Past Lives

I’m not a nun, but I play one on TV. Okay, okay… I’m not a nun, but I’ve played one on stage. Twice. Sister Bertha in The Sound of Music and the Mother Superior in Agnes of God. Both were uppity bitches afraid of young novices and change.

When I had to take an “pre-Shakespeare” English credit, I avoided reading Chaucer in favor of a course called Medieval Literature and Spirituality. We read some morality plays, but a lot of the course was spent reading Julian of Norwich (“and all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well”) and The Book of Margery Kempe.  Some of their writing resonated so deeply with me that I fancied I was an anchoress* in a former life.

I’ve also thought I was a Civil War Union Soldier and Wyatt Earp. And that Robert E. Lee was my guardian angel (a story for another time).

I’m not committed to the idea of reincarnation or past lives, but I don’t rule it out either. Who’s to say? My use of the expression “past life” means I feel an intense connection to something or someone from a particular period in history. I’m also a total nerd who geeks out on history – the fact it happened, how we record it, the faith we put in science when we try to put events or artifacts on a timeline.

Today we took a field trip to North West Connemara. An archaeologist lead us around Omey Island, a tidal island off the west coast of Ireland that can be accessed on foot only during low tide. He was a comedian too, reminding us, “Keep up! The tide is coming in!” I could’ve literally gone down the rabbit hole there on a burial hill where rabbits are unearthing the skeletons of priests’ mothers. I also could’ve broken or re-sprained my ankle, but I didn’t. The figurative rabbit hole I could go down is linguistic patterns and how I’m picking up random bits of Gaelic. Kil = church, bally = town, si = faery… “s-i” makes the “sh” sound, “a-g-h” makes the “ah” sound etc. It’s an excellent use of my brain power because we all know that Gaelic is a widely spoken and highly marketable language to know.

Then we went to the Kylemore Abbey. The landscape there is something that was embedded in my sub-conscience. It was like something straight out of my imagination. There was mist on the mountain tops when we arrived, rolling hills surrounding a lake, a manicured Victorian garden with colors galore… and even some foxglove in the foreground of a narrow valley between two mountains. I think my heart burst open. I have next to no skill when it comes to visual art, but one of the things I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember is a scene of rolling hills around a body of water. I repeated this image using many different media, but it was something I kept drawing. The landscape surrounding Kylemore is what I meant to create with my attempts. I don’t know if I was a Benedictine sister in a past life, but I would seriously consider becoming one in my current life if it meant I could live in that idyllic setting.

Like I said, my heart nearly burst, so of course some writing had to follow once I could bring my racing blood and firing synapses under some kind of control. I had started a new journal this morning (after a dream that felt all too real and left me reeling). My sister gave it to me a while ago (a journal is always a good present because I’ll definitely use it at some point). She got it because it says, “Know your own happiness” on the cover. The quote is attributed to Jane Austen, but I ignore that part. Some of what I got down laments not having the words to communicate the awesomeness of today despite my desire to share it. Sharing it is not altogether unrelated to my dream, so I guess the day has come full circle.

*Anchoress – a woman in Medieval times who inhabited a small chamber built into the wall of a church. She lived there with only a small window through which to communicate and receive necessities. She contemplated the Passion of Christ and often wore hair shirts or practiced other self-flagellation to emulate the pain of the Crucifixion. Basically the “Bad Ass Bitch” of all nuns.

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Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming

I’ve written about my dreams before, and I recently dreamt that I ran into a guy from high school on the Q train headed to Manhattan. We chatted a bit and then Jon Hamm got on the train wearing only running shorts and doing pull ups on the overhead bars. He knew the guy from high school too, and I said something very suggestive that I wanted touch him to see if he was real. He was very Don Draper about it, responding with something equally suggestive that he’d be into it if I did touch him. The whole thing felt very real, but I was surprised by the cast – the guy from high school wasn’t a friend of mine and I haven’t watched anything with Jon Hamm recently.

But that’s neither here nor there because it’s not the only dream I need to be pinched awake from. Other dreams are that I’m going to move to the Aran Islands and live a simple life in the corner of someone’s farm field, earning my keep by writing and reminding the owner every day how outrageously beautiful the place is. I’ll keep an internet connection, but I won’t have a cell phone. I’ll walk around with pens and a notebook. I’d do more listening than talking with most people. And I’d talk to the animals as much as I want even when they give me stink eye. This dream does not coincide with the urban living of my last 13 years or the urban living I’m going to encounter when I move to London. It’s also probably not feasible to earn a living on the Aran Islands with my particular skill set. MAYBE it could be reality if I wrote a book that was a global best seller. I don’t think I have that mass appeal though.

