Not Unintended

I often wake up with opinion pieces on my mind.  I suspect I dream rhetoric and filter and remix in my head, and if the waking up is done correctly–and coffee is waiting–I don’t forget everything.  This happened the other day after a snowday, and I posted the following on facebook.  I decided that I’d crosspost here, not least of which it’s searchable (and I post far more on facebook than any one person should ever be allowed to).

 969920_545692448826069_1050392290_n-1

For those of you not in education right now, I’d like to try to explain something to you about new standards (any new standards, not just all the talk of Common Core):

When new standards come along–and in my 12 years’ teaching this is my *third* set–we must change how we teach, what we teach. That stands to reason. Whether or not the standards are valid or not, grounded in pedagogy or not (and despite CCSS’s pitfalls, which are numerous, I still maintain they rock over the previous set of Minnesota standards, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Here’s what happens on the ground, however.

On my own time, unpaid, I redesign my units to cover the new standards. Fine. Whatever.

I then do my best to implement them all in a school year (always impossible, no matter what anyone says, but again, not my main point here) and do my best with my raw material: kids of vastly different backgrounds and support systems all with different learning styles and abilities.

That would be difficult enough, obviously, without the *new* trend toward punishment. I mean to say, if standards were simply *goals* as you might think, fine. Lofty goals are good things to have.

But that’s not what’s happening.

Beginning with Bush’s NCLB and continuing (even worse) with Obama’s RttT, here’s what happens, especially under the new set of standards which, like Minnesota’s previous set, is cumulative and grade-leveled:

I teach 9th grade. Meaning, new standards tell me what I need to teach in 9th grade, but that’s assuming that the kids got the previous standards met in K-8 under the new set. That’s obviously not the case (we had to implement the new standards last year), so we’re then playing catch up. NONE OF THE KIDS I TEACH FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL YEARS WILL HAVE HAD THE GRADE-LEVELED STANDARDS GROWING UP, no matter what. That’s just fact.

But–and check this out, folks–these kids are TESTED ON THE NEW STANDARDS THEY’VE NOT HAD.

And, when they fail–as has happened across the country last spring, as you’ve read–it means schools lose funding, teachers and administrators are fired, and kids are branded as “failures.”

For not being completely successful at something they never had.

For my 9th graders to even have a chance at being successful, mind you, I’d have to not only teach all the 9th grade standards completely, but catch up on everything they hadn’t been taught to the new standards in the previous eight years.

I cannot do that. No one can do that.

And those making the tests and calling for the tests to mean so much, from the Right and Left, KNOW THIS.

They. Know. This.

This is NOT a surprise, nor is this failure an UNintended effect.

So, the next time you read an article in a newspaper about failing teachers and failing schools, and you’re wanting to go post on facebook or carp around a water cooler about those “lousy overpaid teachers” and “crappy American schools,” don’t be a pawn. Know that you’re being recruited into continuing a ruse, a horrible, planned piece of public theatre, that is hurting kids.

Testing is big business. School “reform” is big business. People are getting rich over privatization.

Your kids, OUR kids, are the ones who lose.

bored-student-kids-school-classroom-desk-20487219

Life After Life

CHOC

Me, age four.

My birthday was last week.  I turned 48, and I’m still trying to figure out where my thirties went, let alone what I’m supposed to do with nearing the half-century.  I’ve always had a difficult time with time passage–even as a young adolescent, child, really, I was obsessed with the passage of time and the waves of nostalgia.  As a control freak, I suspect much of this has to do with my need, always, to be in control of my environment.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to let go far more than I ever could as a youth–thank Gods–but, alas, this skill isn’t applying to the passage of time.

Like Shakespeare, the older I get the more I’m horrified, haunted by time gone by and wanting to slow things down:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate 
That Time will come and take my love away. 
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

(Sonnet LXIV)

9780552776639For my birthday, appropriately enough, my husband bought me a copy of a book by my new favorite author, Kate Atkinson.  The book isn’t one of her Jackson Brodie mystery series (of which I’ve devoured all, in a week, she’s so good), but an award-winning novel that’s fairly new on the market, called Life After Life.  It is at once haunting and heartbreaking, witty and life-affirming. It is a masterpiece.

