Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

What’s in a Name

Recently I got a comment on an old Book Blurb Friday blog post. Most of you know that Book Blurb Friday is the brainchild of Lisa Ricard Caro of Writing in the Buff. The challenge of this fun meme for writers is to use her weekly picture as the cover of a pretend book, and then post an accompanying blurb. I had written about a fictional little boy.

Be sure and check out the comment I got from a man of the same name as my main character (though a slightly different spelling). The only reason I’m not using his name again is because I don’t want to further misdirect his online presence. I was telling this story to a friend, and her comment was that he sounds like an amazing man. Yes indeed.

Isn’t life cool?

True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.
~Alfred North Whitehead

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sub Notes: Heroes Come In Small Packages Too

It occurs to me that it’s so much more fun to write about bad teenagers than good ones. It’s not fun, for example, to tell you that there are kids out there—lots of them, as a matter of fact—who are much better human beings than I am.

I have witnessed girls intervening on behalf of children who were being bullied, and I am always awed. Once when I was in high school, I overheard a girl tell a boy he was ugly. I assumed they were friends and that she was teasing him, but it quickly became clear that they weren’t, and she wasn’t. It was nothing more than meanness. I clearly remember all of the horrified retorts that crossed my mind, but in the end, I’m ashamed to say that I stayed out of it. So I am more than a little respectful of these little girls—and there are quite a few of them—who don’t put up with any nonsense, even from friends and acquaintances.

One of them even came to my defense recently when I encountered an unruly student. When he got lippy with me, the girl next to him fixed him with a withering look and ordered him to “stop being ignorant.”

Once when I was calling roll, I ran into a particularly difficult name to pronounce. But when I asked the boy to pronounce it for me, he refused, so I kept going. When I’d finished, the boy’s friend spoke up. “My friend’s name is really cool. Want to hear how he pronounces it?” After urging his friend several times, he said it for me, and then he grinned proudly. “Isn’t that cool?” When I agreed, it had double meaning. I still haven’t mastered tact, and these children were sixth graders.

In fact, every now and then, there’s a student I suspect is older than I am on the inside. It’s almost an eerie feeling because I think I am pretty old. I once had to go to a strange building on a large campus. One high school boy apparently knew his teacher’s schedule, and he knew the building was confusing and hard to find. “Do you know where you go next, Ma’am?” He asked. “Here, I’ll show you.” And he walked me there. Every one of those things is a weird response for a high school kid—the concern, the willingness to be seen with a strange middle-aged teacher. And this was no loser kid.

Sometimes I wonder what happens to these children. I imagine they grow up to run governments and armies and rescue people and save the world.

I hope so. Because the world needs them.

The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Improper Poll: Publicly Peeved

I hate those lotion cults at malls. Or any mall worker not in a third world country who stands in the sidelines shouting at you to try their product or asking if you will answer just one question. They always seem to target me in spite of the fact that I am a very fast walker and intentionally use the most negative body language ever—eyes averted, skittering quickly along the wall like a cockroach.

I don't mean the grocery store sample ladies, either.  Those people never seem to be pushy and they never hard-sell.  And I've never had one behave rudely.  The ones I'm talking about stand in the mall and ask me to try their product as I race by.  Usually it's lotion.  After I’ve politely told them “no, thank you,” I’ve found that they nearly always argue. Argue! But it’s good lotion, they will say. As if it’s their job to tell me what it is I need and want to buy and not the other way around. I find it so disrespectful. Even worse, if I ignore them, they shout something snotty at my back. Yet if I repeat myself, they get snotty. In fact, come to think of it, I have never had a pleasant experience with these people and would rather put expired Crisco on my chapped hands than use their Attack Lotion, so there!

At one point the Survey People were so bad at the mall that I boycotted the stores near them. I wasn’t trying to be mean; I just don’t like to do business in establishments that allow their customers to be accosted. It comes across as cheap, and it’s easy enough just to shop in peace elsewhere.

And don’t even get me started on that local business with the word “Construction” in it who stands at malls and fairs and tells you that you will be entered to win a prize if you give them your name. No one I know has had a good experience with them, including myself. They managed to sell us a door once in the years before they resorted to shouting at passers-by like carnie barkers. When the patio door finally arrived, not only did it not fit, the manager to whom I spoke was so rude and unapologetic that she lost all future business right there. As if that weren’t bad enough, when we finally did get the door properly installed, it was of shockingly poor quality despite the exorbitant price tag. So what I shout back when they shout at me about their business is, “I had a bad experience with your company and would never buy there again!” I figure this is what they earned, and I truly wish I’d been warned the first time around.

What are your pet peeves that happen in public?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sub Notes: So, Like, Not Hot

One of the bad things about subbing is that you have no idea how warmly to dress during any time of year. Today I spent the day in the coldest room I can remember, and I was pretty covered up to begin with. At the end of the day I ran to my car (dropping my keys because of the shivering), and just baked in the sun for a while. Then I drove home with no air conditioning and all the windows rolled up. I bet it was well over 100° in there, but I was so bone-chilled that it still felt good. Throughout the day, I thought of

Ten Ways to Get Warm in an Eighth Grade Science Room:

1. Steal all the lab coats and pile them on
2. Shut myself in my car over lunch (if I had time to get there and still eat)
3. Warm myself over Bunsen burners
4. Break glass and wrap up in the asbestos fire blanket
5. Teach class while jogging in place
6. Haphazardly combine chemicals in hopes that something generates heat
7. Threaten custodians with jars of pickled tape worms if they don’t turn down air conditioning
8. Try to evoke hot flashes (which refuse to occur when you actually need them)
9. Failing that, invite menopausal teachers to stand around like space heaters
10. Go to Lost and Found and dig up a hoodie that (ironically) pronounces me to be hot in some way

Question I got from a seventh grader, who was pointing to a portrait of Cher in a white wig: “Is this Lady Gaga?”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not So Improper: Day for Moms

I was going to write about pet peeves before I realized it’s Mother’s Day.  Writing about peeves on Mother’s Day would just be wrong.

