Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On The New Year

Hey there, friends. It seems that my little case of the sniffles has turned into a nasty case of bronchitis. Grey went with me to the doctor on Christmas eve and I got a steroid shot in my tuchus, a round of antibiotics and some sort of cough syrup that has a narcotic in it. The normal stuff with cideine in it is usually ok but this stuff that he gave me has a real wallop. I'm afraid to take it more than once a day because it knocks me out. I do have to admit that I felt better almost immediately. My doctor disapproves of where I work; there is posted mold and asbestos signs and he believes strongly that I should find another place to be.

Christmas passed in a lovely way. We exchanged gifts, made some really yummy alfredo - Grey and I are both vegetarians- and dropped off gifts to a couple of friends. One of the things I did for my family and a few friends this year was to buy bird houses and paint them according to what I think of the person receiving the house. I got the idea back in August when I was visiting my cousin Christian. He's a big outdoorsy sorta guy and he's talked an awful lot about buying a cabin out in the middle of nowhere. I imagine a log structure with a dark green roof, a red oval door with some quaint German designs around it and a few small touches here and there. A few weeks later I was in a craft store looking for stuff for my classroom and I saw the cabin I'd love for him to have. Only it was just a wood birdhouse in need of painting. Voila, my idea took hold. Each of my sisters and their families got one. Patti's family got one with a white sloped roof and yellow sides with little yellow flowers all around it. Mickie's family got a two story with hearts on it. My mom's has holly berry sprigs. My friend Cathy's was special- I dreamed up the Route 66 logo and painted roads all over the sides. Charlotte got a church steeple with big wild flower designs all over it. And for the Hargraves, a dojo with the symbol for home and flowering cherry tree limbs. They were a lot of fun to make and give.

But now that I'm feeling better, I also took myself off to the girlie doctor. A month or so ago I landed in the emergency room for what I would characterize as unlawful bleeding. I saw an ob-gyn today. I said "Hey, before we start, I need to know something. Are you an optimist, pessimist or realist?" Fair question, I think. I don't really want to be treated by an optimist or pessimist because these people have already made up their minds. It seems to me that someone who describes themselves as a realist might be willing to just see what is there, or not there and not try to interpret too much. She said that she is a realist and I was very glad. We talked extensively of my medial history and what's going on and she had a look under the hood. The news is as best as one might suspect. Sometimes women over 35 bleed when they are not supposed to and nobody really knows why. Yep, that was the answer. I probably do not have anything wrong with me at all. Of course, I'm doing follow up bloodwork tomorrow and an ultrasound in two weeks but overall, there are no discernable cysts or tumors and things appear to be cool. Of course, if I want to make the irrational bleeding stop, there are some treatment options. I'm not going to worry too much right now. If my body isn't sick then why would I treat it? I don't know, maybe I will have to think about it more later.

In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot lately about what direction I want my life to take this next year. I've just finished the greatest academic endeavor of my life. After 12 years of college, I have reached the end of the line. Therefore, some things will need to change and other things just have the opportunity to do so. Here then are my resolutions, or rather things I would like to accomplish in the next year.

1. Give great care to my relationships and grow into a better person because of those things. This may involve me seeking to change myself or just capitalizing on the neat relationships I already have in place. I think I will now have time to be a better friend and to deepen my friendships.

2. Get my financial house in order. I have student loans - and lots of them- coming due. I need to figure out how to live on what I make. I'd like to live on just the salary I make at the public school teaching job I have and save the extra money from my part time professor job for fun and travel. I'm not sure if that's possible, but I'm going to try.

3. Find a permanent place to be. By years end, I would like to be in a permanent place, probably a new city or state, in a professorship at a univeristy. This will involve selling my home. I'd like to finish the book I've started too.

4. Get my home in good shape and sell it.

5. Relax! I no longer have to rush from job to job to school. Now it's just one physical job and one online. I can now afford more time to relax, read, run, work out and get enough sleep. I want this to be there year when I concentrate on my home life. I think it will help my health as well. I'm going to pay special attention to my health this year.

I try to only make resolutions that I can keep. When I was a little girl, say around 1983 when I was 10, I resolved for New Years that year that I would always love strawberries. I'm proud to say that I still love them and that that particular resolution has held. One year I resolved to get into good enough shape to teach aerobics, and I ended that year as an aerobics instructor. There were resolutions to teach yoga, get my black belt in kempo karate and to run a half marathon. I met those as well. This years was to get my PhD. Done.

I haven't always met my goals. One year it was to fall in love, get married and have children. Another year I came close but didn't get to run a whole marathon. When I was 12 I resolved to adopt a palomino mare. Didn't happen. I still hope for those things, but the marathon might not happen. My knees have a lot of damage to them from running already. I might get to walk it though. The Oklahoma City Marathon means a lot to me and I'm not ready to give that one up just yet. The pony might have to wait too, so perhaps not all resolutions can come true in one year. Maybe not all resolutions come in the year you make them. Maybe they are not meant to.

I do know that my life is pretty lucky just the way it is. I have pretty good health and my family seems healthy too. Nobody is in jail right now. Grey, after a grand total of 3 months of dating, still seems perfectly wonderful. In fact, I like him even more now than the first day we met. I liked him then but now I know him better and I like him even more. My friends are likewise doing alright; if not making headway they seem to be holding steady.

Who knows, maybe inspiration will strike me again. Maybe I will paint more birdhouses or take up oil painting as I did in my youth. Maybe I will learn French or how to play the piano. Perhaps I need a sixth resolution: to remain open to possiblity. But maybe that shouldn't just be a resolution. Maybe that should be a guiding principal in life and love.

Happy New Years to you. Thank you for keeping up with my blog, for your continued support and for sometimes shaking the shit out of me when I need it. I can't wait to see what 2012 is going to bring us!

Mindie Antoinette Dieu

Friday, December 23, 2011

Is There A Doctor In The House?

It's December 23rd, the calm after the storm.  I have a sinus infection from hell- snot blocking all of my airways and tissue attached to my hands.  I have long sleeves on my sweater because I'm cold most of the time (except for those hot flashes) and I keep tissues up the sleeves so it looks like I am a human tissue dispenser.  Sometimes I spike a fever and sweat profusely for about 10 minutes, then go back to freezing to death.  I'm self-medicating, taking antibiotics from the last time I was sick and some sudafed stuff.  Later I will go get some Nyquil and maybe mix it with vodka to improve the effect.  That will heal me.

School is out.  I was done teaching at my middle school on the 13th, and the last class for my college students was on the same day, so once grades were turned in there was nothing left to do as far as teaching is concerned.  All I had to worry about was graduation. 

Ah graduation.  A few weeks ago, I took a copy of my dissertation in to the graduate college to have them pre-approve the document.  They require two copies of the dissertation on 100% cotton paper.  I wrote about this in my last blog post but I was a little, uh, stressed out at the time and thought I'd take a second swing at it. 

Since it's expensive to print dissertations, I did a dry run and had them ferret out any changes so I didn't have to reprint.  Two changes, that was all.  Easy ones.  So I made my last appointment for the Wednesday before graduation.  I had until Friday to turn things in but my first experience with the graduate college is that last minute is never going to work.  That experience involved me reprinting my masters thesis six different times and costing hundreds of dollars.  Live and learn and don't make the same mistake twice.  Two changes.  I did that, and gladly printed my dissertation- all 200 pages of it- on 100% cotton paper as required by the graduate college.  The borders were just so; the margins at the top not too far to the top and each page dutifully numbered in roman numerals and in plain numbers.  Appendices were clearly marked and all pagination noted in the table of contents.  The abstract was single spaced and the acknowledgments were double spaced.  I rather triumphantly marched into the graduate college at the appropriate time and was greeted with a wait of 45 minutes- despite my appointment- because of a "staff meeting".  Everyone came out of the meeting with wrapping paper and christmas gifts.  Five minutes later, I heard seven dreaded words, "There is a problem with your dissertation." 

Let's pause for a moment, shall we?  I have heard those words before.  They make me panic and give me nightmares.  I heard them in my dreams and the doubtful voice in my head shouted "I knew it! Did you think they'd just let you pass?"  It is the apprent job of the grad college to act as a barrier of sorts, a final condom between those who have a strong desire to expel dissertations into the world and those who shall not pass because they are not worthy.  Myself being the former, I inquired politely as to the nature of the problem.

It was only a single error.   A page needed to be single spaced and not double spaced. 

It was a single error on the signature page. 

The signature page has the original signatures of five people that it took me six months to get into the same room.  I did not think I could acquire all five of those signaures in only two days and I had family members coming into town- two sisters- to help me celebrate this achievement that hadn't quite happened yet.  I suspected that one of my signators was leaving the country if he hadn't already left.  I expressed my doubt to the seemingly sympathetic "academic counselor".  Did you ever see the television show "Murphy Brown"?  In it, Murphy Brown, as played by Candice Bergen, is a television reporter with a new secretary every week.  They are incompetent, surly, comical, and completely temporary.  Such is the same with our "academic counselors" in the graduate college.  This was my third counselor in one semester.  I asked what I thought was a simple question: Why didn't they say something earlier?  Now, I realize it's my fault for not having single spaced the page in the first place, but I did do due diligence to bring it in to them ahead of time to avoid catastrophe's such as this.  The answer: You must have switched the pages, because we would have caught this right away..

