Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Bloody Bad Day

My day began normally enough: I got up at five and did an hour's worth of schoolwork before showering. But then I decided it was absolutely imperative that the bathroom wastebasket be emptied into the kitchen trash between the schoolwork and the showering, and since the kitchen trash was itself almost full I also found it necessary to reach into the can and press down on said trash. Which if I'd remembered the broken juice glass I'd tossed in there yesterday I probably wouldn't have done.

Needless to say, I sliced the shit out of my finger. And needless to say, I yelled, "FUCK!," mostly because it hurt like hell but also because I don't have time for that sort of thing in the morning. I have time for maybe one contingency, and that contingency is usually a line at the copy machine.

"That's probably gonna need stitches," I thought to myself as blood soaked through the tissues I'd grabbed in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Then I got in the shower.

Now, I've never seen Psycho, but I hear tell it contains a bloody shower scene where some chick gets hacked to death, possibly by an axe-murderer. My bathroom probably looked something like that this morning. (Minus the dead chick, of course.) Blood spattered against the shower walls as I washed my hair and oozed over the bar of soap as I washed my person. It swirled around my feet as it made its gory way down the drain, then took up residence on my towels (which, inconveniently, are white). It soaked through bandages and dripped into the sink as I combed my hair and applied my makeup.

Okay, so there was a lot of blood. Need I go on or shall I just skip ahead to the part where I take my bloody self to school to stand in line at the copy machine?


There I was, there I was, there I was IN the copy room.* Actually, I was in my classroom because there wasn't a line at the copier this morning. To be more specific, I was in my classroom with 29 kids, 22 crappy laptops, and one student-centered internet-based lesson plan. (Oh, and one bloody finger.) All of which would have been fine if the internet connection had been working, but it wasn't. I know this because my kids told me 50 billion times.

The first student who attempted to log on to the internet announced, "My internet's broken." This announcement was followed, then repeated, by 28 other similar announcements. One girl even recorded herself saying, "Miss [my last name], the internet isn't working" so she could simply press a key on her computer to replay the message incessantly while I checked connections and tried to figure out why the internet wasn't working. Which I couldn't.

Oh, and if you're thinking my finger had stopped bleeding by this point, you're wrong. Still bleeding. In fact, my finger bled all day and well into the night (I'm just guessing here based on the fact that it's 10:15 and it hasn't quite quit yet). Shortly after lunch (which I was too busy to eat, by the way, and blood loss + no food = bad scene) I and my bloody finger consulted the school nurse. I knew the school nurse couldn't do much for me, but I wanted to know if I needed to go get stitches after school. "Oooooh," the nurse said, grimacing as she examined my wound, "they can't even stitch that. It'll bleed a little for a while. And it will hurt a lot. Take some Tylenol." Then she gave me some gauze and sent me back to my internet-connectionless classroom where my kids were happily engaged in the business of doing nothing.

So. It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that.

*This sentence, while serving as a fine transition, is included for the sole purpose of making my brother laugh. If you're not my brother all those extra "there I was"es probably sound pretty stupid.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It's That Little Souvenir Of A Colorful Year That Makes Me Smile Inside

I haven't talked to my best friend in AGES. Well, okay, it's been maybe a few weeks. But that's pretty much like ages. I miss her.

We've been playing phone tag for the past week and a half and have now gone for so long without talking that neither one of us really wants to call the other unless we have a significant chunk of time to devote to catching up. Sure I could call her right now, but I have papers to grade and she has kids to put to bed, and while we might be able to chat for a few minutes, we'd hang up the phone still feeling like we hadn't talked in ages.

After eighteen years of friendship -- only five of which have been lived in close proximity to each other -- we're used to this. So I'm okay. I'm sure we'll each pour ourselves a glass or five of wine and have a good long talk this weekend. Fortunately I have
The Sundays to tide me over until then.

More than any other band -- save perhaps
Voice of the Beehive -- The Sundays remind me of Nisha. It was Nisha who discovered The Sundays and Nisha who refused to remove them from the tape deck no matter how many times I insisted I needed to hear "There's a Barbarian in the Back of My Car" RIGHT NOW. I swear, we listened to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic until it fell apart.

