Saturday, February 26, 2011

because it's easier to learn than unlearn (because we've passed the point of no return)

I lost my phone in the movie theatre today.  It was a boring movie too.  Fortunately the floor-sweeper guy found it and so I can go back and pick it up tomorrow.  Shawn was already celebrating because he has been wanting to buy a new phone.  His plan was to give me his old one and get himself a new one.  (This is how I inherit all things technological when they grow too old to amuse my husband.)  He was quite disappointed when it turned up.


Apart from going to the (boring) movies this afternoon, I spent most of the day editing a section of video to show at my March seminar.  The video is of me in a counselling session with one of my students.  There isn't much in the world that can make you more aware of your own idiosyncratic behaviours than watching yourself on video.  (Unless it's having a student write a play about you and having student actors portray you with all your favourite expressions and habits, hearing an audience scream with laughter and having no idea what's so funny.)

Anyway, the video.  In this video I found it difficult to tell which of us was the client and which was the therapist.  I seem to have an unattractive habit of sticking my tongue out a lot, and my eyes either have severe glaucoma or belong to someone in need of an exorcist.  I'm a goddamn cartoon character.  There is no way to edit my video to hide these behaviours, so I have decided to accept them and pretend I do these things on purpose.  It's Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, doncha know.  I'm emoting.  (Shut up.)


Friday, February 25, 2011

so be easy and free when you're drinking with me

In third period a twelfth grade student showed up outside the door to my classroom.  She asked if she could speak to me privately in the hallway.  I left my grade eights unsupervised, a leap of faith, and stepped out into the hall.  She was out there with two other twelfth grade boys, and all three of them were giggling; the boys were holding the zebra.  R.W.'s zebra.  Again

R.W. is a history teacher.  He's a little bit crazy.  He has tattoos from his wrists to I-do-not-know-him-well-enough-to-know-where-they-end.  Somewhere below his neckline.  And R.W. owns a giant, almost life-sized paper-mâché zebra that lives in his classroom.  No one knows quite why.

Last school year when the zebra first appeared it kept me awake at night.  I kept thinking about it, thinking about how badly I wanted to take it away from R.W. and hide it somewhere and torture him.  Eventually I roped some innocent mentally handicapped children into helping me steal it and installed it in the lighting booth of the theatre.  Felt really pleased with myself while R.W. went around the building accusing everyone and whining about the cruelty of the world.  (I marveled at the ability of the students to keep my secret until I realized they didn't actually remember my secret.  It was the perfect crime.)

Eventually I gave Zippy back to R.W., though.  I think he was on my trail anyway, and since he had complied with the demands of my ransom notes -- mostly Fruit Loop related --, I reinstalled Zippy in his classroom when he was out of the building.  And I denied knowing anything about it.  I still do.

So it was with a mix of horror and delight that I took in the fact that Zippy had been kidnapped and was once again within my clutches.  The seniors wanted me to hide the zebra somewhere while they figured out what to do with him.  I considered... and agreed.  The problem, of course, was that Zippy would have to be smuggled into the theatre past thirty eighth graders who were bound to tell on us.

We swore them all to secrecy and proceeded.

By the end of the day R.W. had received reports from not less than six of them.  Tattletales.  They did not know the names of the villains who had brought the zebra into the theatre and so R.W. went to admin and viewed the security camera tape for the afternoon.  Not very sportsmanlike behaviour if you ask me.  We were busted.

R.W. appeared in the theatre at the end of the day looking hostile.  He told me the jig was up and demanded Zippy's safe return.  I meekly handed him over.  I know how to lose gracefully.  R.W. told me that unless I would agree to go to Ireland and perform with his band on St. Patrick's Day he would vow revenge.  I pondered the options and decided to go to Ireland.  I have been thinking about saying no for a long time which made it strangely easy to say yes.

I am defending my thesis the week before this trip.  I will celebrate or drown my sorrows in the land of Saints and Scholars.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

hammer time

This morning as I was saying very inspirational things to 31 enraptured little fourteen year olds, a loud banging noise interrupted me.  It was coming from the hallway just beyond my door.  It made my eye twitch.  I left them mid-sentence and stormed out into the corridor planning to kill whatever child was making the sound.  It wasn't a child.  It was a man from the school district maintenance office, or at least his coveralls seemed to say so, and he was hammering the doorframe next to mine for reasons which remain a mystery.  I tried to rearrange my features in time but was too slow... and so he saw my anger and looked terrified, and I swear he moved to hide the hammer behind his back.  We both said, "Sorry", simultaneously.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

loose ropes still tied knots

This year I got my permanent contract at the school where I work.  When I first started this career -- fourteen years ago -- a permanent contract was a big deal to me.  I wanted some predictability.  That was before I got married, before we started moving a lot to chase Shawn's career, before I realised that I like not knowing everything, before I realised that sometimes it feels really good to be leaving.  I gave up my first permanent contract and never got another one because we moved too often for anyone to ever offer me another one.

But now we have been here long enough for me to have a permanent contract again and when I first signed it I felt strangely sad to be making a commitment to stay anywhere.  It's not that this kind of contract prevents you from leaving when you want to, but it somehow represented something that made me feel a little trapped and suddenly I started fantasizing about becoming a woodworker.

When I arrived at this school in '07, the senior students had been taught by Mr. Svengali and they were still convinced he would one day stop suing the school board and return to them.  They resented me doing anything that indicated I was anything but a temporary nuisance.  The juniors had known only a string of substitute teachers and although they had no particular loyalty, they had a lot of bad habits.  It was my task to take over this mess, and it was no fun.