I did not blow my top. Out loud.  I waited until I was outside.

And I did my part, rushing around to get signatures and emailing professors.  I tracked the possibly out-of-country guy to his office and practically pinned him to the wall.  And I got my final signature the next day. 

Triumphantly, I re-entered the graduate college.  They approved. 

Then I dropped the copies at the library.  Once you do that, there is no going back.  You are a doctor.  I was looking for the Aquisitions office and ran into a lady across the way.  "Have you seen the Acquisitions people anywhere?" I inquired. She smiled and pointed across the hall to a big sign I had completely missed in my panicked tunnelvision.  "Thanks," I said, "now, when I come out of that door, I will be a doctor. Do they give out capes in there?" 

They didn't give out capes, but the process was entirely simple, economic and briskly dealth with.  "Congratulations", said the lady in Acquisitions.  I went back across the way, found the nice lady and made a brushing motion with my arm across my sleeve, as though I had a crumb or two to get rid of. "Funny, I don't feel any different!"  We wished each other a merry Christmas and I went on my way. 

My sisters flew in to town for graduation.  Really, that's the only reason I went through with the ceremony.  I had a lovely visit with them, and introduced them to Grey who squired us around town like a champ.  I found out that I was selected as the outstanding graduate student, though nobody had emailed me and so they found someone else to give the graduate student speech.  I still feel very complimented, however, and got to sit up on the stage during the ceremony with the professors I have so admired for many years.  It was lovely. And we took pictures with a few of them, and with the good friends I have made at the College of Education, and stepped on back home. 

They let you wear a puffy hat for graduation.  But I wasn't allowed to sleep in it...
The party was great too- Cathy, Jackie and her husband Darren, Veronica and Grey put it on. Really fun too, with lots of food and people filtering in and out through the evening.  I didn't have to be in the spotlight much at all, but did make a toast to all who attended and for those who could not make it but were there in spirit.  In all, it was a spectacular day.  And all that I have done since then is rest and enjoy time to reflect and visit and talk and read. 

Thus far, having a Ph.D. hasn't gotten me much beyond a terrific party and some letters after my name. I take it back; my sisters got to meet most of the important people in my life.  Several times I heard each of them say "You are exactly as she described!" and that was fun as all get out.  If I were a medical doctor, I'd write myself a prescription for a stronger antibiotic.  Instead I will have to wait until Tuesday for a regular appointment.  Instead, I will wax philosophical since that's my area.  And in the meantime, I have some Christmas shopping to do. 

I also got this sweet teeshirt that says "Doctor"
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The End of the Friggin' World

Almost there.  I was almost there.  Today was supposed to be my last day as a graduate student. 

I am sometimes a planner. There are things I am a little exacting about and with good reason.  Allow me to give an example using the graduate college at the university I am currently attending. 

As a master's student, I selected the thesis option and wrote about 125 pages of thesis, including three case studies and a self reflective journal with the requisite review of relevant literature and traditional five chapters. I met for the first time with my graduate college liasion during that summer. She instructed me to print out my thesis on 100% cotton paper and bring it to her for inspection prior to giving it to the library.  I did so.

It wasn't right.

I fixed what she told me to.

She found other things.

Each time I brought my revisions to her, they were on 100% cotton, acid-free paper.  It gets expensive.  After the sixth revision, I had to stop dealing with her.  I was so angry.  I spent over $100 on copying things so that she could make big changes that she should have seen the first time.  I got the paper delivered to the library with something like 20 minutes to spare.  Depositing the dissertation is the last step before becoming a PhD too. 

So yes, I am a little more careful these days.  I tend to plan things out and read completely before taking any action concerning the grad college. I made an effort to go purchase my own cotton paper (with thanks to my friend Cathy for also providing her extra stuff) and went to the one place in Oklahoma City that carries specialty paper. 

I walked in the door marked "Will Call".  It was a little mystifying; I wasn't aware that a show would be playing too.  But what the hey.  The nice men in the warehouse-which is where I found myself- escorted me to the retail area.  A middle-aged and burly man looked me up and down and then addressed me.
"Did you need to buy some paper?"
"Yes.  I need a ream of 100% cotton, acid-free paper.  Of course, it would be cellulose free as well and that's important.  Do you sell that kind of paper?"
"Well, it's very expensive.  Let me look." He spoke slowly to me as though I were a scared rabbit.  "You know, we only usually handle commercial distribution."
"Are you saying that you can't sell me a ream of paper?"
"A ream is the smallest increment possible. How much do you need?" Didn't I just say what I needed?
"It's for my dissertation," I blurted out.  I wanted to say "I'm almost 40 asshole and I'm finishing the most important document of my life to date.  How's about you look up the paper before I rip you a new asshole," but I didn't.  I hate being patronized.  It makes me cranky. 
But the salesman wasn't done. He leaned forward.  "There's a nice gentleman outside who knows everything in the world about paper.  I'm going to ask him if this is the paper you need." I was standing so I just held up my hands, palm up and looked askance.  He went outside to some old fella who was smoking and talked to him a minute. 
"Well little lady, he says this is just what you need."
"Awesome," I said.  He looked at me carefully.
"A ream of this paper is $33.  Is that ok?"

Do I look poor, young and completely clueless?

I did get the paper, but I sort of feel bad for that man, what with his current inability to sit down anymore.

Today I visited the graduate college. 
Two weeks ago, I visited with all of my papers, to make sure before I printed on 100% cotton paper, that everything was indeed in order and that we would not have to make any revisions, reprints or anything else like that. 

It was fine. Everything was fine.

Until today.  Today they tell me that my signature page has the title doublespaced and it needs to be singlespaced. 

This is the third time that the grad college has seen my paper.  Seriously.  And do you know what the counselor tried to say? That I must have switched the pages since they would have completely caught that the first time through.

Do I look like I would make a stupid move like that?  Did I mention that they went through three different counselors this semester alone?

So they wouldn't accept it today. 

And there are implications.  I cannot graduate unless the dissertation- both copies- are turned in to the library. Graduation is Friday and I have no idea where my professors are.  I have taken off of work twice for this and now they are wasting my time.  This is not a simple mistake.  This has happened twice now.  It's happened with other graduate students too...almost every single one.  I am not uncareful.  I am not a slipshod person.  Right now I have no idea if I will be allowed to graduate.

I was able to get 2 of five signatures tonight.  My advisor realized as we were talking that he has doctor appointments on Friday and may not make convocation.  He said they don't do the hooding ceremony then anyway if his memory serves.  My other adviser told me he probably won't come.  He just doesn't want to.  I'm not sure how I feel about graduating with nobody to hood me.  I will go; my sisters are coming just to see this. 

In all of my panic tonight, I forgot my eye appointment.  My house is a mess and my sisters are coming tomorrow.  So I called a couple of friends to blow off steam and stop my shoulders and ears from meeting so often.  I sent an email to my committee and asked them to re-sign the paper. Hopefully it will all clear up tomorrow. 

Tonight, I was going to clean and straighten up and maybe do some laundry.  Instead, I'm writing and thinking and breathing.  Maybe I will go paint. Maybe I will watch television. Maybe I'll read a relaxing book.  The sun will come up tomorrow, life will go on and likely everything will be alright.  I didn't punch anyone and probably only hurt the copy paper guy's feelings.  Nobody died and if I have to spend another semester as a grad student, then so be it. 

It's not the end of the friggin' world.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Lunch Club

A few weeks into the semester, my principal informed the core curriculum teachers that we would need to give up one of our plan periods to do extra student tutoring twice a week.  Somehow, I was to choose 8-12 students who are borderline in their test scores and pull them out of their elective classes twice weekly in order to augment their education.  This would involve extra prep for me and the other core teachers and would likely disrupt the students schedules.

I don't really like that idea. In fact, I resented it a little.  I like having prep time and to tell you the truth, the teachers are not allowed to have teacher aides during prep time since it would create a 1-on-1 situation and possibly have a one in a million chance of an allegation against a teacher.  I believe I have a greater chance of winning the lottery than this happening.  However, I do follow rules. Ok, I follow rules most of the time.

I also have been wondering how to fit a book into my curriculum.  I think every junior high and high school student in the world should read "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", by Sherman Alexie.  I've reviewed the book for the OCTE and spent considerable time analyzing its narrative, lexicon and complexity.  It's fun to read and I predicted that students would enjoy it if given the chance.  Two barriers stood in the way. First, I didn't have a classroom set.  I don't have the funds to just buy 35 copies of a book.  Second, I wasn't sure I could get the book by my principal since it contains a lot of swear words and a discussion of masturbation.  My God, who wants to acknowledge that teenage boys think about teenage girls AND basketball?!