And it’s obsessed with time and lost chances, the cyclical nature of time (rather than linear), the ability to touch the world around you as you’re drifting through events beyond your control.  Perfection.

So intense is this book that I actually had to put it aside for two days while reading (something that’s unheard of when I’m into a book as much as I was this one) because I’m already having a very difficult time with, well, time (see how that word shows up?). I did pick it up and finish it today, and while my obsession isn’t abated, and I’m not more in control than I was previously, I’m able to focus my fears into the world of Ursula Todd, the protagonist who lives several lives in this novel, each folding back on the other, bumping into each other as in dark alleys, holding hands with each other as close friends.

Science Fiction fans are often enamored of the alternate universe theory; this novel takes a similar idea and both expands it and focuses it.  What would happen if one both dies repeatedly and, simultaneously, never dies?  What if events could be altered by following déjà vu?

What if time were, as stated by the protagonist in the novel, a palimpsest?

What if you could do something to alter the events of World War II for millions of people?

As always, Atkinson creates characters that you want to keep spending time with, faults and all.  So real you can touch them, even these set in 1910 to 1967. Like Shakespeare, Atkinson is an astute observer of how people think, how voices from our loved ones accompany our daily tasks, how nuggets of wisdom can become self-fulfilling prophecies. She is also in complete understanding of how relationships change, evolve, over decades.

backstrap-weaving-linda-arthurs

Image Source: Linda Arthurs Backstrap Weaving

And, as in all her novels, she is a master weaver, creating tapestries of words, characters, perspectives, missed chances, met chances like no author I’ve ever read.  The results are always far different from what you expect as the weaving is happening, even as you think you’re looking over her shoulder and are “in” on her pattern.

I’m no better at dealing with my fear of time passing.  I have no idea how to reconcile the age on my driver’s license with my mental picture of myself (somewhere around thirty, I believe).  I am, however, gratified to know I’m not alone, and I’m also quite pleased to have shared the first half of the 20th century with the Todd family; I can visit them whenever I wish.

 

 

 

Grateful

(Crossposted from my School Blog, 11-20-12)

I love Thanksgiving. Not because of the old stories about pilgrims and Natives sitting down together, although that’s a nice story, but because I love that we set aside a day of the year to really take stock of what we have, how lucky we are, and how some of our (my?!?) complaining is, well, overdone. I think it’s a wonderful day to notice all the good things that surround us, and to tell the people in our lives how grateful we are.

First and foremost, I’m grateful for my husband. He’s also my best friend, the one person I want to share everything with, the person who always manages to make me laugh, the guy who takes care of me, my partner in all things, and the person I trust most in the world. I cannot even imagine my life without him, and I hope I never have to find out. Over fourteen years together, and it only gets better.

Wedding!

I’m grateful that despite their health problems, both my parents are still alive, at age 88 and 89. I’ve been blessed to have been adopted and raised by such loving people, such generous and demanding and wonderful people. I was adopted at age two-and-a half, from foster care, and again, I hit the jackpot.

Just adopted

I’m grateful for extended family…much of which might not be traditional. I’m thankful for Veronica, my stepdaughter from my first marriage, who’s the most awesome nearly-24-year-old I know. She’s going to run the world one day, starting with California.

Veronica

My family also includes my cats, present and past. I’m grateful for Ella, Frodo, Litha, Wednesday, and Muffin, and all the cuddles, scratches, surprise dead mice, and purrs they provide me.

I’m thoroughly thankful for my job, which I love. Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done–and continues to be–but also the best thing I’ve ever done. It was a career change in my 30s that brought me here, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I may tear my hair out at times, I may cry over things I cannot change, I may hate the long hours and the grading, but how lucky am I that I get paid to discuss literature? To laugh every day at the wonderful things kids say, and do? To see the world, daily, through young people’s eyes? To be part of learning, and books, and writing, and reading, and poetry, and all the things I love, for a living? Wow. I’m so very lucky. And lucky to be able to teach in an interesting place with great diversity, lots of personality, and some of the best people I’ve ever met!

