Thursday, February 26, 2015

Living in the Shadows

I see a lot of beauty in the darkness. Evening feels close and deep. Literature feeds on tragedy. Humor fawns on dark linings.

I say to my students, “You don’t get to be bored by someone else’s tragedy.” I think I can add, “You don’t get to look away.”

I’ve had a lot of sweet teenagers in my classes who look at me with great sad eyes and ask me why we can’t read stories with happy endings. Because, young ones, would we care?

There are certainly great stories that end in marriage (Thank you, Shakespeare) and freed slaves (Thank you, Twain), but even then there are great, unhappy questions: What happens to Jacques? Is Tom really free?

There’s a damaging side effect, of course—I’m sarcastic, cynical, critical. Sometimes I’ll be witness to others’ inspiration, some words that are the kind of catchy that’s quotable and immediately indexed on cat posters. My eyes arch and roll right over the crowd. I sometimes wish I could be easily inspired, rather than playing Negative Nancy.

I’ve learned when to veil it, but it changes my sarcasm sensor. For my job I have to play nice often enough, and sometimes I have my super genuine, be receptive and interested in everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING someone has to say all day long. And then I’ll suddenly be too na├»ve to hear a sarcastic comment when it smacks me in the face.

This week I was almost getting cavities from all the nice I had to play for the last three days. At one point someone said to me, “I’ve got a personal chef.” I said, “Oh really?” She said, “Yes, he works at Zippy’s.”

My brain couldn’t take it in. I immediately said, “Whoa, that’s cool” in my most earnest voice. I got the whole table to laugh at me before I realized my idiocy. When I’m playing extra nice with my class, I get lax on the grading. When I turn off my critical sensor I end up watching dumb shows.

So am I going to be smart and mean or sweet and dopey? Mr. Hyde is probably plotting the good doctor’s demise. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Do you have a minute?

Do you have a minute?

Let me tell you, if I had a minute, I can think of about 10 other ways I’d rather spend this minute than fix whatever you did to your computer.

I could scream into the ether, for one. To let off some of the steam that has been rising in my brain since I got here.

For another, I could sit down and check off one thing on my own to do list.

I’d much rather touch base with the kids who are sitting around my desk, who you just stepped around to let me know what you needed help with, during my lunch break.

Oh, I could eat my lunch, rather than leave it in my thawed lunch sack, so I don’t get the shakes from low blood sugar, like I do most days I don’t have time to eat.

But here, let me look at your computer, because you’re standing here and I have zero backbone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Boring Catharsis

Mozely cried when church was over. “Home is boring!” he said. I figured if I outlined the benefits of home over church, he’d stop fighting his way to the car.

“They have little pieces of bread!” when I told him there was nothing to eat.

“You can watch movies on the wall!” when we said there was nothing to do.

There was no answer at all to the idea that I would not be there.

It’s true. Most of what we do at home is keeping our lives together. We rarely break from business. I used to think my dad worked too much. But I certainly did not want to stay at church. Major insult.
I work in a world where reading is boring, paying attention is boring, real life is boring.

Truth in advertising: I fell asleep in my first workshop of the day on Monday. I don’t know how to live without deathbed repentance in one more episode procrastination. I’ve gotta check my phone, just one second. Oooo. Is that a cookie? Let me eat it in place of entertainment while I sit here.

At school I think of myself as a paid entertainer. I do my song and dance (sometimes literally), I guilt trip, I joke, I kid, I tease, I talk faster and louder in case confusion is an antidote to boredom.
And I become an overdramatized version of myself: The teacher who groans loudly and full-bodied when the student claims this poem sucks, the whiny and long lecturer of the value of work when complaints stack up about upcoming due dates, the one who adores and cheers the overwrought analysis of character faults over time, stopping and recreating each turning point.

It’s not that I’m lying about what I believe: that interesting yourself is more important than being entertained, and there are a lot of reasons to interest yourself beyond just pure pleasure
But, I do find that teaching is a little like acting on a stage. Everything, from your look to your voice, when you overdo it, it’s just enough. I think that's true in parenting as well. Maybe it's just how you have to deal with the in-the-now dramatic little people I have around me all the time.
Somehow, if I am the crazy, demanding, always version of myself, they’ll catch a sliver of the urgency in my character’s voice, and find that they are caught up in it. Too.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Evening Shores

Retreating tides leave a spacious shore. Twilight filters create evening shade. Somber blues tint my views.
Every part of the setting is unassumingly present. Pressing into my consciousness. Absorbing all my attention.
I can see the quiet textures spread out. Settle in.
We path from one topple rock to another in a dizzying, undiscerning pathway. Cool stones make whispery scuffs under our rubber soles.  Their numbers are immensely visible, dotting and circling and lining the edge of the dry sand and flowing into the water. They are impossibly round, like they’ve each been roughed up by a gem tumbler.

