Monthly Archives: May 2011

>Memory

>If I’m ever a published writer, you can file this under my juvenilia.

“Alzheimer’s” (September 27, 2008)
The makers of Aricept claim they can prevent or reverse
memory loss. But why would I want to do that? I’m glad I can’t
remember the whorls and ridges of your fingertips meshing with mine like the teeth of a zipper or
recall the tickle of your voice in my ear like a bird ruffling its feathers as it goes to nest or
call up the flavor of your lips which I can still taste through the skin of my forehead like some sort of amphibian.
No, I won’t take peppermint oil or tie strings around my fingers or paper my wall with post-its because I
think I want to
forget. But how can I
forget what I cannot
remember?

I worry sometimes because for the last year or so my memory has been shifting under me like a wobbly stool.  It’s incredibly frightening and makes me want to sign a euthanasia order if such things exist at the point when true dementia could strike me.  I have forgotten conversations, misplaced countless objects, and most frighteningly, convinced myself that I had done something that I actually hadn’t.  (It was a burst of meta-forgetfulness, as I thought I’d left something somewhere that I hadn’t.)  In some ways, though, maybe the memory loss is a mercy, for it also blunts the baseline pain that has gotten decidedly more acute in the last 6 months or so.  On the other hand, maybe it’s a response to trauma, and sooner or later it will come back, though hopefully not all at once.  What I can’t figure out is whether I’d rather forget or remember.

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>More Beautiful You by Jonny Diaz

>Little girl fourteen flipping through a magazine
Says she wants to look that way
But her hair isn’t straight her body isn’t fake
And she’s always felt overweight

Well little girl fourteen I wish that you could see
That beauty is within your heart
And you were made with such care your skin your body and your hair
Are perfect just the way they are

[Chorus]
There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

Little girl twenty-one the things that you’ve already done
Anything to get ahead
And you say you’ve got a man but he’s got another plan
Only wants what you will do instead

Well little girl twenty-one you never thought that this would come
You starve yourself to play the part
But I can promise you there’s a man whose love is true
And he’ll treat you like the jewel you are

[chorus]

So turn around you’re not too far
To back away be who you are
To change your path go another way
It’s not too late you can be saved
If you feel depressed with past regrets
The shameful nights hope to forget
Can disappear they can all be washed away
By the one who’s strong can right your wrongs
Can rid your fears dry all your tears
And change the way you look at this big world
He will take your dark distorted view
And with His light He will show you truth
And again you’ll see through the eyes of a little girl
[chorus]

>Oomingmack Odyssey Part I: How I Felt

>Crafting is probably the one area in my life where I have learned any semblance of patience, and also where I seem to glean some of the most profound spiritual truths. This weekend I buckled down and went to town on the felted musk-oxen slippers I started, oh, two months ago.  When I saw the slippers, they were so cute that I had to make them.  Never mind that I had never made footwear or felted anything before…must…have…musk oxen!


I borrowed the appropriate size circular and double-point needles from my school’s resident knitting guru, and went to work on the slippers.  I’m pretty good with reading patterns by now, but it was still intimidating to roll a cuff and open the heel.  I soldiered on, however, and finished the slippers a few weeks ago.  As you can see, they were huge and awkward when I took them off the needles…

You can’t tell from the picture, but these are about 14″ long.

Being an ecomaniac, I decided that I wanted to felt the slippers and other pieces by hand because I didn’t feel like running a whole washload of water for just a few little pieces.  From my research, I knew that felted pieces were supposed to shrink and the individual stitches would disappear in the process, but I had no idea how long it would take.  I did the off-white piece first, since it was just a rectangle, about 30″ by 7″ to start with and it was supposed to get down to 20″x5.5″.  According to the website I consulted, heat and agitation are what cause the wool fibers to felt, so I filled a washbasin with hot water and a little bit of soap and proceeded to do my best imitation of a washing machine with my hands.

