Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lesson 2010. Should auld acquaintance...

Today one of my inspirations and facebook friends told me not to worry or feel guilty and to focus on happy. He said I deserved good things.
So Paulo Coehlo, this list is for you.

My 2010 good things (in no particular order):
-ran in my first 8+miler, 10k, and whooped some butt (finally) in a 5k
-crossed the brooklyn bridge!
-spent a day pretending Hogwarts was real... and in Florida
-watched the sunrise in Georgia
-went to a multitude of terrific plays with my mom and Aunt Sue
-celebrated as Chris finally found a job that fits
-whooped it up as Portia has started to re-grow toenails
-introduced Cait to Disneyworld and finally ate in Mexico
-discovered 5 hour energy drink
-was a nominee for the Princeton secondary education teachers
-ate a whole lobster
-danced a reel in a centuries old New England inn
-wore a bikini in public!
-finally got more of Chris's family to enjoy the cabin
-enjoyed 5 years of marriage and 10 years as a couple
-saw Ben Folds for the first time in 10 years and felt like it never changed
-had the perfect city day with Chris (Harry, Wintuk, and Max Brenners)
-loved a trip to DC (and discovered DC loves cupcakes as much as I do)
-finished German year 1
-realized the makers of Lost like C.S.Lewis as much as I do
-read a great many books I like (I think Geraldine Brooks is great and that everyone should read Persepolis) and only one that I hated (Pillars of the Earth? More like Pillars of Poop)
-was blessed to have good friends, good family, and good health

It was a happy old year.
Happy new year!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lesson 19: Why I Hate the Puritans

Oddly the reasons why I hate the Puritans have little to do with witch hunts, sermons about spiders, or even, mission style furniture (which, secretly, I love).

It's their damned "Early to bed, early to rise" crap.

The damned Puritan Work Ethic.

I'm sick of it.

This Ye Olden Work Ethic has stressed out my holidays, guilted my vacations, and currently is loading up my weekends.

I was raised on the get it done, make it work mentality.

I was raised feeling like it was bad to take mental health days.

I know it's not just the Puritans. My mom went to work at a time when so many around her judged her for not being a stay at home mom and when others judged her for her ability to keep up with the boys. As a result she has always worked. Weekends. Holidays. Nights, even when she got home from a long day of work. And during tax season? From January until April. As in, every waking second from January to April. I still can't fathom how she had both a February and April baby. I can't imagine her taking off from work long enough to go into labor.
My dad did not have quite so many societal issues but he wanted to make a name for himself. And wanted to buy a nice house. And pay for his kid's education (yay!). So he worked one job, and taught nights.
And when we vacationed? We listened to classic literature on the way up, were up with the sun each day, and many of our touristy activities were learning moments.

I was raised with the notion that work=life.

I still do this. I make vacation To Do lists and feel guilty any day that I am not grading papers.I don't even (really) like to sleep late. Any time after 9 and I feel like I wasted the day.

But I am learning to work on this. For once teaching The Stranger with his keep moving forwards mentality did not depress me.

And for once I will admit that one of the reasons I am a teacher is for summer. I think working 51 weeks out of the year is for suckers. I will admit that working 10 months is more than enough to keep me feeling fulfilled and like I am making a difference in the world.

And my new theme song for this...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lesson 18. On Family, Moving Out, and Moving on.

I live with my parents.

What began as a small move, to enable Chris and I to go on our tour of Europe without paying exorbitant rent on top of exorbitant hotel bills, has turned into a lifestyle of sorts.

We actually find it suits us.

But we feel guilty about it, and I am not certain why.

I feel in so many ways like it has been only since I got a little older that I appreciate my parents. I understand how cheeky I was as a teenager and no longer want to fight about playing my music loudly at bedtime or cleaning up after myself. And since the near constant struggle to find myself has been replaced with an attempt to be myself (and maybe like myself) I think they find it easier to anticipate my reactions to normal queries. Which makes things easier.

But I know that I am not supposed to be here. And I am not supposed to be okay with this.

