Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ten Songs I Will Play Over And Over And Over Again If Nobody's Around To Stop Me

  1. "Abandoned Love" by Bob Dylan
  2. "Angel" by Bob Dylan
  3. "Boots of Spanish Leather" by Nanci Griffith (a Dylan cover)
  4. "Brokedown Palace" by the Grateful Dead
  5. "If You Knew" by Jeff Buckley (a Nina Simone cover)
  6. "Redwood Tree" by Van Morrison
  7. "Sweet Lorraine" by Patty Griffin
  8. "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show (a Dylan cover)
  9. "Warmth of the Sand" by Dashboard Confessional
  10. "Yellow Ledbetter" by Pearl Jam

For a girl who professes to be madly in love with Van Morrison, you'd think there'd be a bit more VanMo and a bit less Dylan on the list, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Perhaps Her Thumb Is A Bit Too Green

My mom is an avid gardener, and her garden kicks ass.


In the warmer months (i.e., March-November), she can usually be found doing one of the following:

  • planting plants
  • watering plants
  • digging up plants and replanting them elsewhere
  • pruning, dead-heading, or otherwise tending to plants
  • weeding around plants
  • shopping for plants
  • reading about plants in one of her many plant/gardening encyclopedias
  • talking to plants.

She takes this gardening thing seriously, and she's really good at it -- I think because she truly loves plants and thinks of them almost like children.

My brother did a post yesterday about how he found a plant in my mom's garden and thought, just for a second, that she might be growing pot. She wasn't, but that reminded us of our favorite mom gardening story.

A few summers ago, my brother removed some seeds from an otherwise empty cigarette box in the freezer and planted them in this thicket behind our beach house. Only one of the seeds actually sprouted, and it grew into a scraggly little excuse for a plant. My brother was understandably concerned for the welfare of his wee plant and frequently asked me for advice on how to make it flourish. Having once dated a boy who'd secretly converted the back corner of his mother's basement into a small-scale hydroponic marijuana farm, I was no stranger to illicit gardening, but his operation was entirely different from my brother's and I couldn't help. The plant continued to struggle, and the situation grew dire. (It probably didn't help that my brother kept pinching off bits of the plant for his own recreational use, but whatever.)

One evening after we'd returned from the beach, my brother was hosing off the dog while my mom stood nearby lecturing me on my poor care of my drooping tomato plants. My brother listened attentively and then said, "Hey Mom, come here and tell me what's wrong with this plant," grabbing her hand and tromping off with her into the bushes as my jaw dropped. When they emerged a minute later, my mom looked pissed.

"Jesus, Brian, that plant needs fertilizer!," she declared indignantly. "And it's not getting nearly enough light. Go get the pruners* and trim some of those branches back there!," she commanded, waving in the general direction of the bushes as I looked on in amazement. "Mom," I said, "do you know what that plant is?" "Well I'm assuming it's marijuana, Megan," she answered huffily, "but that's no way to treat a plant."

She then marched off to direct the chopping of limbs, and carefully tended to the plant for the rest of the summer.

*The tool my mom instructed my brother to get is actually called loppers, but she told me no one would know what I was talking about unless I called them pruners.

David Payne, A Better Man Than I

A few months ago, I did a post (entitled "I'm Falling out of Love") about how I'd read a new book by one of my favorite authors and hated it. I wrote really really mean things about the book, so mean that I'm not even linking to the post, and wondered "What if stupid Wando Passo has ruined David Payne for me forever? What if I've fallen out of love?" I clicked "Publish Post" and thought no more of David Payne.

Until my friend Meaghan, who I work with at a bookstore during the summers and who had scheduled David Payne for a book signing, forwarded me an email he'd sent to her that said (I'm paraphrasing here) "Are you the Megan of the By & By blog? If so, we should probably cancel the event. PS I'm sorry you didn't like the book." (David Payne probably doesn't say 'PS,' but I do.) Poor Meaghan straightened things out with Mr. Payne, but she did have to admit that the Megan of the By & By blog was one of her seasonal employees (since I had mentioned both her and her bookstore in the post) and apologize for my being such a shrieking hateful harpy.

Although I would have liked Mr. Payne to sign my tattered copies of his four other books, I thought it best not to attend the signing event a few weeks ago. Meaghan said it had gone well, and that, I thought, was that. Not so.

When I reported for my first day of work this morning a smiling Meaghan held out a copy of Back to Wando Passo and said, "David Payne left you a present." Confused and contrite, I said, "But I already have a copy. . .and I didn't even like it." "Look inside," she responded, almost giggling. So I looked inside, where I found this inscription:

To Megan --

Anything we can do to rekindle the spark?

David Payne
And that is what saved David Payne for me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In Response To A Letter To The Editor, Vol. II

To the Editor:

I have read a couple of letters to the editor recently from people who complain. I only have one thing I am tired of, and that is complaining. Don't people have enough in their lives to fulfill them? Life is too short to live it in negativity.

Webster's dictionary defines democracy as government by the people, especially the rule of the majority.

A rule by the majority means just that. The majority in the United States have voted and their votes determine the rules. A few people believe their opinions should outweigh the majority.

If you want to change the way things are done, do it through your congressmen. Write letters to those who make the decisions.

Make your voice heard through the proper channels rather than complaining and trying to impose your opinions on the majority. Go to the polls and vote for people who you believe will see your side.