My friend Cathy Klasek came to the rescue on both accounts.  I had recommended last year or the year before that she use some grant money to buy copies for her kids.  She lent me her classroom set of the book. Since she teaches in the same district as I do, I approached my principal and told him that I was going to use the book and that it must be ok since another school district teacher has taught it with no problems.

So now I had buy-in from the principal and access to resources.  But where and when to work it in?  Cue the mandated tutoring music...

However, since I don't like the idea of forcing reading onto my kids (aren't they forced to do so much already?), I took a different route.  I invited a couple of kids- marginal readers and experts both- to come have lunch with me.  I gave them a pass from the cafeteria and they came upstairs to eat with me.  There were five, initially. At first we just ate our lunch.  Then I started reading the book to them. They asked to follow along with their own books, so I provided those.  There are drawings in the book and they seem to augment the story and captivate attention at the same time.  The first time I read the word "ass" aloud, the kids gasped.  The first time I said "shit" where it was printed in the text, they laughed. I think "boner" is the word they love the best. Sometimes, I refuse to read a word out loud and they hurriedly look in the book to see what it is.

It's more than cuss words though.  Alexie writes a story of poverty, of want, of friendship and of a boys determination to make his life better.  He is showing my kids a pathway to a better life and telling a good story at the same time. This is what speaks to children. We often pause to discuss the book and themes, to puzzle through difficult decisions that Alexie's characters make.  But mostly, we are reading for the pleasure of it.

The first time an extra kid showed up, I asked the students to fill him in on the plot.  Right away, five voices chimed in, interpreting, extrapolating and laughing.  They get it and they are passing it on. My principal is thrilled and promises never to interrupt.

My group is up to 11 kids now and we are halfway through.  But there was one obstacle to get past and that's the social stigma of being a nerd who reads.  That was the easiest thing in the world to solve.  Each of my kids has been assigned "lunch detention".  This way they can be tough and also get to be readers. Just before Thanksgiving break I was doing bus duty.  I like to say good night to my kids, to wish them well and smile and hug and encourage.  One of my lower-level boys was sitting by a girl.
"That's Miss Dieu.  She's mean", he said.
"She gave me lunch detention all last week." He looked at me like "Oh please don't out me!"
The girl's eyes got wide. "What did he do?"
I looked mean (I think). "Why don't you ask him? He's the one who did it."
"It wasn't my fault." said my kid.  He's a great liar.
"You know what?  Next week you're coming back. All week." I tried not to smile.
"Dang, you are mean!"  I doubt that girl will ever give me problems if she winds up in my class.
Meanwhile, as I walked away, I happened to glance back at my student.  He was impressing his girl with what a badass he is and making up some story about how he misbehaved and got 'lunch detention' with me.  His face didn't change, but he made the gesture that friends make to each other in our school, to signal acknowledgement and friendship when they cannot talk out loud.

Some days it's really great to be a teacher.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Weighing In

I spent Thanksgiving in Tulsa this year.  I usually spend the week before Thanksgiving counting all of the things I am grateful for.  It really does take a week since I am very, very lucky and blessed.  Grey's family invited me over for dinner at their house and the day after Thanksgiving was spent at Patricia and Carter's. I was most excited because it's our first major holiday and I just knew it was going to be eventful.  I was right.

Grey's family was just lovely.  There were grown ups and kids running around and his brother surprised everyone by coming in from Atlanta unexpectedly for the holiday.  I made chocolate chip cookies, which turned out very well and earned the seal of approval from the nieces.  The youngest niece ate the most.  His Grandma was there too, which made me miss my grandma a bit.  I know it's been since March, but I did not take time to mourn and the pain is still fresh. Grey's Grandma said I was pretty and asked if I liked to cook.  Someone remarked that they thought it brave of me to just come to a family gathering and say hello.  It was not much of a risk, really.  Grey is a wonderful and kind person and he told me that his family is also wonderful and kind.  Doesn't sound much like razor wire and backstabbing to me.  The most traumatic event was getting slobbered on a bit by the resident shih tzu, who wanted me to play, play, play.  Yeah, pretty nice time.  We ate too much food and went home.

We Ate How Much?! 
And then the next day...

We showed up at Patricia's at noon.  I tried a new pumpkin fondue recipe which called for kirsch.  That's some sort of cherry brandy and the cherry brandy I bought turned out to be far too strong.  So the fondue was a bust.  But that's ok.  I hopped in the kitchen with Patricia and Grey did table preparations.  For about an hour and a half we did our thing and I helped her whip up a hell of a meal.  One of the 12 people is allergic to everything under the sun except for water and some sort of South California raisin.  Another is gluten intolerant and a third is just very picky.  Patricia did research and planned out a meal that everyone would be able to eat and also enjoy.  I do love cooking with her.  This is an art sadly being lost in the United States, where people cook together and prepare communal meals.  For women especially in the culture where I grew up, this is how we bond.  We kick the men out and talk and work and laugh and gossip.  It's good for my soul.  Perhaps this shows my age, but I pity a generation of women who do not know how to talk to each other face to face.  But with help from Grey and Carter, we fed everyone who showed up.  I think it was closer to 14 guests.

So we all sat down to eat.  Grey does not feel brave.  He has met the Hargraves before and he is not a shy person.  This would be the opposite of such an introvert as me.  It took me several years just to coax me to have dinner with them after karate practice.  And at the head of the table, Carter is making jokes about me because I'm full and it's about three bites into the dinner.  That's the other thing: cooks never starve.  So I threw my knife at him.  Everyone knows that Carter and I fight. It's what we do. I wasn't going to hit him with it. It was plastic. It landed near the three year old so Grey took my knife away.  I sort of smirked at that; there are at least 5 other knives much sharper than that one in the room where we were eating.  But alright.  And he thought I was being brave by going to his family's dinner...

Later I was washing up dishes and heard a call from outside.  The corg's were going at it with each other.  Welsh Corgi's are territorial.  If a new person comes along, each would claim that person as their own and these two always believe that the best way to settle disagreements is by biting the ever-loving shit out out of each other.  It was a duel to the death because of the guests did not know this. She took the three year old to the back yard to entertain him. I all but tossed the kid over the fence and set about separating the fang-locked lovers.  Carter ended up having to grab one and I grabbed the other and we pulled in opposite directions.

There was a clear winner and loser in all of this.  Bella, the little one, was also the loser.  She was bleeding from several spots on her ears and a few on her neck.  She was visibly shaken and breathing hard.  We put the bigger one, Camilla, in her kennel while I cleaned up Bella. Ears bleed a lot.  I had Carter holding her so I could clean the wounds and she shook her head, spraying me and Carter in the face with bright red drops.  At some point, and for no apparent reason as this is how my friend shows his affection, Carter kicked Grey in the butt.  Not hard and with a silly smile on his face, but still I was mortified.  Now that I think about it, that is probably why he did it. To mortify me. Awesome.  But nothing seems to ruffle Grey much. So we ate too much food and went home. I think he was pretty brave and also pretty affable to suffer the slings and arrows (knives?) of my kinda people.

Sure there was exercise during the course of the five day weekend, but seriously, I consumed too many calories.  So this week is a weaning back to regular eating and lots of good exercise and fresh air before gearing up for the Christmas season, which will bring graduation, my sisters in town for their first visit in ten years and hopefully, a joyeux noel.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I've written about clothing before.  Truthfully, it fascinates me the way our clothing affects so many facets of our lives.  How we feel, how we act, what role we are playing at that particular moment; how others perceive us and how we think others perceive us.

On Thursday I dressed as professionally as I could. Black and neat, with my hair in a bun and my nerdy librarian glasses.  My department and I were meeting with the assistant superintendent for the school district.  I imagined I looked a little like Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter books.  She is, after all, the English professor of the magic world, with the ability to transform and to show others that way.  Loved, feared, respected and sometimes unexpected.  That's what I was going for, only without the stage makeup. I'm not saying that clothes make the man, but the meeting went well.  I feel as though we have won a battle in the curriculum war.  I offered her the instrument I created to gauge teacher's reactions to the AC curriculum and she seemed pretty excited.  She referred to the Pearson company as "the vendors" and assured me that in no way would I have to listen to them in accordance with classroom visits. Probably the best scenario I could hope for.

Friday I wore jeans- it is Jean Friday at our school and the students and teachers wear jeans and a school tee-shirt.  I am often mistaken for one of the kids on these days.  It cracks me up.  I zipped home after school and took Eleanor to the vet.  He never knows what to think of me.  Sometimes when I come in, I wear my professor clothes. Sometimes it's sweats and Friday, it was middle school togs.  And honestly, even if my vet were wearing a suit you would still guess his profession from his burly bearing, high crewcut and the giant scar across the face.  Yeah, he's got character.  And he always remembers me and my friggin' old cat.  I think he secretly wants to do a case study on her but doesn't like to write.

