Midnight Musings

Routines are important for me. I don’t do well with too much unstructured time. My friends have been a lifeline, but (like everyone) human connection has been less common than I knew I needed. This week we’ve returned to our schools & I’m grateful to be back in my classroom. However, I’m having a lot of thoughts about how my students must be feeling facing months of online learning instead of the more traditional in-class approach.

So many teachers, students, & families are in the same boat—safety versus tradition. Some families are choosing the homeschool route and I hope they are able to build routines that benefit their kids while giving them the skills they need, while helping them be as well-rounded as possible. I hope that families sticking with their public or private schools are also able to embrace routines that benefit their kids & that they get the skills they need from online learning while gaining a well-rounded education. None of it will be easy. We are—teachers, students, & parents—in this together.

Today, in a few of our meetings & later chatting after (an outdoor, socially distanced) dinner with some friends I was reminded if the importance relationships play in our successes. Getting to know my students will be different this year—I’ll need to get to know the students I’m familiar with just as much as the students who are brand new to me. Building a mutual level of politeness, professionalism, sincerity, and trust is going to be important in convincing students who may be frustrated or burned out or struggling with other issues to try or to ask for clarification/help when they need it. Hopefully, it’ll also help build a sense of community so they care about helping each other—sometimes teacher-speak needs to be translated.

The idea of community comes and goes in American society. Keeping the people beyond our friend group or family safe is important. Treating people with basic politeness matters. Standing up for what is right also matters.

Our classes are communities.

Our schools are communities.

Our neighborhoods are communities.

Our towns are communities.

Maybe it’s long past time to let go of “my rights” and embrace “our community”.

Morning

Around my 46th birthday I deleted Facebook. I hate Facebook. I didn’t use it—people use it to spew so much venom or, conversely, to curate their lives to such a degree that what they live and what they post seem like different realities. Other posts made me so angry that my honest responses would’ve torn relationships and biting my tongue kept me pulling away from others. Deleting it was freeing.

This year, I deleted Snapchat, Instagram, and tumblr—I don’t dislike any of them, but I wasn’t really using them. I spend too much time perusing twitter and I can’t figure out why the completely massive amounts of garbage spewed there don’t hit me the same way they did on Facebook. Perhaps it’s age and distance—I stopped using Facebook long before I deleted it. Perhaps it’s easier to dismiss the ridiculous in the 140 to 280 character limits.

Lately, I’ve found myself missing the pretty pictures though. Not all of the celebrity accounts I followed. The pictures of gardens and other countries and the ocean and genuine enjoyment. I miss those pictures. So, I started a new Instagram today “for my blog”. We shall see how I do.

I suppose the fact that I’m back in my classroom tomorrow even without students helps. I sorely miss my students, but I’m grabbing this with both hands and embracing changes to how I teach. For a decade (at least) I read out loud and explain things; I rarely give homework. With this new model, homework is inevitable and I’m planning on using the “live” time to first show my students how to do certain things (like type on my PDFs), then discuss their homework—what did they pick up? What did they miss? How do they get better at analysis and communication?

I’ve been awake for almost four hours…it’s not even seven in the morning my time.

Once upon a time…

I skipped my last posting day. No real reason other than the migraine I battled last week—a few days had me in tears. I get migraines a lot and most people don’t believe that they are actual migraines, but I’ve been getting them since I was twelve. They leveled up when I started teaching…teaching is simultaneously my favorite thing to do and a minefield I’m not always the best at wandering through. Every time I get burned out, I decide to stay in the profession because I really can’t think about what else I would do. In six years I’ll hit thirty years of teaching total, in eight I’ll have thirty years in at my current job—but in neither instance will I be ready to retire financially or emotionally.

For so many reason this year, most of them small, I have been toying with the idea of not putting in 40 years of classroom time (which is the first time I’ve had those thoughts in my 20+ years). I haven’t done well with all of this time away from my actual classroom. It has been good for forcing me to realize just how much my students mean to me—even the ones who shudder at my memory or loathe me daily. I can be grating on some nerves because I live happily in a world of metaphor, a higher level of chaos than most teachers, and I bring philosophy & history to the table as much as I can. My approach to literature has become one of alternative interpretations based on years of reading, discussing, rereading, teaching, and formatively assessing students’ understanding of various books. My understanding of books has changed over all these years.

