Let Them Eat Artichoke

For the longest time, I disliked artichoke (among other “weird” looking vegetables and fruits). Artichoke looked entirely unapproachable. Artichoke looked scary, unknown and unknowable. Dislike is the absolutely easiest thing in the world. Dislike implies little to no emotional risk.

My thoughts will sound non sequitur, but trust me, as my grad school mentor (progenitor of bitch face) used to say, “Everything is to the point. Our job is to make the connections.” I should know: even when I was a sketchy teacher, I proved Nancy Walker right every single school year, and usually again during the miniscule weeks of summer break. I still do. Every year, I remember that I know for sure that our job is to make the connections.

I first gave artichoke a chance the summer of 1996 when Paulina, a dear teacher friend, gave me a book called She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes. (I think I finally know why, after a four week summer writing workshop she gave me that book – connections don’t always come instantly.) My mom was visiting that summer. My mom the gardener, the would-be vegetarian; my mom the writer and thinker and teacher. Momma and I were inspired to boil up artichoke and make hollandaise dipping sauce thanks to Paulina. Thanks to Momma, I learned about the “choke”, and the nutty sweetness of the heart.

To get to that tender nutty sweetness, the raw, fresh artichoke has to be boiled, steamed or baked a long time. A long time. An hour. Sometimes more. And like the efforts of a teacher who has watched over raw, fresh students, the cook asks and waits, offers and waits, and even after she asks and asks again in a rolling boil the work is still not done.

I waited, and watched, and offered, and asked, and “boiled” this senior class all fall semester. There was a part of me that began to think finding their hearts was too hard, and maybe I should just dislike them and move on with my life. But early in the spring, as I kept watching and offering and waiting and asking – I saw unexpected bubbles of interest here and there linking the struggles of the wife who lamented to the conflict between vengeance and survival in Hamlet; recognition of themselves and their culture in the frustration of Winston and Julia as they sought freedom. Among these bubbles of interest and hints of tenderness the purple heart beneath the choke began to appear.

The artichoke metaphor came to me in the blinding, breathless five days in which I read and evaluated ninety-four 10-page essays (sometimes more, sometimes less). But the metaphor was incomplete until the following week when I sat for three straight class days in the brand new auditorium listening to my students tell each other and their teachers what they know for sure, right now, this moment – about themselves, about excellence, about the world at large.

Unlike my students, when the talks got a little dull or repetitive, I couldn’t distract myself with games or social media on my phone since I was evaluating the nuance and structure of argument and general effectiveness of the talks. I had to pay attention to the peeling away of each teardrop-shaped leaf of experience with my complete self, my whole brain and intellect, while my students reached into themselves and exposed the tricky, hair like choke above their hearts.

At times, during the talks, I wanted to curl up on the floor under my chair and disappear as students sheared away all illusion of youthful innocence. Despite all the watching and waiting, I had glossed over important details about the needs of astronauts, the bent backs of dancers, the shadows of introverts, the power of WORDS, the losses and losses and losses and near misses. In those three days I could see how my students held each other together both intentionally and by accident through the traumas and victories of their lives and the lives of others. Being a grown-up had dulled my sense of observation and turned me into nearly pure choke. On the final day of the talks I was both shaken and renewed. My students had revealed the heart hidden beneath the protective choke, and allowed me to find the nutty sweetness the choke protects.

That was three weeks ago. Now those students are gone and they will never be that senior class in those particular groupings ever again. And they are a nutty sweet memory with a lingering burn on my tongue and in my throat. I will remember each leaf – the beast, the giant weeping Pooh bear, the surgical steel-coated heart, the twin, the son, the daughter, the dancer, the actor, the comedian, the philosopher, the coder, the triathlete, the scholar, the loafer, the lover, the friend, the artist, the broken-hearted and the whole, the insomniac, the gamer, the anxious, and the complete orange – as if I had scraped away the choke protecting them with a spoon and let the pure heart beneath meld into my own experience.

When the artichoke is gone, it always seems too soon. As if I could have savored these hearts so much more, appreciated more, loved more. The wish for more leaves me with an ache, a yearning. Yes, dislike would have been easier, less complicated. But the heart is totally worth the effort.

