Saturday, March 18, 2017

Spring Comes Again

I haven't written in five months, almost to the day.  It feels in a very real way like I've been dead or sleeping since October.

Something huge happened with a member of my family's health, and without even meaning to, I somehow shut down all the non-essential functions.  I was like a tree when the winter came.  I dropped my leaves and pulled inside myself to ride out the season.

The last big part of what was going on ended this week, and even though there are still many things we know are coming and other things that may develop, it's as if I felt the world shift again, all those things that had gone out-of-balance slipping back into place.

This week, I cleaned my house.  I took care of online tasks I had let go for ages.  I replaced several items that had gotten so damaged that they no longer functioned.  In short, spring has come, and the world is full of green again.

Everything got put on hold except the absolutely necessary. Life had been a cycle of work-home-sleep-repeat.  I've neglected everybody terribly.  I have had one conversation I am more or less ashamed of and will have to set right.

Wilco said it best:

How can I warn you when my tongue turns to dust like we've discussed?
It doesn't mean that I don't care
It means I'm partially there
You're gonna need to be patient with me

How I hope people, especially those I love, will continue to be.

Friday, October 07, 2016

October Light

It's a Friday in October, and I'm sitting in my car.  I just got home, but as is usually the case, I need just a minute to transition from "work responsibilities" to "home responsibilities." 

The light is this special shade of gold that only ever happens in October.  I don't know why it should be so, but October afternoon light has captivated me since childhood.  It makes me feel like I should be getting ready to go to a carnival or something.  Just seeing it shimmering through the leaves lifts my tired heart.

This gold light is the color of the sky in the dreams I remember, the dreams that speak to me.  Maybe it's the color of the sky in some other world altogether that is only revealed on October afternoons and behind closed eyes.

Or maybe I just need to get out of the car and go in now....

Sunday, September 11, 2016

That Moment When....

...this wonderfully odd little song comes up in my Spotify playlist, and my very first thought is, "Gotta share that with ____."  Only we don't do that anymore, so I can't.

Bit of crap, that......

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The End of Week 1

My first week as a teacher at my new/old school is done.  It fairly flew by.  I'm tired, but not the bone-weary exhaustion I have felt, not the "and-I-have-to-do-this-again-how-long?" that I've known before.  My co-workers are so tremendously helpful and welcoming, the students are well-behaved (for the most part), and constant little drops of happiness (treats in the lounge, a free shirt, jeans on Friday, a goodie bag from a student organization) keep coming along.

The little details, in fact, keep blowing me away.  The food in the cafeteria is genuinely good, and there is always enough of it.  There are several choices for entrees, lovely vegetables all the time, ice cream and ice-cold bottled water in a cooler at the register.  Nobody winds up with quickly-reheated chicken patties and corn.  I heard a student in line say, in fact, "Yeah, my mom always packs me a lunch, but sometimes that's not so good, so I always get a tray."  It's quiet enough to have a normal conversation in the cafeteria.  My head doesn't pound because of the noise.

I'm starting to stop looking for the other shoe, but I can't quite let go of the fear that it is going to drop at some point.  I don't know how long I will keep subconsciously waiting for that thud that means some hidden cray-cray is coming out of the closet.  I know I can't keep living like that, though, always looking over my shoulder, so deliberately, I'm trying to focus on all the good.

Part of me misses my old home for so long, too.  I sort of miss the view out of my second-floor windows and those long, comforting, red-brick halls.  I wonder how my newspaper staff is getting on.  I worry about my teacher friends left behind there.  I hope that things are somehow managing to change for the better for them, too.

For the most part, though, the relief of not having to be in that environment of stress is nearly overwhelming.  I get up in the morning, and I don't dread the day. When I reach my planning period, I get things done or visit with one of my fellow teachers.  I don't have to just sit behind my desk for awhile and try to get myself together for the rest of the day.   And while I have mostly kept my rule about school work being done at school and home being about home, I will admit that I sat here the past two nights slicing open tennis balls that someone donated to me so I could put them on the bottoms of my desk legs next week to silence the noise of desk movement.  I felt good about doing it, too.