Another dream I need to be pinched awake from was the primary school principal who spoke to my summer program group this morning. He has a clear vision for his school, and he supports that vision with the latest scientific research about what conditions in the brain are most conducive to learning. He understands that education is not just about academics. He speaks passionately and knowledgeably about the history of the type of school he helms and the benefits to approaching education from a student centered whole child standpoint. I loved everything he said. I asked him if he could lead the US in educational reform, if he would zap into the brains of every administrator in the US his understanding of the purpose of schools. Philosophically, we were very much on the same page. He said, “education is not something that you do to someone; it’s something you facilitate. That’s why I call it a learning community instead of a school.” Brilliant.  I told him that my principal usually put up a PowerPoint of statistics regarding test results and then said goodbye. He talked about how difficult it is to juggle the various stakeholders’ opinions and political waves associated with educational leadership, but he very clearly has not let such things jade him over a long career. It was energizing on one hand and bittersweet on the other.

Bittersweet because I share his ideas and am glad to know some educational leaders SOMEWHERE do. Bittersweet because I have lost some of my hope that such grand visions can be achieved in a system that is more than a century behind. Bittersweet because I am not coming to work at his primary school here in Galway come September. And believe me when I say that I would. I’d leave secondary education and figure out how to speak Irish and teach math if it meant I could work in a school where the principal is so enlightened.

Energizing because it renews some of the hope I’ve lost over the last several years. There’s no simple and quick fix to how broken most school systems are, but at least there are pockets of people who are using scientific evidence of how children learn best to inform their practice… not just in one classroom but in an entire school from the moment the students come in. We all know that if it’s only one teacher, the change won’t last. But if we create an ethos of growth and development, mistakes as opportunities, mutual respect, continuous learning for the teachers… then there’s a chance students will leave as critical thinkers who are resilient, curious, self-aware, and tolerant of differences.

And finally, pinch me awake from the dreams literature, TV, movies, and music give us about love.

Oh, and while you’re pinching me, also remind me not to eat my feelings… whether those feelings are about World Cup losses or how differently anything might have gone if I had done something I didn’t or not done something I did.

Titles

If ever there was a doubt that I was a born teacher, the papers I amassed throughout my own education prove otherwise. I took careful notes and saved most of them until well after grad school. At that point, I got rid of anything that wasn’t humanities related, which wasn’t much considering the boxes full of stuff I still have. I’m going through everything now to determine what can be trashed and what I might keep, and it’s a trip to see how much I read and wrote in elementary, middle, and high school, and then in college and grad school.

Several of my high school papers have a note at the top from the teacher that reads “title?” I suppose Mrs. Arsi (sp?) prioritized that format. As a teacher, I never ask students to put a title on their essays or other pieces… I’m happy if they get their name on it sometimes. (The exception to that rule was the research paper. THAT had to have a title and a cover page). I learned my lesson early: give everything a title! And I guess I saw it as a challenge to be creative. Instead of “Character analysis of Smith” or “The Theme of Story X,” I went with quotes, colons, puns etc. Looking at them now, I crack myself up.

Here are a few of the ones from high school, after being urged by my freshman year English teacher to put a title on everything.

“The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”

“Daddy Dearest”

“The Way It Could Have Been” (For an alternative ending to Kafka’s Metamorphoses when I was 15)

“Calling All Future Teen Queens”

“Pip’s Snobbish Expectations”

In senior year of high school, I took a philosophy course and gave my first paper the title “I’ll Believe It When I See It.” Philosophical writing, with a counterargument, was new to me. Most of my literary analysis had to anticipate a counterargument in the planning stages so I brought all the evidence to my thesis, but taking up space in the paper with acknowledging it was foreign. I was, uncharacteristically, unsure of what I turned in. When the teacher handed back the graded essays, he also chose one to read aloud to the class as an example of what we should be doing. It was MINE! He didn’t divulge that to the class, but I’m pretty sure I turned hot pink with simultaneous pride and embarrassment that people knew. I took it home and bragged to my mom about it. Of course she asked me to read it for her. I began, but three sentences in, she said, “Who did you steal this paper from? You didn’t write that!” I was so mad that she was accusing me of plagiarism that I refused to read the rest to her. Her point was that she was impressed with the sophistication of what I wrote. The ONLY feedback I remember from the paper was that according to IB rules, I needed to use the essay prompt as the title instead of creating my own. By that rule, I think the paper should have been titled “Believing Conditions What We See; Seeing Conditions What We Believe.”

