Monthly Archives: March 2017

A little love for the teacher

I have a delicious morning routine that I have indulged to the fullest since I quit teaching in public schools. Twelve years of getting up before daylight, rushing out the door, and trying to map out the day ahead as I exited the highway with the sun’s just creeping up over the dead industrial horizon taught me how to really enjoy a slower morning.

Anyway, my morning routine goes something like this:

  1. I hit the snooze on my smartphone (the alarm is always set for a reasonable, productive hour) for an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
  2. I think about my dreams. I always have dreams.
  3. I talk to the animals that wander into the room and that finally inspire me to get up and let them out (I know I sound like lonely pet lady here, but I swear I have a husband. He just operates on an entirely different schedule.).
  4. I get up, let the dogs out, pour a cup of coffee, let the dogs in.
  5. I feed the dogs.
  6. I drink my coffee, pour another cup, and drink that while I skim headlines of various news apps on my Kindle.
  7. I choose the stories that interest me most, and I read them.
  8. I stop reading when I can no longer stand being stared at by two dogs that expect me to take them for a walk the minute I wake up, yet never do.
  9. I take the dogs for a walk.

After that, anything goes.   Often, if it’s a weekday, I spend a good chunk of that day preparing for my night classes—grading or tweaking lessons or creating ancillary materials or just generally staying ahead of the students. It’s what teaching should be. All teachers should be able to think during some point in the day and thoughtfully plan during others. Having that time allows us to connect with students and properly differentiate our instruction. It wasn’t until I had this kind of time to live my life AND teach that I realized that I’m a fairly effective instructor—student-centered, with progressive yet research-based methods that drive learning. How about that? It’s all about time.

Lack of time is the elephant in the room that American educators rarely talk about above the grassroots levels, the “trenches,” if you will. It’s one of those things that just about every other developed country on this earth (and many developing countries) including China provide for their teachers. Not every country provides the kind of time off for students and teachers that the U.S. does, but believe me, Uncle Sam and his league of state legislators have found a way to make teachers pay and pay for those extra weeks in the winter and summer. Given the average quite shitty teacher pay rates that rarely keep up with inflation or rising insurance costs, those two months in the summer, if you can afford to take them (and most younger teachers don’t because they need to make extra money), feel more like rehab than a vacation.

I will go back to public schools, I will do it all over again if I can just show up at a reasonable hour and teach a reasonable number of classes a day with a reasonable number of students in them, and attend a reasonable number of meetings and spend a reasonable amount of time planning instead of whatever bullshit the administration needs me to do to keep the school running on a skeleton crew. My last school (and this wasn’t where I spent the bulk of my career, but a place where I dipped my toes after taking a significant amount of time out of the public school arena. As soon as I saw the writing on the wall, during the first week of my tenure, I officially resigned) had teachers doing the jobs of the custodial crew.

I will do it all over again, I suppose, when pigs fly. Maybe when hell freezes over… ok, that’s enough clichés. Six and counting (Can you find the other three?!).

The sad thing is, when I left that last school, the one I mentioned above—where, incidentally, I ended up spending a month-and-a-half because my principal, literally, wouldn’t let me leave—the friends I’d made on the faculty and staff didn’t hide their envy of me or their dissatisfaction with the way things were. More than one single or widowed mother told me, “I don’t blame you. I could do it, if I would.” The way they looked at me when I said I was leaving might have resembled how a prisoner looks at her cellmate when she’s about to be released, or like a soldier might look at his fellow who is about to finish a tour. Probably shouldn’t be that way.

There are other jobs that teachers can do, depending on the subjects they teach. English teachers have the flexibility to get into writing and publishing fields or to pursue a higher degree and transition into law or project management or something.   Math and science teachers have a wider range of possibilities. I’ve seen young teachers transition out of the field rather smoothly. The older you get, though, the harder it is to make that transition into an entry-level field where you have no experience. I have all my eggs in one basket (Cliché number six, POW!), so I’m staying in this field, albeit part-time. My colleagues above who envied my escape are staying in this field, full-time. Our lives are very different from one another’s.

I could say so much more. The English teacher always can. Honestly, I don’t want every teacher to transition out of the field. Who does? We’re needed. We’re just not loved.