Tuesday Teacher Fantasy

Fantastic thinking is in order this thundery, rainy, hail-ish, Tuesday afternoon. You know, the kind of thinking you do when you sit around building blocks with a little kid (or several) and talk about how great it would be if you could eat only cake (or ice cream, or froot loops) all the time, for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Or that summer lasted for ten months and school only lasted for two. And, “wouldn’t it be the best thing?”

“I’d have chocolate every day.”

“No way. I’d have a different kind at every meal and I would never, in a million years, get bored.”

“Oh, I know! I will ALWAYS get the corner piece with the extra icing. Oh, yeah.”

Oh, yeah. It would be the best thing.

books...

books…

Today, I think, the best thing would be, once a week to pack my reusable grocery bag the night before with a couple of the books I’ve got going on at the moment; I’d grin in anticipation of the coming day. Load the coffee maker and fixin’s carefully in a separate bag. I get to school around 6:30, just like always, and I hang an appealing, artful sign on the door that says READING DAY! I grab a pillow from the reading corner and arrange it near my desk, a kind of cozy cubby there in the corner under my “Fan Club” sign and photos and love notes from former students. I’d set my books for the day next to the pillow to wait, while I set up and start the coffee.

By 6:45 I am settled on the floor with the coffee maker bubbling away comfortably on the other side of the room. Picking up the first book in the stack, I slide my finger behind the bookmark holding my place and fold the book open. I graze slowly among the words as the sun comes up behind the mountains east of campus.

Eventually, students begin to slip into the room. Because it’s READING DAY, they already know to mumble a good morning. Maybe some of them pour a cup of joe with the tiniest of splash and swirl. Maybe not. First hour students would be so lucky! They could swing by Starbucks on their way to school and get something extra special and it would still be hot, perfect, creamy coffee / tea / chai / chocolate. We’ve a routine on READING DAY! one long-established and cherished of muttered greetings and the shush shush of pages turning.

There is no studying and no one tries to. There is no last minute rush to homework, and I don’t have to check. We each have our space of floor, desk, or wall, our cushion and the book we are working on. Some of use ear buds, and some of us don’t. No devices are opened by anyone; everyone is reading an old-fashioned, paper, analog, book of their choice.

For forty-eight minutes, there are no phones, tweets, whatsapp, instagram, texts messages, emails, parents, principals, or teachers. Just twenty-five or so souls breathing across ink spilled in delightful patterns that dance across paper in story form. Our breath steams, filling the room with the vaporous forms of places and people, near and far, known and unknown, real and imagined.

The building’s bells do their thing, and students slip away reluctantly to physics, philosophy, or some other part of the curriculum, and another group of students slips in. Later, for a couple of hours I’m alone, and I refresh the coffee maker before I return to my quiet corner, where I’ve started the second book in my stack for the day.

Just as I start to feel a little restless and maybe even lonesome, the last group of the day cracks the door open and enters to complete the ritual for the week. They settle to read, until the sound of a waiting line of cars starts to ooze beneath the door, and the rattle and crash of the younger grades in the hallways begins to shiver our air. We all get a little wiggly, and maybe there are a few people talking quietly, but some stay focused until the absolute last gasp before the last bell rings to free us for the day. Students fold their books closed like hands suspended in prayer around a bookmark, before they put cushions back in their place and shoulder backpacks and book bags to make their way home.

And wouldn’t it be the best thing? Oh, yeah.

~LD

Thoughts on Digit-itis: To be or not to be

Their screens were motionless. The group of six adolescents brave enough to put themselves in the center discussion circle barely scrolled through the electronic text they were discussing. If they’d been considering Wordsworth’s “The World is too Much with Us” the immobility would have been understandable – fourteen lines easily fit on one screen. But today, we were on Hamlet. HAMLET. I promise you, I am not such a great teacher of Shax that my students have memorized the order of events, much less specific lines from the play with which to back up their various responses to and arguments about the big questions the play poses. Not even close.

I sat in the outer circle, taking notes on the validity of arguments and other general skills and their motionless screens kept tickling at the back of my skull. I found myself wanting to say something about being a good reader, marginal notes, annotating texts – old school, teachery kinds of things.