--Shirley, Virginia Beach

To Shirley:

I've failed a grand total of nine students in my seven years of teaching, but you would not have passed my 12th-grade Government course with your rudimentary understanding of representative democracy and how it actually works in America. When faced with this freebie of a final exam question

In the context of American democracy, explain what Larry Flynt meant when he said, "Majority rule only works if you're also considering individual rights. Because you can't have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper."

you would have been unable to discuss our Founding Fathers' fears of a tyranny of the majority or the safeguards they built into the Constitution to prevent such tyranny from arising.

As for effecting change in our current political system by writing letters to our elected representatives or by voting for people who will actually represent our views, gimmee a fuckin' break, Pollyanna. It costs a lot of money to get elected to public office, and our office-holders are responsive to the interests of their donors, not their constituents. I hate to complain, but whenever I write a letter to either of my senators, I get a polite response thanking me for my input and explaining why I am wrong. So much for representative democracy.

Dissent -- or as you call it, complaining -- is the foundation of any healthy democratic system, as the citizens in a democracy share a responsibility for keeping their government in line. The fact that most Americans see democracy as nothing more than voting and occasional letter-writing is precisely what is wrong with American democracy.

But don't take my word for it. Thomas Jefferson, who we haven't heard from in a while, liked "to see the people awake and alert" and wrote that "the spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive." He, like many modern-day complainers, maintained that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism"

Which more or less translates to, "Bite me, Shirley."

--Megan, Norfolk

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bring It!

Today I went to the mall, where I managed not to A) be accosted by panhandlers or B) buy anything. I did, however, see this oddity in the parking garage:

truck reads:
Finally The Rock Comes Back To Virginia Beach
Layin the Smacketh Downeth

Then I went to Target, where I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but where I did buy some sweet camouflage gauchos. Thus far, I have not gotten into the camo trend or the gaucho trend, but there they were --$9.99 -- and I thought "why not kill two birds with one stone." As a result of these magnificant pants, I now heart both camouflage and gauchos. You'd have to be a pretty sick freak not to.

It's The New Counting Sheep

If you, like me, are prone to both insomnia and obsessive thoughts (coupled, of course, with compulsive behaviors), it is not a good idea to search the National Sex Offender Public Registry for nearby sex offenders just before going to bed. Because you will find them. 73 of them, in fact. And then you will lie awake for most of the night thinking about the bad things they did and wondering whether the doors were really locked the last time you got up to make sure the doors were still locked.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I just read my horoscope for the day, which said:

"You're usually even-steven. (yes) Today, there's a temptation to inappropriately vent stress and mistakenly call it 'passion' when it should be called 'temper tantrum.' (huh? I've been on vacation for over a week, so I'm pretty not-stressed. Plus I'm not really the temper tantrum type) You can avoid frustration through exercise." (uh-oh)

I totally fucked that one up. I woke up at 1:26 pm and languished in bed for another half an hour (it was raining, which for some reason always frees me of any obligation to be productive. Plus I'd already slept till 1:30 in the afternoon!). Then I spent pretty much the rest of the day lying on the couch reading. The closest I came to exercising was walking down a flight of stairs to take the trash out. I felt exactly zero temptation to throw a temper tantrum.

Shows how much you know, Holiday Mathis (the horoscope lady).

Friday, June 23, 2006

Attention Sketchy 50-Year-Old Men Of Norfolk

I'm flattered by the attention, I really am, but it's getting weird. I mean, I'm thirty. And I look like I'm twenty. I routinely get carded not just for alcohol but also for cigarettes (in a state where the smoking age is 18). Last month a clueless colleague even asked me for my hall pass.

I'm sure you're all very nice people, but what in the world makes you think that a 20-year-old girl -- or even a 30-year-old girl -- would want to go out with you? You're old.

If you drove a fancy car and seemed to have all sorts of money, you could probably find some younger women who would date you for that alone, but I'm not really the sugar daddy type, and most of you seem to be more sketchy than wealthy. Some of you, judging by the diamond-encrusted bits of gaudiness on your left hands, are even married, and I'm so not a home-wrecking kind a girl.

I know you think it's sweet and chivalrous to approach complete stangers and offer to demonstrate your culinary prowess by cooking them dinner or to bestow upon them the handful of seashells you've collected while casually strolling back and forth in front of them, but it's not. It's creepy.

Please stop. Just admire me from afar.* Or better yet, find a nearby non-sketchy man in his 30s and enourage him to hit on me. That would be a refreshing change of pace.

*For those who don't know me personally, rest assured that the "just admire me from afar" bit was a joke. Those who do know me personally know that I would never actually say anything like that. And I'm not exactly beating off the paparazzi.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Misadventures In Grocery Shopping

The grocery situation at my house can only be described as dire. I can't remember the last time I bought groceries in anticipation of actually eating a meal in my own home. Over the last week I can recall at least five trips to various wine shops and only one trip to a grocery store -- to purchase a frozen pizza.

I actually really love to cook. If you click on my profile thingy (or "jank," in Norfolkian teenage parlance) you will find "cooking" listed as one of my interests. But I've been busy lately and haven't done much cooking. Or grocery shopping.