Clouds peel their impressions off still pools that are lightly ruffled by wind. Their pink and orange light lines their scratchy, gauzy curves.
Rushing air blends with flows of crushed styrofoaming water. Pulling up its blanket on the reef. Crust shelves sit sturdy over soft ocean. Their alligator teeth tear the horizon’s meet.
We walk past the nomads of dusk:
A spear diver runs by as if on errand, droplets of water clinging to his suit and then falling behind.
A girl playing ukulele stops nervously before we can hear her tune, but smoke from her cigarette makes it into my next deep breath.
A seal, belly sleeping. Its one eye open as we slink by is as judgmental and passing off as Alice in Wonderland’s hookah-wielding, blue Caterpillar. “Who… Are… You?” with a downward and sideglanced disregard.
Sunlight left its shine behind at glamorous noon: squeals and splashes, squints and skin. Its allure fades quickly for me-- I’ll never know how to forget harsh light and desperate charm.
After any longings I have for carefree days, those sober evening shores keep intimacies.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Words, Words, Words

I am an e-hoarder.

Collecting indicates a bit of curation, a special trip to all 50 states for silver spoons with destinations engraved on their faces, some display of order, possible viewing cabinets.

Hoarding is everything collecting is not. It’s the collections that you’ve forgotten and simultaneously add to. There’s no art or order. If you were to get it all out you’d be shocked by it. Others would be shocked. They’d want to bulldoze your house just so they don’t have to deal with it all. It’s messy unquantifiable and reeks of indulgence--the kind that holds you up to scrutiny. Organizing and rummaging through would require people with latex gloves. Shovels.

I’m stuffing words in the crevices of my living e-space. I’ve got 847 pieces of last year’s subscriber mail, never opened. I have unique passwords to 9 separate email in-boxes. I’ve got summer homes in text that I never scrap and rebuild. Once I peered into the deep well of my 4th laptop; I couldn’t see the bottom. Then there are the curated words of my daily life, the posts of limited and unlimited character counts.

Deciding what to release and what to hold back is the difficulty. Now this is part of the world and we’re all living together, with no paper contracts to prove commitment.

When I stand back and hold the words out to view, I’m overwhelmed. The hoarding is brimming in my brain.  When others see what I’ve let slip out of my control--

Do they wonder what I’ve lost and what I’m afraid to lose that makes me hold on?

The physical:

I left a box of love letters at a friend’s house when I went to college.  The boy who had written them scripted sincere, romantic prose with the awkwardness of first loves. I saw him turn completely to us, and he felt fragile in my grip.

I was sent a handwritten contract of long-distance friendship from a guy who wrote the most beautifully haphazard, meaningful nonsense. I lost it in the nomadic semesters of college life. One clause of the contract was that we will do whatever we have to to see each other if in close vicinity, which has resulted in steady streams of past midnight conversation in 4 different states and Japan.

A keeper found my entire writing portfolio in a zip disk, left in a library computer.  I was the loser. It’s a lay theft that I wish I could undo. I’ve retraced those steps a thousand times in my memory.

My last high school boyfriend printed out every email that we wrote to each other, some of them unfit for polite company, and I wish I could burn their digital and concrete lives, now that they are repossessed and no longer my own.

The cloud:

The poems I’ve written in sleep and groggily put together while staring into the dark, trying to cement metaphors I’d cut from soft bits of dreams--I know they were real-- but a second sleep left them to future deja vu.

I have a stream of living dialogue I’d be loathe to lose. I consider it to be closest to consciousness that I could possibly get, and it unlocks a bit of my shared brain. Everything loops back to the way I communicate. My words there are as connected to reality as parallel lines. That is the writing that is solely mine. A secret stash. A daily milk delivery. A personal laugh track.

I live in the written--lasting, elusive, catching. It’s abstractions that only matter to me and concrete that explains me. I gather them up where they won’t be seen again, backed up by vault storage I pay yearly fees to keep. So I pile them up even if there is nowhere left to stack.

How do I know what I think if I haven’t written it yet? How will I know what I thought if I don’t hold on to it?