Beowulf is a brilliant man who plays the personal myth, champion, and left hand games to a degree that wins his frienemy, Unferth, from jealous annoyance to solid ally.

Hester Prynne is a rockstar feminist who teaches her daughter strength and compassion. Roger Chillingworth has a true redemptive arc and is more a father to Pearl at the beginning of his life and through his death than her sperm donor ever was. Arthur Dimmesdale is the true villain of the book who spends years setting up his community so they will never believe his ultimate confession and he when does confess it’s without ever truly taking responsibility for his part in Hester’s struggles or taking responsibility for his biological daughter.

Brave New World and 1984 are brilliant yin and yang looks at control through pleasure and deprivation with a heavy emphasis on technology. Both writers are brilliant in seeing where technology is leading us even if the mechanics of their worlds aren’t really comparable to how our tech actually works. And, Ray Bradbury continues to be the voice in the wilderness even if the way technology has dumbed us down isn’t quite how he envisioned it.

Fairy tales still teach us the most important life lessons outside the faith or philosophy our parent lay down as our foundations. Fairy tale imagery has seeped into every corner of our popular culture, looking back and going forward. The journey into adulthood, meeting our special monsters, facing our shadows, embracing new ways of looking at the world & living in it…we owe a great debt to the grandfathers of The Fairy Tale—Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. We owe a great debt to the keepers of folklore—The Grimms, Schönwerth, d’Aulnoy, Lang, and countless others—for bridging the gap between the illiterate and the literate.

That ridiculous green light that Nick puts so much meaning into in his attempts to understand Gatsby is as imaginary as Jay, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan. They were all curating their lives in a way any Facebook or instagram aficionado should aspire to today. And, those parties are genius for Jay’s true work moving guns & alcohol from Canada to New York—everyone’s is focused on spectacle and no one is looking at the docks or empty party supply trucks.

I love teaching these stories and I’m ready for The House of Cadmus via Antigone rather than Oedipus next year. The final chapter in a legacy cursed by the gods via a poisoned wedding gift that start with the founding of Thebes. It’s taken me years to appreciate Ismene’s quiet, desperate strength in the face of Antigone’s determination to not relive the mistakes of her father no matter the cost.

Our current situation is a global reminder for those of us who live small, safe lives that there is always a cost, even if it’s not one we are personally faced with every day. My cost is nearly daily spikes of pain in my brain; others deal with the long term payments of surviving cancer or the ups & downs of marriage or crippling debts. Teaching is a great, daily reminder to me of how much goes on in the lives of my students and colleagues no matter the face they put on when at the high school. The balance is seeing former students who have grown up and become so much more than I could imagine for them. I don’t know most of their struggles when they are in my classes or long after when I run onto them. I just get to be proud of them for persevering and finding some sort of happiness and success.

My students are also a reminder of what I learned from my own parents, my childhood, my years as an adult. I’m not who I once was as a teacher and I hope to continue to become better. I’m not who I once was as a person—success, failure, hope, pain, friends, and family have helped with that. Both of my parents taught me how to deal with the pain of different types of migraines; my life didn’t used to allow me to deal with that pain in any other way than to suck it up and get through it the best I can. I know I’m blessed or lucky most of the time. My teacup tempests are small; my life is small which brings its own pain and grace.

At least I have stories. My maternal grandfather was the first storyteller to open my mind, but there have been so many more storytellers over the years. I hope I open some of the minds in my care to the beauty of stories, the strangeness of truth, and the skills to look beyond the words. Gramps laid that part of my foundation even though I didn’t have too many years under his tutelage. Papa, his long-term replacement, taught me how important personal anecdotes are to understanding individuals. I am so lucky to have had multi-generational teachers and the time to look back at what my grandfathers, grandmothers, and parents taught me about people and the world.

Once upon a time Gramps would open his tobacco pouch, tamp down the tobacco in his pipe, light a match, and settle in to tell his stories.