A quick inventory this morning made it clear that I could no longer avoid the grocery store. My fridge contained the following: 1 can of Whole Foods Brand All Natural Ginger Ale (for mixing with bourbon), 12 bottles of Hoegaarden, half an orange's worth of orange wedges (for dropping into the Hoegaarden), 1 free range organic egg, and an almost empty jar of pasta sauce. The pantry is just as bare. This morning I actually stirred brown sugar into my tea, as I've been out of regular sugar for weeks.

It's not that I can't afford to buy groceries. I just don't feel like it.

So I lay around all day knowing that I had to go to the grocery store but never quite getting the urge to do so. Around 8 pm I finally set down my book and dragged myself off the couch to do the dreaded grocery shopping. There are two grocery stores within walking distance of my house, and I debated which one to go to. Gene Walters is slightly closer, it's generally cheaper, and it has a great wine selection (not that I needed wine). However, its produce and seafood departments suck, and some of its employees are a bit dodgy. Harris Teeter is a few blocks farther and a few cents more expensive, but they offer free cookies to kids of all ages. Also, their organic milk is significantly cheaper than the organic milk at Gene Walters -- economies of scale or some shit. Since milk was on my list, I opted for Harris Teeter.

What I didn't count on was finding my ex's car (SUV, actually) parked outside Harris Teeter and having to back-track to Gene Walters to avoid him. Seriously, I spend the whole day (while he's presumably at work) not grocery shopping, and when I finally decide to go to the store, that store, he's also grocery shopping there? Does god hate me or something?

Yes, I think perhaps god does hate me. Because a half gallon of organic milk at Gene Walters was a whopping $4.39, and I know at Harris Teeter it's only $3.19.

Thanks, Dave.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In Response To A Letter To The Editor, Vol. I

To The Editor:

It is summertime, so expect to be accosted by panhandlers in the parking lots of Norfolk shopping plazas. I find it curious that many of these unfortunates do not appear to be homeless as they're wearing freshly laundered clothes and are obviously well-fed.

While most are harmless, some attempt to raise funds through either fraud or intimidation. Pocket change or offers of food or employment will get you an insult, as only "paper money" will satisfy them.

When three panhandlers approach in a pincer movement, or a disheveled stanger attempts to prevent you from entering or exiting your vehicle, it is not considered attempted robbery -- it's "freedom of speech."

If the Norfolk City Council will not address this problem, it is only a matter of time before this situation will escalate.

--Clint, Norfolk

To Clint:

I am deeply sorry that you are uncomfortable being approached by poor people on your way into Nordstrom or headed back to the office after a $30 lunch at Kincaid's (I would be too). It is equally unfortunate that these poor people do not conform to your preconceived notions of poverty and homelessness. You're right: if people are going to ask if you can spare a dollar or two they should look a bit more dirty and gaunt. They certainly should not appear to have any self-respect, as that would make it more difficult for you dismiss them as second-class citizens.

As to these pesky streetpeople being well-fed, unless you have recently donated a shit-ton of wonderfulness to our local food bank, it is much more likely that they are subsisting on cheap fast food -- which we all know is fattening and unhealthy -- than that they have taken a brief break from gorging themselves to con you out of your spare change.

Jesus, whose message you conservatives so love to misrepresent, commanded us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and flat out told us that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (picture that!) than for a rich man to get into heaven. There's no ambiguity there. Give the panhandlers a dollar. It's not going to set you back that much. If you can't bring yourself to do that, maybe just stay away from shopping plazas for the rest of the summer. But good luck with that whole heaven thing.

And PS, you can't complain in paragraph one that panhandlers' clothes are too clean and then describe them as "disheveled" two paragraphs later. It makes it seem like you might be stupid or something.

--Megan, Norfolk

Welcome McHome

I've spent the last few days visiting my family in their suburban DC home while talking shit about the suburbs (my family does not find this endearing, by the way).

I lived in various suburbs of DC for seven years after graduating from college, but I finally moved to Norfolk because, after much consideration, I realized that I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it (Norfolk) had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.

Okay, fine. Actually I moved to Norfolk because I hate the suburbs, I missed the ocean, and I wanted to teach someone other than rich privileged white kids.

Every time I go back to visit my DC-area friends and family, I'm sadly amazed to find another cookie-cutter development where trees used to be. I fear they're going to build McNeighborhoods until there's nothing left to McBuild on. Today I drove through one of these new developments after seeing a sign on the road advertising "luxury townhomes moderately priced from the $550s." I don't know about you, but I don't really consider $550,000 to be a "moderate" pricetag for much of anything. Plus, look at this place:

If I'm gonna drop half a million dollars on a dwelling, well, first of all I'm gonna need a sugar daddy. But. . .if I, with the help of my sugar daddy, am going to spend half a million dollars on a home, it will not be:

A) a townhouse
B) in the suburbs
C) situated next to a gas station
D) totally lacking in the tree department
E) identical to every other nearby dwelling
F) brand spankin' new
G) completely devoid of architectural character
H) a soul-sucking pit of despair.

Apparently a lot of McPeople are into that sort of thing, though, because the sign said there were only three McTownhomes left.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fashion Sense

I'm always a bit dumbfounded when I read the care instructions inside a t-shirt and find the recommendation "warm iron as needed." I don't iron much. I don't really believe in it. My primary fashion consideration is comfort, which is not to say that I don't have some kick-ass clothes. I just don't own anything that requires tucking. . .or ironing, really. So anyway, whenever I see that bit about using a warm iron on my t-shirts, I laugh a little. Because who the hell irons their t-shirts?