And although I'm partial to "Hideous Towns" simply because it makes me laugh every time I hear Harriet Wheeler sing sweetly, "Ooh, hideous towns make me throw. . .UP," the much more common "Here's Where the Story Ends" was the only one I could find on YouTube:

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Monday Montage

Here, in the order in which they occurred, are a few stories from my day at school today:

This morning I overheard one kid say to another, "Hey, you got a pencil I can borrow?" The would-be borrowee held one finger aloft as if in deep thought and said, "Hmmm. . .let me check my arsenal of writing," then rummaged around in his backpack until he located a writing utensil.


Last Wednesday I kicked a kid out of class for consistently annoying the shit out of me, to wit: announcing several times a day how pointless he thinks my class is and how much he hates it. Said student then skipped class on both Thursday and Friday and although I can't say I was particularly disappointed by this, I warmly welcomed him back to class today.

"Nice of you to show up," I said sarcastically as he arrived. "Yeah, I thought you could use a break," he replied sheepishly, "I was gonna come on Friday but I figured nah." "What's your problem, anyway?" I asked (but nicely). "Hey, I got no beef with you, [my last name]. You're a cool teacher. You just need to chillax," he answered.

"Chillax," for those of you not quite as down with the cause as I am, is a combination of the terms "chill" and "relax." Oh, and this kid is quite possibly the whitest kid in America.


As I was passing out papers at the end of a class today, I overheard one group of kids discussing whether or not they thought they were going to heaven. This had absolutely nothing to do with what we'd been talking about in class, so I'm not really sure how they got on the subject. But anyway, I was passing out papers and explaining homework and making sure nobody made off with (or "bucked on," in their parlance) any of the crappy laptops we'd been using, so I was distracted.

"Do you think you're going to heaven?" one kid asked me as I passed him a paper. "No," I answered and continued doing my teacher thing. "Why not?!" several kids asked at once. "Because I don't believe in heaven," I explained without really thinking. "Wow. I feel really sorry for you," one girl said angrily, as if my lack of belief was a personal affront. But I think some other kids might have snickered at her, or at least rolled their eyes on my behalf.


We had a department meeting after school to discuss changes -- BIG changes -- we should anticipate for the 07-08 school year. We teachers asked a lot of questions about the how and the why of things and were given very little information in response to those questions. Eventually the administration's liaison lost her patience with us and issued this blanket statement:

"You don't have to be here. If you don't like it, leave."

Hey, newsflash: I've had one foot out the door since the second week of school, you administrative fucksticks. Do you think it's because of the KIDS?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

It's Hard To Be A Fashion Plate When It's 8° Out

I have no idea how to dress for cold weather, so my upcoming visit to Michigan presents a bit of a packing dilemma. Fortunately, I know people who DO know how to dress for cold weather and they've recommended a few Michigan must-haves.

Must-Have #1: Boots

Shortly after Christmas, I stumbled upon these boots at my local Marshall's. They were on clearance for $20. "Whoa! What a bargain!" I thought to myself. I called Chris later and asked if he thought I should get them. "Why would you need boots?" Chris answered, which I took to mean, "I have no intention of ever wanting you to live with me," so I didn't buy them. Because, really, why ELSE would I need boots?

But then later, when I started planning my trip to Michigan, Chris said, "I guess you're gonna need boots, huh?" "Not a problem," I thought, "I will simply return to my friendly neighborhood Marshall's and purchase those boots I saw a few weeks ago. Of course they will still be there, as I live in southeastern Virginia and have not seen more than an inch of snow total in the past two years." And the boots WERE still there when I returned. Better yet, they'd been further marked down to $10. But do you think they had my size? Answer: no.

Neither did any other Marshall's in my area, nor any other Marshall's in my mom's area. Believe me, we checked. I admit I might have even checked a Marshall's or two between my area and my mom's area when I visited last weekend. Nobody has those fuckin' boots.

So this morning I bought some boots online. The exact same boots, in fact. For $84.

Must-Have #2: Flannel-Lined Jeans

Both Lulu and my friend Jess, who's from upstate New York, have sung the praises of flannel-lined jeans. And I could really get into some flannel-lined jeans were it not for the fact that every single pair I've seen for sale looks like this. I mean, call me vain, but I would rather be cold than wear mom jeans.

