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January 3rd, 2011

12:57 pm - Unloading
When my dad died a number of years ago, he had already cleaned out his office at work, but there were still four or five filing cabinets of files from his professional life at home, and since my mother couldn't bear to face it, it was up to me to clean them out. I think I saved maybe four pieces of paper, and the rest got recycled.

Whenever an English teacher retires from our department, that teacher inevitably leaves for the rest of the department's benefit, boxes and boxes of material. And why not? That was the teacher's life work, and surely it could benefit someone, perhaps a new teacher. But what usually happens is that someone pulls maybe a two or three files, and the rest eventually gets recycled.

I myself have 18 drawers of filing cabinets at school and another 4 at home, and I'm not going to do that. I'm going to throw away my old stuff myself. I started last week at home when I got a beautiful oak filing cabinet that used to be my grandmother's. It seemed stupid to just transfer files from the old crappy ones to my new one, especially when I realized that most of them were files from my first couple years of teaching, which I hadn't even looked at in 15 years. Am I ever going to teach any of those works again? Probably not. And even if I were, I'm not the same person or the same teacher that I was then, and I would redo everything anyway. So out they went. What a load! There went a hundred pounds of papers that my children or grandchildren won't have to throw away when I'm dead, or my young colleagues pitch when I retire.

If I don't use it, and don't need it, why save it?

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January 2nd, 2011

02:14 pm - On Being a Parent
The elder son is off to college again, after a most delightful Christmas vacation, and I am sad sad sad.

I have to remind myself that my children's lives are not my lives, but their own.

When you are born, you have your life, which is yours, but which is circumscribed by the lives of your parents. Much of your childhood happiness depends on what your parents provide for you--the safe, nurturing homelife. But then you grow up, and move on, and though you still love your parents, your life is not much connected to theirs. You experience your own things, on your own terms, and probably do not even think about your parents all that much.

And then if you decide to have children of your own, the next twenty or so years are all about raising those children, and then they grow up, and you're left with your own life again, and that's really all that you have. Hopefully, you will have raised your children well, and they will be people that you like and enjoy the company of, but once they're grown up, their lives are their own. So when they come home from college for vacation, you can enjoy them, but they will go away again. And you miss them. But you can't have them, because they have their own lives.

I have to tell myself this. It was so wonderful having ES home. And now he's gone.

And I have music to play, friends to see, art to make, a garden to plan, a whole everything, and it's all good, and it's the way it should be. But it doesn't stop me from missing him.

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March 5th, 2010

02:26 pm - The other part of my life
This is what the other--non-teaching--part of my life is like:

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12:33 pm - Tired of Teenagers
Sometimes I get really sick of teenagers--both my own and the ones I have to deal with all day in school. Usually everything is great. Usually the kids in school are "with me." Usually I get super-energized teaching and think it's all worthwhile.

But today.... was pointless. My fourth hour class not only wasn't with me; they were downright hostile. It's a big class. It's surprisingly half girls (most of my science fiction classes are almost all boys), and many of them have an attitude. Today's problems:

One girl who is usually okay is mad because she got a detention for being late (and wanted only to argue about it--ending with "What's your beef?")

One girl who is usually okay is mad because I wouldn't let her play games on her calculator ("What's the problem? I have all my notes written already.")

One girl who is not usually okay, kept talking to the two boys around her, heaving sighs and muttering things under her breath whenever I asked them to do anything.

One girl who is always answers every single question I ever ask the class is mad, as she always is, because she doesn't get "A"s on her papers, even after asking me if her thesis statement and topic sentences are okay.

The whole class is outraged that I would ask them to choose a quote from Fahrenheit 451 and write TWO HUNDRED whole words about it ("I don't have that much to say about anything!")

I'm sure most of them are texting their friends when I'm not looking.

The general ickiness is really getting me down. It's time for spring break.

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February 4th, 2010

03:26 pm - Sick of Reading/This Year's Books
Do you ever get sick of reading? Feel like it's just sucking your life away? That you're missing out on REAL life because you're spending all your time reading?