But I held my peace because it was at least the third time in as many months that I have stumbled across this same problem. The problem of how to undo all the years of teaching people to be good readers on paper, while many of the tests we use to keep data on people’s educational progress and academic prowess are computerized.

I’m not talking about just the GRE and GMAT level exams for admission to graduate school, but also other (very respected) standardized tests used to track the academic progress of students at levels from the tiniest of first grade scholars all the way up to college graduates. Tests in which reading passages are not manipulable on the computer screen (you can’t highlight lines that seem important, much less make marginal notes). In most cases, the test taker can have a piece of scratch paper, but given the time-pressure factor, that little piece of paper seems at best useless at worst a distraction.

I used to show students how I use flag post-its to keep track of quotes I thought were important or revealing in a text. When working with a copy of a text, or textbook that belonged to me, I showed them how to make notes in the margin to remind them of their thoughts, reactions, and questions at the time of reading. I can’t say that these skills are totally useless even in our shiny, stainless steel digital era. Luckily, many of the texts we work with are available in PDF format, which allows many of these “analog” note taking strategies to continue to be useful. Really, as long as a text can be found in PDF form or converted to PDF, we can still use all the same old strategies for being good, thoughtful, critical readers with only minor alterations in the strategies.

But come test-taking time (or in the reading of Internet texts – articles, blogs and websites), these strategies are virtually useless. How does a test taker effectively keep notes on what he or she reads on a computer screen that they cannot mark? On a piece of scratch paper to one side of their mouse and keyboard. If the test taker is smart, he will include line numbers or paragraph numbers by each note he jots down. Nevertheless, these notes are not WITH the text that prompted the thought in the first place. Re-connecting the thought in the note with the text (imagine yourself switching back and forth from the text on the screen to the notes on your page – the Tazmanian Devil plays tennis) seems to me a most Herculean effort.

Is it nobler, then, to teach using etexts? Will we grow to keep track of our thoughts and where we had them in a text “by heart” in order to excel at the exams we must take to move forward toward our long-term educational goals? Will we insist that exam makers create exams in which the old analog styles of marginal notes and annotation can be performed on their digital texts? Or should we face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the only arms at our disposal the vagaries of flawed memory and analog note taking in the face of a test running at digital speeds? I find myself, like Hamlet, stuck between forms. We are much too digital, but not nearly digital enough.

While our strategies for teaching students to be good readers catch up with all that is being demanded in the digital age, I will continue to search for good PDF versions of texts, or apps that allow a reader to leave a post it in the text of a website. Until the two sides – analog test taking versus digital test taking – catch up with each other, my students’ discussions of texts will be tied either to analog (paper) texts or the PDF versions I can find online. I will show them the tools available, and trust to their ability to integrate new technology quickly. Meanwhile, in my head, all is far from Hamlet’s coveted silence.

~LD

On Students and Other Strangers (revised from ’09)

I was led back to this multi-genre piece by the friend (one time student) who asked me to write it for one of his final projects. I was stunned not to find it in my files, and he was good enough to resend it. So while he’s off on inspiring adventures all over the place, I thought you might like to have a peek. I used to call him double-O-seven, because as a yearbook staff member, he could get his mitts on anything. A terrific person all the way around. I’m so lucky to be a teacher and learner of THIS kind of person. There are so many of them! NOTE: I’ve adjusted to make the timing make more sense now.

***

Approximately seven years ago I was accosted in the hall by a student from a grade that I’ve never taught and hassled about books.

“Ms. Head,” the strange, but vaguely-familiar looking young man said to me. “Have you ever read ‘X’ by ‘Y’?” Let’s face it: I’ve slept since then; I have no idea what books he asked about. I wasn’t really listening in any case. I was trying to figure out which of my students he reminded me of.

Still, I must have responded to the question, because not to do so would have been rude. I think there was more conversation, perhaps more questions. But I was still trying to figure out who the student reminded me of.

Time passed. A week? A month? A year? Enough time for me to forget about the hallway book-assault.