Friday I also went to my doctor.  Yeah, with 20 minutes to spare from closing time.  I am going to put this in polite euphemistic terms on purpose so as not to over-share or embarrass myself. I've been having girl problems for about three months and it's gotten worse.  As it turns out, the clinic didn't have the equipment to look properly under the hood, and I have a bad history, so he recommended that I go to the emergency room to make sure I wasn't dying, then to come back next week to order regular tests.

I don't like going to the doctor.  I don't like being sick. I intensely dislike hospitals and dislike even more when I'm the one who has to be poked or prodded or subjected to cold instruments and drugs.

A regular person might have gone straight to the emergency room, post haste, tout suite, no delays whatsoever.  Not me.  I went home. I called Grey- who was coming down anyway- and discussed the situation.  I did not want to go.  I didn't know what to wear, what costume to put on to give the right impression to medical personnel.  Frankly, I didn't have the right clothes. No scrubs, no latex gloves and nothing like a lab coat to lend me credibility in that venue.  Plus, I knew they were going to hit me with needles and ask me questions that my own mom doesn't ask.
"I'm leaving here in a few minutes. I can meet you at the hospital."
"Really? I don't want to go. Can't it wait until Monday?"
"You'll be freaking out about it all weekend if you don't do this."
"Sigh. Alright. But I'm taking a shower first."

And I did.  I put my hair up and took a long enough shower that I was only at the hospital for half hour before he showed up.  And when he walked in the room, I was ready with my costume: floral green/blue unbuttoned in the back hospital gown, clean ankle socks and a pretty argyle scarf around my neck to keep me warm.  The nice nurse provided me with a heated blanket so that I wouldn't get too cold.  Grey held my hand through all that fun stuff and said comforting things.  We made jokes and talked until the doctor came back in with test results.  He wore what he always wears; a pair of black jeans and a tee-shirt.  I found out that he owns four pairs of identical black jeans.  The khakis and collared shirts are for work. This man is exactly as he appears.  He is straight forward and says and does and wears what he means.  In all, it wasn't a bad date, given that I had an IV stuck in my arm the whole time.

The doctor said I wasn't going to die right away.  She didn't know what was wrong with me but she knew what wasn't wrong and that's just as important.  She gave me prescriptions for pain and sent us on our way with a stern admonition to see a gynecologist next week.  Fine. I will go. Glad I'm not dead yet.

For the weekend, I wore the costume I like best: sweats and a tee, with a cup of coffee and my nerd glasses so that I can be as comfy as possible and not worry about who I am impressing or how I will be perceived.  I know that some days I have to dress up.  I'm going to meet Grey's family for Thanksgiving and when and if I ever get an interview at a university, I will need to worry about wardrobe and hair and make up.  And Saturday, I picked up my gown, doctoral hood and tam at OU.  The mom waiting in line to pay for her child's sweatshirt and travel mug seemed very impressed and congratulated me.  That night, I watched my roommate and her niece get dressed to go dance at a powwow.  She took out a suitcase and said "I've got to put on my Indian clothes." And indeed, she looked beautiful and regular and very different than her "other" life as a librarian with her hipster glasses and layers of twinsets and knee boots.

I don't think these things we wear change us.  I mean, I'm 38- what more can you change at this stage of the game?  We wear specific clothes for mourning, for church and religious functions, for getting married and in many cultures, for coming of age.  Rather, I change clothes for a purpose and use the idea that other people perceive me based on my appearance to my advantage.  Costumes both mask and express who I am, shows aspects rather than defines and most of the time, playing dress-up is just plain fun.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

21st Century Women Revisited

I've often made the point to my students that revision is writing. I knew that when I posted my last blog, I'd need to add something. There was just some point I hadn't made, some note that didn't ring the right note. Hmm. So I talked to my editor about it and bounced some ideas off of him about what I'd written. Grey is my editor/boyfriend/collaborator/friend. He observed that I had written something about what did not qualify me a 21st Century woman, but not much on what it means to be one. How would I recognize other members of this tribe? What, if anything, did I think of as "woman's work"? To put it differently, is there anything a man might do that would make me feel as though he was infringing on my domain?

That made me think. I guess there isn't much. I think men who clean house are pretty sexy, and since if I'm ever going to live with a man in an egalitarian sense, he should probably do his fair share of cleaning. In the home, I do prefer to be the one who cooks breakfast most of the time, and the one who cleans the bathroom. I suspect, and perhaps someday science will fail to rebuff my theory, that men do not see dirt the way that women are able to do so. Women always love it when men do dishes and to tell the truth, I have one more dirty little secret: I hate dealing with finances. I would clean every toilet every week for eternity if I didn't have to worry about money and what we do and do not have. I care that if I want a new dress, I can just go get one. I care that I have reliable transportation and money for food and maybe something shiny once in awhile. That's it. Seriously, I couldn't give two shits about money unless I didn't have any. But I'm pretty sure that this is much more about laziness than it is about gender roles.

Likewise, I think my upbringing wasn't really so much about gender roles than it has been about necessity. Women and men both can hunt and fish and work like dogs on harvest crew. It's more likely to find men in jobs that require outside work or dangerous work, but it's still pretty common for women to be in those roles too. I have snowmobiled quite a bit, jumped off of cliffs, spoken to audiences of over 2,000 people and stepped into a prison to try to make a difference there. And yet, nothing about me is particularly manly.

Maybe the things about being a woman that I like best is the ability to slip into a nurturing role, a mom-type of role that offers comfort, guidance, support and help. I usually can tell when one of my kids is upset or hiding some emotion. They don't seem to mind speaking to me about personal issues or asking advice. I like being a care giver. I dislike that Grey is sick and hope he feels better. If he isn't better when I get home from Louisville (I'm here for a conference), then I will bring him some cold remedies and cluck over him like a chicken until he either passes out or pretends to feel better so that I will go away.

Speaking of conferences, I happened to end up in a workshop with the Assistant Superintendent of the school district where I teach. I stepped out to take a phone call, and in my absence, my assistant principal told her we were having difficulty implementing the America's Choice curriculum. When I returned she asked "What do you think of America's Choice"?

In my defense, I was far more polite than one might think. I strongly believe that as a for-profit company, Pearson does not have my student's best interests at heart. Their curriculum is for 1 hour classes and I have only 45 minute classes. Furthermore, this year none of the grade level teachers have ever seen or had training on the curriculum. We have since had a one-day workshop wherein there was a group grump session at the organizers. They suggested implementing adaptations tot he curriculum that the teachers in the district often were gotten in trouble for doing. In fact, the Pearson "coach" for my school threatened me several times by telling me that her report would go to the very woman who was standing before me, asking for my input. I almost quit over the unsupported mandates and the coach barging into my classroom, writing reports about me that I was not privy to, reports that did not cast me or my teaching practices in a positive light. This from a non-district book company. A corporation.

But I was polite and I was diplomatic. And at the end of our long discussion- I think it was productive- the Asst. Supt. decided to come visit my school in the next two weeks. I offered to create an instrument to help gauge district teacher's attitudes towards the curriculum and immediately went back to my hotel room to construct a survey. As I exited the workshop and overheard my assistant principal exhale loudly and say to his friend "Well, the Assistant Superintendent *did* ask. What was she expecting?"

This guardianship of my students, fighting for what I believe is their best interest, and being willing to speak my truth and not back down- this is what a woman does in the 21st century. I could get fired. My principal may get into some trouble and life could become more uncomfortable than what it is right now. It's a risk I am willing to take. And man or woman, you had best step aside when in that particular arena.

I am a 21st century woman; articulate, adventurous, athletic and sometimes brave. I am not good at mopping floors or mowing grass, but I can split an infinitive or demonstrate the correct of the pluperfect subjunctive on short notice. Usually I'm ok for a laugh. My very romantic relationship is multi-platform and highly engaging with a man I like, respect and find to be more than qualified to handle a woman such as me. And handsome. Perhaps that's what I like best about being a woman. Maybe It's as simple as great sex and emotional connection; feeling safe and cared for and knowing that the one you care for in a healthy relationship also cares for you. Yeah. Glad I'm a woman.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Women in the 21st Century

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about what it means to be a man in the 21st century. Since I am a woman, I had help with that one; Grey and I brainstormed ideas since he is a guy and all. But this idea of cultural influence versus biology is fascinating. You are a man or a woman based on biology and chromosomal factors. Not much, barring surgery and regular hormone injections, will change that. Given our current culture, state of technology and climate, what does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?