Although thinking about it did get me thinking about something my mother used to do that upset me.  She used to tell me I was too thin.  Can you imagine?  What I wouldn’t give to hear that now. Alas, who but a mother ever tells you that you’re too thin?

Anyway, this is a little story about my mother.

For years, I thought of her as huge.  Then one day in college I realized with a shock that I was physically bigger than she was.  She was 5’ 2” and weighed 105. 

My mother was what everyone called a strong woman.  She was tiny and fierce and political, with an elegance all her own.  She had a powerful sense of justice, and her character and honesty were to me on par with a superhero.  When she believed in something—and she always believed in something—you were either on her side or you stayed out of the way.

As an adult, I once told a friend about how my mother had been left partially crippled by a childhood bout with polio.  The friend seemed shocked I’d never mentioned such a significant thing before.

I laughed.  For most of my life, it wasn’t something I even noticed.  It was just how she was.

My mother had one leg that had suffered some muscle atrophy.  She walked with a limp. Once when we were buying shoes, a little boy loudly wondered what was wrong with the lady’s leg.  I was shocked when I realized he was talking about my mother.  That was how her leg was supposed to be, like the way some mothers have freckles or curly hair or long fingernails.

As a child, I could lie in bed and listen to my family members’ footsteps on our old house’s creaky stairs, and each person had a walk that was as individual as his or her fingerprint. 

My father went, “STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP!”

My sister went, "Skip-skip! Skip-skip! Skip-skip!"

And my mother went, “Step-pause…step-pause…step-pause….”

That was how I thought of it.  It was her walk.

It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized how hard it had been for my mother in a world that wasn’t terribly friendly to those who were different.  Or how hard it had taught her to fight for the underdog. 

And when she died, it was the underdogs who turned up at her funeral.  In droves.  Turns out they were grateful my mother walked to her own beat, too. Funny that I still think of her as huge.  She was.

Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.  If you need a pick-me-up, imagine a small, fierce woman saying the below quote to you.  You’re welcome.

Are you on a diet?  Because you are much too thin.  It isn’t healthy to be so thin!  Eat something! ~My mother  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sub Notes: May 7-11

Normal people have no clue about teaching. None. Once a writer friend of mine went around to schools to speak to the children about writing.

The first time she did most of a day, she couldn’t believe it. Good lord! she said. She was wiped out. Drained. Sapped. Zapped. She went home and slept for hours.

Well, yes.

I’m just a sub, but I get to watch teachers work their magic.I see how some of them  feed children because no one else does. I see them fight—hard—for children no one else seems to care about.They do it because they know someone must.

The best teachers are “on” all day long. From seven AM to three PM, and then later for the planning and grading and coaching and conferences, they are on. No hour lunches. No noon-time errands. Sometimes no bathroom breaks, even. Every minute of the day, timed like a bomb that explodes bells and stampeding feet and slamming lockers.

The best teachers teach with their minds and bodies and hearts and souls—all at once. They are simultaneously divining rods of knowledge and wellsprings of empathy. They channel God and Einstein and Shakespeare and Leno and Oprah. They are demigods in these microcosms of society.

This is Teacher Appreciation Week. Have you hugged a teacher today?

Those who can, teach. Those you can’t go into some less significant line of work. ~Words inscribed on a teacher’s coffee cup

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Improper Poll: Road Rage

Last week I enjoyed your comments so much, I’ve decided to do another traffic one. I knew you would mention my other traffic peeves, and you sure did not disappoint!

Last week I also mentioned my Sad Head Shaking gesture that I use in traffic and how it once almost got me attacked. I realized the effectiveness of the Sad Head Shake when I was a teenaged driver and did something stupid in traffic. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember the way a man sadly shook his head at it.

It was a shaming gesture, and I was much more horrified than if he’d behaved angrily.

From then on I promised myself I would A.) drive more carefully, and B.) use the Sad Head Shake myself whenever the opportunity arose.

That opportunity has arisen many times since then. One of those times was when I was taking my son to pick out college bedding and supplies. We had to make a left into the bedding store, so I was in the left lane and driving exactly the speed limit. My son later corroborated this. But it was clear by the way the guy behind me was riding my bumper that he wanted me to go faster.

Normally I’d just let him pass, but I don’t usually drive in the left lane without a reason, and my turn was coming up. So the kid—who was somewhere around my son’s age or early twenties—screeched into the slow lane, passed me on the right, then angrily swung back in front of me.

I did the Sad Head Shake. I might have laughed a little, too, because my son made a funny comment about people who drive like idjuts.

It was right at that point that I pulled into the left turn lane, and so did Screeching Guy just ahead of me. And then this boy who was so anxious to get somewhere slammed on his brakes, parked his car right there in the turn lane, and got out and started heading toward my car.

Have I ever mentioned that I seem to attract crazies? I do. Always have. And this was not the first time a crazy guy has come after me in a car, so I’ve had some practice. I put my hand on the horn and left it there. It was the middle of the day and traffic was fairly heavy, so we were attracting a lot of attention. But it was when my son was obviously calling police on his cell that the kid thought the better of it and went back to his car and left. At least he didn’t appear to have any weapons that we could see.

So we opted not to call police. In the big picture, it was almost worth the bonding experience with my son; we talked about it for ages. “Remember that crazy guy…?”

Powerful stuff, the Sad Head Shake. Do you have a favorite traffic gesture? And have you ever experience road rage?