My mother, that's who. The other day I walked into her laundry room and found her happily ironing her outfit for the day, which included a red Polo (also not part of my wardrobe) t-shirt that wasn't even wrinkled.

You think that's bad? I've caught the woman ironing sheets before.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Stuff Google Wants Me To Click On

Like most cool people, I have a GMail account. The weird thing about using GMail (over, say, Yahoo! Mail or HotMail or something) is that Google searches your emails and gives you a list of sponsored links alongside each email you open. It looks like this:

Most of the time, these links make sense. If you send an email about how much you love Jeff Buckley, you get a list of links to Jeff Buckley sites. But sometimes the lists make me wonder what the hell Google thinks I'm talking about. For example:

  1. An email exchange that contained the statement "flirty sparring is a good characterization" elicited a link to Catch Him and Keep Him, which promised to reveal "10 mistakes you are probably making to scare away Mr. Right!" Presumably, flirty sparring is one of them.
  2. When Steve sent me a link to a site about the Monkey Chant, Google gave me a bonus link to, where I could find "insane drum loops" from Nikki Sixx. 'Cause, you know, Mötley Crüe is a lot like those Bali natives.
  3. As I read a nice long email from Patrick, a former student, I noticed a list of eight links to sites having to do with paper shredding simply because he'd described his summer job: "Basically, I am the Office Anything Boy. It rocks! I get to run all sorts of errands and edit a ton of paperwork, and shred classified documents and read all sorts of stuff I shouldn't!! OK, the last task I only got once because I let it slip that I had read what I was supposed to be shredding. Hey, at least I didn't make copies."
  4. An email from an excited Steve announcing that "C-SPAN now carries the Prime Minister's Questions on their website!" generated links to and the Progressive Universal Life Church, both of which offer free instant ordination but have absolutely nothing to do with the British Prime Minister.
  5. I was invited by to "extract meaningful intelligence from unstructured mulitilingual text" after a series of emails wherein Josh and I made fun of each other for A) being snobby about words and B) having attended rival institutes of higher learning. Me: (pointing out that Josh had spelled clique wrong) "I mean, really. . .surely they offer a course in remedial spelling at THE University." Josh: "In the hip-hop vernacular I am sure it is spelled click. I am sure they teach contextual interpretation at Mr. Jefferson's Institute for the fairer gender." (This is what you call flirty sparring.)

If you are currently using some lame-ass email account that refuses to provide you with such random and amusing solicitations, let me know. The little email gods are constantly asking me if I want to invite people to GMail. I can totally put you on the list.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Word To The Wise

If, amid a tropical downpour, you consult your pals and determine that the day is a much better day for curling up on the couch with a bottle of red wine than it is for working; if you then ditch work around 3:00, wading through two inches of rainwater to get to the wine store, and slog home with pals and wine in tow to drink for the next five hours; if you consume so much wine that you finally break out the Trivial Pursuit game you’ve been eyeing for hours and force your friends to play; and if, in response to the question, “which day of the week is named after a planet?” the sheer volume of alcohol coursing through your bloodstream causes you to triumphantly blurt out, “March!” when the answer is obviously Saturday, you are certainly going to pay for it the next morning.

I blame you, Alberto!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Small Things With Great Love

Mother Teresa told us that "we can do no great things, only small things with great love." This is a concept I've been thinking a lot about lately and a statement I've been repeating to myself like a mantra: small things with great love, small things with great love, small things with great love, small things with great love, small things with great love. It's what I focus on when I'm near the edge.

Because, you know, the world needs saving and I'm just a regular old person. In the last ten days alone I have been urged, via email, to:

  • call for a Congressional debate on Iraq,
  • save the Chesapeake Bay,
  • sound the alarm on fake women's "clinics,"
  • tell Fila to support the rights of workers in its factories,
  • speak up for the oceans,
  • save NPR and PBS,
  • save internet freedom from AT&T,
  • resolve the crisis: don't shut down the UN,
  • stop global warming,
  • stop the Arctic refuge drilling.

Obviously there's a lot of stuff that needs to be saved or stopped. And these are just the alerts from the organizations I've asked to hear from. Who knows what other calamities are befalling the world as I sit at home sipping my cabernet? It gets overwhelming.

This is where "small things with great love" comes in.

I can't end the war in Iraq, but I can call for that Congressional debate. I can't ensure equality for women the world over, but I can treat everyone I encounter fairly and equally while donating to Planned Parenthood. Acting alone, I can't save the Chesapeake Bay or the world's oceans, but I can pick up trash whenever I'm on the beach and refrain from pouring toxic chemicals down the storm drains. I can't guarantee that Fila or any other company pay its workers a living wage, but I can refuse to buy their products if they don't. I certainly can't single-handedly stop global warming, but I can do my part by walking to most places (unless there's a tropical storm blowing through like there was today) and by scowling at anyone with the audacity to drive a Hummer.

Lately I have found the "small things with great love" mantra most helpful at school. I am (in case you hadn't picked up on this) pretty passionate about what I do for a living. A big part of the reason I became a teacher is because I want to make the world a better place and because I want to inspire others to want to make the world a better place. I am an incredibly idealistic person, and there are occasions on which I actually begin the school day thinking, "This is it, this is the day I change the world. Because this is Lorax day, this is the day my kids find out that 'UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.'" But that's not the way things work. Lorax day doesn't change the world, but it's a small thing I do with great love.