I was walking from my classroom toward the elevator. I’m sure my mind was wandering around in the stars somewhere, distracted by English department business, or NHS business, or some other business. From the far end of the hallway down by Mr. Miranda’s room, I heard, “Ms. Head! Ms. Head!!” Lo and behold, Book Boy strode toward me. I remember being amused, even laughing out loud at the eagerness that lit up his eyes and ran like electric current into his smile. I know for certain that he way-laid me twice in the hallway to ask about books, but there may have been more than two occasions. I remember being floored, knocked-flat, astonished, speechless, flabbergasted to see a student so excited about reading that he was walking the halls looking for book experts. Secretly, I couldn’t wait for him to be a Senior.

The wait seemed interminable, but eventually one August I saw that curiously familiar face pass by me in the hallway, “Good morning, Ms. Head,” he said as he reached for the brushed steel handle of my classroom door. While his work was often far from perfect, or less than punctual, his enthusiasm masked unsightly flaws.

All year long, his writings were daring, and sometimes wrought as with iron or steel: the sound of the furnace roaring in our ears and sweat obscuring our eyes. From the thoughtful analysis of nature symbols in Hardy, to lyrics that take the shine off the enameled gloss of self-destructive relationships, R– has a way of making old things new again, and new things familiar and comfortable.

Let the resplendent blade of the sun
bear down on the time-faded sands
Let the moon sprinkle false rains
over desert hills
Let time glide down the window pane
while I slip another page through my fingers
and look up to see the bookwright’s back
far down the hall from whence he used to come…

~LD

Sunday Saving Daylight — NaPoWriMo6

Eyes still shut
I awake to the practiced, stolen
tunes of the mockingbird chief
outside my window;
I love his
teachery ways.
My sleepy ears enthralled
by his youngliings’ answers:
in tune, if not on key.

A crunch of leaves,
already sun-dried in April,
disguises the crack of a bat
and briefly the rustle
of fifty Moms cheering
in the stands;
I break open soft-boiled eyes
and imagine shadows of children
swinging bats for arms and mitts for hands.

A glance at the clock
reminds me time has changed;
by summer schedule
I’m up early even
without counting the hour I’ve lost,
but I envy my mockingbird
his timeless choir practice
that runs on angles of light
not on the hands of a clock.
~LD

Charm against the Charmers — NaPoWriMo 3

Slivered blood from a paper cut
Parabola of kindergartener’s gut
Dried up shell of ink cartridge
And still-cool cans of Friday’s brewage –
Let no puppy-dog eyes draw me in
And may the graduation ceremony begin.

~LD

As a teacher of high school senior English, there are several points in the year (which come remarkably close together) when we are ALL just ready for the sound of “Pomp & Circumstance”, no matter how much fun we’ve had (ahem) working together. That time has come. In a week we will (finally) have our long spring break, and this wave will come and go again several times before the band actually plays that (very sticky) tune officially. In the meantime, I don’t really want to get rid of them entirely yet, but I confess to feeling empathy for my own senior English teacher and thinking that a giggle might do us all some good. =)

Perhaps Compassion leads to Serendipity (a research reflection)

Preface:

I’ve been recycling writing with the best of them for ages, and I thought some of you might be interested in what’s been keeping me so busy…er…silent. So, I’m posting my homework. You heard me.

Back in July, I saw an advert for a Social Psychology course with Coursera and the intro video was so fascinating that I had to sign up (“What? Study for free at the best universities in the world? Who needs credit? SIGN ME UP!”). Thus, the same week that I went back to work, I found myself doing the reading, watching the lectures, writing the homework for the SocPsych class based out of Wesleyan University with Prof. Scott Plous. Talk about back to school.  The culminating activity was to have a “Day of Compassion” (DoC) and to reflect on what we had done that was compassionate, how social psychology applied to what we had done, how much of an impact our actions had on others, how our behaviors might be different in a month or so, and how to spread the compassion “movement.”

I was pretty happy with the day, and the essay that I built from it. I hope you’ll enjoy it. And maybe you’ll notice your daily compassions and give yourself a pat on the back as a result. You deserve it. ‘-)

The only thing remaining to finish the class and get my certificate is the exam.  I am compiling notes even as we speak.  What a great feeling. Next up? Intro to Philosophy via the University of Edinburgh. (I am an unrepentant geek / nerd / bookworm.) Much love to everyone.  ~LD

***

Perhaps Compassion Leads to Serendipity (a research reflection)

Serendipity happened. The week that I contemplated how best to create a day of compassion in my life, I was also considering how to help students discover rhetorical strategies used by David Foster Wallace in the speech he gave at Kenyon College, Gambier, OH in 2005. He told this story: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’” (Shea 233). Wallace concluded his speech saying, “This is water; this is water” (238).