That's kindof the way I'm feeling. I'm spending way too much time reading. But some of the books were really good. Here's the list from since the new semester started:

The Summons, by John Grisham. Some of my students (mostly male) like him, and I recalled reading sometime by him a long time ago that I remembered being a pretty good story. Well alas, this wasn't so. The story itself was okay (guy gets summoned back to his retired judge dad's house only to find the judge dead, and gets embroiled in quite the mystery/suspense), but the writing was DREADFUL. So much "telling", so artificially constructed, and so trite. I never really got into it, but finished it anyway because I was a little curious about how it turned out.

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. We're reading I, Robot in my science fiction classes, and I was talking about this book with them, which I hadn't read since high school. I remember really liking it, so I thought I should read it again. The sweep and ideas of it are fabulous, but I hate the lack of character development. Does he really think it's human nature for all men to smoke cigars?

Foundation and Empire, by Isaac Asimov. Same problems as Foundation.

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. This was a delightful, rich story of an orphan and a rich young woman set in Victorian, England, and the scam that a con man sets up to cheat the rich woman out of her fortune. There are plots within plots, with very real characters who I really cared about.

Second Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. This one finally had what seemed like a conclusion. The other two just stopped, like it was in the middle of the story. This one also, followed the same characters through most of the book, so it was a lot more satisfying than the other two. I don't think I need to read any more of these. I never got over being bothered by the cigar-smoking men and the housekeeping women, which I don't remember at all from high school.

Tipping the Velvet, by Susan Waters. This is about lesbian London in the 1890's and though it came highly recommended to me, the main character annoyed me no end. Her initial romance with the music hall girl was sweet, but after that, she just seemed to be a victim of circumstances, and never had any morals of her own. But it was very rich, and very well-written.

Shout Down the Moon, by Lisa Tucker. A great story about a young woman with a small child who's trying to make it as a singer with a band who resents her presence, and who's dealing with her child's criminal father, who is obsessed with getting her back. She's a strong character, who truly does "find herself" (as trite as that sounds).

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. A great YA book about a teenaged hacker who takes on "Big Brother" in an all-to-real near future San Francisco after a terrorist act prompts the city to adopt stringent surveillance policies in the newest Patriot Act. A fine read. I'm going to recommend it to my students when we read 1984 in a couple months.

The Cure for Modern Life, by Lisa Tucker. This is my favorite booj in a while. Two great characters who used to be lovers, but now he's a Pharmaceutical bigwig and she's a medical ethicist trying to expose his company's unethical dealings.

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January 18th, 2010

07:35 am - Midwinter uckiness
I don't know why I should keep having uncomfortable dreams. One boy as a toddler, and I'm desperately trying to a cross busy street to escape to somewhere, and I'm afraid we'll get separated. The other boy as a baby, only he belongs to someone else, and I see him, and yearn after him, but he's not mine. So I wake up, and can't go back to sleep again, even though the start of our semester was interrupted by two snow days, and now we're having a three day weekend, so I'm not getting enough sleep. The first boy is hundreds of miles away, and I probably won't see him again until June, and the second boy is nearly grown up himself, and my house seems so empty. Things are changing, and I'm not quite keeping up with them.

And even though we're in the middle of January, with all those snow days, it's still a new semester with all of its attendant uncertainties. I don't know all the kids names yet (I'm getting closer), and they don't know the routines yet. I like all my classes, though one of them has an unreasonable number of snotty girls in it (usually Science Fiction is mostly boys, but this one class has more girls than boys, and they don't want to read anything, and what they do read, they don't want to think about, which is a drag, because that's the really fun thing about teaching science fiction--the great discussions those kids usually dive into).

The snow is melting into dirtiness, and I want it to snow again, so that it's white and beautiful.

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December 4th, 2009

01:45 pm - Promise


Looking through a stack of photographs the other day, I came across one I didn’t remember. It was taken when my son was in fifth grade. It was a group of boys, just back from Star Base, where they spent an intensive five days being indoctrinated into the army mindset, making rockets, and learning how to use flight simulators. The boys are all piled together, arms flung across each other’s shoulders, holding their rockets, making rabbit ears over each other’s heads, and grinning like childhood would last forever. It’s impossible, looking at this picture, to see anything but a uniform group of happy boys. They all have their whole lives in front of them.