For me at least, there are several factors to consider. There are the expectations I grew up with, the choices I made and what I expect for the future. As a girl in Dayton, Washington, I visited with my guidance counselor at school exactly one time and that was a few weeks before I graduated from high school. I had taken four years of business classes, agriculture courses and the regular high school rigamarole. I was the state Vice President for Future Business Leaders of America and an FFA officer. I was a Columbia County Fair Hostess and had spent four years in the musical plays at school. But I was sick or gone a lot and my grades weren't so hot. She never opened a file or asked me my hopes or dreams. She suggested I take a few secretarial courses at the local community college. "Let's face it", I heard her say, "It's not like you're going to be a brain surgeon". I hated hearing that. But I did sign up for the community college courses. I dropped out because I couldn't write the 10 page term paper for history class.

As an 18 year old drop out, I secured employment in many ways. I worked at US West as an operator and in the winter at the local ski resort. I made very little money and lived with my boyfriend. I cooked and cleaned and felt angry most of the time. I knew how to drive trucks and shoot rifles and fish. I had a vague feeling that my employment wasn't a very important part of society's expectations for me, that my job was somehow to get married and have children and cook Sunday supper. Frankly, I like that idea. I think it's important for a parent to be home with their child if at all possible. I would love to have that option. I would love for all people interested to have that option. But I also subscribed to the idea that the man in the relationship should be the one who makes the decisions and that the woman should be "taken care of" by him. My problem is that I think too much. I heard that many times as a child and a young adult. "You are too sensitive" and "You have got to stop thinking so much".

Oh, and I'm stubborn.

In my 20s, I tried a number of careers- fast food, the Air Force (I have asthma and got kicked out after 7 weeks of basic training), bar tending, hotel (front desk- sexual harassment anyone?) and secretarial work. I sucked at all of those things. I read quite a bit and anesthetized myself with television. It seemed that most of my life was a distraction for the million miles an hour that my brain traveled at. It took years and years before I discovered teaching. I'm good at it. It brings the light to my eyes. It helps my students who need to know the things I can teach.

I loved college because nobody knew me there. I could let my inner nerd come out to play. I applied to vet school. It was ok to be smart. I aced most of my classes, including the upper division English courses I took for fun and stress relief. When I settled on teaching, I couldn't just go with the bachelor's degree I had. I got a master's in education. I started to see myself as something different than the way others had seen me. I found my groove. I found myself. I was still angry and it took years for that to dissipate. I paid a high price for where I am now. I made huge mistakes with my family and friends, sometimes alienating relationships beyond repair. I pushed back on society and its expectations. I said I was sorry to people I loved and hurt. I carved my own identity and was at times forced to confront the woman in the mirror to ask "just who are you are you? Just who do you want to be? Is this course of action getting you there?" When the answer was no, I was to blame. Nobody would or could take responsibility for me. I was both terrified in those moments and exuberant. I got used to it. I am still getting used to it.

To tell you the truth, I do not know what it means to be a woman in the 21st Century. I think of the women I know who focus on family and the women I know who focus on career. I know women who are retired and loving every minute of it. I know women who are married to other women and are still happy after 15 years (Happy Anniversary, Jen and Jen!). I know women in tough situations with college degrees just trying to make ends meet on a pathetic teacher's salary. I know and admire women who get to be stay-at-home moms. I have to have two jobs to keep financially afloat. I made amends for my regrets and continue to keep those amends. Hopefully, I have stopped trying to impose my own ideologies on others. And I get to teach. If you had asked my grandmother what it meant to be a woman, she would probably concentrate on actions taken in and around the home. She was a cook by profession her whole life, starting when she was 15 and cooking for harvest crew.

I know that as with manly-ness, womanly-ness isn't just connected to what's between the legs. It's tied to culture and the decisions I make. Yes, I can cook. I can clean the hell out of a house or give comfort and build up or break down the hearts of others. I can do secretarial work, though I'd rather starve to death rather than to ever bring my boss a cup of coffee again. Actually, that's not true. I could do secretarial work, but it's really hard work that I am not good at. Thank God I cannot un-be a woman because to tell the truth, I like it. Grey said to me the other day, "I love how sensitive you are".

And I am still stubborn. Apparently that does not change.

But I would not want to be a young woman right now, not with all of the conflicting messages sent to young women these days about sex and education, literacy and math and what sorts of jobs we can do and cannot do. I know it's part of my calling to help other women make sense of things. As I try to make sense of this, I will keep you posted. If you have ideas, let me know.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Students Can Teach Me About Kindness

Today I loved being a teacher. I haven't been able to say that much this fall. Between administration, the state department and basic trust issues with my kids, we are now sort of at the point where we can move forward. I've now got some buy-in with my students, some street cred, as it were. It occurs to me that I know so little of the true lives of my students that it would be a mistake to make assumptions about what they do or do not know. So I ask them to write their lives, their experiences and their opinions. We all have notebooks to write in and they have the option every day to either do my writing prompt or their own.  I love it when they choose to share with the group.

Ninety-five percent of my kids are Hispanic and most of those are Mexican. The remaining 5% are African-American and White, in that order.  Many are Christian and Catholic; a few are Jewish. It may surprise you to think that I see the races, religions and ethnicities of my students. There are those who follow a philosophy of color-blindness when it comes to children and teaching.  They report that a student's background is has no bearing on the classroom environment.  That since Standard American English is pretty much the status quo and since English teachers teach SAE in the curriculum, it is best to ignore any other issue besides the curriculum. I think this is done out of love and a desire to give students the best chance they can.  But it's not effective.  To refuse to see the world in color, to not see children for who they are and to not acknowledge or honor the lives they live is not only a mistake, but it is irresponsible of educators to do so.

As a teacher, as a woman and as a White person, I have a background in my subject that some of- ok, many of- my students are not privileged to have. The pathways of their lives and mine only intersect in a few ways.  Instead of laying my curriculum, my pathway, over the top of my student's heads, I find it a much better fit, and a more productive one from a learning standpoint, to find some of their pathways and offer them augmentation in English. The students and I come to agreements about how the class will run, what sorts of privileges they can earn and what sort of work they will do.  And they do work. They sometimes work their guts out. In return, I attempt to serve them, not from the tippy-top of a mountain pouring down a dominant ideology, but instead from a little creek that bubbles alongside their own experiences. And sometimes they surprise me, because what they learn and practice has little to do with the stated curriculum, but instead speaks to the hidden agendas I purposefully demonstrate.

The kids work in groups of four, where I have seated them. In one class, I have a table of four with Donna, Billy, Mary and Alaina.  These are not their real names. Donna is shorter than 4'11" tall.  She and Alaina are both Black. Mary and Billy are both Mexican.  Donna has a temper on her and I have seen her do a power punch that lifted her off of her feet in order to sock an older, much larger boy in the face.  But in my class she is a joyful kid and regular contributor to our discussions. Billy is a gentle giant kind of kid, quiet and studious. He loves to read to the point that I have had to ask him to put away his book to do a writing assignment- an assignment that involved another book we were reading. But Billy does not seem to have much family structure.  He never completes homework. His handwriting is atrocious and his personal hygiene is often questionable. He's usually got dirt on his arms and face.  The other kids pick on him.  He is a sweet kid too- always finds me in the hallway and says "Hi Miss Dieu!!!" One day he was crying in class. I pulled him into the hallway to ask him why. He had not done his homework and thought I'd be mad at him.  Oh no! No, no, just do it for tomorrow! I spent some time reassuring him and sent him to the bathroom to splash water on his face. I was taken rather aback that he thought enough of me to cry at the thought that I'd become angry with him.  Truth be told, that made a big impact on me.  I had a talk with his tablemates while he was away. I asked that they be kind to him and include them more than they had; that junior high is hard enough and it costs nothing to be gentle. At first, they just stopped being snarky.  Then, with my own reminders, Mary and Donna have said nice things to him.  Alaina is not convinced; she continues to make little digs.

Yesterday, Donna came in madder than a wet hen.  She picked up her notebook and wrote furiously for 10 minutes straight and read what she had written to the class.  She was angry; a boy she said she liked called her ugly and she had to resist the urge to punch him out.  She read the class the riot act about being nice to people and how she has feelings too.  She said she thought the teachers just didn't care (not you, Miss Dieu, I love you!) and that things were going to go badly. We all thanked her for sharing, which is what we do when someone shares their writing out loud. Criticism is saved for peer review. "Thank you for sharing" is reserved for those brave enough to read what they have read.

After class, I asked Donna to talk to me.  She admitted that there was more to the story.  Another boy, Todd (also a pseudonym) keeps threatening her.  He said that if she told anyone, he would have someone beat her up. I have Todd in another class.  He is a year older and is very smart.  It's just his modus operandi to get others to do his dirty work.  I took Donna to the counselor.  He art teacher came to ask me about her.  Donna had been confrontational and angry in class the previous two days and she was wondering if I knew anything that would help.  I relayed what Donna had said.  The art teacher said she would take a few minutes to let our student know that we do notice and that we do indeed care.

We had a team meeting with Todd.  That's when all of his teachers get together with a student to help them, to ask them to change their behavior and to hear what they have to say about their own education.  We also let Todd know that if anything- anything at all- were to happen to Donna, he would have to answer to us, the school and the police officer assigned to the school.  I don't think it scared him much, but I don't think he'll pick on Donna anymore.