While I have a host of health problems that make daily life…difficult, let’s say, I have to remember that it could always be worse. I’m alive. I’m mobile. I have good doctors, and the ability to see them and get the medications I need. As a former doctor said, I must have nine lives…and I intend to live all of them, fully. I’m thankful to be here and as healthy as I am, in spite of it all.

I’m grateful for all the good friends I have, and have had, in my life. What a wide variety of characters they are: creative, idiosyncratic, imaginative, humorous, intense, driven, aggravating, interesting, and provocative. I love this motley crew!

I’m grateful to have a nice place to live, in a nice town, with more than enough. Compared to most of the world, I live like Royalty. I’m grateful to have moved to a part of the world that agrees with me, and I’m grateful for my hundreds of trees, my backyard wildlife, and a place to call “home.”

I’m a terrifically lucky person, and I think I need more than one day a year to stand up and say “Thank you!” to all of this!

Schooled by Malala

(Crossposted from my School Blog, Oct. 18, 2012)

My thoughts on Malala Yousafzai and Education

By now, everyone in the West must know about Malala Yousefzai, the incredibly brave and well-spoken teenage girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan–a region that’s become, in recent years, a terrorists’ playground for the Taliban–who was shot in a barbaric attempt to silence her outspoken support for girls’ education. By now, everyone’s shed tears looking into those eyes of hers, seeing that smile of hers shine from the documentary made when she was but 11 years old. Her courage. Her father’s love, and dreams, for her.

And by now, we’ve all been schooled in what it means to be brave and resolute. By a girl.

By a girl. Yes.

My students are reading some news stories about Malala (in more than once class), and here in English we’re all blogging about her and our reactions, thoughts, hopes, and fears. But I want to write about how I’ve just been schooled by a little girl.

Like most other people, I suspect, I like to complain about things. My health isn’t great. My parents’ health is worse, and I’m currently dealing with a ton of stress about their care. Bills mount up. Machines break down. I don’t have time to get the laundry done. We all have dozens of these things, of varying degrees of severity.

But you know what I do have?

I have a place to live that isn’t under daily attack from mortar, military, and Taliban thugs. I, as a woman in American society, can not only leave my home and shop, go to school, go to football games, go for a walk along the river, just go, without being arrested. I can speak out against what my political leaders are doing (or speak out in support of them).

And, mostly, I have an education. A free and public education for 12 years, in a good building, with many resources. Then, beyond that, two more degrees (and a third half-finished) in public Universities. Not free, but accessible, as long as I was willing to work at it. All of that–the entire world’s knowledge and access to it–at my fingertips.

And I had the audacity to complain at times about it. “Stupid alarm…I don’t want to get out of bed.” “I haven’t prepared well enough for that quiz; I don’t want to go.” “I *hate* chemistry–I wish I didn’t have to take it.” “That teacher drives me crazy.”

I’ve said all these things, and more, and repeatedly. As I bet you have, most of you. And yet, all of this was at my fingertips, easy to attain, while an adolescent girl in Pakistan is willing to stand up to grown men in masked faces and carrying guns, to demand she get an education.

She’s willing to die to get an education.

I’ve been schooled. And I thank her for it.

Marriage Equality, a Conversation

I was recently asked, nicely, by supporters of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment who are open to hearing different sides, why I support marriage equality.  I realized then that just as we who are part of Minnesotans United for All Families have encouraged supporters to start conversations, I haven’t really done that.  I’ve done a lot of drive-by preaching on facebook–and probably still will–but I’ve not taken the time to converse, to spell out my views, in a calm and rational matter with people I love, and respect, who see things differently.

So, I aim to do that.  Now.

Point the first: Separate-but-equal was tried before, in matters of racial equality, and it was an abysmal failure. Brown vs. Board of Education wiped that out–far too late–and being a Constitutional fan of equality, I do not want to see it under any guise. Marriage  is a civil contract (and often a religious one, but that’s later) and has been granted as a right of citizenship in the United States.  If one adult has the right to marry, so does another, no matter anyone’s personal viewpoint. Rights are rights.