It's weird but it makes me think of Mrs. Bennett. Striving her whole life to get her daughters married and then crying when they leave her.

When I first told my parents I was getting married, my mom did not respond well. She was more or less concerned that just as we were starting to get along, I was going to leave her and never come back.

Now, instead, I think when the time finally comes, she will realize that we will survive the separation.

And for now, we will enjoy our movie nights and arguments over the menu.

And when people ask me why we live with them, I will continue to tell that that it's "to take care of them" while secretly knowing that there is something special to being as ancient as I am and still having people take care of me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lesson 17: Not with a bang, but with a whimper

Chris wanted me to try out this new type of presentation (called prezi).

Because of this, I spent a lot more time this week with TS Eliot than I ordinarily would have.

We bonded.

We argued.

An he got me to consider rereading Heart of Darkness. Because maybe, just maybe 17 year old me missed something.

But mostly, Eliot just made me sad.

I can deal with idiots full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Idiots have bang.

What I can't deal with is the whimper.

I want Eliot to hang out with Thomas and his dying father. I am all about raging.

But whimpering?

Not for me.

So when only one of my students got mad at the poem, I got sad again.

The majority sat there saying - this is true. this is inevitable. we can't stop this.

But one student just said - this is stupid.

And it's weird, because I know that academia and the world of intellectualism scoffs at comments like that.

Especially comments like that about Eliot.

And they sneer and say things about opiates of the masses or the unbelievable naivete of youth.

But I thought he was BANG on.

I think I prefer Whitman.

All of his YAWPING and celebrating self, strutting his grey beard down Manhattan.

I prefer him.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lesson 16: Soup's On!

Eventually, I suppose, it all comes down to soup.

Physically - I have always figured that soup is the stuff of leftovers. Last night I had to use some of the refrigerator overflow (the cabin had been shut down for the winter and we brought food home). Potatoes. Celery. Carrots.

AKA... soup.

In fiction - Alice's Adventure In Wonderland comes to mind. I always loved the mock turtle, but never more than when he was played by Gene Wilder. I loved how melancholy and absurd he is.

And I always loved the stories of Stone Soup. I like to think it's what my mom always meant when she said we were having boiled rocks for dinner. I like the idea of the rock "just needing a little..." to make it into soup. I loved liking the "bad guy" - the con man with only a rock and a story.

And the Dodge Poetry fest this year seemed to be all about soup - despite it's sunniness. Aimee Nezhukumatathil's "Fugu Soup" was a favorite. She was a general favorite.

And in the kitchen.

I think it's fairly widely established that I am no great cook. I can bake well, and I am terrific at breakfast, but "real food?"

No way.

I make reservations. I grab takeout.

As I am writing this, Chris is happily in the kitchen making quesadillas. They will come out wonderfully. I am certain that I would still be able to screw these up, easy as they are.

But I am good at soup. And I like to think that soup is important.

Soup makes your esophagus and belly warm.

You can't rush eating soup (at least, not my chunky soup).

Soup keeps the storm outside outside.

And it's hard to screw up soup. If it's too salty, I can add something. Too bland, I have a remedy.

And I beg you to look at people on the next cold and blustery day when they get soup. When their hands cradle the mug or bowl, there is a look of calm expectation.

Just because of soup.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lesson 15. Aesop=liar

I have decided that - although I am mightily proud of myself for finishing my 10k - I think I have the need to address a whole bunch of dirty lies that have been spread by some typically trustworthy individuals.

Aesop - you and your stupid slow turtle can go to hell.

And you, the little I think I can Engine, you can join them.

In fact, let's wrap up all the rags to riches, sweepers to princesses, and especially nerds to super athlete stories and thrown them in the rubbish bin.

Slow and steady wins the race???

Are you for serious?

No. The truth of the matter is that the rabbit always wins.

I don't know if it is nature or nurture, but that darn rabbit is just going to win against the stupid turtle. Frankly, it's an unfair setup.

This does not mean that the turtle has not done a brilliant job.

But a turtle is a turtle.