I got more experimental in college, and some experiments fail.

“What’s Your Problem, Holden?”

“Christ In Rossetti” (a play on Christine Rossetti… womp womp, but I was SO proud of it)

“True Love or Poppycock?”

“Goneril: First Is the Worst”

“We Know the Risks, So Don’t Blame Our Music”

“You Down with OPP?” (admittedly one of my all-time favorites)

My section titles for presentations in senior seminar as an English major were also amazing…(see “A Crazy Little Thing Called Magical Realism,” “Different Strokes for Different Folks”) I was so tired of reading, quiz to prove I read, writing, discussion by that point, and THE BEAST awaited at the end of each semester. THE BEAST? Oh, let me tell you. A final exam over two days and ten hours worth a thousand points. It included the old English teacher favorite of unattributed quotes that I then had to identify with work and author. Then a few short answer. Then SIX (yes I said SIX) essays of reasonable length for analysis of specific topic (most of mine turned out to be 5 or 6 paragraphs). That was ONE day of the exam. The second part was an extended essay using at least EIGHT of the millions of works we’d read to “explore” a topic, like gender roles or god and spirituality. No big… just sit in the computer lab for five hours and bang it out. And I did it again in the second semester, same format. ERMAHGAWD!

And all of this is just stuff from English classes… it doesn’t include history, humanities, religion… I read A LOT and wrote a good amount too. Going through it all amazes me. I can’t say that I remember all of what I read; sadly, I can’t even say I remember all that I wrote! Not to mention the non-academic writing I’ve done. It’s staggering.

As Jason Mraz sings in “You and I Both”… “I’m all about them words over numbers, undercover, numbered words. Hundreds and pages, pages, pages forwards. More words than I have ever heard.”

Conversations with my Cat

I’ve lived with my current fur face for the better part of twelve years. We moved in together when I ventured out to Brooklyn for the first time and he was a kitten. I remember the first morning I woke up with his nose practically in my mouth. He wasn’t really mine, but we migrated together to Astoria. When my roommate and I decided we were adult enough to try living alone, she took him for a few months. He was hers to begin with, so it made sense. But I ended up with him because his original mama traveled a lot. Plus, I had gotten used to waking up with his face in mine.

I’ve adopted three other cats at various times along the way. Two of them were dead within four months of moving in with me, so I think of myself as a cat killer or the grim reaper for felines. Yeah, they were both old, but it doesn’t change how guilty I felt when I told their original mamas that they were dying (or already dead in the one case). The third cat was younger and made of stronger stuff. My bestie and I call her cancer cat because she changes homes when someone gets a cancer diagnosis (my mom, then my bestie).

But Rocky has been a constant in my NYC life. He has refused to help grade papers, choosing instead to sit on them or my pens or my hands when I needed to do work. He tried to escape once… by jumping (or falling?) out of my third storey window and costing me a month’s rent in vet bills to find out if he had done any permanent damage. He even came with me to NoVA to nurse mom through chemo. He returned to her house when I was in Texas last fall.

And now that I’m setting off across the Atlantic, I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. Last summer he was reduced to less than five pounds of fur and bones, and I found out he was diabetic. He’s gained most of his weight back thanks to twice daily insulin shots and special canned food. I’ve been prepping him for a change even before I knew what it would be.

I’ve asked him how he feels about getting a new family, one that maybe has other cats. His answer? He’s not really into it.

I’ve asked him how he feels about getting a new family that has a dog or two but no other cats…. not his thing.

I’ve asked how he feels about children. Hard pass.

I’ve asked how he feels about living with me somewhere else in the USA. He was okay with that but more interested in staying put.

I’ve asked how he feels about getting a pet passport and immigrating with me. He’s not so keen because it means a microchip implantation and a flight across the ocean.