There is no such thing as “traditional” marriage–every culture, every time has had its own view of solemnifying romantic and family partnerships, from King Soloman’s hundreds of wives and concubines, to casual serial flings (past and present), and everything in between. In the United States, two people who marry are granted a laundry list of rights and responsibilities–whether or not they marry religiously–and it’s wrong, Constitutionally, morally, to grant those rights to some and deny them to others based solely on gender.

Why is Neil more a citizen than Sally?

Separate-but-equal (e.g. civil unions, for this issue) is not the same.  It’s not right.  It creates second class citizenship in the country that I’m proud to say, despite all its faults, doesn’t have a royalty, doesn’t have an inborn aristocracy, doesn’t have legal boundaries between classes of people, regardless of birth or gender.

So, I don’t want to add to my state’s Constitution an amendment that *limits* freedom; all great things in history have developed by opening up freedoms, and going the other way is simply…wrong.  There were many decent, loving people who, just a short time ago, fought against interracial marriage (legally, miscegenation, and also based on religious viewpoints), and I bet that if they’re still alive, they find that pretty darn silly these days.  I’m afraid that many of today’s opponents of marriage equality will one day feel much the same way.

Minnesota is a kind state, a no-nonsense, pragmatic state.  Just listen to A Prairie Home Companion.  My own Scandinavian-American parents are no exception. When I was a little girl and saw a show on television dealing with lesbians, I asked my mother what that meant.  To this day, I remember her practical response: “Well, you know how Dad and I love each other and are together?  It’s the same thing, only with two women.”  My response was, “Oh,” and then I went back to my Barbies or book, because it was no big deal.

Years later, when a family friend was condemning gay people in our presence, Mom, again, spoke up with her no-nonsense “Oh, Marv; there have always been gays in the military and there always will be.  Who cares.”  When I pressed her later, she said, “People are born the way they’re born; I don’t understand why people care so much.”

A few years ago, when her beloved ELCA chose to ordain gay and lesbian pastors, she said–and this was before the severe dementia–“Good; there’s no reason why not.”

In other words, I absolutely hate to think of Minnesota becoming a place that codifies creating second-class citizens with fewer rights. It’s incredibly sad, to me.

Point the second: The gay people I know and love, friends and family members and students and coworkers, deserve, personally, to have their families and partnerships honored in the same way mine is. In my view, there is no “gay marriage,” there is simply “marriage.”  I want to honor and support all my friends who dare venture into such commitment, such love.

This second point is not a rational, Constitutional matter, but a personal, emotional flip side to my earlier point. However, it is just as important. I cannot, myself, look at these people I love who are gay and tell them that my marriage is more important than theirs. That they don’t deserve what I have.  That they’re *less*. That doesn’t sit right with me.

Marriage is about forming family, and this doesn’t necessarily equate into having children at all, let alone having children via the traditional method.  We don’t deny 90-year-olds the right to marry, and we all know they’re not having children!  I know the Catholic viewpoint, which they’re entitled to, is that a couple must be *open* to the possibility of children, and that God can perform miracles.  I might counter (again, if this were strictly a rational argument, which it’s not as we’re into religious and emotional territory now) that I don’t think they believe in a God who’s powerful enough to make a 90-year-old pregnant, or form life in the womb of a virgin, but not make it happen for a lesbian married couple.  🙂

We don’t deny, legally (although perhaps in some religions, which is their right) the right to marry to couples who never, ever plan on having children, or those who cannot, biologically. Yet, I often hear from people that because two men or two women cannot have children, they either shouldn’t want marriage or shouldn’t get marriage.  I, the adopted daughter of older parents, simply scratch my head.  My parents have been married for nearly 66 years now; come again?

Point the Third: While I have yet to see any non-religious arguments against marriage equality, I guess I can’t say with 100% assurance there aren’t any. In the meantime, I would like to address the common point that many religious people bring up on this issue: they do not want their churches (or houses of worship of any faith) forced to go against its precepts on what is a holy marriage.