So I keep reminding myself that, as a teacher, I "can do no great things, only small things with great love." Sometimes my kids inadvertently remind me of this too. It would be a great thing if I could completely eradicate racism and bigotry, but I can't. However, one of my students recently told me that, as a result of my class, “a lot of people became more accepting, or less willing to laugh at other cultures’ traditions or rituals" and cited as an example "the chant with those men."

The chant with those men is the Ramayana Monkey Chant, native to Bali, that my students watched in the film Baraka. When they first saw the monkey chant, they laughed and thought it was "weird". . . in a cultural-superiority kind of way. Then I made them watch it again (and, um, maybe again) and they ventured that it was "sorta cool." Over the course of the year, the monkey chant became cooler and cooler as my kids grew more and more tolerant. If we finished class a few minutes early, I could count on someone asking, "Hey, can we watch the monkey chant?" and the rest of the class responding, "Yeah! Monkey Chant!" Right before any test. . .monkey chant. Somebody's birthday. . .monkey chant. Minutes before their AP exam. . .monkey chant. Last day of school. . .monkey chant. One of my kids even downloaded the chant and set it as the background music on her MySpace page. Dude, the monkey chant ROCKS!

Here's the thing about the monkey chant: it's a small thing. It's certainly not a thing I ever anticipated being a vehicle of tolerance and acceptance. But here's the thing about great love: you can't underestimate it. Teacher who really really wants you to appreciate and respect other cultures + heartfelt cultural ritual that happens to be pretty cool + curious students = great love. It's powerful, that great love, no matter how small the thing.

And, for your enjoyment, the monkey chant:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Warning: this is a rant.

After six years of teaching at a school I absolutely loved in a part of the state I absolutely didn't, I transferred to a part of the state I absolutely love to teach at a school I absolutely don't. The motto of my current school district is "all means all," a pedagogy to which I fully subscribe. It was my adherence to this philosophy that led me to choose my current district over the five or six others in the area. Unfortunately for me, but mostly for the students, "all means all" is a complete and utter crock of shit.

I have just returned from my school's graduation ceremony where the names of the honors graduates, who are predominantly white, were read before the names of the other graduates, who are (you guessed it) predominantly black.

Why stop there? I mean, we offer five different diplomas. Why not call the names of the kids who earned Advanced Studies diplomas first, followed by the names of the Standard diploma kids, then the Tech-Prep diploma kids, then the Vocational diploma kids, and lastly the Special-Ed diploma kids? Maybe at the end we could even give a little shout-out to all the kids who dropped out over the course of their high-school careers once they internalized the message that we just didn't give a fuck about them.

If all means all, you call everybody's name in alphabetical order. You don't segregate kids at their fucking graduation. If all means all you assign your best, most dynamic teachers to teach your weakest kids and let the worksheet queens "teach" the honors kids. If all means all you sure as fuck don't assign the most hated teacher (for good reason) in school to teach a course to students who have already failed it once (or possibly more). If all means all you come to work every day and do your damndest to reach all the kids -- even the kids who aren't yours, even the kids who seem unreachable. Hell, if all really means all you don't even have honors vs. regular classes in the first place.

Okay, that's all. End of rant. I'm going to go smoke a cigarette. Or five.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Report Card

Because I truly value their feedback, I always ask my kids to fill out an anonymous course evaluation at the end of the year. I also always forget that kids who have spent all year asking, "how much is this worth?" before completing any assignment are not likely to devote much time to providing me with detailed constructive criticism if they're not being graded on how constructive that criticism is. Behold:

Q: Did you find this class interesting and/or intellectually challenging? Explain.
It was very challenging to my intellect, which is a rare thing since my intellect is hardly matched by much else.
A: It was not very interesting, but it was challenging because the topic of the class is retarded.

Q: What is the most important thing you learned in this class?
A: Super Size Me!
A: To behave.
A: I don’t know.
A: Patrick is incredibly creepy.
A: Don’t order pizza and have it delivered to class.

Q: If you were the teacher, what type of homework would you assign to help your students understand the textbook readings?
A: Instead of assigning homework at all. Just don’t assign it at all.
A: Not reading the long book, because it was boring and used the words non one (sic) knew.
A: Questions to go along with the unit (PS get a less boring book).

Q: What was the best thing about Human Geography class? Why?
A: The people they made the class so enjoyable. Window side represent!
A: Deforestation.
A: It was always funny.
A: Hanging out in class when you weren’t going crazy.
A: It was a chill environment it wasn’t like AHHHHHHHH all the time it was more like Wheew. . thank God I have AP Geo test… . . OOOOOO OOOO AND DAN that kid was crazy

Q: What was the worst thing about Human Geography class? Why?
A: The topic.
A: Patrick being creepy. (from a different kid)
A: Tests were ridiculous. Why? You tell me.
A: My pet peeve was when you would give out a map and people would cry for the first hour. I mean, hello, it’s a geography class.

Q: What grade do you think you deserve in Human Geography? What grade do you think you’ll get?
A: I absolutely deserve an A. I worked hard and did a darn good job. Alas, I believe I will receive a B because of some error, or miscalculation, or the American government plotting against me. How you could give me a B and sleep at night is beyond my reasoning.
A: I think I deserve an A and I know I’M REALLY CLOSE TO IT BUT I NEED LIKE 0.8 MORE!
A: A “B” please. Probably a C which would really really suck. (hint hint)

Q: What could you have done to be more successful in this class?
A: Actually put your study tips to work.
A: Made more of an effort to actually read the book and not use it for something else like painting nails.