I also had enough time and energy to find a new lesson plan template and beat it into submission.  It was enjoyable to do stuff like that again in a way that the vast majority of things related to education had not been for me in longer than I care to contemplate.  I actually did it before they were due instead of putting it off needlessly as a form of avoidance of something that was frustrating and that I could not change. This time, I didn't feel angry when I worked on the lesson plans because they didn't have to be filled with random glittery bits of edutrendiness that had been culled from some seminar someone had been to or had seen online.  They're set up my way for my classes, are easily adaptable, are actually legitimately reusable since they're in Excel (not my favorite thing, but very good for this sort of document as it turns out).  I'm going to be able to print them off and use all of them, not just have pages and pages of stuff I have to shuffle through to get to the useful bits.  It's deeply satisfying to have my plans be a tool to run my class again and not something hijacked for another purpose.

Next week will be a much more accurate sample of what everything is actually going to be like.  All the new will be worn off, and everyone will be settling in to their regular behaviors.  That hovering shoe might be about to make its appearance known.  Or not.  I'm going to try to be so busy being happy and making things good for my students that I don't notice one way or the other.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Edge of Something

Tomorrow, I'll go to school for the first of the obligatory teacher days, something that happens at the beginning of every new school year.  It won't, however, be just another year.  It's the start of the first year at a new school.

Usually at this time, I have acid in my stomach and a headache on the horizon, worried about whatever new challenges and assignments were going to be waiting on me, dreading the hours of meetings that served little purpose.  This time, though, I'm actually looking forward to all of it.

That feeling of optimism has been missing for longer than I care to consider.  I have always been ready to see the students again, but to be honest, for about the last three years, the other parts of going back ground me down a little more each time.

This year, something is different.  Someone asked me the other day if I were ready to go back, and, with a big silly grin on my face, I said, "Actually, yes."  I may be the only teacher in the history of time who has said that, and at the end of the day tomorrow, I may feel like I have been run over by a bus, but for now, here on the edge of something, I am hopeful.

And that's everything.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Insomnia and Facebook Hate

(Strong language is contained herein.  If that bothers you, go elsewhere.)

I wasn't going to write anything anywhere about recent events. It didn't seem that there was anything I could add to the discussion that hadn't been said better by other people.  My Facebook feed is largely split into two camps of people, neither of which seems to be able to understand the other at all.  One camp posts nothing but "strike down all cops" and "all white people are evil" while the other is nothing but "it's mostly your fault."  Both are wearing me slam-damn out, to be honest.  Today, I have started to see a new variation saying, "If you don't post anything (about the shootings by the police), then you must be a racist, and we know it, and we're going to unfriend you now."

Imma call bullshit on all of this.

I haven't written anything because I am numb.  For three days, I have been walking around in a daze wondering what happened to this country.  Last night, I was struggling to get my mind to calm down enough to get some rest when the BBC and CNN apps on my phone started notifying me about Dallas.  After that, I just cried.  There didn't seem to be anything else left possible to do.  Around 1:30, I took some Zzzquil and fell into a nightmare-haunted sleep that made me sicker than no sleep at all would have done.

No matter what might have been going on behind the scenes, I don't think it is possible to say that the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were in any conceivable way legitimate responses to the situations.  Did the two men behave absolutely textbook perfectly when the police showed up?  I don't know.  I haven't watched the videos and will not because I can't carry that around in my head without it destroying me.  I doubt it.  I doubt it was possible.  It sure as hell wouldn't have been for me.  I got stopped for a traffic violation and was shaking like a leaf when the patrolman came up to the car with his hand on his sidearm.  Even though I am a white woman (the opposite demographic from those slain recently), I kept worrying that I wasn't being still enough, that I would do the wrong thing.  When we get scared, we sometimes don't remember the drills we were taught, the advice to keep our hands on the steering wheel, fingers spread.  I will say this, though.  Unless those men took out a gun and pointed it at one of the officers, I cannot see that the officer response was the right one. There had to have been some other path.