This is perhaps the *easiest* fear to allay, and the beauty of it is that the more you support Jefferson’s separation of church and state, the more you protect your own church’s right to do what it feels is right.  Seriously.  Listen, here’s how:

Let’s say I, raised Protestant but not a member of any faith at this time, met and wanted to marry a nice Catholic boy.  I mean, if I weren’t happily married already. Could I demand that the local Catholic church marry us, even though I’m not part of their faith?  Even though I refuse to follow their tenets on marriage, or join them, or vow to be open to children, or partake of pre-marriage counseling?

No, I couldn’t demand that.  Because the church (every church, synagogue, temple, mosque, coven, etc.) has the right–a right I will support, vocally and tenaciously–to require that its views be upheld by its members. No government should step in and say that just because marriage is a civil right, that Catholic church *must* perform the marriage ceremony for me and my new Catholic love.

The same will hold true under marriage equality.  No government body will come in and require your church (synagogue, temple, mosque, coven, etc.) to perform a gay marriage if that’s not in your faith.

It’s the same thing. Just because I’m allowed to get married by the local Justice of the Peace, as a civil right, doesn’t mean I can demand any religious instituution to perform the marriage for me, or smile on it.  If a church wanted Justin and me to wear purple, with straw hats, and recite “Jabberwocky” backwards to get hitched, then that’s something I could take or leave, and no government body would interfere.

Another tidbit on protection of church rights:  What about the churches (Christian and otherwise) who *want* to bless and perform same sex marriages?  Their rights are being trampled, right now.  Right this minute.  Don’t they deserve to have their freedom supported?  If not, why not?  Why shouldn’t the United Church of Christ, say, have the same rights as Bethany Lutheran?

So, even though I *personally* don’t find same-sex marriage against any Christian tenets (more on that later, and I’m not going to speak for any other faith tradition here right now), it’s perfectly rational for you–a generic, religious “you”–to vote an emphatic NO on the marriage amendment and to support marriage equality legally, yet still not have it part of your church’s tenets.

What it boils down to is this: if you want your own church’s rights upheld and protected, if you support the First Amendment, then you need to be vocal and diligent in your support of the separation of church and state. Always.  Because that protection works BOTH ways.  Your religion can’t dictate what others must live by, legally, AND government can’t legally force your church to change its tenets.  That wall has two sides, remember.

Point the Fourth: The personal flipside to the third point.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of an upcoming wedding of a couple that you, personally (and perhaps even silently) thought should *never* get married.  They were too young, or getting married for the wrong reasons, or it was an abusive relationship, or what have you.  I suspect we all have our hands in the air.  Here’s the thing: just because we were personally opposed, even a little, to that marriage taking place, we never even thought of getting it legally stopped.  That’s crazy talk!  We’d shake our heads, maybe.  If we were close enough to the couple in question, we may try to talk them out of it, but that’s the extent.  Even when the preacher says “If there be any here to oppose this union, speak now…” not a one of us went and got the *government* to stop the union, by law, even if we tried to talk the clergyman out of it (although I’ve never known anyone to even go that far…).

It’s the same thing here.  I, personally, don’t get the concept that marriage of two men or two women is any different than my own opposite-sex marriage, but I understand that people I love and respect do, for whatever reason.

That’s still absolutely no reason to support legal denial of equal rights, rationally or personally.

Point the Fifth: The religion thing.  While this has absolutely NO legal bearing on the issue–your religion beliefs (or mine) cannot infringe on others’ rights–because this is a *conversation*, I include this.  At least from the Christian perspective.

Jesus never said a single word about gay marriage.  Not one.  While there are a tiny handful of scriptural verses that appear to speak against sexual relations between same-sex persons, Jesus never had anything to say about it. Scriptures also support many things we, today, thousands of years later, find totally abhorrent and repugnant, such as selling one’s daughters, marrying one’s rapist, and keeping slaves.  We know enough to say, “Well, those were different times, and we can adjust to today’s world without keeping those things…” yet, too often, we suddenly throw out Leviticus’s laws (taken out of context) as somehow static and unchanging.  Without any logical reasons why. Scriptures also prescribe things that, thousands of years later in different climates with different lives, we simply find silly (like laws keeping menstruating women separate, or rules on how to holily de-mold one’s home). Again, we’re quite able to put those things in the “times change” cupboard, but if we see a few words about what appears to be homosexuality, we tend to freak out a little.