Looking at the picture, you can’t tell at all what happened to any of them. They are all eighteen or nineteen now, but you can’t know that one of them ended up smoking so much pot that he dropped out of high school. One of them was so cute that the next year the sixth grade orchestra was twice the size it usually was because a whole flurry of sixth grade girls chose to be in orchestra because he was in orchestra, but then he quit the next year and started playing football and became a high school football star, even though he wasn’t very big. One of them never really learned how to read very well, and got put in remedial reading classes in high school, where his teachers liked him because he was a nice boy, but didn’t have terribly high hopes for his future. One of them shot and killed someone in a drug-related robbery and is going to spend the rest of his life in jail. One of them nearly dropped out of high school when his older brother committed suicide, but was saved by art classes and wrote beautiful beautiful poetry in Creative Writing. One of them worked hard in school, got good grades, and was kind to everyone including his own rather obnoxious little brothers. And one of them just finished an intensive first quarter in college, writing 16 heavy-duty papers on ethics, race, and politics, dropping his high school “slacker” attitude to become a serious student. You can’t tell at all from this picture which boy is which.

At what point in these boys’ pasts were these nearly grown-up outcomes determined? Surely on that sunny winter day in fifth grade, they were each already on the path that would lead them inexorably to their present. Was it kindergarten, when they first came to school with scrubbed faces and eager smiles, and their teachers knew nothing about them except that here was another group of children to shape into good students? When they hadn’t yet been sorted into “smart” and “not-so-smart” categories? Or was it earlier, when their parents either read to them or didn’t, when they were lovingly embraced or spent the nights huddled in their rooms while their parents fought? Or was it earlier still, at the moment of conception, that their future all laid out in front of them? When all the choices their grandparents and the grandparents before them were being made? Does the present generation continue to live out the scripts written for them from centuries past?

I miss my son. He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing—growing up and into himself, and becoming a human being that I can be proud of. But I want him home again. I want him in fifth grade, at a time when I didn’t know yet what and who he would become, when he was still all promise, and it might make a difference whether or not I spent hours playing catch with him, or reading long novels to him or baking pumpkin pies and making mashed potatoes together. I was him small again, so I can do whatever is in my power to make the world a place where he can grow into the best person he can become, where all children can become the best people they can, so that when I look at that picture I don’t feel like crying.

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September 14th, 2009

04:51 am - Sleeplessness
 Tomorrow, Elder Son and I leave for Michigan.  It seems very odd that I have to go to school to teach today.  Irrelevant to my life, which at this moment is all about ES leaving for college.  He is so ready, and I don't know how I'm going to stand having him gone.  Of course I have to, but still, I'm going to miss him SO much.

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September 13th, 2009

06:42 am - Diet plans that don't work, but which are still a good idea
I need to lose ten to fifteen pounds.  I have no interest in counting calories, or points, or whatever else that people "on diets" are supposed to do.  I just want to be healthy and to not have to think about what I'm eating.  Gaining unwanted fat comes from habits over long periods of time.  Throughout my life, the first excess came from the year I worked in a coffee shop and I drank creamy cappacinos and ate chocolatey pastries that I hadn't before; the second and third came from getting used to eating more because of being pregnant and then nursing and not cutting back again when those weren't the case, and the fourth came from when I became single and no longer had time to ride my bike to work and also ate school lunches instead of bringing my own.  None of those things in and of itself seemed major, but they added up.

I lost all of that weight, but now some of it has been creepy back, which tells me that my habits are not helping me.  I have lots of GOOD habits.  I love vegetables, and eat a lot of them.  I exercise nearly every day, and am active at work.  But still....I love eating--especially good bread, good cheese, and any number of things that my wonderfully cooking friends make.  So I need more good habits.

This is my diet plan:

1) Don't eat standing up.  (Seems like I've written about this before).  That eliminates endless sampling while cooking, and grazing at parties, two places where I eat far far more than I should.