A Week in the Life

This has been a heck of a 40something week.  A friend sent me a thank-you letter for driving six hours to attend her mother’s funeral a year ago this Monday; one of my mom’s closest frenemies passed away the day my mother got back to town from her month-long visit to relatives’ houses.  Mom had her knock-off Michael Kors on her arm and the car keys in her hand when she checked her email for the hospice address and found a follow-up:  “Don’t bother.”

What else happened this week?  Well, I realized that my self-prescribed 40mg. dose of Flouxetine is a bit much in sobriety.  On 40mg. of Flu, I don’t sleep the very rewarding-because-I-gotta-get-something-out-of-this deep sleep of the non-drinker.   Instead, I wake up 100 times and stare at the ceiling fan or rearrange my arms and legs around my blankets and pillows, just like I used to do when I’d wake up at 4 in the morning with a sugar high after a long night of designer beer with high alcohol content.

(And not to be tangential, but remember when designer beer first started appearing on the shelves?  Prior to those years, I had thought that Molsen Golden was a beer as fine as a seven-and-a-half dollar glass of some local microbrew.  Now the shelves are glutted with choices, and consumers are bored, so they’re making it themselves.)

Which brings me back to my week—friends, death, sleeping, friends.  These are the worries of this 40something woman.  Oh, and then there’s the kids’ growing up and roaming aimlessly after school and not calling you to tell you where they are and then, after you finally track them down right before calling the police, having to have “that talk” about trust and responsibility.   Fuuuuuuuuck.

I didn’t sign up for that part (well, I actually did.), but it’s a hoot compared to my Mom’s stage in her life.  I sent her a sympathy card for her friend, too, because why should only the family mourn the loss of someone they care about?  Even if those friends were co-dependently bonded and sometimes hung up on the other and bitched about the other and then turned around and stepped up for each other, they were still friends.  Some of my earliest living memories include this woman’s children, who are all forty-somethings like me now.  My mother’s and this woman’s friendship has existed as long as we have.

So, friends… I’m still not done with the week.  My dog had a seizure for the first time ever, on a hiking trail.  That’s the first time I realized that if something happened to an 87 pound dog on my watch then I would have to be the one to carry him to the car.  I’m gonna start lifting weights for real.  Luckily, the dog recovered, and I got him to the vet.  His declining health is not the subject of the story, though, but the fact that I used his declining health as an excuse to cancel plans with a friend.

My husband and I are the lord and lady of canceling plans.  We’re building up quite a rep these days.  I know why we do it, though.  We’re NOT in our thirties anymore, and I don’t mean for that to sound like we’ve become geriatric.   We just understand the benefit-cost ratio of honoring certain plans and canceling others.  We want to be active participants in all of them, but when it comes time to accept what participating means—driving forever to someone’s place, not being able to find a parking spot, wandering the Saturday streets full of loud drunks, and then driving home—we recognize the moments ahead of us are finite and decide it isn’t worth the aggravation.  Plus, I’m not drinking, so why go to a bar?  The benefit-cost-ratio is very high in favor of staying home.

And that’s my week, my unedited, written version of my heavily-edited week.  Somehow, I suspect I’m not the only one of my peers to have weeks like this from time-to-time.

Smells like My Karma

So, I opened up my one of my news apps this morning to find a caricature of GOP dreamboat Paul Ryan in a flannel shirt with a classic Misfits skull button over the pocket. The headline: “Smells Like Middle-Aged Spirit: We thought Gen X were slackers. New they are the suits.” Um, ok, ew? What does that mean? It means that my generation means something, and writers like Lavanya Ramanathan, author of the piece, are going to figure out what.

Ramanathan (I immediately Googled her to find out how old she was—and… she’s an Xer.), describes the stereotypical member of the Gen X tribe in the early nineties—ambivalent, underemployed, individualistic, nihilistic, anti-government, and (my favorite term of all) “slacker.”   Not only does that about sum up my state of mind circa 1994, but that about sums up my state of mind as of November of last year, all but the anti-government part, and that’s a really big chunk of the writer’s claim—that the middle-aged corps of the GOP is a reflection of my formative adult years, anti-big-government and all. Also that my politician crush, the vague and ambivalent, but very nice-to-look-at Paul Ryan, has the Beastie Boys in his Spotify playlist.