I don’t get that.

And back to Jesus.  Again, not a word about it.  But–and this is important–he DID have things to say about remarriage after divorce.  As in, it’s wrong. Utterly. Wrong.  Yet, in nearly every case (nearly), the same religious people, and the same religious churches, who deny gay couples the same benefit of marriage *will* do this for, or support, previously-divorced folks.

Look, I’m on my second (and last) marriage. I’m divorced.  By all rights, if we followed Jesus’s words, no church, no Christian clergy, should have blessed my marriage with Justin. No Christian person should support my current marriage (even if they love and support me).  Yet, they do (and have), thankfully. Not because Jesus was wrong, perhaps (if you’re a Scriptural purist), but because, as Jesus said, love is what matters, and love is more important than the law.

Also, if we allow Biblical views to dictate laws (and civil rights) in the United States, the government should not recognize any second marriages (after divorce).

Again, this fifth point of mine is not intended to be a rational, Constitutional argument for marriage equality.  It’s not.  However, because the vast majority of people who are against marriage equality are so because of their Christian beliefs, I wanted to address this.  And, because the people I love who catalyzed my making this blog entry are, indeed, Christian people (and fine, loving, generous, decent people to boot), I thought I’d include it.

Anyway, what this all boils down to is that I support marriage equality because it’s the right thing to do.  Historically, constitutionally, religiously.  And I hope you’ll at least entertain this a while, and I truly hope that between now and November, you’ll find it in your hearts to vote No.  If not, I’ll still love you. But turn this around in your heads a bit, in your hearts, and see what happens.

 

Marriage is marriage.

 

Oslo

Norway, land of my maternal great-grandparents (Bagn, NW of Oslo), beautiful nation of hearty folk and beautiful topography, is facing evil at this moment. Whence it comes is guessed at, but not confirmed. Children are being targets as well as government structures.

My heart goes out to you.

Additionally, one of my most immediate thoughts was this that I shared on facebook, on twitter, and on google plus:

Norway, all I can say is this: In the wake of the terrorism that’s been aimed at your lovely nation today,

DO NOT TRADE YOUR JOY FOR FEAR, YOUR RIGHTS FOR ERSATZ SECURITY, AS AMERICA HAS. Yes, I shouted that. Needed it.

Terrorism has always been in the world.  Terrorism always will be in the world.  It’s horrible.  It’s wrong.  And terrorism wins when we change the fabric of our lives because of it.

Don’t do it.

A wise person on Twitter had this to say, and this needs to be shouted from the rooftops around the world:

Salman_Shaikh1

I hope ppl of #Oslo come out in force – those new and old to city; all religions. Wld be best antidote 2 the sickos trying 2 terrorize them

Amen.

Oslo bleeds

Oslo bleeds

Days of Mourning and Celebration…

…otherwise known as the Ides of Mayday!

What am I talking about?  Well, some teachers with whom I discuss teaching English, online, and I were chatting, and some of them had a terrific idea about organizing events to draw attention to what truly good teaching is (as opposed to what NCLB, RttT, and most “reformers” think it is), and to mourn the loss of respect and room for creative lessons teachers have been given.

To quote from my wonderful, knowledgeable, fantastic teacher friends (and I’ve only met one in person but “know” them just the same):

A few of us have been tossing about in search of something to do to create awareness of good teaching and the stresses it is under at present, a consciousness-raising action for the good things that we all know are going on in schools.

To that end, we are alerting as many teachers as we can reach to wear black on the Ides of March (that is March 15) to draw attention to education, and from then until May 1 to use these and other ‘bullet points’ for posters in classrooms and schools to recognize and underscore good teaching:

TEACHERS

– Hug hearts and wipe noses

– Plan careful lessons and care for learners

– Give unlimited love with limited resources

– Mold masterful minds and make meaningful  memories

We hope for more points to be added.  A line  saying, If you can read this, thank a teacher would be great on a poster, too.

Others are also calling for action in the month of March.   http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/ is  launching a new blog campaign called “In March, the Sleeping Giant Awakes.” Bloggers are invited to write on this theme and twitterers to tweet using the hashtag #WakingGiant. Those without blogs of their own can send something by email to teachersabrinafsp@gmail.com for posting on that site.  Visit the website for updates about the National Call for Action events planned for July 28-31 in Washington  with a Teachers March on July 30.

