"

Then I get the report back. "Ohhhhh kaaaayyyy, looks like, whoa! You've lost nine pounds since I last saw you. Everything okay?"

"You told me to lose ten pounds last time I saw you."

"Yeah, but no one ever actually DOES it. No troubles with eating disorders..."

"I have trouble acquiring them, yes."

He doesn't laugh at my jokes, which is a barely forgivable flaw. Otherwise, he's a super doctor.

We get to the end of our respective updates, and there is an awkward pause. He's just smiling all sweetness and serenity, head slightly cocked, looking as Willie Nelsonish as ever. And I get flustered. I'm not sure how to say...uh...

"I want to baby proof my body."

So I just say that.

His face doesn't change; I have no idea what he's going to say. I'm pretty sure all doctors train their faces to make the same calm, half-smiling super benevolent and understanding expression in every situation. It makes sense. Otherwise they would constantly struggle with what to do with their faces when they have to say stuff like, "You have six weeks to live." I know my face insists upon smiling a big toothy grin when I give bad news, which is why I never made it through med school.

He says, "And you've thought about this..."

I say, "Since I figured out that babies come from women and not birds."

He says, "Mmmhmm," and looks at the chart again. He points out that my gynecologist can perform the surgery herself, and asks if I liked her. I try to remember her. Is this how men feel? I really can't conjure up an image of this person who has seen me naked. I don't even remember her name. She gave me her card. Never called her.

Whatever, I'm sure she's nice. So I say, "Oh Doctor Baaaaaaandlebaum. Of course, yes, she's lovely."

He says, "Well, then your next step will be to meet with her, she'll want to spend a lot of time with you, talk it over, maybe several times, and decide if she will perform the surgery."

I must have glowered, because he jumped in with:

"I'm sure you feel like you are jumping through hoops, and I apologize."

I assert that, yes, I indeed do feel that I am jumping through hoops and that the whole process offends me more than a little bit.

He says, "Well, Kelly, you have had the pleasure of knowing you for twenty seven years. We only see you for a few hours each year. So we've got to make sure that we know the you that you know, so we can perform the surgery with confidence. We have to protect ourselves, too, you know."

God damn it, Dr. WillieNelsonlookalike, that is kind of a good point.

Back in the lobby, Cancer Lady had disappeared and several patients pace or watch Ellen Degeneres do a funny dance on the television. The receptionist takes the paper upon which Dr. H. had written "27 y/0 seeks tubal ligation - est. four consult pre-proc" and calls down to women's health. Her phone has one of those shoulder rests so that she can be on hold and type at the same time, which she does. She never moves her neck, and rolls her eyes up at me when I am supposed to answer a question.

Type type type.

"Hi, it's Linda in Specialties. Mmmhmm. I have a patient here who needs an appointment with Dr. Bandlebaum for a...a...tube? Tubal Ligahhhh...yeah."

Long. Pause. Type type type.

Eyes roll to me.

"You're sure?"

I say, "What?"

She says, blinking several times, "She wants to know if you're sure?"

I say, "Yes, I am sure."

Eyes roll back down.

"She says she's sure."

Eyes roll back to me.

"March 17th at 1 pm with the Family Planner and then at 1:45 with Dr. Bandlebaum."

"Works for me."

Eyes roll back to the computer.

Type type type.

The printer pushes out my appointment, and it is handed in my direction with a quick "have a nice day" directed at the computer screen. Ahead of me is: a two-month wait, the promise of at least four "consultation" visits for twenty five bucks a pop, and an awkward St. Patrick's Day reunion with the gynecologist with whom, it seems, I have already been intimate. One thing is certain: Nothing will make me more resolute in my decision to bring zero children into this world than a parade of drunk Catholics. Slainte.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Series of Ten Second Plays

The federal government would really prefer we process our thoughts in the form of multiple choice tests. So here you go. I neglected to write about my baby-proofing appointment because:
a. It got way too personal for the internet
b. I forgot I had a blog last week
c. Cambridge Health Alliance is a mismanaged fuckclog and canceled my appointment
d.I saw the cutest baby ever in the Boston Common and decided I needed one too

I think we all know that on any multiple choice test you just choose "c" every time anyway. So, in lieu of a report on my visit with Dr. H, which has been rescheduled to an even less convenient time than last time, I offer the following short-attention-span-friendly glimpse into a lifelong refusal to procreate.