Other than our both being devastatingly good-looking, I didn’t think I had that much in common with Paul Ryan. Apparently, I do. Apparently, I have A LOT in common with the Gen X crowd in the Republican Party—note every adjective I used above to describe us in our twenties, but also note how those adjectives can shape and mold a person as she ages. Nihilism becomes natural skepticism; ambivalence becomes a purer form of individualism, or (perish the thought) self-righteousness; and anti-government sentiment can become a mistrust of anything government, which is where I derail from the Republican, the Libertarian, and the Tea Parties. I want to keep a lot of (most of, actually) federal programs that our present administration deems unnecessary. I dread the thought of another Cold-War-style arms race. I’m no hippie, and I’m no hawk. Is that a Gen X, trait? Maybe I should ask the experts.

Maybe, no. Maybe I shouldn’t. After reading this article, I wonder how many of my former Nirvana-listening, flannel-shirt-wearing, slacker peers are right now grappling with their conservative sides. I’m not. Over the years I’ve sided with a few planks in the GOP platform, and some in the other parties I mentioned above; but on the whole, they don’t reflect my way of thinking. Ramanathan contends that we will be the wild card in this country’s next election, all 66 million of us, so I guess it’s time to start planting the seeds. I’d say, “Don’t believe everything you read,” but isn’t that a given these days?



Was it something I said?

Gimme a W!  Gimme a T!  Gimme an F!  What’s it spell?  Well, I don’t need to spell it out for you.  If you don’t know the acronym by now, then you just might be TOO old to be reading this old broad’s blog.

Something strange happened recently:  I almost LMFAO (in the past tense) when I discovered that my blog had been viewed 55 times in one day.  55 times.  Huh.  That’s more times than I’ve seen it, I think.  Was it something I said?  Probably.  Was it something I don’t remember that I said?  Perhaps.

I didn’t laugh when I saw those stats because I can’t believe people would read this.  Quite the contrary.  I sometimes believe that I have a story worth telling, something that might spark thought or conversation or even friendship (see “Why are the Forties the New Forties?”).  I laughed because I can’t seem to tell a story unless it’s accompanied by crisis.

Years ago, when I was blundering neck deep in personal and financial crises–a legal battle that went on and on, an unhealthy accumulation of debt, unmedicated depression, a job that I was flushing down the toilet, “new” parenthood, you name it–I sought some refuge in my oldest and best friends, alcohol and writing.  Actually, I didn’t seek some refuge there, I sought it all.  Almost every night, I posted some besotted rant in my blog about my husband’s ex wife or the thankless and misunderstood job of the stepmother, or the teacher, or whatever.  I was angry, exhausted, and unhealthy.  And people seemed to like those rants.  I had a solid audience.

Then, the wounds began to heal–we settled our custody disputes with my husband’s ex, we sorted out some of our money problems, we moved to a very safe and boring place, I found a job I really liked, I went on meds, then I went sober, then I lost a bunch of weight, and then I had nothing to kvetch about anymore.

For the past five to six years, I’ve distracted myself with a string of short-lived hobbies: gardening, repurposing old furniture that I found on the sidewalk, playing the guitar (today, I am fond of playing Cracker’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out”), everything but what really defined me for so much of my adult life–drinking and being pissed off.  Can those be hobbies?

I’d like to say I don’t know what sparked my latest first-world crisis that seems to have produced more thoughts that others are willing to read, but that would be dishonest.  I’m introspective enough to know what has shot me back out of the cannon.  I can even pinpoint the date–November 8, 2016.

I’ve gained a bunch of weight and started waking up with hangovers again, but it’s not all bad.  Those 55 views (even if some were same viewers going back) are my proof of that. And I am loving some of the material that these viewers produce–stuff about alcoholism, depression, alternative lifestyles.  Some write feel-good poetry.  Some write books.  Some have advanced graphics skills that make my blog look sloppy and primitive (soooo 2003). Give me more, please!