My social media feed is filled with posts from former students who are angry and scared.  I think that feeling is totally legitimate.  Every time I think about that little girl watching her father be shot and killed, I want to scream.  That my students have to worry about this, have to read posts on social media, have to listen to elitists who diminish their concerns and say, in essence, the modern version of "well,  you know how it is with *those* people" as if someone's skin color diminishes their value as a human being or their protections under American law, breaks my heart.  One of my precious formers posted simply, "My life matters.  My life matters.  My life matters."  That anyone as bright, capable, charming, and full of potential to do great good things as he is has to say this to himself should break everybody's heart.

This is not my country.  This cannot be my country.  We have to be better than this.

And then there are the police.  Most of the people I know who are a part of law enforcement genuinely want to make people safe and protect them from harm.  Their job is increasingly terrifying.  Heavy weaponry is everywhere.  The most fundamental concept of civilization, an agreement to abide by certain concepts for the safety of everyone, is crumbling as everybody focuses on whatever they can grab for themselves instead.  I can't imagine being police or highway patrol and knowing that I was going to be putting my life in danger every day.  I deeply respect their dedication to protecting us.

That being said, not everybody who is behind a badge is flawless, and we are going to have to accept that and deal with it somehow before all the wheels come off this thing altogether. I have grown up personally acquainted with the idea that law enforcement can be quite a mixed bag of things due to issues of corruption locally.  Every profession has those in it who fail to live up to its demands.  There are teachers who are terminated for varying kinds of misconduct all the time, doctors who lose licenses for addiction or malpractice. Becoming a member of law enforcement does not magically confer perfection any more than becoming a member of any other profession, and while I support them and am grateful beyond belief for the sacrifices they make, I really think we are all going to have to realize that there are problems that must be resolved before the entire system collapses.

And maybe this is the thing that both of these camps on social media are missing.  They are lumping huge swaths of humanity into big, stereotypical groups.  That which is Other is by definition both Wrong and Evil when it is approached this way.  When we start dealing with people on the macro level, we lose the detail that allows us to appreciate each other. It becomes easy to pick up that first stone and fling it at a mass of anonymous faces instead of having to step up to that one individual separately, look him or her in the eye, and take aim. Stop saying "all you people" whether you are pointing a finger at the cops or those who have been shot.  In fact, any time you find yourself thinking something like, "Well, *they're* all...(WHATEVER)," some kind of mental alarm needs to go off.  No group is universally any one thing or another.

Instead, why don't we try, just as an experiment maybe, to say, "If I were in that situation, how would I feel?  What would my reaction be?"  Don't get up on your high-horse saying, "Oh, but that would *never* be me."  Instead, do the cliche and see if you can't walk in those shoes in some degree even for the smallest amount of time. Recover the basic human quality of empathy for another.

Is power being abused?  By some in many places.  Is fear slowly killing us all?  Every damn day.  Certain media outlets stir it up to get ratings.  Politicians use it as a sharpened goad to drive us hither, thither, and yon.   I don't know what the answer is.  People far wiser than I have pondered this for longer than I have been alive, and you see the state we're in. These are upsetting times.  It's okay to be afraid.  It's natural to be upset.  That being said, we cannot keep letting it make us savage toward each other. Appreciate the value of the fragile and irreplaceable humanity around you.  Quit being sure you know what's what.  For the love of the tiny baby Jesus, quit making blanket statements about entire sections of the nation, be it a profession or an ethnicity.

I guess I am going to fall back on an old personal axiom, then.  I've had it up in my classroom for a long time, "Be Nice or Leave."  I'm not going to throw stones or post hostile statuses.  I'm just going to sit over here, grieve for our hurting nation, and pray for some change.  Anyone who might want to join in with that is always welcome.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Istanbul

Three summers ago, I had the chance of a lifetime to go to Turkey for three weeks.  We were studying the Ottoman Empire, and we traveled all over the country looking at historically significant buildings, cities, and tombs.  We explored traditions that still exist and things that had passed on since the Ottoman Empire dissolved.  It was a truly amazing trip.