Slow and steady will place the turtle at the finish line, perhaps before the snails, sloths and the molasses, but definitely behind the rabbits, gazelles, and other faster land creatures.

I am all for self-improvement and self-empowerment, but I think before my next race, I have to ignore Aesop and try the rabbit on for size.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lesson 14. When people say, it's not you, it's me...

... it's really you.

We watched The Wolfman this weekend.

Anthony (sorry... Sir Anthony) Hopkins.
Emily Blunt.
Benecio del Toro (reason enough to watch).

Unsurprisingly, Hopkins turned out to be... wait for it ... an evil Wolfman.

And once people found out... how quick they were to backpedal out of there, assuring him that it was not him, it was them.


They did not want to be eaten.

Plus he was a lousy housekeeper.

I mean, terrible. Dude should've dusted.

Some of my classes at school have become ... unpopular.
Basically kids are dropping like flies.

And while I am being told the beginner of all breakups (It's not you...) I can't help but think, is it me?

Be it my Freudian transference, my underdeveloped self conscious, my professional desire for likability, I wonder.

But... JayZ still being my monthly inspiration (and first song on my 10k running playlist), I'm gonna opt to dust that dirt off my shoulders.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lesson 13. Kill 'em with kindness.

I'm starting to think that Hamlet could have been more successful if - instead of acting all cuckoo for cocoa puffs - he just acted really grateful and sweet.

It would've driven Claudius nuts.

I mean it. I am a woman with so much Catholic guilt it often eeks out my ears.

If I did something naughty like Claudius, Hamlet being kind to me would drive me bonkers. Likely to my own confession.

No bloodshed.
No pirates.
No sad Horatio at the end and Ophelia in the water.

Lately, my mother has had to deal with a woman who - for much of her adult life - has been nothing but a thorn in her side.

A twisty jabbing awful thorn in your side.

That oozes.

And pusses.

And somehow always opens up on what should be good times.

And my mother... she should be sainted.

She is the very definition of grace and sweetness.

And not only does she win in the end, because grace and sweetness leave only positive karma, but everyone else is left scratching their heads and wishing they could make the comments that they had saved for this very instance.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lesson 12. Brush that dirt off your shoulder.

Tomorrow is (predominantly) old school rap day.

And if there is one thing that I have learned from Jay Z, Eminem, and countless others, it's optimism.

I think part of me may mean this.

My earliest encounters with rap were Will Smith and the Beastie Boys.
I learned that I could go from being in West Philly relaxin all cool to being living large in Bel Air.
I learned that even the biggest geek could rename himself, mix in some bravado, and become Ad-Rock.

It's like rags to riches and Polyanna all wrapped into an urban, sometimes violent, often misogynistic package.

Basically, I am thinking that my (secret) love of (some) rap allows me to ignore bad things, bop my head a little while running, and to fall for mesmerizing, tantalizing, captivating, and devastating lyrics.

I'm definitely not saying that this lady is a pimp too... but there is something nice about the idea of leaving the dust of the day behind and to pat oneself on the back for mad flow.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lesson 11. Me and Edmund Dantes.

What I learned from my billions of experiences with The Count of Monte Cristo is as follows.

Living well is the best revenge.

I know. I know.

The moral is supposed to be: God will give me justice.

But what I have learned is that Edmund got lots and lots of education, money, and prestige by being cranky.

Once he had these, he was able to make the people who hurt him pay.

And he got the bonus of an amusing sidekick, a beautiful wife, a kid without having to deal with pregnancy or the terrible twos.

Edmund won.

Now, I do not have a list of people on whom I want to seek revenge.

No one has stolen my love, my identity, or really much more than a bunch of cds (yes, back in the day when we had cds).

But this living well idea sounds fabulous.

So when I run, I look at houses I could live well in.

There is one, on the hill, that has - over the years - become my dream house.

It's the one that I tell Chris I want to Monte Cristo (drive up and buy it with a cart full of gold and jewels).

And now it's for sale!

The catch? It's 1.5 million dollars.

Not even I knew I had planned on living quite so good.

