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?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Elves on the Shelf

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I didn’t buy into the elf on the shelf stock. I should have. From what I’ve heard it’s pretty tight parenting stuff. Building memories, magic, and tradition, and teaching kids to follow the rules all in one setup. I can barely get myself to the post office before they close. Starting traditions that require contracts is beyond my level of dedication to anything that isn’t treading water.

I can definitely thread successful kids who come through my classes to families with very stable homes with one parent dedicated to the kids’ lives. It has a history of evidence I can’t deny.

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And then, contrary to the norm, the kids who have some of the most unusual family situations I’ve encountered and hang out in my room every day are funny, sharp, fascinating, and insightful. They have a lot of drama, and plenty of challenges, but I really just love all of their hard edges.

So what does that mean? How do you raise a good kid? I’ve got nothing sure here. Mine kinda get the short end of the stick between everything we have to do. We’re working, handing off, packing the kids with us on our journeys, rather than the other way around. 

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And if you heard Amaya saying yesterday that I ruin everything, well, I won’t disagree that some of that’s parenting and some of that’s mistake making. I guess figuring out the difference will mean I’ve arrived.

For what it’s worth:

I have two kids who look in pictures like they’re getting the kind of parenting I wish I was giving. I’ll take it. At least until I figure out what I’m doing. And I guess for now we’re doing ok.

(Plus they do have magical powers. Like waking up before light almost every day.)

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Life Refrain

Sometimes I imagine now, as “used to have been”, to

decide what I would miss most

I am currently reminiscing the buzz of carpenter bees

that seem to impossibly vibrate space

around lilikoi vines that choke

our rusted fence (the voice of its hinges like my children’s).


The dialogue of razor scooters and skateboard wheels in the street

and trucks that run on diesel songs,

--the ocean’s textured tongue pressing in the background--

All of it staying with us, a daily conversation in our living room.


I think, wouldn’t I miss this

mumbly breeze through our louvres that only close

when we’re gone

these silent panes of glass, shut, between outside and in

then (the future and past the same distance from me, here) and now

Would be final.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Insult Prone

If you’re a kid, you don’t have to eat the bread crusts on your peanut butter sandwich because they’re ew.

You can talk loudly in the grocery store about needing to go poop, emphasizing it with the doody dance.

And you can insult adults without worrying about hurting their feelings. 

You will, actually, hurt their feelings. It’s just that you don’t worry about it.

There is nothing in this world as critically reviewed as a teacher. It is the only profession, besides parenting, that people who have no training or experience in are allowed to have an opinion.

Every student who can read the English language will tell you, no matter how many copies have sold, how many people have read and liked and alluded and remade it, that this book you’re teaching is complete trash. Miss, I’ve read seven pages and it is sooooo boring. Can’t we read something good?

On the edge of my grammar book someone in a previous year wrote “This class sucks.” Just this week I noticed that someone recently added, “alot".

(Hopefully, said person will not be repeating my class, despite his/her grammar skillz.)

Even if you have 34 students who just love, love, love every second of your class, and eat up your words like adoring face-licking puppies, that one student who yells, “YES! FINALLY!” when the bell rings can ruin the whole day.

I like to make special projects out of students whose mission is to hate me. These are the kids that glare and roll their eyes when everyone else is laughing at my joke. They come see me about their grade and act like I am wasting their time if I try to talk to them. I like to kill ‘em with kindness, in my totally manipulative way. It helps me to remember to like them, too, so it’s not all about my entertainment.  I give them extra attention. I laugh openly when they scowl. I work them into my jokes about what will be reported from class back to parents out of context that night. I super high five them while they reel from the shock because they don’t know what hit ‘em. These are students that just make it part of their persona to hate anything that someone else likes, so I get that. They’re me. I’ve won over more than a few of these guys this way, by the end, so I like to think it works.

There’s a survey that asks students to rate the teacher on a scale of “Never” to “Always” according to about 100 statements. It’s part of the teacher evaluation system and is tied to teacher pay. One of the first ones is:

“This class feels like a happy family.”

Well, if you feel comfortable enough to insult your mother and expect to get a barrage of ruthless teasing in return while your siblings all laugh, I suspect I’ve got near perfect ratings.

Friday, November 28, 2014


My parents were pretty good about taking pictures of important days. There were a lot of of pictures of my dad eating.

Most of them exhibited one of the many genetic traits I received from him. Eyelids drooped and mid-bite just as the picture is shot. To say the least, not very flattering. Thanksgiving pictures were reenactments of that look, with different traditional and non-traditional foods on the table.

I didn’t grow up with many traditions. It didn’t feel dysfunctional to me. My mom clipped a new recipe from the newspaper and would try it out, we ate Japanese stew with konnyaku (not my favorite), friends invited us over for the real deal Stove Top dinner, we assembled turkey sandwiches in the parking lot of the ski lodge, we went out to the movies after a quick, early dinner. Every year was different. There were lots of memorable ones. I never once felt like we needed to revive what we had done the year before.