1989. Old brick school house way the hell up a hill in Granville, Massachusetts
Stacy, sweet freckled nine year old blond girl
Kelly, 9 years

Stacy (braiding the hair of a doll): I’m going to name my daughter Jessica.
Kelly (removing the head of a doll): I don’t think I want a baby.
Stacy: I want lots of babies.

1993. My grandmother’s kitchen. Most of the decorating involves antlers.
My grandmother, a devoutly religious republican
Kelly, 13 years

My grandmother: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Kelly: A journalist. I want to go all over the world and write stories about it.
My grandmother: Well my stars, that sounds interesting, but it could be dangerous and make it very hard to have a family.
Kelly: I don’t want a family.
My grandmother: Oh, you’ll change your mind.

1994. Mrs. Haftman’s Class, Softball game
Mrs. Haftman, gym teacher/tyrannical overlord/deliverer of humiliation/the Adolf Hitler of Physical Education
Kelly, 14 years

Mrs. Haftman: Here she is, Hate my Guts Henderson. Wearin’ black. (Sighs heavily) Young lady, why are you sitting in the outfield making a bracelet out of clovers and dandelions?! Do you want to fail gym class?
Kelly: I don’t feel good…?
Mrs. Haftman: What are you going to do when you have kids and they want to learn how to play sports? You need to learn the rules!
Kelly: I’m not going to have any kids.
Mrs. Haftman: That's ridiculous, of course you will. Now get off your duff and catch something this inning.

1995. My mother’s kitchen table. There are piles of mail everywhere. Flies swarm around the dishes, which are piled in an impressive heap.
My mother, speaker to plants and animals, stymied by human beings
Kelly, age 15

My mother (staring at the dishes): Who’s going to do those?
Kelly: One of your other children.
My mother: I hope you are cursed with wise ass children.
Kelly: I’m not having any kids.
My mother: That’s what I said. Look what happened. You’ll end up juuuuuuuust like this. (Kelly shudders violently)

1996. The Only Store In Granville.
Peg, former wife of the owner, permanent fixture behind the counter
Kelly, 16 years

Peg (to a customer): Oh, is she? A boy or a girl? (To Kelly, over her shoulder.) Kelly you hear that? Sue is pregnant.
Kelly (slicing forty pound blocks of cheese into perfect one-pound hunks): Whatever.
Peg: Whassa matter, you don’t like babies?
Kelly: Nope.
Peg: You’ll change your mind.

1997. Sandwich, Cape Cod – family vacation. A traveling circus of Hendersons, we are stuffed into a camper on wheels driven by my aunt’s latest husband. Stopped at a grocery store which is packed full of lobsters and white people.
My father, man of a thousand naps.
Supermarket lady, I remember her in a bonnet, though cannot be sure
Kelly, 17 years

My father (looking down at a pouting Kelly): Okay okay OKAY you can pierce your goddamned belly button. Just don’t get pregnant because not only would that thing get all scarred but also I would kill you.
Kelly: I promise I will never get pregnant.
My father: Right, not until you’re thirty six.
Kelly: No ever.
My father: Ever?
Kelly: EVER.
Supermarket lady (chuckling benevolently at the nutritional information on a box of Fruit Loops): She’ll change her mind.

2000. Emerson College, weirdos abound.

Unnamed former boyfriend, adorable but hopelessly traditional
Kelly, age 20

Unnamed former boyfriend: Sure I want kids, someday. I mean like, waaaaaay someday. But of course I do. You don't?
Kelly: Nope.
U.F.B.: Really?
Kelly: Really.
U.F.B.: Really really?
Kelly (sighing): Really really fucking really.
U.F.B.: But then who's going to pay for your nursing home?
Kelly: That's why you're having kids? To pay for a nursing home?
U.F.B.: No...but, I mean, it's something to consider.

2003. Cambridge Public Schools, a classroom.
Nora, a sixth grader
Chorus (Twenty Five Other Sixth Graders)
Kelly, age 23

Nora: Miss K, do you have kids?
Kelly: Nope. Do you?
Nora (fit of giggles): Nooooo!!!
Kelly: Well good let's stick together.
Nora: But you're supposed to have kids by now!
Kelly: It'll never happen.
Nora (shouting): Miss K isn't having kids EVER!
Chorus (Twenty Five Other Sixth Graders): What?! Miss. K whyyyyy? Are you crazy? What, you hate us?