Today in class, everything went as normal.  We were writing expository essays with the understanding that a 5 paragraph essay is not the be all and end all of good writing.  The students chose their own topics from the daily writing prompts we have done for the last few weeks.  But Billy still hadn't gotten started.  He couldn't think of what to write.  I offered some ideas and asked his tablemates to help him like they were helping each other.  Each of them had picked a season and were writing about it. Billy looked like he was going to cry.  I told him to take a few deep breaths and try again. That's when the girls jumped in. "You're a good storyteller!", said Donna. "Yeah, you always tell the best stories" "You remember the one you told us in math class about the vampire and his beard...?" And on and on.  They gave him ideas on what to write based on his own interests.  And I almost started to cry myself, but I smiled and busied myself with other kids who needed help.

Today I loved being a teacher. I loved being a human and I loved being a part of this community and playing my appropriate part in it.  I had to leave during 4th hour to go to OU and meet with my adviser. As I was dashing out the door (found a great substitute teacher, by the way!) I waved and said "Bye kids! I love you, have a great weekend!"  They yelled "Bye! We love you too!", and I smiled all the way to Norman.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

John Wayne's Teeth Hey-ya

I've been kicking around the idea of manliness lately. Had a few discussions of it with friends and with Grey (who has by now been elevated to boyfriend status and is pretty amazing in case you wondered).

There is really only one or two requirements to be a man. Either have that genetic combination or have a penis or perhaps maybe a hermaphroditic condition. That's pretty much it in the mammalian world. Behavior doesn't really have much to do with it. Except in humans.

Now we have this wild, wild West idea of manliness that seems to center on heterosexuality, Rock Hudson and John Wayne. Don Draper from Mad Men is a more current example, as a booze-swilling, chain smoking, smooth talking woman seducer. Manly men chew tobacco, wear the accoutrement of their trade and settle arguments with their fists. At the end of the day the one with the biggest horse, penis or gun was the winner.

Not really necessary in this day and age. First off, homosexuality is more commonly accepted and recognized in our culture. Yes, even in Oklahoma- take it from your wild Okie. Therefore, manliness doesn't have to be a hetero phenomena and Rock Hudson in this case can rest easy in his grave as a manly man. Also, large physically aggressive men aren't as necessary since we killed all of the indigenous people and litigated the shit out of the neighbors and our arguments are now settled in courtrooms. So that does away with the necessity of brutishness. Booze-swilling and chain smoking are no longer acceptable since we American women saw our parents pay the price and now we desire men who eat well and watch their vices. cocaine is alright, just not too much vodka. Ok, cocaine isn't really ok either. That leaves smooth talking. Interesting.

I propose that we- ok, I- come up with a new standard of what it means to be manly. I propose the following criteria, for men of all sexual preferences:
First, manly men need to be vegetarians. This will be a huge step in not only greater physical health, but also will conserve the environment and reduce all of our carbon footprints. Very, very sexy.
Next, manly men should learn to use their words. A sibilant word dripping from manly lips goes a lot farther than clubbing a woman over the head. Speak love in a lover's ear and she/he is yours forever. Or at least the night.
Real manly men know how to use their...talents. A woman (or partner as the case may be) really likes to be listened to and she wants to feel special and beautiful. If you can do this, if you as a man can appreciate your partner, then you have truly done your manly duty.
Simply, finally, you have just got to think of your partner's orgasm prior to your own. I am not willing to explain that. Figure it out.

We live in a digital and technologically advanced society. Really, the old concepts of manliness revolved around necessity- shooting and working and doing the right things. Now we need you men to step up in a different way. Not a less important way, just one that responds to the needs of the planet and to your partner as the world changes. Parents, teach this to your children.

Oh, and go back and read that last recommendation again.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I usually feel ambivalent about Christmas. I love the holiday crowds, ice skating at the Civic Center (which I have yet to participate in) and hot beverages and good books on cold nights.  I love being off of work and resting. Watching the snow gently fall on a winter night through the glow of a street lamp is a particular pleasure, especially if I'm wearing soft fuzzy slippers.  I love giving gifts to children and people I really care about as a token of my affection and good will.  I love watching the Nutcracker performed life. I love Christmas music playing on the radio between Thanksgiving and the big day, and being good for goodness sake. I love making pumpkin pies and sweet goodies and tofurkey and sweet potato casserole and producing all of the amazing tastes and smells that a happy kitchen can churn out in the winter months.

What I don't love about Christmas is the commercial and consumerist aspect. There are Christmas items out in major department stores now, before Halloween, and Christmas music playing in some places.  I don't love the idea of spending thousands of dollars so that others might think I like them or because I am expected to do so.  I hate shopping for Christmas presents. I dislike getting gifts that someone doesn't think about- fortunately for me that doesn't happen very often.

My sister Patti knows this about me and she goes out of her way every year to do something very, very silly.  She finds the craziest, silliest Christmas toy, something that barks or sings or somehow might freak out my dog, and sends it through the mail for me to open.  It's my favorite gift every year because I know she enjoys keeping an eye out and hunting for just the right one.  Now that the kids in my family are older, it's easier for everyone for me to send gift cards.  It's also less expensive if I send money to their parents and ask them to do the shopping, rather than go through the acrobatics of wrapping and shipping things that might not make it in time.  My job usually keeps me pretty busy until late in December, so there is that added pressure.

This year I also have a special concern. I don't want to give any money to corporate America.  The large corporations have enough money from the American people.  It's more than that, though. It's a conflict of values. The things I value in life aren't necessarily the expensive ones.  The gifts I want aren't the kind you'll find at Macy's. Don't get me wrong, I like expensive perfume once every three years or so. I like a nice scarf. I just don't want those things if the person purchasing them is going out of their way and far out of their price range just to make me happy.

So this year I am planning something different for the Christmas season. I'm rekindling an older tradition and Christmas presents. I don't want to give it away, but I am talented in some aspects and can create a few things of beauty for people I truly love. I get this from my mother, who is probably more talented than anyone I know.  Over the years she has made me quilted potholders, crocheted slippers, flannel nightgowns, aprons and other amazing homemade goodies, all at my request. When I use those items, see them in my kitchen or snuggle in bed with the heavy feeling of warmth, I feel loved and think of the happy memories from my childhood.  I cannot buy that feeling and I cannot help but value those things over any trinket purchased on my behalf.  Don't get me wrong, I love jewelry. Jewelry is always appropriate for any occasion, but for Christmas, I prefer you to think of me, make me an ornament with the year and my name, or throw some macaroni and glitter on a paper plate and say "Ho Ho Ho!"

For the children in my family, I recognize that they may not have the same wants as do I.  I will continue in the tradition I have followed for them their whole lives and find something appropriate through the regular channels.  But for those of you who I care about, I'm going to find time to create something thoughtful that you may like.  Or you may throw it away or recycle or regift as you desire.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why I Will Always Love Rednecks

Life sometimes takes us to unexpected places. I could list here- and I am certain you could too- a plethora of unexpected events that have taken place in my life which has changed its course dramatically. Not all of these things are good and not all of these things are bad. But they are significant.

I never expected my life to be the way it is right now. I'm a doctor, even if it's not the helpful kind, and I'm at a conference in Boston, Massachusettes. My school asked me to go. Apparently I am sort of responsible. Um, ok. It's a great conference, actually, on the creation and maintenance of the PLC or professional learning community. In our off time, we have visited some historical sights and eaten lobster and scrod. Scrod isn't as cool as I thought. Beyond its function as the pluperfect subjunctive form of a slang term for sex, apparently scrod is the fish equivalent of veal. I found this out after I decided it was delicious and now it will take some time to forgive myself. Like I said, life is strange and you never really can be prepared for the unexpected.

I have a boyfriend. Completely unexpected. We met online. Yes, that sounds bad. But we have a mutual friend and were making fun of him online and it just went from there. I think I mentioned him in my last post. Really good person. I will spare you, dear reader, from my twitterpated ramblings but he has possibly read more literature than I have and he is a better vegetarian than I am as well. Or more strict; not sure about the "better" part. Also unexpected. I have only ever dated meat eaters. Grey is also kind to just about everyone he has ever met. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they treat people who cannot do a thing for them.

Not everything in life is rosy, of course. And that's the purpose of this writing. Because life doesn't have much to do with the word "Deserve". If we all got what we deserve the world would be a much different place than it is today. When I taught in the prison system, I saw the effects of a broken justice system every day. I think most people know that. But what might not occur to people is that prison is where people go when they have no access to mental health or drug and alcohol treatment facilities. Another place where unexpected turns just sort of happen.

I have a friend- a cloe friend of many years. He is sick. Very, very sick. He's got an addiction problem. I have seen his life fall apart from successful, bill-paying, working, car-driving responsible guy to something else in a rapid downward spiral in no time flat. I love and respect my friend and will spare all of us the description, but suffice to say that addiction is an ugly, ugly disease and he needs help. Now.