As I was studying the speech and making marginal notes detailing Foster Wallace’s use of hyperbole, understatement, sarcasm, and appeals to pathos, logos and ethos, I didn’t notice the full title of the speech: “This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life” (Shea 232). I noticed the full title only today when I decided to include his fable in my reflection. I was clutching desperately for ways to express in writing both what I did and what I learned, and Foster Wallace’s speech spoke to a deep place in me that needed to remember that, after all, this is life.

How did you define compassion, and who were the recipients of your efforts? Was your behavior different from normal?

When I was a teen, driving my parents crazy with my little angers and frustrations, Momma said to me once, “You get to decide how your day is going to be.  You just say it, out loud when you wake up. Today is going to be great.” Later, when “bad days” diminished in number and my anger and frustration focused more on individual people, many of whom I didn’t even know, my wise Momma told me, “Try to think one nice thought about R— today. You don’t have to say anything, and it doesn’t have to be big; it could be that you like her shirt, or how organized she is. But think the nice thought.” Because these strategies worked, Momma’s wise practices have long been the basis for how I approach my day-to-day life and try to avoid the traps of frustration and anger that routine and pressure can inevitably produce. Most who know me consider me to be quite compassionate; sometimes they call it patience.

After the reading and lectures on altruism and empathy, though, I felt quite confused about how to understand compassion, so I did some additional research and decided to incorporate broader meanings of compassion into my own understanding and practice. Thomas Merton was a stoic who wrote that compassion is “the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things” a definition that fits well with the idea that deciding on a thing can make it so, or begin to create a space in which it could be so, eventually.  The connections I found between Momma’s wisdom and the concept of compassion was further confirmed in Kelebeyev’s assertion “that compassion enables people to extend the limitations of the ‘I’, enabling them to identify with the other and see him [or her] as a peer”, which helped me understand why my conflicts with R— and others, were lessened when I applied Momma’s “nice thought” practice by creating common ground, even if it was unspoken.

Because my time outside class is limited, I decided to act out the day of compassion with colleagues and students. These two groups comprise both in-groups and out-groups for me and for each other.  Our students are members of the upper economic class in our city (out-group on a personal level), while most teachers and staff are members of the working class or, at best, middle class. Some of the teachers, like myself, are in yet another out-group as we are foreigners living and working in Mexico. Still, we are all passionate members of our school community (in-group). This crossover among groups can foster many interesting and stubborn conflicts (both superficial and significant) among the different groups. I did not feel that my behavior was particularly different from my usual behavior, though I did make an effort to be aware of both my behaviors and others’ reactions to me more than I normally would, and that may have colored some of the events of the day, or at the very least my perception of events (fundamental attribution error? Maybe).

What are the psychological costs and benefits of behaving compassionately? In your view, do the benefits outweigh the costs?

The biggest cost of behaving compassionately is the energy required to do so consistently. I am by no means perfect at it, but I’d say I’m seventy-five percent consistent in being compassionate in small, moment by moment ways thanks to Momma’s “tricks”. I found it ironic that the day that I decided to pay conscious attention to my compassionate behaviors that it was much harder than I usually find it to be. I found myself wondering during the course of the day if I am compassionate enough, and what else I can do. These thoughts are not new, but they took on heightened importance in light of the rattling dissonance created by the assignment. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that even the smallest acts of compassion (allowing that a cashier who says “have a nice day” as if it were a death sentence may have had a fight with her husband this morning) provide a great benefit. My smile and enthusiasm in spite of another person’s flat aspect or down attitude may be enough to turn their day in a better direction. Whereas, an angry or sarcastic or uninterested response from me may leave them stewing. I’d like to think that at least sometimes the juxtaposition of my response to someone else’s “bad day” could make a difference in whatever is left of their day.

How did others respond to your compassion? Do you think they noticed a difference in your behavior? What attributions did people make for your behavior, and why?