2006. The University of Louisville School of Dentistry, Louisville, Kentucky. The same terrible music that plays at the dentist plays in the halls.
Dr. Currens, dean of students, jokester, True Southerner
Dr. Gambrall, neo-con professor, golfer, payer of attention to stock market trends, True Southerner
Kelly, age 26

Dr. Currens: Whatdya think, Massachusetts, we gonna be able to marry you off to a nice young dentist?
Kelly: I don't know, Dr. Currens, all the people around here go to church and have babies.
Dr. Currens: Oh Christ, Henderson. I knew you were a god hating liberal. Now you're telling me you hate babies?
Dr. Gambrall: I don't know, Woody. Maybe it's best if liberals don't procreate.
Dr. Currens: Ah, she'll be voting Republican and carting around a pack of kids within ten years.
Kelly: Not going to happen.
Dr. Gambrall: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much.
Kelly: I'm a Harvard woman.
Dr. Currens (sighing as he leaves the office): Dear lord she is from Massachusetts, isn't she.

2007. A bar in Cambridge, full of corduroy and expensive degrees.
Drunk lady 1, middle aged, owner of pearl necklaces
Drunk lady 2, middle aged, maker of manicure appointments
Kelly, age 27

Drunk lady 1: 'scuse me 'scuse me, are you readng in bar?
Drunk lady 2: leave 'er 'lone she's a student she's a...are you student?
Kelly (with saintly patience): No.
DL1: You are reading?! 's Friday.
Kelly: Mmmhmm.
DL2: She's smrt. Hey 'r you smrt?
Kelly: I'm feeling rather smart at this moment, yes.
(Oh how I wish I really said that...)
DL1: Whatev'r. Let 'er read then. Do whatchyou want now before...before KIDS!
DL2 initiates a toast.
DL2: Amen. Am'n. I'm say'n don't have 'em now. Have 'em-
DL1: I m'n I love my kids. I fuck'n LOVE my-
DL2: We know, Cheryll, we- hey, you don't have kids yet reader lady hey-
Kelly (saintly patience waning): No, no I don't.
DL1: How many you gonna have?
Kelly: Zero.
DL1 (SO LOUDLY): WHAT?! Ha! Thass what I said. Thass essackly what I said.
DL2 non verbally confirms DL1's claim.
DL1: Lissen. Lissen reader lady, you will meet a MAaaaaan. All of it (wild hand gesture) out the window.
DL2: Sh'll change 'er mind.
DL1: YEP! You keep...juss read the book, lady. You read yr book.

The End.

maternity bites

Due to a combination of funding trouble and what, as a former special ed teacher, I feel confident calling mild to moderate retardation on the part of administrators, my school has combined the history classes with science. Which means that I am a science teacher. Which means that the world is ending. This is not the point of this blog; I don't have the energy. The point is...well I'll get to it. First, as a science teacher (feel free to laugh) I am well aware of all species' biological predisposition for procreating. Fortunately, modern science has allowed we humans to opt out of this vile process.

Since as far back as I can remember, I have lacked those pesky "maternal instincts" that make girls want to dress wounds and talk in high pitched voices at small children. I do not understand how any rational human being could really, in his most honest space, believe that a puppy is less cute than a baby. But people love those things! Even when they are all purple and hideous, fresh squeezed out of a vagina. People say, "Awwww." Well not me damnit. Person after person, over the course of the past 18 years or so, has claimed this would change. But change it has not. Which brings me to the point. (There is one, I swear.) If you are a woman who does not want children people think you are weird. Babies? Normal. No babies? Abnormal. They are sure, beyond any doubt, that you will change your mind. They will show you pictures of their children and expect you to have this bubbling epiphany, "Oh! Yes, I cannot run fast enough toward gaining forty pounds, getting stitches in my vagina, eternally supporting one of those noisy, smelly expensive car seat fillers with cake on its face."

I have had it. I am baby proofing my body. Thus, this the first in a series of blogs about the arduous process of convincing a doctor to tie those baby tubes once and for all.

Step one. Make an appointment with your doctor.

I did this already. Dr. Himmelstein, year round wearer of Birkenstocks and wool socks, will see me on Thursday. (He looks like Willie Nelson, which personally I have found very comforting during sick visits.) Being that he is my physician, he is aware of how abhorrent I find the idea of pregnancy. He has also warned me that recommendations for surgery in women as young as me are rare. I am unsure what sort of process I will have to endure in order to "convince" him, but the thought of having to cajole a doctor into believing that I am able to make up my own mind makes me absolutely irate. Let's hope Dr. H. gives in nice and easy like, so we don't have any trouble.