For some of my childhood, I think my mom was trying to figure out what basic American families eat. She did, eventually, know how to make turkeys and stuffing and apple pie. I think that’s what made us feel like we had arrived, as Americans—our understanding of the stereotypical American Thanksgiving and that we could recreate it. But, we weren’t tied down by that feeling. We didn’t have to do things that way.

It was a metaphor of growth for us. We could, if we wanted to have it, but there was no disappointment if we wanted a new adventure. I just spoke to my parents on the phone, and they went to a restaurant for Thanksgiving this year. I asked them what kind of food the restaurant specialized in and they said, “Creative.” I said, “No pumpkin pie?” My dad said, “Mom made a pumpkin roll cake.” Japanese sponge cake style. I know, some people just love Thanksgiving, exactly the way it is, and I’m not saying “Take it or leave it,” – I’m just saying I don’t have my heels dug in deep for how it should happen.

The only thing that stayed the same for us was that we were together and that food is part of our expression of love, so there was always plenty of that. Now we’re strewn far apart. I didn’t even talk to my parents until the day after Thanksgiving. Kegan lives in Japan (he’s probably the most sentimental about the traditional foods, ironically), they’re in Oregon, and I’m in the middle with a big in-law extended family. I still feel the strings of family and loyalty over those long distances even when we’re missing important days together.

I also don’t feel bad that this is our current Thanksgiving:


I’ll take whatever we’ve got with the people I love. I think that’s about all the tradition that’s worth saving.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Recent Discomforts


Waking up two hours earlier than your alarm because your husband is yelling loudly, wordlessly, in his sleep, sending adrenaline pumping through your body while you attempt to wake him.

Emailing the faculty that their computers do not have 739 viruses each and to not click to clear their computers of said viruses, because mentioning it is bound to make at least ten people vaguely remember something about this, and that they should maybe click on this because they’ve heard about it.

Having people who are much, much thinner than you compliment you on your weight loss, tell you that you don’t need to lose weight, and then pretend that weight is just a number while simultaneously mentioning something about eating carbohydrates on Wednesdays only, the exact tightness of their skinny jeans, and the precise number of ounces they have gained and lost since high school, charted like babies’ growth percentiles.

Asking the smartest kid in your class to repeat his mumbling in a more audible way, and having him refuse to tell you what he just said, and then asking the kid next to him to tell you, and that kid pretending to have forgotten what was just said.

Sitting in church and hearing the teacher say, “I did not prepare a lesson today because I want to give you guys a chance to talk.”

Hearing a large gaggle of drunk men outside laughing louder than the music you are playing in your own house, and wishing you had trained in judo, kickboxing, or at least joined the CIA.

Your husband asking you if you want him to start shaving his legs. and not laughing right away.

Texting/Saying/Emailing/Writing something you thought was funny, and waiting for a response, for far too long, and wishing that there was a text/speech/email/writing retrieving function.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Alone, Together


When we argue in the car


night air slips around our encased contention

the tunnel cuts the radio transmission

into a tune of electric chafe


the static

of silence




the wheels spinning over concrete

ridges of each slab connection

beat a hard rhythm





I’ve heard these pulses before:

~ We stood in a stiff wind

that pushed like tides against our rock faces

~ I was hiking ahead of you, heavy clouds hid

and escaped in my exhales

~ Your running soles scraped a lopsided thrum

against mine in the shadows between streetlamps


Now I watch you watching the lines on the road

making their paths out of the dark

barely chasing ahead of our lights


Being alone, together, crackles between us.

Monday, November 10, 2014


This is about to sound like bragging, but wait around, the self-deprecation is on its way.

I get a lot of people praising me for my competence. This is because I know how to:

  • internet
  • read on-line tech forums and use their solutions
  • turn computers off and then on again (90% of all tech problems)
  • tell the difference between Chrome and Internet Explorer
  • not click on pop ups telling me I have 4,233 viruses
  • take screenshots (wizardry!)
  • cancel print jobs
  • Pay attention to time zones for East Coast tech support and keep myself busy while being on hold for long periods of time
  • call the guy who actually knows how to fix stuff
Basically, because I dink around, people just assume I'm really good at things. This is like the greatest farce known to woman. The main tech and I laugh about this all the time, so it's not exactly a secret, but it is hilarious to me how often these "skills" come in handy. 

Sometimes I come across skills that other people have easily picked up and I feel in awe of most other humans because I never did figure that out. Internet tutorials have not helped me much. 

My incompetence includes:

  • Proper eyeliner application and its accompanying terms 
  • Getting to places on time.
  • Taking care of stuff that isn't on fire.
  • Avoiding long explanations where simple ones are sufficient.
  • Using a calendar and to-do list properly.
So I don't get how people who are able to do these things are so bad at telling me what model of printer they have over the phone. 

Really, which one of these should be highly valued? Definitely the second list deserves praise. 

So I applaud you, on-time and succinct, fine-eyed people. You're real American heroes. I am going to make little signs for you to help you through the rest of it.

"Remember, a download of that Coupon Clip Toolbar is an evening of money saving bliss to a slow-boot morning of regret."

"You'll never get where you're going using that Internet Explorer icon."