But shelters don’t take twelve year old diabetic cats. And the friends who WOULD take him (out of love for me) can’t for various totally legit reasons. So what’s going to become of my fur face?

Would YOU donate to a gofundme for paying the cost of pet immigration? That’s insane, right? But I don’t have kids! And if I ever do get married, I’m not having a big wedding because I don’t give a shit about that if I ever find someone who accepts all my crazy, whose crazy I can accept. I don’t need a party where we invite all our crazy family to stress us out. So don’t people owe me wedding presents and baby shower gifts and money? Y’know, like when Carrie married herself and only registered for expensive shoes (Yeah, that was a rare Sex and The City reference from me.)

Is immigrating my diabetic cat worth over $3,000 if I only know I’ll be in the UK for a year and don’t know where I’ll be living yet? And anticipate living in a pre-furnished place that probably wouldn’t allow pets anyway? Would someone “foster” him for a year even though he is neurotic like me?

You see my problem, right? Don’t answer that if you don’t get it. But if you have any ideas, or would contribute to a cat immigration gofundme, hit me up.

Until then, I’ll keep chatting with him to get his thoughts and feelings on the dilemma.

Meow.

Ducks! Or A Wing and a Prayer

Back in February, I made a decision to go all in on finding a teaching job in the UK or Ireland. I got advice from friends who have done it and sent out dozens of inquiry emails to schools that had openings for English teachers. Some schools even let me apply, but most couldn’t consider me as a candidate due to strict visa laws that require an employer to prove that no one else in the country (or in some cases the entire EU) can do the job.  A friend suggested that I look at Masters programs because a student visa would let me work part time and position me in country for 2019-2020 school year openings when I finish whatever program I do. I wasn’t opposed to this idea, as I’ve revised the dream before, and I’ve been through plans A, B, C, D etc etc during my time off.

I did my research and decided there were a few programs in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin that interested me. I started applications for all of them, but I was having trouble deciding what to write in the essays for most of them. Why do I want to spend the money to study this particular subject at that specific school? What are my career goals in doing so? It’s difficult because I have had a career and achieved many of my goals in the last twelve years. I had no intention of changing my trajectory or starting over in my mid thirties. I thought that I would continue on the same road – doing good work in the classroom. Of course, that has become all but impossible, especially with the bureaucratic bullshit I dealt with for two and half months during my leave of absence. I can’t tell a university that I really don’t want to change my career all that much, that I just need the benefit of a student visa to get in the door and I’m fascinated by all things related to words and communication. I only wrote one essay in the end because the program seemed like it could present the most opportunities to continue in education, whether in the classroom or the specialist level, but NOT administration (I do NOT want to be an administrator!)

I submitted the application, but the school said they don’t look at applications until both references are completed, so I had to wait for two very busy people I’ve worked with to upload letters they wrote last year. One of them did it lickety split. But then it was all about waiting, being patient. Meanwhile, another school in Turkey had a job they wanted me to interview for. Oh, and I had to tell the DOE what my plans are for next year. And the usual turn around time for applications to the MA programs is four to six weeks, running right into my trip to Ireland for a month to learn about their education system. Plus, I had to make a backup (backup backup backup) plan if none of this international stuff worked out because I decided without doubt that I didn’t want to go back to the DOE.

I was scared of all the chaos. I like having a plan. I like knowing ahead of time what’s going to happen so I can be prepared, have my ducks in a row. Of course, I know this isn’t how life works. It also felt like I was divorcing my old ball and chain – my teaching career in the DOE – so there was a part of me that was sad. When the Turkey thing came up again, I was totally lost, so I turned to mom, the Bible, and prayer. I needed guidance. The final verse I randomly turned to was Ecclesiastes 7:8, “Patience is better than pride.” I had said in December that maybe God was giving me the opportunity to learn patience.

I turned it over completely to God. I took a total leap of faith, exercising patience, living in uncertainty. I let myself get used to the idea that whatever was going to come next was going to be a last minute whirlwind of logistics. And that it would be okay. Whatever happened would be okay. It might not be the best, or the right thing, but I know well enough that it’ll be fine; I’ll be fine. So I gave it up to God, like my meditation when I was younger. I wasn’t really comfortable with it, but I did it in faith.