Friday, January 18, 2008

the garden level of eden

7:13 a.m. in the Basement O’ Learning. Bliss abounds. The smell of thawing cigarette butts, extra thick on a rainy morning, mingles with the inexplicable but distinct essence of cat pee. The homeless shelter upstairs is bustling. A woman, whose room is directly above my classroom, is trying to calm her screaming baby. Her method is questionable. She screams “fuck you” “fuck you” “fuck you” over and over and over again. The child screams and shrieks. A neighbor steps in, helpfully shouting “shut the fuck up.” I recognize the neighbor’s voice. She’ll be in my second period class. Funny what the classroom can do. If I couldn’t hear her down here in the mornings, I could not picture her yelling. As a student, she is a mouse.

This blogging business is procrastinative. Papers need grading. Quizzes need photocopying. Lessons need planning. The cursor blinks at me. I am staring off to the left, at my Periodic Table of Elements. The painting crew over winter break decided to touch up my room. This touch up, it seems, required no removal of wall art. So there is a big swipe of off-white paint over the bottom corner. Who needs Mendelevium anyway.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Languages II

My separateness becomes obvious, noisy

sends my face seeking

asylum in armpits or elbow crooks

eyelids pressed right up against that infinite

distance, fumbling the translation

of ever expanding languages

I’ve put my alphabet all over this new skin

but we’re illiterate in the dark, here

fingers blinking like cursors

between my shoulder blades

they speak in code to freckled galaxies

under the warm soup of night noises:

heat pipes, traffic two blocks down, a radio

turned really low

This stillness doesn’t calm me, I want

to claw through the roof just for

an examination of all those dots,

patternless harborers of endless wishing

Languages I

Way in the back

cigarette clouds

the after hours Portuguese

talk around pitchers of

dollar drafts stabbing

out smoke after


they call me


mama, from under

baseball caps

from cities none

of us

have been to

Carlito he’s twelve

or maybe


they are pretending

to shave

his chin, smooth

as glass

he says, in English,

I’m old enough for you


the window’s gone white

from drifting


nos somos furados aqui

I say back

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Songs Water Can Make

Blooming Technicolor in otherwise dull gray North American meadows. Snow, hard New England ground, wind ravaged Midwestern plain, its roots seemed to notice nothing.

In 1997 he expresses regret that it has come to this. The proverbial This being the town’s decision to condemn the old eyesore. He expresses also his thanks for the landscaping work three years back. Never seen so many colors out there. So much purple, more purple every year.

The Harts lived on Babbling Street, which invited all sorts of obvious quips. The street’s namesakes are two south bound streams. Running from the reservoir atop Cobble Mountain, flanking Babbling Street for eleven heavily wooded miles, they meet only twice before, at the edge of town, funneling into Arnold’s Pond, depositing a season’s worth of catchable trout every year. Two miles up stream, they cut under the road immediately North and immediately South of the Hart’s house, making their 2 acres the only yard in town to host both streams.

In 1989 Mona is in the dirt. She is shaking dark, clumped soil loose from a plant’s roots. A man’s shadow has spilled down the long sloping lawn. His head is thrown in elongated gray scale onto her forearm. She is detangling the roots like hair, smoothing them over her thigh. The pond is invisible to both of them. The water reflects no light, shrouded by cattails and tall purple flowers that look like explosions, patchworked with lilypads. The man’s hands keep finding things in his pockets but never extract anything. Mona’s daughter is seven and hides on the bank of the stream. A car pulls in the driveway and all three of them stop breathing.

Unlike most other species of plant, it is known by and sold under its botanical name. This until sale is made illegal. It quickly develops common names, varying according to region.

The man sits on the couch and fills the air with himself. He plucks at denim fringe on his shorts, which are splattered with paint. Blue, white, yellow, brown. Vestiges of house exteriors, a kaleidoscoped work history.

Sixteen days she spent with her fingers in their dirt. Mrs. Arnold on a reclining plastic chair covered with a puffy pad. They had someone else come and till the quarter acre behind the pool so when Mona got there the soil was supple, ready. She worked to the rhythm of the water. It was impossible not to hear it.

Nearly perfect circles, the leaves.