After losing most of the feeling and outer epidermis of my hands for the rectangle, I tried using other implements for the slippers but ended up using my hands at the end anyway.  Thank goodness for Mary Kay Satin Hands treatment!

About half an hour in, I started to feel despair creep into my heart.  The website had been kind enough to mention that after the first one or two 5-minute intervals, the piece might actually look bigger, so that had not worried me at all.  But after thirty minutes of making “twinkle twinkle little star” motions in the hot water, all I had to show for it was a wet scarf.  The stitches were still clearly visible and the piece was definitely the same size as when I started, if not larger.  Was this going to work or not?

I know it’s much easier to felt things in the washer, but I’m almost glad I did it by hand the first time because I literally got to feel the fabric forming.  At about forty minutes, I finally noticed a change.  The fabric stiffened and felt heavy in my hands, and the stitches melted into each other. That 40-45 minute interval must have been the inflection point because it went quite a bit faster after that.  The last fifteen minutes were mostly spent shrinking the piece to the right size, since it already looked quite felted.  It took about an hour for both the rectangle and the slippers to felt to the appropriate size.

Here they are felted and now 10.5″ long…still too big for me, but supposed to be size 10 women’s.

The spiritual implications were readily apparent.  (You know I’m coming into a good place when the metaphor machine starts running again.)  Unfelted pieces are loose and soft and shapeless, and they can be unraveled if you just cut the right strand.  After felting, however, you have one solid piece of fabric that can hold its own shape and be cut into useful shapes without fraying to bits.  How is felt made?  Heat and agitation, as I said before, which pretty much describes how I’ve felt for the last year and a half.

And the process of felting unfolds stepwise rather than in a steady slow burn.  I think of boiling sugar for candy, or supersaturating a solution, or an acid-base titration, or the punctuated equilibrium of evolution.  It looks like nothing is happening for the longest time, but once things get moving–hard crack! precipitate! the awful magenta bloodstain of phenolphthalein! speciation!  I wonder if my life isn’t like that too, periods of frustration, suffering, loss, stagnation, through I am nonetheless constantly moving to the place where things can change very quickly and very profoundly.  I was at that place two years ago, and it was glorious.  Might I be approaching another such peak…or is it the bottom of the valley?

>Renewal

>So you might notice that this blog has gotten a facelift. I’ve decided to reopen this page as a comprehensive (though certainly not exhaustive) journal of my life and times. Vincent van Gogh said that, “The best way to know God is to love many things,” and I think that I’ve lost sight of that in the last two years. My hope is to find my balance again and become ever more mature and complete, and just maybe share the journey with my fellow travelers.

>Happy Minute

>In college I took Animal Physiology with Dr. Joe Williams, and he liked to start lecture with something he called “Happy Minute,” which entailed some sort of funny picture or joke that he would put on the projector.  Poor Joe invariably ran into technology issues, though, and his Happy Minute often stretched into five or ten or fifteen.  In addition, some most of his humor was just…not very funny.  Maybe it was generational.  After a few weeks of this I resigned myself to wasting 5-15 minutes of each lecture and made sure to bring a crossword puzzle with me.

Fast forward three years and I still remember Joe Williams, not necessarily for his work on hyperthermia in the Arabian oryx, but for Happy Minute.  I now begin most classes by showing downloaded YouTube clips of people getting in accidents, children acting stupid, cute fuzzy animals, or some combination of the above, and many of my students ask what the daily video is.  Why do I do this?  Mostly for my own entertainment, since I never get tired of watching David After Dentist or You’re the Best Chinese Hurdler Around, but it gives kids something to pay attention to while they’re waiting for their computers to boot up and I’m taking attendance and dealing with other housekeeping issues.  It also lightens the mood and gives them something to smile about.  No, there is no ultimate academic purpose to it, but I hope they remember it just as I remember dear Joe Williams and his Happy Minute.

>MI Expo

>Thursday night we had our Expo, which was an opportunity for students to show off what they’ve done in their classes this year.  Like the last post, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

I got to ride the MI Moonbuggy!