The most salient feature of the particular day that I chose to pay attention to was that I got a lot more hugs than usual, mainly from colleagues, but curiously even from a few students (who are still “new” to me, so we’ve not established the strong relationship that we will have by the end of even this semester).  No one mentioned anything different about me or my behavior, not even to note that I was in a particularly good mood; I’d like to think they didn’t notice. As a result, I don’t know what, if any, attributions people made about my actions that day.

If you wanted to encourage others to behave as you did during the Day of Compassion, what psychological techniques would you use? How can social psychology be used to foster a more compassionate society?

This aspect of the assignment seems difficult to me.  I tend to teach by modeling (not that my behaviors are always model-worthy), but in the case of my students and even in some cases my colleagues it is occasionally useful to talk about and show a sense of social responsibility. We are much more fortunate than so many in the larger community that it’s important that we give back whenever we can in both small and large ways by being generous not only with our time and money, but also in our thoughts without expecting anything in return. When thinking how to answer this, I guess I’d like to be the older fish that Foster Wallace mentions in his speech, the one who points at “water” in the hope that others will notice that water is, indeed, water. This life is the only one we have, and it’s happening every second, even when we don’t notice.

If you were to predict your behavior one month from now, do you think it will be changed as a result of participating in the Day of Compassion? If so, how? If not, why not?

In a month I hope that things at school will have calmed down enough that I can extend my miniscule practices of compassion to our sister school for underprivileged and at-risk students to spend time with them not as a tutor or teacher, but as a playmate who happens to be a native speaker of English.  Otherwise, I will continue to be myself and apply the lessons I bring with me from all my life in everyday small ways.

Resources

Kelebeyev, Vadim. “Compassion.” Shalom Hartman Institute. 12 Oct 2011. Web. 10           Sept 2013.  http://www.hartman.org.il/Research_And_Comment_View.asp?Article_Id=814&Cat_Id=324&Cat_Type=research_and_comment

Myers, D. G. Social Psychology (11th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 2012. PDF.

Shea, Renée H., et al. The Language of Composition. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2013. Print.

Strain, D.T. The Humanist Contemplative: Essays on Spiritual Naturalism. June 2010. Web. 10 Sept 2013. http://humanistcontemplative.blogspot.mx/2010/06/compassion-stoic-philosophy.html

Salsa — NaPoWriMo #15 Pantun

Such a simple step, one two three
Add in the turns, don’t forget the hips
It might be better, maybe
If I sat down and opened a bag of chips.

~LD

* * *

Once again, work and sleep are cutting into my writing time; well, that and dance class. It’s fun, but tonight was frustrating. I’ll get it eventually, but getting to eventually just makes me want to pull up the lazy boy and well…see also above. Ha! Have a great week, poetry-types! ~LD

Broken Events: February after the Supposed Apocalypse

Sixty days. One sixth of a year. Big doings. Or not so much. Discuss.

Here’s my year-to-date in a rather large nutshell (what’s the largest nutshell in the world? I think the shell will have to be that big or bigger).

When Pope Benedict resigned, I was reminded of watching the conclave as a child the year Pope John Paul II was named. The colored smoke fascinated me, even though as a lapsed Protestant (and a little kid) I didn’t understand what it was all about. When the smoke finally turned white, it seemed like an important moment, even though to my eyes the white smoke looked the same on the television screen as the black smoke had looked.

There is currently no pope for the Catholic church. On the upside, a particular Mexican shoe-maker is in capitalist heaven as a result of the gift of maroon loafers given to then-Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to Mexico last spring. I think the cobbler’s gift and his newfound fortune are kind of awesome. Really, they are lovely loafers, and there’s little doubt as to their comfort factor. I’ve been stunned at how frail the former pope has become in these short twelve months since his trip to Mexico. I hope the new loafers help him walk in some comfort on this last bit of his human pilgrimage. What I learned: must get to the Leon shoe expo when it comes to TRC this year. Not, perhaps, the lesson I “should” learn, but I’ll take what I can get. I will be watching for the smoke signals.

http://www.sfgate.com/news/world/article/POPE-LIVE-Swiss-Guards-15th-century-tweets-4315350.php#photo-4261397

My mom will be in TRC in less than a week. Time to buy a mattress for the guest bedroom. I’ve been looking for an excuse. Perfect. Insert dancing Snoopy and anxious Linus here. More on that at a later date. By the way, the Doctor is In. 25 cents.