And there was nothing there. Nothing for him to get help.

I was there in the gallery when our Oklahoma legislators decided, in their infinite wisdom, to cut funding for drug and alcohol treatment centers. Most of them has closed in the last two years. This is a deplorable state of affairs. In order for my friend to get help, he either needs to commit a crime and get arrested, find hundreds or thousands of dollars for inpatient treatment, or die. And from what he told me, in a lucid moment, was that to be honest, if he had hundreds or thousands of dollars for treatment, he'd just put it in his arm. He hadn't eaten in awhile so I brought him a sandwich. Honestly, I had stopped by that night hoping that he wasn't dead and too afraid that he was not to go check.

Shame on you, Oklahoma. I vote, and when I can, I vote for more public assistance, not less.

And God bless rednecks.

I called a friend at the behest of my dear friend. He is a really good man. A big old redneck friend who is also a long-time member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I said "Can you come help?" He did not say "Does he have money for treatment?". He did not say "is he in jail?" and he did not say "I have to worry about myself first." He said "Hell yeah. I will be there in 15 minutes."

True to his word, fifteen minutes later he pulled up in his pickup truck. He is a giant of man, eaily towering over me (and I'm 5'8"). I have always felt very safe with this man. He rides a Harley and when I pulled up with my red zebra-striped scooter he asked for a ride. "Ridin's ridin'", said my friend, and he said he'd be seen with me and my girlie scooter any day of the week. Yes, he came when I called. He brought help with him. Three other men just as burley and hardened as he is. If anyone can help an addict, it's another addict. And it was time for me to go. But first I threw my arms around that big old redneck and kissed him on the cheek. "You are my hero. I mean that." Then I left, before I started crying again. If anyone can help, it's them.

I don't know how things will turn out. It's out of my hands. If there was something I could do, I would have done it already. Hell, I would've gotten sober for him if I could. So would his mom or any of his other friends. And it's frustrating and heartbreaking that there is nothing I can do.

So I'm doing what I can do. Trying not to worry. Trying not to hover or dwell too much on the how or the why of addiction that robs people of their dignity, their health and their relationships. It's a cop out to say that these are the choices that people make. Addiction kills people. Alcoholism is a disease like any other and deserves treatment. It's public perception that blames the addict and allows them oftentimes to die. How would you like it if you had cancer and someone blew off your necessary treatment because you couldn't afford it- or worse yet, blamed you for having a tumor in the first place?

Me, I've done what I can and have to trust others to take care of the rest. If there is a God out there, please let her send more rednecks because we need all that we can get.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Next Day

I have stolen five minutes from my Monday morning. I'm trying to get back into my routine. I am trying to care about a curriculum that wishes to wear me like a suit. But my mind is still on last weekend and probably will be for a long, long time.

I passed the defense. It was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. There were some hairy moments before the defense, and we did get started almost half an hour late. There was paperwork I was unaware of.  Maybe I should have been aware. Maybe the department secretary should have told me when I asked her two weeks ago. Doesn't matter because Gail- the lady who runs everything in the department- pushed a couple of things through and it turned out alright.

My cousin Christian came over from Amarillo just to be there for me.  That meant the world to me. And my friends packed the room we were in so that there was no seating left in the classroom and every time I looked up there was a friendly face saying "I believe in you".  Friends from grad school, professors, and Cathy too. She made brownies for everyone and they rocked.  Even our amazing IT guru made an appearance.  And this guy.  This guy from Tulsa that I'm just starting to date. He took the day off of work and drove to Norman just to support me.  In all of those moments of self-doubt and fear there was someone there to tell me to knock it off. Since he and Christian are both over six feet tall, I felt surrounded by pillars of coolness.  And then I was magically transformed by a vote from my committee and perhaps by the power of Greystoke. I'm a doctor.

That was Friday.  When I woke up Saturday, I didn't feel any different. No magical powers. Couldn't teleport. Just got up and made breakfast and had a lovely day. The end. And today I have to go to my very regular job and try to teach something interesting around a mindless curriculum with a curriculum psycho watching my moves. Except that today she has to call me Dr. Dieu.

I wish it was Sunday again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tomorrow and Tomorrow

I'm just a 12 year old white kid, walking down a gravel driveway, picking apples and dreaming of what my life will be like one day when I get a job or get married or have kids. It's hot and the sky is blue, blue, blue and life is simple and filled with canned food, deer and elk meat and boots and jeans. I'm a wildflower; my great-grandpa told me so. A wild rose, vibrant and defiant growing out of rimrock on the hillside.  Snakes bother me and so do ticks but not much else in the world. It's wide open.

I am 27 and living in a nice suburban neighborhood. I have a job but mostly am a student. I spend my entire spring break reading a series of seven books, one for each day. I used to be so happy to be married, to not need for anything and to have a closet full of nice clothes. My life is far from the backroads of the North Touchet river. It is never quiet and the neighbors are all alike.  I am lost. I am alike.  I plant roses and strawberries and eventually a garden and some trees but there is not enough to do, enough to keep my mind off of the idea that I do not belong and that I may never fit in.  I want more. I want something real. I look out the big picture window and feel narrow.

I am 35 and have been divorced for five years.  I live on the second floor of an apartment building with my cat and have one friend who I see all the time. I teach in a prison and see injustice as a way of life. I see the broken system, the poor punished disproportionately, the mentally ill incarcerated instead of helped.  I visit my grandparents often because they are very old by now and are not long for this world. My beloved great uncle dies, and I am honored to speak at his funeral. I am a raw vegan except for hot, burning coffee.  I hate being stared at every day at the prison. I hate the rumors. My grandma talks to me some months later since I am thin and tired and drinking way too much alone in my apartment. "Go home, to Oklahoma, where people love you." I move, return to graduate school and both of my grandparents die.

Tomorrow, I defend my dissertation. I still have my cat. Four white men and one white woman will vote and I will be magically transformed into a doctor of philosophy.  I do not know how one goes to sleep one night as a regular person and suddenly becomes something else the next day.  I am dragging my feet on revisions, writing blog posts and putting off doing my real work until now.  I do not want it to be over. I did this so that people would be more obliged to listen when I talk to them about injustice and suffering. I want to help. I want to be the change, as they say.  Now people might actually listen (because of a stupid credential? Really?) and I am not certain I have anything worthwhile to say. I am still a wild flower, but older, wiser and slower to speak. I pick my way down the hillside into the wide, wide world and never take my eyes off of the sky.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Magic Refrigerator

I am feeling better today. Now that it's almost 2 p.m. and my insomnia from last night has been more or less counterbalanced with a nap.  If you have an idealized image of me, do not read the rest of this paragraph. Just skip the next one and the world will not change. I also woke up with really bad nausea which got worse when I was upright.  Maybe it was just from nasal drainage? Nope. It was from nasal not-drainage. I had a head full of snot and it was fucking with my equilibrium and creating the desire to vomit my empty guts out.  Then the thought of vomiting made me sicker and you get the idea.  My roommate- who is not in the least intimidated by my strong personality because she has one too- told me to stop being stubborn and do a salt sniff.  That's where you get some salt water and put it in your palm, then snort it up your nose and tip your head back. Anything up there comes out. Then you repeat on the other side.  Gross. Really, really gross. Better out than in. And it made me throw up too. But damn, I felt better almost immediately.

I felt well enough to eat something.  My fridge has a week-old squash, some cauliflower, some hummus, stray blueberries, orange juice and a bottle of white wine that's been in there for 3 weeks. Pretty sure that one or more of those things are bad. So I grabbed the hummus and closed the door. Looked at the magnets and doodads that sit on the outside and mused about how much you can tell about a person from their refrigerator door.

I think most of it you would expect- magnets from Washington and a "Hate Free Zone" denote the liberal hippie that lives here. There is one that says "If you must smoke, smoke salmon" which I got in 2006 on a trip to the Pike Place Market. The Kokopelli was from Santa Fe. I've never ordered from Hideaway Pizza but I do like their food. I think that one was left by the previous tenents.  Holding up a picture I took of my grandparents in 2005 at their home is a woman with her hand to her head. It says "Oh Crap! I forgot to get married and have some kids!" I love that one. My newest magnets are in the bottom in the middle- "Ain't no nookie like Chinookie" and "There's no ho like Coho!", both which feature pictures of salmon. I love that these are spread haphazardly along the fridge and in no real order.  That's a good metaphor for my life.

One would expect the OU Library magnet and the one from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. In fact, all of these magnets would be expected for my house.  And then there's that one in the middle. That one with the blue teddy bear, flowers in her paw, a bow by her ear and a heart painted on her chest.  Obviously hand painted. It's my favorite.  My sister Mickie painted it for me years ago, probably in the late 1990's when I lived in Las Vegas.  At least that's what I remember. I have taken it with me wherever I move.