Must-Have #3: Long Underwear

Here's the problem: I'm not even a very big fan of short underwear, so long underwear's gonna be a tough sell.

And what's the deal? Are you supposed to wear regular underwear and then LONG underwear? AND clothes? Don't you kind of end up looking like the Michelin Man?

I'm not opposed to layering -- it is, in fact, central to my look. But my idea of layering involves a tank top and a deliberately threadbare t-shirt. If it's cold out, I'll throw on a cardigan. So I'm not sure that long johns have a place in my wardrobe. From preliminary online window shopping I know that some companies offer camisoles as part of their long underwear line, and I could definitely rock a camisole, but I'm sort of suspicious of a camisole's ability to actually keep me warm.

Maybe I should just wear TWO threadbare t-shirts.

Will that work, tundra people? And are there other cold weather must-haves I'm overlooking?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Actually, You Have More In Common With King George III

On Monday, our current president celebrated Presidents' Day with a visit to Mount Vernon and a speech that drew parallels between George Washington's presidency and his own. "I feel right at home here. After all, this is the home of the first George W.," Bush quipped.

I've always felt sort of lukewarm about George Washington so this doesn't get me
as fired up as when George Allen used to compare himself to my beloved Jefferson, but it bothers me when people who know better deliberately misrepresent the views of our Founding Fathers for political gain. To be fair to the current George W., he does have a few things in common with the first George W: they share a first name and they've both held the office of US president.

But there the similarities end. For starters, George Washington knew how to put a fucking sentence together. More importantly, he believed in democracy. When presented with the possibility of becoming king of the newly created US, Washington declined: "How irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal & fallacious!" Bush, on the other hand, refused to concede the controversial election of 2000 and isn't particularly troubled by the possibility of despotism: "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

Of course, some dictators are bad, and we're currently engaged in a war whose purpose was to remove an Evil Dictator from power. Bush, who has sent
3150 Americans to their deaths in the Iraq War, never served in the armed forces (unless you count the whole Texas Air National Guard thing, which I certainly don't). Washington experienced war firsthand as commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and later lamented, "My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth." He warned against involvement in foreign wars, and suggested that "overgrown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty."

Overgrown military establishments, however, are Bush's bread and butter, and he's never really concerned himself with pesky little things like liberty or the will of the people. "I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me," he's assured a critical populace.

While Bush came to power as a result of a
lawsuit the Supreme Court decided in his favor, George Washington took office only reluctantly and even tried to refuse his presidential salary. Washington was a contemplative man who deeply valued the principles for which America stood and was concerned with the common good.

"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience," the first George W. once urged -- a bit of advice he might today offer the current George W., whose celestial fire seems to have been all but extinguished by his delusions of grandeur.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Public Service Announcement

I visited my family over the weekend, which mostly involved watching a lot of TV. At one point, a commercial starrring a beaver appeared and startled me for some reason. "What's that rodent doing on our TV?" I asked. "A beaver's not a rodent," my brother responded, "it's a marsupial." Then there were several minutes of debate on the topic until my brother finally said, "Look it up," and waved his hand in the direction of the computer. So I did. And I was right. A beaver is, in fact, not a marsupial (duh). It's a rodent.

But that's not really the point of my story.

In conducting my extensive research (i.e., going to wikipedia and visiting both the beaver page and the marsupial page) I discovered these amazing facts: female marsupials have two vaginas and male marsupials have two-pronged penises!

I just thought you should know.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Five Senses

Those who have ever sat around drinking with me know that if they sit around long enough and refill my glass often enough, eventually I'll ask an annoying question like "if you were stranded on a deserted island with only three CDs, which CDs would you want?" or "if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?" or "if you had to give up one of your five senses, which one would it be?" Really, I'm the life of the party.

The five senses question is, for some reason, one of my favorites. And since nobody really likes answering my questions as much as I do, I've thought about it a lot since I first asked it. Actually, a better question would be, "which of your five senses would you give up LAST?" because it's pretty easy for most people to eliminate a mere one of the five.

Although I love food (and wine!) and would list several foods among my all-time favorite things, taste is the first to go for me, mostly because I can do without it. Sure, I'd miss peaches and hush puppies and
Sweet Water's crab fritters, but not as much as I'd miss all the stuff I love about the other four senses.