2) Don't do anything else while I'm eating, except when I'm playing Boggle or chess with Quixote.  The big thing really is eating and reading.  It's SUCH a pleasurable activity that I would get more food so that I could continue it.  Just eat.

I've been doing these two things for about five months now, and they really have become habits.  Good habits.  I haven't lost any weight, but they're still a good idea.  (I haven't gained any more weight either).  Over the course of my life, they will help.  If I ever decide I need to do anything else (like count calories--boring!) it will be at least one thing I won't have to think about.  I can add other good habits, when I'm ready,and have those already in place, because we all know that it's easier to make small changes than to make drastic ones.

And just maybe, at some point, they will add up to enough.

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September 9th, 2009

05:23 am - Bats
 All summer long there have been little turds on the bridge right outside my back door.  They look like mouse turds, only a little bigger, and a little more ragged on the ends.  I never thought that much about them.  Animals do, after all, poop, and it was outside, and who am I to say what poops where.  I run a continual battle with mice indoors, where I am massively offended by mouse turds on the counters and behind the microwave.  If they can't find their way back OUTside where they belong, I have no problems setting traps.

A couple days ago, when I was taking my supper, or a late-afternoon snack out back, I swept the backdoor turds off, so I could sit down turd-free. Wildlife consisted of the the inevitable swarms of mosquitos and the siren of cicadas, and flittering of birds, and scampering of squirrels, but I noticed the next day that the back door turds had returned.  This was something ACTIVELY pooping outside my back door.  

I looked up.  There is a strip of hardy plank screwed up parallel to the eaves, covering a screen, venting the crawl space under the roof.  What could be up there?  I press my face against the wall, and see something curved.  A squirrel tail?  Sure looks like it to me.

I go into action, call my former husband who built the addition with this roof and this venting system to ask how it connects with the rest of the house.  If there are squirrels in the crawl space (which has no wiring because the wiring is all below the ceiling), can they get into the rest of the house.  I do not want squirrels in the house.  They do incredible damage.  I need to borrow some live traps.  Former husband recommends poison (sorry, but no).  Younger son says he's been hearing LOTS of scratching in the walls.  Sounds like squirrels to me, but how the hell are they getting in.  Quixote and I had fixed the hole under the eaves on the other side of the house, and had no longer heard squirrel noises above the dining room.  

I drag the extension ladder over to the spot, climb up, and sure enough, above the strip of hardy plank, there is an opening.  It would take a pretty acrobatic animal to dangle down over the edge of the roof, and swing into that space, but having spent my entire adolescence watching the battle between the squirrels and my father over the birdfeeders, I know they're plenty acrobatic.  But the screen covering the opening into the crawl space is completely intact.  A squirrel who'd come down from the roof, but who hadn't actually gone INTO the house?  Seems a little odd to me.  But I can fix opening, just in case.  

I cut strips of hardware cloth to fold over the opening in the top.  As I'm doing so, I hear a high-pitched pulsing squeak.  Some kind of insect?  It doesn't really sound like a cicada, or any of the other insects continually serenading us, but I'd never heard anything like it.  The squirrel-tail curve is gone, but there's definitely something there.  I poke a strip of hardware cloth up there to try to dislodge it.  It's noise gets louder.  I bang on the outside, and the noise moves up along the strip farther away from me.  I press my head again to the wall (actually, perhaps for the hundredth time), and  see another furry curve, but this time it has a ear--a little ear like a mouse's that turns forward and back.  A bat!

I am absolutely delighted.  Quixote had built a bat-house for me a couple years ago, but we'd never put it up.  It was going to go on this very wall.  Bats to eat the swarms of mosquitos!

Quixote and I waited a long time that evening for the bat to come out.  Finally we succumbed to the mosquitos and went back inside, and an hour later it was gone.

It didn't come back in the morning.  After a whole summer of pooping outside my backdoor, I had finally recognized its presence, and then promptly traumatized it, thinking it was a squirrel, or some kind of large loud insect.  I'm really bummed.  I hope it forgets its assaults, and returns.  We'll have to put the bat house up, though evidently this narrow strip venting the crawl space is the perfect size.  Our neighborhood NEEDS bats.

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