Andy lives with her mother in a giant garden. The house is unfit to be built, but is already built. They kneel in the dirt and trade hearsay, going nightly back through a sinking doorway. Mona tells her someday the house will sink into the ground, the roof will bow and give. Andy picks at dirt under her nails at night, eyes on the ceiling.

By 1993 Babbling Street is quiet. It’s like when hair grows. The streams had gotten quiet by degrees until one day a reclined Mrs. Arnold paused mid magazine page-flip, her arm hair suddenly poised.

Mona arranges the tiny pots in rows on top of newspapers, columns run up and down the kitchen table, little soil mouths open for seeds. She pokes a pencil into the packed soil, a quick stab and retract, until she has moved from one side of the table to the other. Andy follows behind, dropping a seed into each tiny plastic tub.

Endlessly they are seeding. Spring after spring the bank recedes; the cattail patches thin. Flying on the breeze or rolling ever slower on the surface of a stream, the seeds find a place to make roots. Roadside on Babbling Street, the fringes of ponds and yards, the banks of the reservoir, even in the soft grass underneath the stretching arthritic apple tree branches, they grow.

They all sit down to dinner; Andy doesn’t eat. Or breathe. He asks about things like her favorite color.

In 1989 the Environmental Safety Commission for Marshlands is digging up truckloads of purple flowers. Their green logo swipes across white pick up trucks that manage to stay clean even on trips up dirt roads in the rain. White truck beds cradle the uprooted mounds, the contraband purple so bright it makes noise.

The woman’s trunk is lined with heavy plastic. She lays the plants in sideways; they are too tall to keep upright. She pays Mona while Mona watches East, the woman West. It is dusk.

Men are driven distracted at the way Mona walks up stairs.

In summer Mona balances the speakers in the living room window facing out. Budweisers poke from foam holders and pass Andy on the swing set at eye level. The grill balanced over the fire periodically hisses at uncooked meat.

Andy’s science teacher is building a tide pool out of colored paper and foam. She is saying, “Delicate ecosystems suffer at the introduction of dominant foreign species.”

The shiny white truck is in the driveway. Mona kneels on the bank of a silent stream. Men force shovels into the dirt, pushing them through resistant roots with tightly laced boots. There is a sound like biting celery.

Mona is on the floor, laughing up at her daughter who begs her to please go to bed. Her skirt is somewhere outside. The space above the fire looks oily or underwater. The faces across it change but are always familiar.

In 1993 men float silently, rods poised, and catch nothing.

The men watch her kneel there, and tell her quietly that warnings will be informal, but warnings there must be. She sinks into the mud by imperceptible degrees, staying like that until the white truck backs from the driveway, a fraction of garden in the bed.

It’s a shame, she is telling Mona, closing her trunk, to treat something so lovely in this way.

In 1995 it is a cold winter. The top of Cobble Mountain is a tundra. The reservoir’s surface is lily padded with ice. A man and Andy are packed like frozen steaks in the back seat, the nose of the car pointed out over the water, the sun dipping under and making morning some place else. Andy’s mouth is too cold to move. After, they sit there and breathe, thaw.

The woman pays Mona, who has to bend to reach the lawn chair. The woman carefully keeps her hands from touching Mona’s still-muddied fingers.

The wood seemed to give in before impact. It just crumbled, eliciting expressions of disbelief that it survived a strong wind.

Andy is a teenager when she says to Mona (whose forehead rests on the table, her shoulders pointed toward her daughter) while smoking one of her cigarettes, “You’re going to get caught.” But Mona doesn’t hear her.

In a breeze, the tiny circular leaves fall like confetti. It spreads, slows waterways, extinguishes certain species of cattail. It quiets Babbling Street to a whisper where there had been a rush. Andy sits on the bank of what used to be a stream, holding ice to her face. The shades of purple vary by climate, but in New England they are a deep indigo.

She brings her head forward, as if on tracks, and up and back. The ceiling is sponge painted and the texture shifts like water at this moment, always, for both of them. The taste like metal, or like cold. Mona is braced against his weight in the bedroom upstairs; Andy is watching the ceiling melt and laughing, inaudibly, to herself.

They don’t speak about it but somehow it is there, replaced, no matter who goes after it, no matter when.

He is holding the cat up above the fire. He is saying to the cat that its last request must come quickly. Mona and Andy both put a palm on their stomachs; they laugh this same way. The cat leaps, pushing off from what looks like air, leaving the man with a deep mean scratch.

Its stem is rigid, almost a square. Like a child drew it, square stem, circles for leaves.