I know that in our small human brains, we tend to judge people. I would prefer to be judged by my bookshelves, filled with Alexie, Coetzee and a myriad of writers from Ireland, South America, Western Europe and the United States.  I am not that well read but I do know how to read. That's what my bookshelves say about me as long as you ignore the occasional pulp fiction. Since those are in storage until I have the energy to paint the office and that can't be done until I get rid of the fucking cockroaches still camping out in the kitchen, I'll settle for assessment by fridge.

Man, I gotta stop taking that cough syrup with codeine in it...

Friday, September 30, 2011


I've been a bit on the busy side of things lately. Between my teaching job (which doesn't even fit into the 40 hour work week), the two classes I adjunct teach and this dissertation defense, I haven't had time to write much.  I'm stressed because this is the longest I've gone without posting.  My friend L.Bangs remarked the other night that I need to write more.  And believe me, friends, I have stuff to talk about.

I have finally gotten to a point with my students that I can begin moving them from dependent learners to independent learners.  For instance, students commonly ask me if they might sharpen their pencils. I put up a sign that reads: "Independent Learners may sharpen their pencils whenever they need to, as long as the teacher is not lecturing". My next step with them is to tackle responsible use of the bathroom pass.  I have scaffolded this with my 8th grade class. They have now earned the privilege of moving their desks into the groups they want and can do community work.  If they do well next week, they can be trusted to use the bathroom pass at their own discretion. I wanted them in the configurations they chose. I want them to learn respect and to be respected in turn and for our classroom to be a place of learning.

I gave new vocabulary words last week too. "Home Language" and "Standard English" and "Code-Switching" all came up. We discussed openly - in all of my classes- whether or not one language was better than another, the importance of code-switching and why we need to study English. It went well and the spirited ones are becoming more focused. The less interested ones seem to be paying a bit of attention.

What has helped too is the ESL teacher who is coming for two of my classes.  I make use of her and have her work with struggling readers/writers who seem to founder in language and are shy.  They like her because she is nice and quiet and a native speaker, so she is a safe person to ask if they need to in Spanish.  Let's face it- I am a good teacher but the ESL teacher is a great augmentation because she shares a language context that I do not.  And I am all about using that to help those kids. They need it. They deserve it.  Sometimes the languages get mixed up.

I was explaining the concept of quickwrites to my kids. Quickwrites are writing where we just put down our ideas on a topic or tell a story as quickly as possible without thinking too much about it.  It's the warm up to our class and is a great way to generate topics for further writing. I gave an analogy (and taught that word along with it) of stretching before playing a sport. "What does stretching do for you?" I asked. "Helps us not get..." said one of my students. "Get..?" I inquired. He looked puzzled. Sometimes my students will know a word in Spanish and not know how to translate it. "Calambres." He turned to his friend next to him. "Cramps." said the kid.  You stretch so  you don't get cramps.  "That's why we do quickwrites. Nobody wants calambres." Some of my girls giggled. They later told me that calambres are also associated with menstrual cramps.  Fortunately, this was first hour.  I practiced the word on all of my other classes.  I got it wrong a few times and students delighted in correcting my pronunciation.  "Hey, I have to get it wrong in order to get it right." It was a wonderful and teachable day.

Followed by a few days of mindless testing.
Two steps forward, one step back.

The day we discussed home language and code switching, I was also being observed by the principal. We used poetry to talk about verbs and more on the use of analogy.  He's been hitting us over the head about curriculum so I was nervous.  When we got a chance to meet about it, he mentioned how much the kids participated in the discussion and the writing and that they seemed to be learning.  It was a good evaluation.  At the end, I confessed that the exercise we did was not in the curriculum script that was handed me as I walked in the door. It went far beyond and he could see that this was true.  He didn't have much to say about that.

School seems to be leveling off. I'm working out issues one at a time. It's really my health that is in the front seat today. I've been going at it a little aggressively. This week in addition to teaching at the middle school, I also taught my Tuesday night class at Osu-Okc. Then I ended up back there until 8 on Wednesday night and subbed in on Thursday night for someone else. Three 12 hour days in a row is a little too much. And my dissertation defense is next Friday. One week from today. And I am not ready yet. And I haven't graded all of those papers. And I need to work out. I did work, despite the aching in my lungs. And it all came down on me today.

I had to go see my doctor after work.  I have been coughing and wheezing for two weeks. Then I got a sinus infection and a really sore throat. It's all from my asthma. The doc gave me a steroid shot in the butt, an antibiotic and some cough syrup made with codeine. And a strong admonition to come earlier next time so that it doesn't get that bad.

So I had my own calambres this week. I didn't warm up properly or get enough rest and paid that price.  I'm going too much, running too ragged and trying and failing to be Wonder Woman. I've been typing with one eye closed and pausing to yawn. So tomorrow I cancelled my plans to be in the parade and to help someone move and I'm going to sleep in instead.  Because next week is going to be a hell of a week.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Make It Better

I can't just wallow in self-pity.  Well, I guess I could, but it's like not taking a shower for a week- eventually you get sick of yourself.  I let it go a night and decided to do something constructive instead of complaining about a situation where I do not have a lot of control.

I made the day good with my kids and then wrote an email to my boss documenting the things that were said in the meeting. I feel better knowing that my concerns and the things that were said in the meeting are written down and I can prove that they happened through more than the hand-written meeting notes that I will never have access to again.  Several of my many wise teacher friends told me that if I do not document something, then it's my word against someone else's and I would do well to document, document, document.  I think I did a good job.

The other thing that helps more is not concentrating on the negative and thinking of some sort of good I can do in the world.  One of our teachers is brand new. She has never taught before and I think if I were in her shoes, I'd be pretty freaked out.  She's doing the best she can and had no air conditioning for the first month.  That's right, no AC during this hot, hot summer with 6th graders! Ugh! Poor gal! So I wrote her a little certificate for being a Super Teacher and slipped it in her inbox. It's nice to get an "Atta Girl" once in awhile and it made me feel better to say something nice to someone.

Unfortunately for me, this morning I woke up with a really tight chest and a few asthma attacks.  I called in to work and went back to bed.  I've been sleeping most of the day and can't breathe well.  My dear, dear friend Charlotte brought me over her nebulizer and I am still shaking from using it. It's like a legal electric bong. I don't enjoy taking medicine.  But I can breathe and feel better, even if I had to resort to steroids.  There's Charlotte again, pulling my butt out of the fire.

Tomorrow will be better. I will get back to work and it will be Friday and I will have two more days off to recover.  And it will keep getting better- I will keep making it better- through thoughtful reflection and not through reaction.  That's my new mantra today.  And now my shaking hands and I are going back to bed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I feel scared right now. I don't like to feel this way.  It's not panic, but a building, billowing feeling that things are going out of control and there is nothing I can do but hold on and hope I don't get blown out of the back of a speeding train. I do not like this one bit.

At work I feel as though we are all on a motorboat with nobody really at the controls.  The guy holding the rudder is arguing coordinates with the janitor and the guy with the nautical maps is bailing the holes that have sprung in the bottom of the skiff.  I've got my eyes on the horizon, yelling that we are at land-ho and nobody wants to acknowledge what my eyes see and what impeding doom will likely hit us if we do not alter our course.  Down in the hold is the future of my kids, all baled up and ready to drown at the bottom of the deep blue sea.  It frightens me.  I love my students, who are more or less resigned to going with me on the curriculum idea. Some actually enjoy class.  I love that we've begun conversations about code-switching and Standard English versus common language.  They are not the problem.  I am also lucky to have two classes with only 20 students and two classes with 25 or fewer. Only one of my classes is at 27 right now.

Seriously, I've got that part. It is the trivialities of the matter- access to email, technology for my classroom that every student should have in junior high if they are to make it in the world and textbooks, yes, textbooks, which are currently sitting in the Library waiting to be inventoried- and administrators who are too new and unseasoned to be able to effectively help my department.  It's scary to have meetings about curriculum that nobody in the department has taught and to have someone attempt to stand over me and raise their voice as though I were a naughty child to be chastised.  It's not fair to then to have to be the one to calm the frazzled nerves of the other teachers and help my administrator to become a better communicator.  Let's add a little resentment to that mix, in with the fear and lack of information. Just because I am not being treated as a professional doesn't mean that I can behave as though I am not. On top of all of that, the air conditioning went out in our 100 year old building for two days but I was still expected to teach well.  My poor students. They deserve better.

I am scared and pretty soon will start rebelling, as is natural.  I may develop an eye problem from time to time and won't be able to see going in to work.

If this is the way our public educational system works, then we should scrap it and start all over again. If I am this ineffective as a teacher and negotiator with others in the system, I should not be an educator, a teacher or other person involved in a bureaucracy.  What scares me most is that the things that scare me have nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with "things" and people that really do not matter.

I'm sure that this will look better in the morning but for now, I've just got to go to bed.