Traditionally,  May 1 is a day of celebration in schools. In old England, and here until recently,  the coming of Spring was greeted with a Maypole dance,  music, and poetry.  The first day in May that we are in school seems perfect as a culmination of our celebration of good teaching and good schools, and on that date we will wear a color more joyous than black.

We appeal to everyone to make March 15 – May 1 Days of Mourning and Celebration and to spread the word far and wide.

Sincerely,

Eileen Bach  (New York)

Dixie Dellinger  (North Carolina)

Susan Snookal  (California)

Donna Tanzer  (Wisconsin)

So, teachers…we have a facebook group you can join (just e-mail if you wish and I’ll send you along that direction), and also let me know positive ways we can show the world what it is we really do, how we really do care, and how education actually should be!

So, I used to have this life, see…

My husband and I just spent the last few days in Rochester, MN, as I was visiting–yet again–the Mayo Clinic (which I can’t recommend highly enough, but that’s for another post). I have, among other things, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, and asthma, and I was working on making these conditions better (though I’ve been a patient of so many departments that I can’t recall them all). Some treatments are going better than others, let’s say.

On Thursday night, Rochester was having (amidst its downtown road construction) its summer “Thursdays on First” street fair, with the requisite tents of fun and funky crafts, food stands, and live music. It was incredibly hot, but hundreds of men, women, children, babies, hippies, hipsters, teens, the aged, the healthy, the unhealthy were moving about happily, with a great vibe in the air.  We weren’t headed to the street fair–we had a goal of catching the Twins game at Newt’s, but that turned out to be full so we walked several blocks back to our car and found another place.

Now, I love street fairs.  Seriously love them. They’ve long been my favorite places to be.  I love the sense of community, the varied people, the wares for sale, the food-and-music, all of it. I would travel miles and miles to go to a street fair, no matter the type. I love the open air, the colors. I even used to love the heat and sunshine.

I realized as we headed back to the car that for most of my history, you couldn’t have dragged me away from the street fair, Twins or no Twins. I would have been looking at the purses made from coffee bean sacks, the handmade jewelry, eating fish-on-a-stick, dancing to the music, laughing and sweating happily. That person, however, is gone.

I was fatigued (fibro and Hashi’s both). I was in a lot of pain. The humidity made it very difficult to breathe (asthma). The bright sun hurt my eyes, my photosensitivity having increased annually. And, the more my autoimmune diseases take root, the more I realize that just as with people with Multiple Sclerosis, heat triggers flares.

And, well, I was broke, which didn’t help…

By the time we got to the car, I not only wanted to collapse in an air-conditioned heap with a Vicodin IV, I was in tears.  I mourned for the person I used to be. I grieved for the woman who loved spontaneity, she who would don a tie-dyed dress and bangles and dance no matter who was watching. Who didn’t hide from the sun, who didn’t take like 18 prescriptions daily, who didn’t have to pace her life so that she could make it to Friday without calling in sick.

And I hated who I’d become, feeling useless, old, broken.

Well, I recognize that spiral. Self-pity, like rich brownies, is fine in moderation but one cannot make a meal of it without negative consequences, so I allowed myself that little cry. We found a cool, dark place to watch the Twins. I had a good time with my husband, with a good meal and lots of laughs.   And I still mourn for that tie-dyed banshee, but I’m not completely willing to give up on being her again. I don’t know how…but I am determined to not lose her entirely.

Maybe I’ll have to choose a “good day.” Maybe I’ll have to dance a little less, move a little more slowly. Maybe I’ll have to pre-medicate before going to the fair. Maybe I’ll have to pick a cloudy and cool day. I will likely have to concede the spontaneity, but I do not have to give up completely.

So, I’ll have my little cries, and I’ll vent on facebook and twitter (my spoonie friends understand). My husband will know how much this really bothers me, and he’ll be my hero, always, for making my life possible without making me feel weak.

And I’ll go dance in the freakin’ tie-dye, dammit.  Eventually.