And once you're down to four it starts to get tricky. I eliminate sight next. Nobody else, by the way, ever gives up sight this early in the game. I imagine that's a practical consideration, and I agree that it would be pretty inconvenient not to be able to see anything, but I'm also aware that I'm never going to be required to give up one (or more) of my five senses so practicality doesn't really enter into it for me. Impractically speaking, sight is nice for sunsets, which I can do without almost as easily as I can do without peaches.

Keep in mind I don't WANT to give up peaches OR sunsets, but that's sort of the point of the game.

After relinquishing taste and sight I'm left with smell, hearing, and touch. And I'm pretty much screwed -- I NEED those other senses. I know what you're thinking: smell?! This chick gave up sight in order to keep SMELL? but if you'd ever been to the
Outer Banks in October when the olive bushes are in bloom and the whole island smells like heaven, you wouldn't be so quick to give up smell either. Most of our memories are wrapped up in smell, and smell is perhaps my keenest sense. I live by smell.

And I can't give up hearing because I need music. Turning on the radio is the first thing I do in the morning, and the last thing I do before going to bed is to turn it off. I actually get grumpy if I go for very long without music. I can't imagine living without it.

Nor can I do without touch. Although I once knew a girl who gave up touch first without even THINKING about it ("you'd never be cold," she explained), touch is probably the last sense I'd be willing to part with. Sure, you'd never be cold, but you'd never be warm and cozy either. You'd never feel the sand between your toes or the weather-worn planks of the boardwalk under your feet. You'd never feel cool saltwater on hot sunburned skin as you dive into an oncoming wave. I'm not even sure you could feel something as wonderful as buoyancy. Plus, without touch, sex would probably be a drag.

So there you go. Now you know what it's like to have a beer with me.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is It Okay If I Hate Everything Right Now?

And could it have anything to do with the fact that I fucked up my birth control and have been taking two pills a day for the last week?

You Had Me At "Never Should Have Been Authorized"

On Sunday, presidential hopeful Barack Obama criticized the current war in Iraq:

We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged, and to which we now have spent over $400 billion and have seen over 3000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.
On Monday, he apologized:

Even as I said it, I realized I had misspoken.

Misspoken because he doesn't believe it's true or misspoken because he realized that might cost him a few votes?

Because if those 3000 young Americans haven't died for no fucking reason, I don't know who has.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

And You Don't Wanna Mess With Those Goons

If you're looking for something to do on Friday night, why not roll up to Rocky's party?

Of course, if you're the type (as so many are these days) to drag your beef and/or your drama around with you from party to party, you'd best make other Friday night plans. I don't think Rocky's goons are gonna be havin' any of that shit.

You know, I've thrown my fair share of parties. In fact, when I first began teaching, back when I was young and fun, I lived with two other young and fun female colleagues in a house the rest of the faculty -- including our principal -- referred to as "the sorority house" despite the fact that none of had ever even been NEAR a sorority. We threw kick-ass parties, and we often distributed witty little flyers* describing just how kick-ass our parties would be. Never once did we feel the need to admonish our friends to leave the beef/drama at home, yet almost every flyer I find lying around school contains such a warning.

What the hell? Is there some sort of beef/drama epidemic among teenagers today? And really, if you're bound and determined to bring your beef to the party, are you gonna let a bunch of goons stand in your way. Even if they ARE in there tight?

*Can you believe the OED is silent on the subject of flyer vs. flier?!

What Would Howard Zinn Do? or On Tokenism

Yesterday was the seventh consecutive day my students have asked me what we're doing for Black History Month and the seventh day I've wondered, "SHOULD I be doing something?"

My school is predominantly African-American (although my classes aren't) and my students' most common request is to "just have a chill day." A cardinal rule of education (or at least of pre-NCLB education) is that if your students drop their guard long enough to express a desire to learn about something, you damn sure better teach them about that something.

One of my Social Studies colleagues is highlighting a notable African-American at the beginning of each of his classes throughout February. The English department is promoting a campaign to abolish the "N" word. But __________ History Month is an approach to the study of History I have long abhorred, and I'm particularly averse to teaching Black History to black kids in this manner.