But don't worry. I have a plan.

By tomorrow, you will be able to name 2 lottery winners. Hurley... and me!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lesson 10. It's not the heat; it's the humidity.

"When writers send characters south, it's so they can run amok" (Foster 171).

Foster's right - generally.

Heat is associated with loose morals, loose women, and loose tax laws.

I can't tell you how many books I have read where there is a life changing event in Mexico.

Because, in Mexico... anything is possible?

Why? Because it's hot.

And for some reason, we associate heat with relaxed atmospheres and less than Puritanical belief sets.

Which, I guess, when it comes to fiestas and siestas is true.

But it is weird... because when the heat comes North...

to say a classroom in North NJ...

that is over 98 degrees on the first day...

well, there is no passion, flavor, or flare.

There is just sweat and whining.

I don't know if I ever really understood this whole south-amok thing.
When I get hot, I get sleepy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lesson 9: You can/cannot go back again

Literature and others are filled with homecomings.

They love them.

Think of Odysseus and Penelope.

Or... more importantly, think of Desmond and Penny.

Ok. Now just think of Desmond.

I think I am losing my focus.
The point is that literature loves a homecoming.

My question is: do I?

I am beginning to think that there is no such thing as a true homecoming.

I think (if I am getting my Greeks right) that Heraclitus said that a person cannot stand in the same river twice.

(I checked - this Geek knows her Greeks).

Last week, I went to Rutgers to show my sister-in-law around. While crossing the bridge from Cook to Douglass, I was glad that I had gone there, and missed my experiences, but I knew if I returned - even if for a phD - it would not be the same.

Predominantly because I am not the same. I look back and so much and wonder why.

Usually, why was I worried or upset or freaking out...

and look back at other things and wished I still had the guts (I went into a crowded dining hall dressed as a fairy to get people to go see a play? What was I thinking?).

And now, on Beginning of School Eve Eve (tomorrow teachers, Thursday the world!!!.... or at least, students), I am sad because even if my posters are the same (mostly) or my setup is the same, or even if my plans are the same (rarely), it will inevitably not be the same.

I can try for the same jokes or be the same person, but... each year it's different.

Frankly, even if I teach two of the same class in a year, the experience is always different.

And so, while it is a homecoming of sorts, and while I may make sarcastic comments through yet another homecoming pep rally, it is not quite like going home.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lesson 8. On Shin splints and recoveries.

So last week I hurt my leg running.

And I don't know if until this I realized what a connection running had on both my happiness and my self esteem.

Simply put - I need it.
I feel like a gelatinous blob without it.
I miss it desperately.

Despite that typically on a hot summer day, I don't exactly look forward to my miles.


since I am clumsy and hurt my shin, I've been on over a week off. And when I get back to running tomorrow (hopefully) it will have to be on the track.

That's right.

Circle after circle of boredom.

Which isn't fair.

Movies and television have taught me that the world loves an athlete. When they get hurt - like Chester from Invictus - they might triumphant and exciting comebacks.

They win games.

Break the ribbon at runs.

People cheer.

Instead, I will hobble along a track and pray to dear deity that the high school teams will not pick that time to practice.

(note: I almost wrote rehearse instead of practice. I guess I'm not the athlete I was faking to be.)

I think the most disappointing thing for me is that movies have taught me that underdogs typically win, and that injured underdogs do great.

But I suspect that I will be pathetically slow and woefully steady.
And while Aesop believes that's the real trick, we all know that in reality, the rabbit actually wins.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lesson 7. On the Renaissance.

In honor of today's trip to the NY Renaissance Faire, I have decided to compile everything literature et al have taught me about the renaissance.

Sources include, but are not limited to:
Monty Python, The Sword in the Stone, Le Morte D'Arthur. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kyd, Middleton, Phillipa Gregory, Geraldine Brooks, the Tudors

The Renaissance were a bawdy time.

In America, we were more or less taught that - until the 1960's - all people acted like a mix of Puritans and Queen Victoria. And not Arthur Miller's sleeping around and asking for forgiveness later Puritans. We're talking dunk her in the water because she lives alone Puritans.