Q: Anything else you want to tell me? Advice? Suggestions? Secrets? Now’s the time.
Ur sweet!
A: Don’t show Super Size Me again. I will never ever enjoy fast food for the rest of my life.
A: Maybe you should call up that guy that was hitting on you in the bookstore.
A: Try not to bore your kids next year.
A: Don’t get too attached to any of your new children. I plan on being your favorite until ’08, at which time you’ll cry and possibly transfer.
A: The tests could have been a bit less out of control on the difficulty meter.
A: Stop snitchin.
A: Maybe just enjoy the pizza next time.
A: Be chill and stop snitchin.
A: Don’t be so anul (sic) all the time.
A: Hell no! Do how you do [my last name here] live on!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

When I was a kid, my dad used to take me and my sister and brother to see the Tidewater Tides (now the Norfolk Tides) play minor league baseball. It was there that I developed a deep and abiding love of baseball and there that my brother, somehow, didn't. (Or maybe he just hates baseball because my dad likes it, I don't know.) Collectively, these Tides games with my dad are some of my fondest childhood memories. I remember how the anticipation would build as I rode to the games in the back of my dad's green VW bug. I remember scampering up to the cheap seats when it began to rain, waiting out the rain under the narrow overhang in the hopes that play would resume, and moving down to the abandoned expensive seats to enjoy the remainder of the game once it finally did. I remember dragging my mom to a game and looking at her like she had fourteen heads when I discovered she'd brought her cross-stitching in case the game got boring (boring?!). I remember bringing my glove (which I had to share with my sister) to the games and praying that I'd catch a foul ball. I remember being terrified that a foul ball might come my way and hit me in the face before I could get the glove up, and that my dad would be disappointed his little girl hadn't been keeping her eye on the ball. I remember seeing Darryl Strawberry (who we later cleverly took to calling Darryl Strawbaby, although I don't remember why. Coke?) play before he became famous. I remember getting lots and lots of promotional Tides and Mets stuff (the Tides are a Mets farm team), including a sweet Tides duffle bag that years later I let my now-baseball-hating brother have.

When I was older and we lived in DC, not Tidewater, I became a die-hard Orioles fan. I cut many a class in college to watch an important game, emailing my understanding professors: "Sorry, I can't make it to class this afternoon -- it's Opening Day. . .the O's might sweep the Yankees. . .it's game four of the ALCS." This lasted for years until Peter Angelos traded away half the team in 2000, scattering my favorite players far and wide. My beloved Mike Mussina willingly defected to the fucking Yankees, Harold Baines went to the White Sox, Mike Bordick to the Mets, and BJ Surhoff to the Braves (he cried when this was announced, and I cried the first time I saw him play for the Braves). Only Cal Ripken, Jr. remained, probably because that bastard Angelos knew he'd be assassinated if he so much of as thought about trading Cal. Even after this shake-up I hung in there through the signing of Albert Belle and the manager-ships of Ray Miller and Mike Hargrove. But it's been years since I really loved the Orioles and years since I've followed baseball religiously. I miss it.

And since I now live a mere five minutes from Harbor Park, home of the first baseball team I ever loved, I feel a Tides game coming on.

A New Kind Of Radicalism

That the Dixie Chicks are still considered radical -- and by such a fluffy, mainstream publication as Time -- for saying three years ago that they were embarrased by the president, a sentiment now shared by the majority of Americans, is disheartening. That they've finally decided to embrace this label and thumb their noses at the country music establishment is pretty damn cool.

Although I'm not a fan of today's popular country music (which, for the most part, is complete musical crap), I've loved the Dixie Chicks since the first time I heard "Wide Open Spaces." I own all their albums, including their latest -- a gutsy and thorough declaration of independence from the vapidity and jingoisim that currently passes for music in Nashville.

I like the new album well enough, but what I really like is that these girls are not fucking around. They've made a conscious decision to create the kind of music they want to create and to speak their minds, regardless of the impact this has on their ability to sell records. Said one of the chicks, "I'd rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do." In other words, "Fuck you if you don't like us. We'd be insulted if you did."

I guess that attitude is pretty radical, and I like the Dixie Chicks more for it. If record sales are any indication, so do a lot of other people. Apparently that following of really cool people isn't as small as they thought.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Socrates Would Not Be Pleased

Although you're not supposed to, I have several favorite students. They are either very much like me or nothing at all like me -- in between students, while generally nice, are somehow not my favorites. One of my favorite students of 2005-2006 is a young lady to whom I often refer as mini-me because, duh, she reminds me of my tenth grade self. In reality, this chick is way cooler than I was in the tenth grade. For example, yesterday she came to school in a t-shirt that said "stop the genoicide in Sudan." When I complimented her on it, she whipped out an order form and explained that she'd had the t-shirt custom made and that she was selling them to, get this, raise money to donate to an organization working to stop the genoicide in Sudan.