It's worth noting at this point that I am not black. I'm white, in fact, and I'm not sure how my race affects my position on Black History Month. The story I've always been told as a student of History is, in large part, a story of my people -- white people. But the stories that have always resonated with me, touched me, and made me CARE about History are the stories of oppressed people, even though I have never been the least bit oppressed.

These are the stories I tell as a teacher. Yesterday's class made no mention of Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman, or the Tuskegee Airmen, but my course deals (on a regular basis) with all sorts of issues related to the marginalization of minorities. In the past week I've discussed ghettoes, government policies that perpetuate poverty, Brown v. Board, and gerrymandering.

I like to think that my treatment of students, my commitment to teaching all of them, and my emphasis on injustice mean that I am, in a sense, doing Black History every day. I mean, isn't it more important that Black kids receive quality instruction on meaningful and relevant topics throughout the year than that for one month they learn about the first African-American senator/astronaut/nobel laureate/doctor/whatever?

Of course, I live in a city with more institutional racism than you can shake a stick at, so it might actually be important to do both. It's just that the latter approach smacks of tokenism to me. I get why we have Black History Month, but wouldn't it be nice if we didn't NEED it?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Semester Of The Bitch

Classroom management has never been my strong suit. I kinda suck at it, in fact. It's a tough thing to be good at when you're the sort of person who thinks rules are stupid. I mean, "don't talk while other people are talking" is a pretty reasonable rule, but "no hats, caps, coats, do-rags, cell phones, pagers, iPods, or other electronic devices" is not something I can really get behind. Ditto on no eating in class, and double ditto on not being allowed to go to your locker or meet with your guidance counselor during the school day. A student (not mine) visiting my class last year observed, "Wow, you run a pretty loose ship here."

The thing about kids, though, is that if you don't enforce the stupid rules, they don't understand when you try to enforce the reasonable rules. And they walk all over you, which is a hell of a lot more annoying than having to enforce stupid rules.

I reached my breaking point last week as my kids wandered aimlessly around the classroom after finishing their mid-term in record time. "I let you kids [alert! alert! old person talking!] break all kinds of rules!" I yelled, "Half of you are listening to your iPods and the other half of you are eating ridiculously unhealthy snacks! All I ask is that you sit the eff down! What the eff is so effing hard about that?!" They sat down, but they didn't look like they'd stay there for long. They looked like they thought I might be a little bit crazy. And I've explained to them, calmly and reasonably, why I need them to sit down. They're all taller than me, and when they all stand up and clump together I can't see what sort of mischief they're getting into.

So I've mentally declared this semester, which began on Monday, the semester of the bitch. I stole this concept from my friend Eileen, who was once overheard saying sympathetically to a (high school) student, "Oh sweetie, you can't bring a knife to school," and who shortly thereafter announced that the upcoming school year would be the year of the bitch. Neither one of us can really pull off the whole bitch thing, and Eileen's year of the bitch was pretty un-bitchy (although she did tighten up her knife policy a bit).

My semester of the bitch is shaping up quite nicely, however. I've already kicked two students out of class -- one for saying "what the fuck is this shit?" in response to my introduction of a writing assignment (Come ON. Even *I* don't say the f-word in class.) and another for pointing out that in addition to persecuting Jews, the Nazis were also not big fans of "fags" (an f-word that makes me so angry I can barely think straight). I've responded to numerous queries of, "Wait. What are we supposed to be doing?" with the very bitchy, "Ask someone who was listening." I've refused repeated requests for bathroom passes from a kid whose last authorized trip to the bathroom took him nowhere near the bathroom (according to my spies) and lasted 40 minutes. "If it was an emergency would you let me go?" he asked. "No," I said, "sit down." I'm a bitch like that.

And today, when the first real snow of the season began to fall around 1:00 and my kids went crazy with glee, I simply lowered the blinds and continued ranting about the plight of refugees. The kids whined and cried and promised to pay attention if only I would open the blinds back up a LITTLE bit. And even though I was once a kid too, even though I had just moments ago whispered excitedly to my TA that it was snowing, even though I would have liked nothing more than to pause for a few moments and watch that snow flutter to the ground, I resisted.

"Have you no soul?!" one of my favorite students wailed.

Hey, it's the semester of the bitch, baby.

PS artwork courtesy of my students.