While the whole thing was unforgettable, parts of it stand out to me in perfect detail.  One was eating at this truck stop on the side of a highway.  The entire place was surrounded by a seemingly endless field of sunflowers in full bloom.  It was like something out of a fairy tale.  I wanted to just run out into the middle of it and take in the wonder of it.  I settled for a ton of photos instead.

The second was standing under the dome of Selimiye in Edirne.  We also saw Suleymaniye in Istanbul, and it was indeed lovely, but its older sister took my breath away.  Sinan was a genius, and when left to his own devices, a creator of perfect grace and symmetry.

The most unforgettable place was much, much older.  I had wanted to see Hagia Sophia for as long as I can remember knowing about it. I have loved the name since I learned what it means, Holy Wisdom.  When I stood under that golden dome on floors over a thousand years old, it completely stole not my breath but my heart.  I went back again on my own when we had a free day just so I could sit down on the cool stone and stare up into that glory.  The beauty of that place, its sense of sacredness, was like a physical thing.  I have only ever been one other place that came close, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

Even though we were on the road for a solid week, the rest of our time was spent based in the Sultanahmet district near the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Topkapi, the Grand Bazaar, and the Basilica Cistern.  We learned, we met people, we explored, and I came to love that city.  We never met anyone who wasn't willing to help us.  Everywhere people were kind and friendly.  Part of me very much wanted to stay there and know it better.

So now, when I see that the rabid violence of suicide bombing has attacked it again, has blown up the very airport we came into and out of, I grieve for the lost and the injured, but I also grieve for Istanbul.  That city, that ancient lovely place, deserves to be cherished and protected. It is a unique thing that spans centuries, cultures, empires, languages, even continents.  The true goal of the terrorists is, of course, to make people afraid.  Afraid to go to places like Istanbul or Paris, these important places where it's possible to see both the ancient past and maybe the future side by side.  Afraid to go to places away from home.  Afraid of "others."

I've had the "it's not safe to go" conversation already today.  I'll hear it increasingly.  I've thought it myself.  I have to keep telling myself, though, that it's not safe anywhere.  Psychopaths walk into our schools and universities, our night clubs, our office buildings, every day with evil intent and heavy weaponry.  Even here in this tiny rural place I live, child abductions are attempted, homes are invaded when predators think those inside are elderly or weak.  Whatever safety we used to think we had has somehow disappeared, and national borders don't seem to have a lot to do with it. Why then should we allow them to cage us in a corner?

Hamlet tells us that "the readiness is all."  We cannot know when our time is coming.  We cannot live our whole lives looking for the shadow to fall, listening for Death's soft footfalls coming up behind us.  I think we live in a world where it is easy to be afraid all the time, where we certainly have cause for fear.  If we give in to it, though, all those horrible, rabid, twisted bastards win.  I think we have to keep going places, embracing each other, learning about each other.  If this plague of hate is ever going to be defeated, it has to come from its opposite, unity instead of isolation.

Reasons Why I Love Marvel Films

(an open letter of appreciation to everyone involved with the MCU that will never get read but that I want to write anyway)

I've been on a major Marvel movie kick lately, and I've been thinking about why they are so enjoyable.  Here's what I've come up with so far.

1)  A legitimate effort at fun has been made - Every day, it seems like the news is full of new horrors. People are killing each other for no legitimate reason.  Things are disappearing or being used up. Both America and the world seem to be increasingly divided.  People are just plain hateful to each other based on differences which make no difference.  Our political landscape is filled with a wide array of non-choices we'll have to pick from in a few month.