As for the crisis, I’ll deal with it.  I have to.  45 year-old drunks are unsexy.  Where’s that life hacks book, again?  I think I need a glass of cold water and some barbells…

Life Hacks, aka, “Fuck it”

My sincere but misguided stepson read a book recently called “life hacks” or something like that. I’m sure his uptight mother turned him on to it. The authors or editors or whoever have all kinds of great advice for people who won’t ever read a book of “life hacks” to solve their problems. Like this one: if you have an addiction, and you feel a craving, just work out!

Oh, gosh, golly gee! Now there’s a good one! Let’s break this life hack down to its particulars, shall we? I’m in a rockin’ restaurant with my husband. It’s got great music, funky food, dim lights, and a waitstaff with an autism spectrum knowledge of the extensive draft bar. I’d like to order some IPA featured on its menu of 100 beers, but—oh no—I can’t because I have an addiction! Well, thanks to “life hacks” I can solve this problem by working out! Allow me, please, to step down from my barstool and do some squats and lunges.

Yeah. Life hacks. What a pile of stinking shit that someone made money selling to a publisher. Even less realistic is the hack my stepson shared about drinking a cup of ice water in the morning to wake me up instead of my coffee. OK, let’s give that a go—from this day forward, I’ll just wake up at a reasonable hour of the morning, take an ice-cold shower and go for a jog. Because managing addiction is that easy, isn’t it? Nothing irritates me more than self-righteousness.

Here’s some life-hack-type information for whoever wrote this stupid book: If you’ve never had an addiction, if you’ve never struggled yourself with anything—eating, drinking, smoking—then you don’t know us. Your “life hacks” are a product of your sociopathic control-freak nature, and you can fuck off. Tonight’s life hack is “fuck off.” I think it’s far more encompassing than anything in your book.

Repeating history

I realize that I don’t contribute much to this blog, my only blog, my only writing outlet, in fact. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because I don’t know what kind of a point I’m trying to make. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because they’re for-real-and-for-true too revealing to the few parties that occasionally read the blog.   I write a lot of entries that just trail off… my boredom revealed in the white spaces at the end.

I’ve decided that I will post this particular entry in whatever state that it becomes. It will address a topic that I believe applies to the theme of 40s are the new 40s—depression, addiction, divorce, adult ADD, children, aging parents, politics, wrinkles, you name it. Everything applies to us, doesn’t it? We’re adults, and as a consequence of our age and our growing cache of wisdom and experience, we can come up with something to say about anything. We’ve been there, done that. And the younger generations that follow us will feel the same way after they’ve stopped believing that they can figure everything out.

Speaking of the younger generations, I have no hostility, some envy, and a whole lot of curiosity about what’s going on there. I have spoken to few people my age who don’t have a fantasy “do-over.” My husband would have been a medical doctor. I would have been a lawyer. My cousin would have been a boat mechanic on a pier someplace where the sun always shines. This is normal to us, and we see the younger people around us as simply younger versions of ourselves—people on the verge of making that one bad decision that will alter their lives. But what if these younger people aren’t like that? What if they don’t have the time that we had in the eighties and nineties to enjoy relative national peace, prosperity, and opportunity?

We know that people decades younger than us have one distinct advantage, and that’s time on their sides, time to figure it out, time to make mistakes, and time to revel in their youth. We did that. But I don’t see them doing that. I don’t see little “mes” in the twenty-something women I interact with and work with. I see women in their teens and twenties moving quickly, being savvy, and getting on with it in ways that make me wonder if these generations are exquisitely different. Did my mother see that in me?

Just like my mother and I are alien to one another and yet familiar, young people today are both alien and familiar to me. I wish them well because “times they are a changin’.” They will confront the new. I’ll observe it. They’ll fight to secure their survival. I’ll fight to secure my old age.   And sure, I’ll fight injustice where I can, and sure, I’ll continue to grow and develop as a human being. Maybe I’ll even write that pilot that I’ve been talking about since 2004. But they have decades and decades of a future to navigate. They’re gonna see some shit that we never will, just like we saw some shit that they can’t imagine (life without an Internet connection? How did we do it?). I wish them well, and I hope—I really hope—that they let us in and ask questions and respect our perspective.

Isn’t there some famous aphorism about history? About how if you don’t know what happened before you knew it all, then you’ll just become a tool to someone else who does?