Once upon a time Grandma would open up her door, accept a hug, and show us her fierce determination to live her life on her own terms.

Once upon a time Grams showed us the value of risk by opening up her heart and landing two great loves in one lifetime.

Once upon a time my parents battled the ups and down of marriage, poverty, chronic illness, and faith to show their children loyalty, shades of generosity, and the fruits of determination.

Once upon a time I entered my first classroom and found out how different reality is. My next trick will be surfing the changes Covid-19 has brought to my students, my colleagues, and teaching high school…

Sisterhood is vast

I use this as a hashtag sometimes as a reminder that my faith is based on love in action.

Whether or not I like someone, common courtesy tells me to be polite; treating someone with basic courtesy does not mean I respect them or trust them—it means I see them as human, as worthy of attention as I would like to be. Somewhere along the way, I’ve watched people forget this when they interact. Most of the time there is nothing lost by listening to someone, by shaking their hand (or whatever post-physical distancing equivalents become the norm), by using their chosen pronouns or title. I’ve experienced people who use their faith and/or truth as a weapon. I’ve use truth as a weapon and, thankfully, I learned to change; moments of regret should help us change.

I’m trying to articulate how important it is to embrace a more egalitarian approach to everyday interactions. We will never be equal in a society that values money or education or conventional standards of beauty or…or…or as much as ours does.

Sisterhood is vast.

We have to watch out for each other. We have hold ourselves accountable for what we do, what we leave undone, what we say, and what we leave unsaid. We have to listen to each other. We have to learn from each other.

We have to forgive ourselves.

We have to let go and hold on and accept the innate dissonance of reality.

The sisterhood is always expanding.

#breakthestigma

Today’s title is courtesy of @shethority

I’m only writing tonight because it’s on my calendar to post on my blog. I’m laying in bed with the windows open smelling my neighbor’s fire. Their music and conversation drifts up in a low buzz when I’m lucky. Other times two of the backyards have dueling music or the conversations get loud. My first year in this place I resented all the noise and didn’t handle it well; I can’t remember (other than the one live backyard band until 02:00) why it was worth so much fuss or frustration—that was just before medication. It’s amazing how much working meds help me mentally. When they stop working, it usually takes time to recognize the rising frustrations and interior inconsistencies as results of med failures.

Taking my meds doesn’t automatically relieve me of depression, anxiety, or migraines. Medication helps.

Writing helps me too.

Since I really accepted that I will deal with these things for the rest of my life (even before I accepted the needs for medication for me), I wanted to normalize taking about depression. My parents would have had no idea what to do if I had approached them in high school to talk about what I termed The Fear. People didn’t talk about such things in the late 80’s. It’s not my parents’ fault I felt broken on multiple levels and they weren’t equipped to really acknowledge those kinds of problems. It is important to me now (has been important for the past decade or so) that people become okay talking about mental health, personal diversity, and what it means to be true to ourselves.

If a man want to feel pretty, why should he be mocked or bullied? If a woman wants to feel tough, why should she be ignored or bullied? if someone swings wide in their personal aesthetic, how is it our place to judge them?

Why is it embarrassing to have a therapist or psychologist? Why is someone weak for being easily stressed out or showing emotion? Why isn’t it okay to take medication for physical or mental health? Why is it okay to mock someone for being overweight? Why is it okay to judge someone for their socio-economic level?

Birth control isn’t a gateway to promiscuity.

When I first entered an online community in 1999, I came across as a “self-righteous, judgmental b*tch” and I was told that more than once—usually at times when judgement was far from my intentions. In high school, I came across as a “stuck up b*tch” according to friends and acquaintances even though I was just horrifically afraid of people. Teaching taught me early on that not everyone is going to like me and that’s okay. Every year I become more comfortable with the ways I’m not “normal”. I long ago accepted that I’m never going to be conventionally attractive. There’s a price to be paid for being true to myself and accepting the changes that come with success and failure.