"Keep Calm and Carry On and Never Click Those "WaRnInG! Your Files are Exposed!" Messages"

"You can do anything! Except update your Java version." *

"Dare to be an individual. Google that shtuff."

"Yes. Yes, you CAN (check to see if your power plug is actually connected to the wall)." 

"Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right [that printers won't work with paper jammed inside there]." --Henry Ford

*if you are not a teacher, this probably makes no sense, but our attendance program does not work on current versions of Java, so I spend 90% of my time telling people to ignore Java updates and uninstalling them.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

In general I would say that the Summer of Yes is followed up by the School Year of No.
All day:
No, you cannot have all of my writing utensils.
No, you cannot draw your pseudo gang signs on my board.
No, you cannot tell us about your aunt's vomiting dog.
No, you cannot talk to your friend who is waiting outside the classroom about her drama.
No, you cannot have all of my tape so you can tape together my expo pens into a gigantic bouquet.
And then I get home and I’m just like:
NO. no
It’s a bit shameful how little will I have to deal with my real kids and all of the stuff that makes life go ‘round in our home eco system.
Seemingly simple to-do lists get thrown into the recycling bin of my mind’s desktop and I want to sit on the dang couch, eat some cookie butter, and check my social media. Something about being demanded all of the time by very insistent humans saps my ability to Yes.
Luckily, Amaya and Mozely find that taking first, asking later, is the way of dealing with me. I’m raising real problem solvers. Complex thinkers. Future criminals, probably.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Flipping Off

“Fuck This.”

He says, and slams his pencil down on the table.

His proverbial desk flipping is as harmless as finger flipping

but he’s not a stick man meme with a turn down mouth

he’s a 280 pound 15-year-old who was in 8th grade twice

his Laie Boys East Side representin’ tattoo is stretched over his pillowy bicep

I want to say, yeah, F this, because I spent last Saturday grading papers

while you went to pounders, sifting in and out of foamy days

I rifled through pages of the internet with click through fingers, trying to doctor a cure for your boredom

while you fell asleep reading the page you were supposed to finish weeks ago

and I worried about you, your weaknesses playing losing games of Life with my anxieties

while you got slapped and filled your cup with obscene insults at home.

You drink them up and talk yourself into a contortionist’s trick.

I find him hiding in one corner of a cheeky smile

which he gives me when I finally say,

my breaths tight against my throat--

after a long teenage audience of silence--

“I’m not sure you’d enjoy that much.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Internet-based Moral Systems

You’re just coming home from football practice and you need to shower, eat dinner, and do homework before hopefully falling into bed before midnight. You’ve got a test tomorrow on 1984. Crap. You’re on page 10. Nevermind that the book started on page 7. Nevermind that you had two hours before practice to do homework instead of playing dollar flip (you won $2, so that was time well spent). Chances are, when you sit down and open up your book you’ll find yourself falling asleep by page 11. But wait, there’s a savior for you: Sparknotes.

                Sparknotes is a widely used resource for “too busy” students everywhere. Its fan base alone is testament to its power and quality. The hard job of thinking is done previously, by people who have time to do so, and all you need to do is use your meme-filled, twitter-condensed mind to lap it up, from the comfort of your own home. Surely, if it’s found on the internet and free, it must be worthwhile!

Instead of spending the next three hours reading a book you won’t enjoy for a test riddled with trick questions by your conniving English teacher who hates you anyway, Mrs. Jackson, you could spend two hours on Facebook and perhaps 20 minutes skimming through the chapter summaries for this book. It hits all the important issues and is written, probably, by underpaid expert English teachers who need to sell their souls for rising costs of living, so it’s got all the answers. You could even spend ten more minutes on Yahoo answers jotting down some of the more important quotes which might be on that test, if you really want to impress someone. By that time, you’d be in bed a half an hour early, and it’s widely known that students need their beauty rest, because teenagers’ growth hormones need sleep to generate (

                Pesky morals may haunt you. Students have moments of weakness when they think that using Sparknotes might be dishonest, but in the long term you need to go to college. You know you could do it, you know you would do it, if you had to, if you were in college, if you didn’t have to sleep/go on FB/read all these BOOKS you don’t have time to read. That’s what matters. You just need to be able to do it, and you are a completely capable person with a lot of skill. You got a B on the last test and you only read the first chapter anyway. That shows you’re doing something right. What’s dishonest is getting grades based on what you know because you don't have time to show what you really know.

                You are important, and you are worth it. Your future is worth a little untruth. You still clearly know the difference between right and wrong and when it matters, you will make the decisions that matter. Just like you will know the answer when it is important for you to know the answer. The only people that actually read the book have no lives and are not well-rounded, so it’s completely fair that Johnny, who you know read the book, got a B on the last test, too.  He is obviously not as smart as you.

Reading books is not what makes you smart. What makes you smart is getting passable grades without even trying. If you really tried, you would get A’s. Talent and brains is what makes millions; Bill Gates was so lazy he dropped out of college ( You can almost hear Mrs. Jackson lecturing “It’s the thinking that’s important, not just knowing what the answer is!” or similar silliness about education being more important than grades. You can’t go about life worrying about what other people think.

 Isn’t that what she taught you?