If memory serves, the coolest, most activist things I did in the tenth grade were to A) sign a petition at the Earth Day Festival requiring curbside recycling in Virginia Beach (it worked) and B) plant two trees in honor of Arbor Day, one of which died and the other of which is now almost as tall as my parents' beach house (3 stories!). I also vaguely remember being the cause of a major fight between my parents after my dad, a nuclear submariner with the Navy, found out that my mom had been writing monthly checks to Greenpeace to shut me up about the importance of saving the whales. And, if it counts for anything, I totally fell in love with a guy who had long unkempt hair and really really liked Jane's Addiction. But genoicide wasn't even on my radar.

There's a point to all this.

This favorite student of mine stopped by after school yesterday to talk about what she'd just learned in Algebra class:

  1. Global warming doesn't exist. It's just something politicians made up to get votes.
  2. Social norms are not to be questioned.
  3. Jesus is the only true god, and it is important to live by his laws.
  4. Her generation is ruining the world.
  5. Muslims pretty much just torture people.

That must be the "new" math I keep hearing about.

Here's the thing about teaching: I get to talk about global warming, lying politicians, social norms, Jesus, who's ruining the world and how, Islam, and the Geneva Conventions. I'm a Social Studies teacher and, believe it or not, all that shit is in my curriculum. But I don't get to preach, and I tend to err on the side of caution. Oh sure, today I said that nobody at FOX News even knows how to read and I did once claim to be smarter than our current president, but I said those things to make my kids laugh and not to make them believe what I believe.

I don't even necessarily want my kids to believe what I believe, at least not in the way that this Algebra teacher seems to. What I really want is for my kids to think for themselves after examining all sorts of different viewpoints. If they end up believing what I believe, cool. And if they end up thinking FOX News is quality journalism, obviously they're fucking retarded. Okay really, if they end up thinking FOX News is quality journalism, I'm okay with that as long as they've actually thought it through.

Because thinking is pretty much what education is all about. But forcing your beliefs on other people, especially when you're a grown-up and the other people are 15, is not teaching, it's preaching. And although the two words rhyme, they're completely different in spirit. This Algebra preacher has clearly chosen the wrong profession. School is for challenging one's existing views and expanding one's mind. If you want people to remain exactly where they are knowledge-wise, or worse, to accept everything you tell them without thinking, I'm sure there's a nice church nearby. Failing that, you could always apply at FOX News.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Quick! To The (Independent) Bookstore!

If you haven't read any David James Duncan, you're really missing out. An excerpt from the chapter "What Fundamentalists Need For Their Salvation," in his most recent book, God Laughs & Plays:

To allow televangelists or pulpit neocons to claim exclusive ownership of Jesus is to hand that incomparable lover of enemies, prostitutes, foreigners, children, and fishermen over to those who evince no such love. And to cede the word "Christian" to earth-trashing literalists who say "the End is nigh" feels rather like ceding my backyard henhouse to weasels.

In addition to his intelligent and spiritual nonfiction, Duncan also writes beautiful and spiritual fiction. His novel The River Why is one of my all-time favorites, as I may have mentioned once or twice before. If you find yourself wandering around wishing you had an uplifting, enlightening, thought-provoking, funny book to read, grab anything by David James Duncan and you won't be disappointed.

Whose Expectations Are Unreasonable?

As I was walking up to school this morning, I noticed a young lady getting off the bus and was struck by what she’d brought to school to aid her in the pursuit of knowledge: a pencil.

A lone pencil is an interesting statement of one’s expectations for the school day. Arriving at school with nothing but a pencil says, “I’m fairly certain that no one in this building is going to give me anything (handouts or graded papers, for example) worth taking home, so I haven’t brought a backpack or a binder or even a slim folder in which to transport such items. It’s equally unlikely that anyone will ask me to complete an assignment I find meaningful enough to bother with, so I have no need for paper. However, I haven’t given up on them yet. There’s a slim possibility that one of these adults whose job it is to reach me and teach me might say something today of such interest and importance that I’ll want to write down. Thus, this pencil.”

I hope someone inspired her to use that pencil today.

More than likely, though, someone chastised her for being unprepared and tomorrow she’ll come to school with nothing, if she comes at all.

Monday, June 05, 2006

He's A Uniter, Not A Divider

You know things are bad over at Bush, Inc. when they revive a bigoted campaign pledge made in the hopes that the Religious Right would be stupid enough to re-elect them and then promptly abandoned once those hopes were realized. So, that constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage you haven't heard of since the presidential victory dance? It's back.

Of course, a 31% approval rating calls for drastic measures. Nixon resigned, for example. Bush, Inc., though -- in a bold fit of strategery -- is opting for something different. Instead of attempting to determine what exactly has caused 69% of Americans to believe he's doing a crappy job, Bush, Inc. has decided to just keep right on truckin'.

According to a Gallup polll conducted in May, only 50% of Americans support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. 50% may sound like a lot, but it's only half. It's not a majority. It's certainly not the 2/3 majority needed in both Houses of Congress to propose a constitutional amendment, and it's nowhere near the 3/4 majority needed for ratification.

Perhaps this is because at least half the country values the Constitution a bit more than our current president does and recognizes that it is a legal document based on the lofty ideals of justice and equality, and that to write discrimination into that lofty legal document would be just a wee bit contrary to what the Founders had in mind. Or perhaps that 50% realizes the existing 27 amendments to our Constitution were written -- for the most part -- to keep the government out of our personal lives, and that the one time we attempted to bring about social change by amending our Constitution (Amendment XVIII: Prohibition), we decided 14 years later that it was a pretty dumb idea (Amendment XXI: Repeal of Prohibition).