In these strange time, more and more people are experiencing the waves of strong emotion, the edges of depression, an increase in anxiety, and a thousand other shades of “broken”. It’s okay. It’s okay to be angry about how life has changed. It’s normal to have times where our own minds become echo chambers or spirals of negativity. We are all human. We all have issues. The best we can do varies by person and by day—how we face these times, what we are willing to learn and do is what matters. Accepting that “normal” is a myth might be the first step in letting go of the rightness of judging others and ourselves.

Working on being our better selves is important. Holding ourselves to impossible standards of beauty or normalcy can trap us in The Fear. What we each need from ourselves and others us varied and it’s okay to embrace that as long as it doesn’t include harming others. One of the most important lessons that is left untaught or unlearned is that truth isn’t a weapon. Truth is important, but like most things it is better when paired with compassion.

  • My rules for life…
    • Be smart
    • Be safe
    • Be kind
    • Be true

Prepare for The Random

Days where I don’t have anything to say are why I stop posting 100% of the time. I’ll have a streak going and then find myself without anything worth saying—it doesn’t stop me offline so it shouldn’t stop me here. Power through and all that Jazz. So, here’s what’s on my mind right now:

  • Got a Grove box yesterday with basics like minty soap and mintier toothpaste.
  • The weather went from wet to low 70’s & it’s beautiful.
  • I feel like I’m actually edging my way out of the total darkness—it’s still a little grim, but I’m alive and that’s a blessing.
  • I miss teaching in the classroom.
  • My tennis shoes are looking at me like, go for a walk. This week’s poor excuse is the street work in front of my house and hills.
  • Reading the Newsflesh series and more romance novels. Glancing through the news for good articles to read and discuss.
  • I have too many boxes to break down and stack up. I just let them collect. This may be some weird packrat pathology tied to my wide streaks of laziness and procrastination. I can feel my goddaughter judging me.
  • I got to the point where I made a ridiculous number of playlists that are all eclectic, but I tend to listen to “Utter Silliness” the most. I had my playlist problem under control for months.
  • I think I’ll go to the six-feet away cocktail hour a block down today. I am really missing my friends and this way I can catch up with a few. Texts just aren’t the same as a table full of people I adore down at The Great Pacific.
  • Love the maps by @alfred_twu on twitter. It’s fascinating to watch the states come together or drift apart.
  • Do some people not think about how much worse this pandemic would be without all the social distancing? I keep thinking about my folks, my friends who are immune-compromised, and I also think about how much I want things “back to normal” already. I just fall into the camp that thinks there will another new normal and no return to the old normal.
  • I’m trying not to obsess too much about the things that freak me out.
  • I have got to renew things soon and finish small projects. I also have to finish a couple of big projects.

I hope this finds you well (especially if you took the time to read this). Most of my posts end up with one to three views which makes it harder to stay motivated. This time around, I just keep reminding myself the only way to get better is to practice. At least my head is a little lighter.

Enjoy the boys; two minutes after this picture they were not so friendly. What is it with cats and their need to be on clean clothes?

Been another minute

March 12, 2020 was the start of a weird time in the lives of me and mine. I went to bed with a killer migraine and woke up late Friday morning (a very rare sick day) to the news that Governor Brown was shutting down schools for a few weeks and that’s turned into a strange new life for many of us. I was aware of Covid-19 as it shut down parts of China, South Korea, and Italy. I watched it creep closer as Wildhorse and Nixyaawii Community School shut down for sterilization. We all watched.

April 13, 2020 began a new round of adjustments. Supplemental material shifted to skill-building for grades and chasing down assignments. Many seniors struggled with the abrupt end to their year and the loss of various rites of passage. The rest of the students have been figuring out how to manage home expectations, a range of very real emotions, and juggling all their online classes. It’s no easier for students than for teachers. We are all figuring out how to make things work, how to keep students practicing & learning new skills so they are ready for next year—not that we know what that will look like. I like to think we will be back in the classroom.

Those who know me know I don’t operate well with too much free time (makes it easier to sympathize with some of my students).