Yesterday I was teaching my seniors, the ones who are now my seniors, the ones I have taught almost from the start of their high school careers, and realised that they've become what I wanted them to be.  It's not about their acting skills, it's about their culture.  They are kind to each other.  I like teaching them.  I actually look forward to them in my day and the last four years of wrangling them has made them the class I want to teach.  Isn't that something?  It puts me back in mind of my newfound permanence and makes me want to stay here, maybe, after all.

There are reasons to stay here now.  Keeping J in one place is good for her.  She has had enough upheaval for one lifetime.  She has good friends here, she has settled well.  

And maybe we have all had enough upheaval for awhile.  Maybe it is time for us to grow roots again.


Friday, February 18, 2011

all the drugs that I don't have the guts to take to soothe my mind so I'm always sober, always aching

"In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates said, True philosophers make death and dying their profession.  I think our Greek meant that we should practice dying with every breath, and study dying in our every moment.  I also think that the terrible squeezing of the heart we feel when first facing the unknown is the moment when our horizon begins to expand past the bounds of suffering."
                 --Joan Halifax & Ira Byock, from Being With Dying: Cultivating                                   Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death

Sometimes I think about death.  Sometimes I think about it in ways in which I cannot understand my own thoughts: I will die.  When I think this I am not frightened because it seems impossible, which is impossible.  People die every day on the highway I take to work, but it is very easy to pretend they don't.  Sometimes I think about death in a way that makes it completely tangible: My sister died.  When I think this I am no longer struggling to believe it.  I still see the box that contained her ashes rather than the ashes themselves.  I never looked.  And sometimes I think about death in ways that terrify me until I feel ill: and I cannot even write these ways.  And sometimes I think about about death not much at all.  But why, why should we practice dying with every breath?  This I am having trouble understanding.


Friday, February 11, 2011

gnawing on the knowledge that i have been burnt


I'm pregnant.

We've been trying for eight years.  I can't believe it.  I'm pregnant.

Okay that's not true.  I'm not pregnant.  We haven't been trying for eight years.  Actually I've been trying for as long as I can remember not to get pregnant with marked success.  Maybe I'm not even capable of it.  How would I know?  A doctor once told me he thought I was pregnant and insisted I take a pregnancy test.  He was wrong.

I just wanted to see what it would feel like to say I was pregnant.  (It made me laugh.)  I think I'm going to start announcing it to anyone who asks me how I'm doing.  I think I will keep saying it even when I'm sixty.


I am now ten pages closer to the end of thesis hell.  Thesis hell ends in just under eight weeks.  What will it be like to have time that belongs to me again?  What will I do between the hours of 4:00 and bedtime?  I might get a hobby.  I might get a boyfriend.  I might get bored.  It will be weird to pay taxes again rather than writing off all my tuition.  Maybe I will start on the PhD straight away.  Or I might celebrate by buying myself a great big coat made from the carcasses of dead animals.


A former student who is now 25 wrote to me last night.  He said he wanted to apologize for his poor performance in my play in 1998 but he had to confess he was more concerned at the time with how he looked in his costume than with learning his part.  Hilarious.  I guess his conscience is pretty clear in general if these are the things that prey most heavily upon him at night when he's trying to sleep.


One more foray into the Winter Prairies is just a month away.  Chances are that it will be bitterly cold.  I rarely contact anyone when I go there, which is antisocial and strange, but this time I have told one person I am coming.  I have told one person I do not know very well but who was always on the edge of the circle.  When I was younger I knew how to put myself in the centre of the circle, and for reasons I can no longer remember, wanted to.  He was one of those people who was too quiet and self-conscious to speak much and therefore remained mostly invisible.  But now I am old enough to be able to filter out sound and focus on what truly interests me rather than upon what makes the most noise.  He was always Friend-of-a-Friend but I think I am going to promote him to Friend in his own right.  He reads the same authors I do and Shawn says I can date him for the four days I'm back on the Prairies.  He's so agreeable.


Peter Mansbridge and his ongoing reports about the situation in Egypt have been preventing me from being able to stop watching the news.  Sometimes I seriously tell myself to stop, but I almost never listen.  I have relatives in Cairo.  Now their cell phones work again, I can call them and tell them the good news about the baby.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

signs of spring

Spring comes early here.  Late January, early February.  On the prairies that's still the dead of winter.  On the coast it's spring when you start to see:

- daffodil stems
- creepy bugs
- weird things with seventeen legs washing up on the shore


Saturday, February 05, 2011

the light of morning decomposes everything

Why do people have to be this lonely? What's the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?
(Sputnik Sweetheart, Murakami, 1999)

I hope I never feel so sure of myself that I forget what loneliness feels like.  I hope I can always take a short step to find that feeling when I need it because there is nothing that makes you appreciate not being lonely like remembering it and feeling it again.


Friday, February 04, 2011

sick with simple math

The coroner's final report arrived in the mail yesterday.  It took nearly eight months for this report to be finalized.  My sister is reduced to a list of internal organs and their notable characteristics.  The word unremarkable appears over and over again and I know this is what would have troubled her most.   (Her brain, unremarkable?  Impossible.)  Her lungs, however, were remarkable.  Her lungs were unequal in size, significantly more so than normal, no doubt a result of her birth defect.  And this fact was far more sharp in the back of my throat than the details of her toxicology.

I have no idea what I am to do with this report, whether I should be saving it for her daughter to read when she is older and ready for more detail, or sending it to my parents.  Or throwing it away.  I cannot imagine what use this information is to anyone, or what benefit, but maybe it could answer someone else's questions.  (None of mine.)  Do other people need this kind of information; does it provide a finality that is otherwise lacking?