You know. The mean ones.

But... if literature et al serve me correctly, apparently all the wenches were willing and every knight had an invisible dwarf keeping the skeletons in his closet company.

And I'm pretty sure everyone in the Renaissance were open sexually. Shakespeare, check. Anne Boleyn? Wasn't there that rumor about her and her brother?

In the Renaissance, peasants had bad teeth, but gentry (and a few ready-to-rumble farmer's daughters) had impeccable teeth and great skin.

Except for those who died by pox.

Which was terrible.

But not as much as the plague.

And the women in the Renaissance? They were more Mary Mags than BVMs. But everyone listened to them.

And adored them.

Wrote them sonnets.

Put them on a pedestal while valuing their input.

Double-entendre intentional.

Those women at court were manipulative and basically ran the country because the boys just wanted to hunt, fight, and have sex.

And they all spoke the most beautiful formal English.

And knew myths, the Bible, the classics, while being for the most part illiterate.

And they were all Catholic. Except Shylock and Othello.

More later...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lesson 6. I'm really lucky.

This is probably the biggest thing I have learned from Literature and others.

I am really lucky.

I could've been born into a family with two wicked stepsisters, a crazy stepmother who has textbook narcissism, or a grandmother who would send me into the woods by myself when there's dangerous critters afoot.

I could've been born in the Sudan during the 80's, to a poor Nepalese family during a drought, or in Afghanistan in the 90's.

I could've met my true love only to poison myself within 24 hours, went mad because my dearest killed my daddy, or been burst into flames because I made someone mad at prom.

This summer a great many of the books I have read have been "thank God that didn't happen to me books" which is a major change from my adoration of fantasy - the "why can't this happen to me, God?" genre.

And yet in the weirdest way, all these survival stories leave me wishing I had their drive, their hutzpah, their abilities.

And at the same time, I sit back on the IKEA couch where I read and hope that I learn something.

Maybe become more anti-material. Anti-head-in-the-sand.

At least more aware of how lucky I am to do simple things. Leave my country without worries. Drink tap water. Have a job.

Write a blog...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lesson 5. Size matters.

Today's lesson is brought to us by Shakespeare.

Brevity [often] is the sole of wit.

So I have been trying, and not for the first time, to read Dostoevsky.

And once again I am finding myself having my Dickens-complex.

Or at least, symptoms of my Dickens-complex (See note).

I simply cannot get through it.

I've tried The Brothers Karamazov. Notes from the Underground. Selected short stories.

And I get bogged down.

I mean, Fyoder - what were you thinking? A 67 page short story? That's a short novella.

I can do long. Elliot's Middlemarch? Loved it. Lord of the Rings? Once I skipped the Tom Bombadil section.

It's just something about Dostoevsky. Maybe it's the long names. I dunno.


Allow me to define the dreaded D-C (or c-d-c, if you want to be formal with old Chuck).

I know that I like Charles Dickens.

I will watch any Dickens based film any time of the year. They make me think of Christmas

Frankly, I like Dickensian times. Not the epidemics, labor conditions, or rigid social castes. But the outfits, party games, parlors, and country dances.

But when I sit with my annual Dickens attempt, I often find myself finding other things to do or getting stuck after page 30. Why 30? I don't know.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lesson 4. On English Teachers

I am avoiding writing AP handouts (on the joys of close reading).

I am a phenomenal procrastinator. I clean. I cook. I exercise.

And eventually, I put on the tv (my favorite!).

This time, what do I see? An ad for Easy A.

Basic plot: Girl fakes having sex with unpopular boys to gain some notoriety but winds up brandished a la Scarlet Letter for her sins.

Of course, it has the quintessential English teacher in it.

All high school movies have the quintessential English teacher in them.

Even Boy Meets World, Gilmore Girls and Saved By the Bell had them.

Never Been Kissed? Check. Dangerous Minds? Check. Dead Poets's Society? Check. The Emperor's Club? Check. Renaissance Man? Check. Freedom Writers? Check. 10 Things I Hate About You? Check.