I can’t even count the books I’ve read since March 13—I have been a little surprised at my genre choices. Right now, I am impressed by the eerily prescient work of some speculative fiction authors. The apocalypse has been my jam as a Gen-Xer and sci-fi fan—who doesn’t remember those totally useless nuclear bomb drills (head under the desk) in grade school? The end of the known world was around the corner every year, but it never quite happened. The world was a scary place that got scarier every year and we lived through it all, but not all our friends did. We used dark humor, because we would’ve drowned in tears and fear if we didn’t laugh.

Looking at my Gen-Z students as they watch the world change around them in a syrupy slow speed that feels like being pulled into tomorrow by a superhero speedster, they already understand. Millennials spent the last decade being told they are the reason for society’s failures thanks to avocado toast, board games, and not having the money to buy this or that. Now Gen-Z is being told to suck it up or how easy they have it; every “pass” they are getting is going to come with a high price.

I don’t know. It’s been a minute and I’m trying to stop vomiting my thoughts all over twitter. I have not been keeping up on my writing, so hopefully each post gets better with practice and repetition. Practice what I preach, right?

I hope this finds you all well. I hope this helps me find the focus I lost sometime in the last few years.

Forgive my typos.

Educate me, please

As many of my students will remember, I’m big on bringing up current events, history, and moments of major change to inform our understanding of the fiction and nonfiction we address in various classes. I’ve been adding to my Contemporary Era section which has meant reading quite a bit of news and digging up related, interesting information (not all of which makes it into the Miscellany—my 300+ pages document covering everything I think is important for my students to know in order to be well-rounded, critical thinkers).

The news over the last couple of weeks has prompted this latest revision. I try to keep my bias to minimum and I try to be accurate in how I word my notes so that I can be accurate with the information I give my students and the directions I point them toward for finding additional information.

I’m sure there are some errors in this section of notes (typos and facts), so please feel free to let me know where to look or what you know that I might want to include in this document.

Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read through my Contemporary Era notes. Thank you to anyone who drops me a line on WordPress, Instagram, Twitter, or via email.

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For Sixth Period…

A few years ago, I struggle to articulate the fundamental difference between the concepts of niceness and kindness–they are not straight synonyms. This year, my classes keep coming back to equality and individual freedoms. Both my juniors and my seniors have had multiple discussions discussions about equality, reparations for various groups whose ancestors were poorly treated by the US government, privilege, modern racism and prejudice, and class issues.

Equality is the idea that we should all be given the same rights and responsibilities. This generally falls apart in execution due to all of the factors that keep us from being the same. Equality and sameness are not interchangeable, but the way many people discuss equality makes it seem like they are.


“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe–some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others–some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.”

Atticus Finch’s closing argument: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (274)


Kurt Vonnegut also discussed equality versus sameness in his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” (which I teach every couple of years). If we can all acknowledge what Lee and Vonnegut were getting at, then I hope we can dial down on the inherent idea that we are owed anything for existing. Even hard work, extreme dedication, and a core of steel cannot guarantee us success in school or in life. Bad thing happen to good people and good thing happen to bad people which pulls me to the story of Job (yes, the one from The Bible).

Do my rights matter more than anyone else’s?

Do my needs matter more than anyone else’s?

Living in community requires a give-and-take. Sometimes that mean making reparation for the crimes of our government or our ancestors and sometimes it means working to make sure that the playing field of life is a well maintained as possible. Human nature dictates that we will never be equal in practice. What I take from these stories is that why things are the way they are matters less than how I treat others in the here and now.

One More

One who does not

Sleeps life away

Dreams the pages of books

Waits for one who does

One who does keeps going

Gets knocked down, And

Gets up again

Embracing best self bs

One does not want

One has needs

Buddha tells us to leave them

To sit, to breathe, to be

One loves through time

One loves with money

One loves with physical affection

Christ tells us to love all


I’m not sure what inspired me today, but my poetry students have started their big project. For three weeks, they write and write and write. While it’s admittedly cool to see a poem spring forth fully formed and almost perfect, it is not the reality we (writers) face. Today, I got to see one of my students as she worked hard on a poem–ideas, snatches of phrases and images, attempt after attempt to get four perfect lines. When she showed me those four lines, I got chills.

I love teaching people to think, to communicate in different ways–I love seeing the lightbulb go off above their heads.