Me, BCH (before crap health).  Huzzah!

Me, BCH (before crap health). Huzzah!

Reclaiming, Reintegrating

It’s the time of year when I get excited about planning my upcoming year; reflecting on what worked last year and modifying, choosing news stories and texts in some cases, finding new ways to teach the material, revamping what I do and still like.  It’s not stressful because I have time, and since I love organizing–concept organizing, that is, and not, say, closet organizing–it’s fun.

This summer is no different, but I have another item on my agenda.  One that isn’t about teaching, or education, or even my profession at all (although it impacts that, as well as everything else).  It’s about re-integrating my mind and body.

No, I’m not on some new-agey kick (not that I have anything against that, it’s just not me).  I’m not trying to find myself, and it’s not even a midlife crisis (although, come to think of it…).  It’s simply that over the last four years of medical comedy in my life, diagnoses and treatments and surgeries and prescriptions, I’ve lost track of my body.

More than that, I’m realizing that I not only have separated my body from “me” in such a way that it’s a foreign object, but that I absolutely hate this foreign object.  It causes me pain, and frustration, and it won’t do what I tell it to, and it keeps failing, and it interferes with everything I want to do.

I’ve been finding myself, more and more, watching commercials or programs or people in real life doing things that I used to do–simple things–and more and more I find I resent them, and hate my body, because I can’t do that.  Running, walking, canoeing, bending, reading, doing handicrafts.

I’m finding myself using language that highlights this separation, that labels my body a traitor, and I use metaphor that is violent (“I want a chainsaw to cut off these arms right now”).

I’m resentful–angry–over my eyes failing me when I’m an English teacher.  My reading has decreased an immense amount over the last three years or so, and it’s because I literally cannot see well enough to read at times–and it’s becoming more and more common. So many doctors, so many different “solutions”, and none of them have worked.  Meanwhile, my eyes get worse (and I had better than 20-20 vision for all of my adult life until recently).

I’m saddened and betrayed by the miscarriages.

I’m loathing of the autoimmune diseases that are killing parts of my own body, but it’s my own body that’s doing it.  I hate the pain, and I really, truly, hate the fatigue that keeps me from living the way I used to, from working as hard and as much as I used to.

I don’t like looking at myself–these conditions have done their damage on my appearance (weight, skin, etc.)–and all this resentment has built up so that, as Esperanza says regarding her environment vis-a-vis her *potential* at the beginning of The House on Mango Street, I feel like I’m a red balloon tied to an anchor.

And the key point there is that the “I” has nothing whatsoever to do with the body.  Separate entities, working against each other.

So, from discussions with my husband and a good friend–one who’s editing a book by a woman with a very similar journey–I’m realizing that this summer, along with setting up my Moodle courses, and finding a new novel for LA 8, and planning my new classroom, I have to re-integrate myself into a whole.  A flawed whole, granted, a whole with many parts missing and many parts not working properly, but a whole individual.

I need to learn to love this body again, and then perhaps I can heal.  And it’s not going to be easy.

My first steps?

And, since I’ll be teaching on overload this upcoming year *plus* going to grad school, I’m thinking now what I can realistically say “yes” to and what I will have to give up; I’m only one person, and one person with limited physical resources.

Of course, at the same time this is happening, I’ve managed another incurable diagnosis (spinal arthritis) to add to the Hashimoto’s, the Fibromyalgia, the Asthma, the (continue long, boring list here).  Also, my incision from a minor surgery on my back a couple of weeks ago has become, as happens often with me (weird immune system I have), infected.

But I’m trying very hard to not resent; accept, find the lessons, and adapt.  The resentment and hatred I’ve been carrying is contributing to the fatigue, I can only imagine, so it’s a mighty fine place to start.

Don’t Divorce Us

Because I live in a democratic Republic, where civil rights are not majority rule, and equality is something we promise to protect in our Constitution.

Because commitment should always be supported.

Because I’m in love with my best friend, and he and I enjoy benefits by legally marrying, and others should have the same.

For my stepdaughter, my friends, my family members who should have every right to happiness, joy, and family that I have.

This.  Video.

Don\’t Divorce Us