But nevermind that. Here's what Bush, Inc. knows: 1) their constituent base of right wing conservative fundamentalists doesn't like gay marriage, 2) liberals and moderates pretty much do, 3) almost everyone is pissed off about the war (hence the 31% approval rating), 4) a bipartisan anti-Bush movement is not good, 5) same-sex marriage is an issue they can easily manipulate to divide Americans and distract us from the real issues that might cause us to notice what a shitty president we have.

Personally, I think it's a pretty big gamble. Because here's what Bush, Inc. doesn't know: My mom supports same-sex marriage. My mom -- a devout Catholic who has never voted Democrat in her life, who thinks homosexuality is kind of "icky" -- is totally opposed to a ban on same-sex marriage on the grounds that "it's not very nice." And if Bush, Inc. can't get her on board, I think it's safe to assume it can't get 75% of the American public on board.

That doesn't mean I'm not going fight this potential same-sex marriage ban tooth and nail -- believe me, my senators will be hearing from me -- but it does mean that I have more faith in what Senator Jefferson Smith (in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) called "a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness -- and a little lookin' out for the other fella, too" than in the smoke and mirrors of today's Republican party. Because after all, that everyday kindness -- in the form of justice and equality -- is "the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy," according to the idealistic and endearing Mr. Smith.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

People With Whom I Am Currently Irritated

My department chair: Months ago I asked you if I could teach something next year that I'd taught before (US Government -- my passion -- or US History) in addition to what I'm currently teaching (Human Geography) so that I could have at least one period a day where I felt like I knew what the hell I was doing. Instead, you have me teaching World History, a subject I've never taught before. You've made my job harder, not easier.

A cute guy at the grocery store: I thought you were attractive until I noticed you were wearing a Bush-Cheney t-shirt. Are you serious with yourself? There are like ten people on the planet who still like Bush, Inc. enough to admit it, and you're wearing their fucking t-shirt?! In this town?

That guy at the beach today who warned his family to "watch out for the faggots": Are you aware that the f-word is akin to the n-word? Or that just because men are flamboyant doesn't mean they're gay? Or that you're teaching your children to hate people based solely on their sexual orientation? Or that homosexuality is not a communicable disease?

Sigh Of Relief

On behalf of the internets I'd like to welcome my little brother back to the blogosphere, which he abandoned (along with speaking to me) about two weeks ago after we had an argument about baseball, of all things. Little bro' insisted baseball was for pansies and that he (and anyone with two arms) could play major league ball. Big sis, who fucking loves baseball, asked if perhaps little bro' had grown a wee bit too angry and pointed out that he wasn't much fun to be around anymore.

My brother was less than receptive (to put it mildly), but I'm kind of the teacherish motherish make-everything-better type and I love him more than just about anything else in the world -- way more than baseball -- so I persisted, encouraging him to have hope for the future and to see the humor even in bad situations, even though I knew he didn't want to hear it. (And he didn't: "I'm gonna go now because I really have to pee," he said to me. "No you don't, you just don't want to talk to me anymore," I countered. "That's true," he acknowledged, "but I'm gonna go anyway.")

That was two weeks ago, and I've spent most of the last two weeks worrying about him (worrying about shit is my thing). But at long last my brother called me this afternoon just to chat, and then this evening he emailed me the link to his new blog, where I discovered this:

I'll just try to find some kind of humor or hope in all of it 'cause I'm really not that guy that's constantly complaining and bringing everyone down and what not and I think hope is an important thing to hang onto. . . .I'm gonna try and look for some kind of light somewhere and try to not get bogged down along the way.
And that just makes me smile.

There's Nothing Cute About Oppression

Last week one of my colleagues lent me a very cool (from an educational perspective) artifact to use in class: a burqa. My students and I had learned about religous fundamentalism in general -- and its effect on women in particular -- earlier in the year, so the burqa thing was not news to them. As a teacher, I was pretty excited about the burqa, but as a woman it totally creeped me out, and if I thought about it for more than a few seconds that burqa made me angry. Even after seven years of teaching, I still forget that your average high school student is not nearly as nerdy or indignant as I am, so I mistakenly expected my students to feel pretty much the same way upon seeing the burqa.

"You look silly," one kid said. "Is it hot under there?," a bunch of kids asked. "Oooh, take a picture," another kid urged. "You should go knock on Mr. E's door and see what he does," suggested one of my favorite girls, as if it were Halloween. The closest they came to righteous indignation was arriving at this consensus: "Wow, that must suck."

Um, yeah, I think living under a regime that thought so little of you that it attempted to render you invisible by forcing you to cover yourself from head to fingertip to toe, made it illegal for you to receive an education, forbade you from leaving your home unless escorted by a close male relative, stoned you if it thought you'd had sex outside of marriage, and outlawed laughter would be pretty fucking "sucky."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Troubled? Really? That's All You Could Come Up With?

The current president is reportedly "troubled" by the possibility that a group of Marines in Iraq murdered about 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha and then lied about the incident to cover up the massacre. Bush assures us that those involved in the murders will be punished. You know, kind of like the people responsible for torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib or for leaking Valerie Plame's name were punished.

Oh wait.

I'm pretty fucking troubled myself: troubled that this asshole hasn't been impeached yet.