She puts two fingers in the soft divot just beneath her nose but her shirt caught the first drop. He throws his hands in the air and says look who’s had enough. There is one deep red drop on her white shirt, the contrast distinct. Pans catch rain in three rooms, punctuating any passing moment of silence.

She resists at first, but the town is resolute. They express their hatred of even the thought of possibly speaking to the men who run the organization that sends around the white trucks. They absolutely loathe that idea. And so the old eyesore’s eyes are covered in two by fours, nailed in willy nilly, leaving space to peek in. In the ten years between the boards and the bulldozer it hosts twelve adolescent gatherings, all but one featuring a Ouji board and candles. The foundation, that was the thing. Marshland isn’t good for building; it can’t support a foundation, and eventually, everything will sink.

I Don't [Expletive] Think So

Of course you realize, fair sister, that this means war.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

There are days...

There are days when I am grateful for sunshine. There are days when I am grateful for the people I know, the music on my radio, the way the sky looks at dawn. There are also days when I am grateful to the English language for phrases like “insufferable cunt.”

Today is one of those days.

Without that phrase I’m not sure I’d ever be satisfied with my description of a certain coworker. The words “lazy hag” and “idea stealer” just aren’t quite enough.

First, let me paint a picture. I work in a basement. The Basement O’ Learning (BOL), as it has been affectionately dubbed. We have to earn masters degrees to get here, then they stick us in the basement. Highly qualified but undervalued. Ah, the paradoxes of my beautiful profession. Anyway, our little school is underground. Airless. Lightless. Institutional white walls to which nothing sticks, thus the continual flopping over of posters and student work. Dust. Vestiges of an old pink and green pastel paint job in the hallway, 98% painted over. The doors are painted purple to make it look cheery. The kind of place that you have to paint to look cheery only looks sad when you paint it to look cheery. Alas, this place is characterized by an obsessive clinging to procedures long outdated in the world above our BOL.

Within this den of enlightenment we find three educators. One, for now, I will spare. One is me. Ambitious, energetic, abrasive and argumentative. Hated by the administration, who secretly call me the “pita” for pain in the ass. (Love that!) The third is this mind bogglingly backwards lump of a religious wacko who expects criminally little from her students due to some combination of pity and racism and whose deportment, not that it matters, finds its best comparator in one Jabba the Hut.

For my first two semesters, I fought the administration and the staff to institute a few fresh new education ideas backed up by fresh new educational research. Research?! Ideas?! Immediately, everyone froze up and resisted. Which I, of course, received with grace, patience, and understanding…

Anyway, the point is these “innovations” that I tried to get people to buy into were the equivalent of…say…telling a hospital that, based on new research, it’s a really good idea to screen blood donations before giving the blood to patients. For example, this school still has a designated smoking area for students. Break is called smoke break. I am not kidding.

One particular battle I remember quite well. I wanted to take the students on a field trip to Shakespeare in the Park. It’s free, we could take the T, they could read the play in English class. At the staff meeting, where I had come to expect arguments against whatever I said, they did what they are amazingly good at doing. I prepared as well as I could, but they can come up with arguments that defy a defense or counterpoint. They are so unbelievably ridiculous that you can’t possibly anticipate them. Besides the one I had expected, which is that Shakespeare is too advanced for “these kids,” I received this:
“Kelly, you can’t bring them to an outdoor play, there might be bugs.”

Just let that sink in.

Is it in yet?


I still can’t entirely wrap my head around why going to see Shakespeare was something from which they felt they must protect our students. And I still can’t see how I was the only one on the staff who thought field trips were a good idea. But they did. And I was. They passionately, adamantly believed that I was harming them by introducing Shakespeare to the curriculum. One lady actually cried, because she thought I was trying to push them to learn things “they just couldn’t learn.” This is one amid too many examples to type.

So Jabba the Insufferable heads up the Resistance campaign. The battle is dirty. The entire department quits, except we three teachers. We hire a mediator to facilitate “Play Nice Time.” We play nice.

Fast forward to now. This woman has, in her classroom, implemented an idea I suggested last year. An idea that was rejected as ridiculous, impossible, a disservice to “students like ours” (a phrase this place uses often.) She presents this idea to the administration as a new, exciting thing she’s doing in her classroom. They love it. It is just the sort of fresh, brilliant kind of stuff they’d expect out of her classroom.

I am taking in and releasing breath very slowly. It’s helping, sort of.