One of the greatest uses of entertainment is being able to escape all that, even for 120 minutes, and Marvel films do that so well.  The interplay between the characters is always a delight.  The snark between Hawkeye and Quicksilver in Age of Ultron. Tony Stark bating...pick a character.  Anyone.  Everyone, really.  Ant Man in Iron Man's wiring or in Sam's Falcon suit. Ant Man getting punched in the face by Hope.  Happy getting taken down by the Widow.  Spiderman and Bucky.  (Spiderman and everybody.) The entire Bucky/Sam dynamic.  One of my favorite scenes of all time was in Civil War when all those huge, ridiculously powerful guys are crammed into that old Volkswagen and Bucky asks Falcon to move his seat but Sam refuses.  It was short, little compared to the huge drama going on, but it was perfect.  My immediate thought was, "Actual Crap Guys Do."  I still snicker thinking about it.

And don't even get me started on Deadpool.  That entire film is just a gift.

2)  A legitimate effort at more than just escapism has also been made - Because they're not just fluff.  Even when we laugh at the one-liners, we can come away from the films thinking seriously about important concepts.  Loyalty (and who deserves it), purpose, self-definition, coping with situations that we can't control, the need for second chances, who gets to write history and tell stories, the effects of conflict and violence on the macro and micro level, it's all in there.  If you don't believe me, go to Tumblr for about five minutes and look at the way that talking about Marvel films is allowing people to talk about the very same real-world issues they help people escape for a minute, too.

It's a little like Shakespeare to me.  (I'm going somewhere with this.  I promise.  Don't throw things or pass out.)  He used these fabulous characters and riveting stories to present important ideas.  Mercutio is fabulous, so sparkly he almost steals the entire play from that other moody teen, but what we need to learn from him is that his excess destroys him and that friends can get caught up in our drama whether we intend them to or not.  Hamlet, with all his intelligence and sublime skill with language, teaches us it is possible to wait too long and that everybody suffers from it.  Macbeth shows us what happens when ambition subsumes loyalty and character.  And on and on.  This is a whole separate blog post from me, so I'll stop here.  What I'm saying is that the MCU films do a lot of this same kind of thing.  There's something deeper at the core of them that makes them more than blockbuster entertainment.

3) Even though it can't be easy to be an actor for these films, they always look like they like each other and like what they do - I know that being a part of something like the MCU has got to be a big choice for an actor for a lot of reasons.  I assume they are physically rigorous films, especially since many of the actors seem to be doing as many of their own stunts as they can.  They also seem to require long commitments to the franchise.  I don't know if that's a bad thing or not, but I'm assuming it limits what actors are allowed to do otherwise even though most of the MCU films do well at the box office.

I also figure that being a part of something like MCU denies those actors a great deal of the pleasure of being an anonymous person.  I'm just a lowly school teacher, nothing so public and glorified as a film actor, but I actually love to go hang out with my friends who live in other cities just for the sheer pleasure of not having to worry about who I'm going to see that might know me. I'll never forget the time I got one of my ear piercings redone and came to school the next day to be told, "We saw you getting your ears done."  I hadn't seen them, and the entire thing was paranoia-inducing.  Where were they?  Why did they care?  Was I floating around out there in a Snapchat getting my ears repierced?  Jesus....  If it's like that for me as a public school teacher, can you even imagine what it is like to be one of the actors in these films?  Is there anywhere they can enjoy being just them and not Cap or Nat, Bucky or Tony Stark?  I hope so.  Everybody deserves a place to be simply themselves.

The biggest thing I guess I'm talking about is the apparently endless parade of interviews and convention panels.  Because I have a board on Pinterest called Geekery that I add stuff to from Doctor Who, Star Wars, MCU films, etc., I see a bajillion interview pins (again, probably mostly assembled from things from Tumblr, that frothing bastion of fandom, God bless it).  It has to get old.  I wonder how many thousand times they get asked the same questions.  Some of the things I see they've been asked are things I wouldn't be able to respond to well, but they always seem to stay classy (reasons they're actors and I'm not, probably).