I was invited to invite five students to a literary workshop at the local art and history museum. What a great group of students I must have that the list was long and difficult to narrow down. Wish I could go with them. Grown ups are not welcome. The adolescent in me totally gets that. But still.

My students reminded me how scary it is to be a high school senior. Luisa wrote, “I want to stop time, just for a few seconds.” My empathy would be understandable if I hadn’t hated high school. Next week they will be ready to break away again. Who needs a physics roller coaster project when every day is a new, unexpected, non-navigable high, low, twist, turn, loop-the-loop with unmeasurable velocities? Thank goodness for the reminder that I don’t want to go back. Time to stop worshipping at the altar of youth.

Having said that, well, braces. The bottom teeth are going back right, and the top teeth are going back left. The notorious gap has temporarily returned, and everything is sensitive and nothing fits together the way it should, and eating is a task I don’t even want to think about. I feel I haven’t eaten in a week, though that is a lie. Unfortunately, the food I can eat comfortably and the food I need and want to eat are on different planes of existence. So maybe I’m not worshipping at the altar of youth, but I am hoping that this factory of pain in my mouth actually does its job to keep my teeth in my head, rather than on my plate, which will make the crummy braces diet worth the trouble. And it might be neat if straight teeth made me feel pretty. I am adolescent in spite of myself.

Movies are a good thing for adolescents of all ages. Saw Les Miserables, in the theater on a week night. Poor Daniela had to listen to me mutter the lyrics through the whole show. Never mind the snuffling and snorting snotfest. Luckily, Javert wasn’t particularly good, so the parts that usually hit me the hardest didn’t hit very hard. I loved Fantine, Eponine, Gavroche (of course) and the Thènardiers. I liked Jean Valjean and Marius, but I couldn’t like this Cossette. I apologize. I assume there is something generally wrong with my taste in voices. Still, it was a good movie, even though I felt obligated to over-tip the waiter at the VIP theater after he tripped in the dark and spilled our drinks. Nothing like VIP theater – tickets, less than seven bucks each, leather recliners and table-side concession service. Thankfully, we had many napkins because there was boo-hooing. One day this weekend I’ll put the Broadway soundtrack on and recuperate anything I might have lost at the movie.

A fun movie followed by Facebook convos with former students about movies (like Les Mis) with mixed reviews can be rewarding. I miss those intellectuals, but I’m so proud of and happy for them. What wild and unexpected adventures they are having all over the world, doing all the things they dreamed of and a few they things they never expected.

For the record, it turns out that I am not the only essay writer in the world. I can only hope and keep thinking, writing, typing, editing and striving to reach Professor Lopate’s stature. I worried that I’d lost my companion essay writer when Nancy Walker died. Luckily, it seems that the form has not entirely died out. I’m encouraged.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/the-essay-an-exercise-in-doubt/

Nevertheless, I know I’ve lost my proverbial marbles because I tried to turn THE essay into a graphic novel, only to have the essay turn out to be merely the prequel to the epic super-heroine story that I don’t know how to write. I’m waiting for the bloodied main character to walk out of that alleyway and decide what to do with her newly baptized bowie knife. No pressure.

Speaking of creepy, wonderful things, I re-read Neil Gaiman’s Calendar Tales (see http://keepmoving.blackberry.com/desktop/en/us/ambassador/neil-gaiman.html ) for about the fourth time and tried to intuitively navigate my way around my own brain through his idea. I had done the tweet poems from my own tweets, but this idea of harvesting the tweets of others rocked the axis of my universe.

And now I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s March already. How did that happen? Just yesterday it was Christmas 2012 and I was trying to explain to my nephew why I hadn’t been playing Skyrim 24/7 or at least 16/7, and dancing the salsa with my 15 month old niece. Ten year olds don’t need sleep and babies love to spin almost as much as I do.

I have essays and stories to write and all the things.

Did I mention that this time next week Mom will be here?

So what’s up with you?

~LD