Showing off their bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

Biome projects from our class
The savanna

It’s hard to see, but they’re burning something copper and the flame is green.

Dance crew

>Just a fine and fancy ramble to the zoo

>

I chaperoned the zoology class’s field trip to the Columbus Zoo last Monday.  It was also the maiden voyage of the Olympus E-500 I requisitioned from my dad.  It’s very hard to shoot with a telephoto and not look a creeper, especially when the subject is small children, so I ended up holding the camera around my navel and sneakily pressing the shutter a lot of the time, but it made for some interesting photos.
The massive swarms of children made me very glad I do not teach K-8.
Our kids were the oldest school-age visitors by far.
But they are still little kids at heart!
But seeing the excitement of little kids is always refreshing.
Nobody understands emo bear…
Pete gets mauled by a tiger…albeit, a bronze one.

>Testing, Testing

>Yesterday was yet another day of emotions running high as students got their OGT scores back.  I actually knew scores were up the night before, and I hurried to check up on some of my juniors and seniors from first semester.  One of my girls who had worked really hard since the beginning of the year and was only 2 points off in October knocked it out of the park with an increase of almost 25 points. But there weren’t as many triumphant fist pumps as there were heartbreakingly close not-quite-theres.  I only saw one of my seniors who didn’t pass yesterday, and he understandably looked less than thrilled.

My sophomores were also keen to know their scores, and anxiety was high all around, even in students that I knew would have no trouble passing. I incredulously asked one student, who is bright as day but took the OGT while serving time in the juvenile detention center, “Did you really think you weren’t going to pass?  Why???”  And he exclaimed, “I took the test in jail!” as if that explained everything.  I am still trying to understand what it is that trips up so many of our otherwise very intelligent kids, and I wonder if a fair part of it is not test anxiety.  One would think that might not be as big of an issue now that students are used to testing from third grade onwards.  On the other hand, I can only imagine what nine years of academic “failure” can do to a child’s confidence.  Add to that the punitive consequences of behavioral choices (many of which are administered by the school system) and you have kids who do not believe in themselves, and possibly teachers and administrators who don’t believe in them either.  It’s a vicious cycle based in the culture, and I am honestly not fresh-faced and bushy-tailed enough to think I can change that completely, but it does give me some “implications for instruction” to think about, to use educational parlance.

>One unique aspect about teaching in a small school (even when that school is part of a larger system) is the closeness of community that forms as a result. I got to see that last week at the Honors Banquet, which I still hope to write about soon, but it was even more evident yesterday when we received the stunning news that one of our colleagues had passed away suddenly that morning.

During this morning’s time of reflection on his life, I learned that Drew was only 34 years old. That surprised me not because he looked particularly old but because he seemed so much wiser than his age. I remember running into him in the teacher workroom at the beginning of the year. No doubt I was juggling a pile of last-minute copies and looking generally harassed, and he asked me how the school could have prepared us new teachers better, not just in terms of school but also in adjusting to a new town, since all of us were transplants. As the semester wore on and I began to seriously question my choice of vocation, he listened patiently and always asked one or two incisive questions at a time, leaving me to figure out my answers for myself. His only advice was to make the job entertaining for me, and I took those words to heart with a giant cheese head, fly swatters, a vuvuzela and a screaming flying monkey that I hope would make him proud.  He was right, though, for when I am having fun and enjoying my job, I am that much more inclined to try and make learning fun for the students too.  From what our students have been saying, that’s what he did and did so well.

It was obvious even in the short time that I knew him that Drew was both respected and loved by the students and staff here, and his passing has brought us together in both grief for his loss and celebration of who he is.  This has not been an easy year for our school–the year started with the death of a student, we lost our long-time nurse a few weeks ago to illness, one of our CPO’s is undergoing treatment for cancer, our small school’s principal is retiring at the end of the year, and now we have lost a dear friend and colleague.  But it is ultimately comforting, especially for me personally, to see an example of truly good grief, when everyone comes together and walks through it together, pausing when necessary and looking forward when ready.