In spite of all these things that would be drawbacks to me, they also always look like they like each other and are having a lot of fun. They support each other, defend each other from the really brainless, tactless, and crass questions.  I really hope that's true.  I hope that they look forward to making these movies and mess around on set and during those ridiculous interviews and are basically just happy.  Maybe they don't all hang out at one of the hundred-and-eighty-seven-guys-named-Chris's houses on the weekend, but while they're there, it seems like they're having a blast. It increases the enjoyment of the films to me to think that it's in some way an effort of friends.

4) The female characters kick ass - The women are as interesting and strong as the men and nobody acts like that's anything other than the way it should be.  I have loved Wonder Woman since I was a little girl small enough to fit into Underoos, and I have always, always wanted to see a film in which she was not a cameo or just done wrong.  Marvel doesn't seem to have that issue. They aren't afraid of women who can hold their own. I can't wait to see Hope Pym as the Wasp.  When the Scarlet Witch blasted Vision through the floor in Civil War, I (silently) cheered.  Kick that ass, girl.  I'm still catching up on the Daredevil series, but Electra is so very well done, deadly and complicated.  And yes.  Like the rest of America, I do want an entire Black Widow movie.  She deserves it. (And throw some Red Room Bucky up in that, too.)

5) They are not afraid of brokenness - All of the MCU heroes have big, huge faultlines running right up the middle of them.  Serious things have happened to them, things they couldn't control.  They've made choices the best they could or had all their choices taken from them.  Accidents have happened.  They lost things.  They lost people they loved.  They've lost part or all of themselves.

Bucky is the poster boy for this and one of my very favorite characters in the entire MCU. Each time we see him in the films, he is picking the pieces of his life up and sorting through them. Even though he has been as destroyed as a person can be, with the help of his friends, he is trying to put those pieces back in place. Sebastian Stan does an amazing job showing this process.  Bucky can't be easy to play.

This is what real life does.  All that ugliness I mentioned at the top that surrounds us every day is doing this stuff to us, and we have to pick ourselves up and deal with whatever remains.  I think the MCU heroes do an excellent job of giving hope that it is possible to stand up and keep trying.  Sure, we're never going to be kidnapped by HYDRA, twisted by the Red Room, recreated by the mind stone, but we are going to get knocked down, hurt in hearts, minds, and bodies, and there's a lot to be said for seeing survival of the worst in fiction.  It's important to have stories that show us people can overcome.

6) The villains are complicated - As a million little Loki fangirls will attest, even Marvel's bad guys aren't simple.  Maybe it's the richness of the decades of source material and all the incarnations they've gone through as different writers shaped the characters, but instead of just big powerful evil, there's always a reason. There's always a backstory.  They aren't Iagos; they're Claudiuses. (And I promise, that's my last Shakey reference.) The Marvel villains are the flip side of the hero's brokenness.  They show us what happens when you choose NOT to get up.  When you choose to hold on the the darkness instead of finding some way to purge it or leave it behind.  They are as important in that dynamic as the heroes are.

My favorite of them is almost inevitably Wilson Fisk.  D'Onofrio always amazes me with the depth he brings to anything he plays, and his portrayal of the many, many layers behind Kingpin is one of the main reasons I like Daredevil so much.  The character is absolutely terrifying, utterly ruthless, but as the details of his becoming are revealed, it becomes possible to have compassion for him.  Then he decapitates somebody with a car door, and you are not quite sure how to feel.  That's the way a good villain is supposed to function.

7)  The characters grow and change - Captain America has undergone this beautiful and complex transformation, but all of them evolve.  The Tony Stark we saw in Civil War wasn't the same guy from Iron Man.  All the characters in Daredevil are shifting, and it's impressive to watch.  Even fairly newly-introduced characters like the Scarlet Witch and the Black Panther have changed dramatically from who they were when we first met them.  Others are poised on the edges of that kind of change, especially Bucky, and I hope we get to see it happen. Real life leaves marks.  When characters don't change due to what they encounter, they're allegories, and while allegories are interesting, I don't think we learn as much about survival from them as we do from more dynamic characters.

And I could probably go on, but I'll stop here.  It may seem kind of an odd thing for me to write about, but it's what was on my mind today.  Gotta go watch a movie.