What did they have in common?

Great clothes. No teacher could afford them. No teacher could spend a day in those heels. Or afford those outfits. And the perfect hair and makeup? Do they not get up at 5:30 like I do?

Great classrooms. Practically auditoriums. Bright and beautiful. Hip and fun. With busts of Old Bill standard.

Great students. Their lessons were always something out of a college English classroom. Clearly these kids have no trouble with writing or spelling or vocabulary. And all of them do their homework and understand Shakespeare. They are beyond Shakespeare. They have been writing sonnets since age 6 for fun. These teachers can ask tough questions and not worry about an "I don't get it."

Great curriculums. And by great, I mean non-existent.

I worry sometimes that this could be at least partially why I became an English teacher (because it certainly wasn't my long love affair with grammar, which is nonexistent).

And what do these images tell me time and time again?

Kids love English.

Screenwriters especially.

If I am not reaching the kids, it is because I am neither hip enough nor fun enough. I should rap or throw away the curriculum and let the kids do what inspires them. This is where the greatness and self-motivation will come in.

And, at the end of my day, I should hop into my ultrahip convertible, or on my even cooler motorcycle, drive to my local beatnik hangout, and sip coffee.

Though, at least - admittedly - an English teacher gets more love than a language teacher. Those are always shown as being a little nuts. Or maybe that is just Clueless talking.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

lesson 3. Armageddon...

This lesson is on the future - and how scary it will be.

It is sponsored by Atwood, Orwell, McCarthy, Golding, Ridley, and Ishiguru.

Who all seem to believe despite REM's optimistic "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)" that... we're all more or less headed down the toilet.

I don't need any time machine. I have seen the future.

And damn... it's bleak!

I am already stockpiling my cupboards with Coke, Cocoa, spam and tuna (so I don't have to resort immediately to cannibalism, thank you The Road).

I might also buy a whole lot of freezedried food (Bladerunner) and spiffy jumpsuits in a variety of colors to enable me to pose as a variety of society's echelons.

I will guard my loins against injections, rejections, and inspections, wear tinfoil on my head against radiations, and keep my eyes down so as not to raise suspicions.

And I will constantly be on the lookout for orphans.

Why? If Harry Potter and Meet the Robinsons have taught me anything, it's that if we want to end tyranny and pollution, we need a bright young orphan.

And if Zombieland has taught me anything, I should prepare to nut up or shut up.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lesson 2. Regarding mothers. Part 1.

This lesson, I suspect, will be a long one.

We will start with the simplest.

Moms. Don't sleep with them.

That means you Oedipus.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lesson 1: on Orphans

I think literature and the movies have taught me all I need to know about orphans and orphanages.

For example:

Orphanages are largely either horribly nasty places (Annie, Despicable Me, The Kite Runner) or are filled with horrible nasty people (ie, Tom Riddle, the General (Assef)).

In every orphanage there is one clear "best" orphan (Oliver Twist, Annie, Jane) who is so precocious and talented (Margo, Edith, and Agnes; Harry; Lewis from Meet the Robinsons) and so adorable (all of the above) that this chosen orphan will eventually have a dream life far superior to those non-orphaned around them.

Also, it is exceptionally easy to adopt. Even supervillains can do it.


Books, movies, and even really good albums have taught a great deal about the art of the introduction.

Anyone who has immersed herself into the epic introduction to Star Wars (sorry, but Lucas had me from the first blare of John Williams's soundtrack), puzzled over the boy under the stairs, or wondered why we should care that mother is dead (and why, more importantly, narrator does not), knows about introductions.

My introduction will be simple and expository.

As a human, I am fortunate to have one or two things at which I am good. Namely, I am pretty good at analyzing literature and pop culture.

In fact, my latchkey heart (both parents worked) might suggest that I was at least marginally raised by my library and my television.

[Fortunately for the whole world, my other influences were less nefarious.]

So the purpose of this blog is to help me to determine what exactly these things have taught me.

And, I guess, to share them.