I also continued with the backup backup backup, call it Plan Z. I applied to another urban public school system and progressed through the steps of their process, getting invited to an open house and a job fair. It was a big compromise, but that’s what life is sometimes. It was not really a version of what I wanted, but there were pluses to it that made it tolerable, that made it feel less like throwing in the towel on what I want. When I arrived in the city the evening before the open house, Meghan Trainor’s “NO” came on shuffle, and I burst out laughing. I didn’t know if it was a sign or a coincidence, but it sure was something.

That night, I wrote what I wanted. That seems simple, but it’s not something I’ve always been used to. Yes, when I was twenty and then into my early twenties, I was crystal clear on what I wanted, and the world was listening and things happened. It was kind of a magical time, but that magic seemed to fade by my mid twenties… it had all but disappeared by the time I turned thirty. Articulating what I want or need has been a process, so I was proud to put it down in black and white. I wrote, “I want Literacy in London to develop into a job there – in a school or an agency that works with kids – as a teacher or a teacher/coach or a resource person who works with small groups.” Earlier that week, my second reference had uploaded her letter, and I anticipated that I would find out if I was accepted the morning I land in Dublin for my month-long program. I was taking the leap of faith that scrambling to figure out details from there would work itself out. I had to explore Plan Z though. I had to even start thinking about Plan AA if Plan Z was really a “NO” like the song said.

I went to the open house and was feeling okay until the principal answered some of my questions about class sizes and teachers’ workloads… and no one could answer my questions about salary with the credentials I have. (The internet later told me that only one other English teacher in that entire system has the credentials I have.) The career fair was even more disappointing because there were very few English teacher positions period, let alone at schools I am interested in. I felt defeated. I gave myself a day to decide what the next step was going to be because while I had taken the leap of faith, adjusting to the knowledge that whatever comes next would be a whiplash switch when it revealed itself, I still needed to be making a safety plan.

But it was a Friday, and I buried my head in a book and decided to worry about it again on Monday. I switched my iPad from my eBook app to check my email before turning off for the night. Five days after my application was complete, I had an email from University College London telling me that my application status had changed for the MA Literacy and Literacy Difficulties programme. Please log in for updates. It didn’t make sense. It was 3AM in England. And it had only been five days since they got my second reference. I was expecting to wait at least four weeks if not longer to get a response. I got out of bed and logged in on my laptop where my passwords are saved.

I received an unconditional offer!

After 10 on a Friday night, I now know what comes next!

That was May 18th, and it’s been full on freak out (in a good way) since then. I’ve made so many lists, starting with a budget. Can I actually do this? Fuck. It’ll be tough. But what is money for? Plus, I can get a part time job on a student visa. So many questions for my friend who works in London to help shape my budget numbers. Then the logistics of when I move out of NYC. Should I keep my lease while I’m Ireland for a month? Am I still going to Ireland? (Um, YES of course I’m still going to Ireland because I planned that months ago and I love it there and learning about their education system might mean I end up there at some point). So. Many. Lists. To do. To trash. To move. To store. What I need for the visa paperwork. To see before I leave NYC.

I don’t know that any of it has sunk in. If you’ve followed the blog, you know that I’ve been looking for a change, honing what I want and what is realistic and how much control I have over any of it. Now things are happening… and it’s the version of events that I told my therapist I thought would be best for my physical health because it will give me more structured time in my days than I have now, but it will still allow me time to focus on my workouts (which have suffered since I sprained my ankle).

I’m trying to do one thing at a time, but it’s totally overwhelming and scary – in the best way. I remember this feeling of exhilaration from when I was 20-24, but it’s been a long time and I thought that kind of crazy dreaming and turning into reality were unique to youth. (And yeah, I know I’m not all that old now, but when you think about the way other people who are 36 are totally settled into their lives, it feels like I’m an anomaly.)

So I’m putting my ducks in a row, or trying to. I operated on a wing and a prayer, and I feel like I learned patience and have the reward to show for it. I’m still living on a wing and a prayer when it comes to where I’m going to live and what part time work I’ll do and if I’ll even get to stay there when the year-long programme is done and my dissertation is written. It’s still an act of faith, trusting that it’ll be better than okay.

As a framed picture in my hallway says, “The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be… because of all I may become I will close my eyes and leap.” (Mary Anne Radmacher).

And as my sister says, “so many moving pieces and so many pieces to move.”

I still need to figure out what I’m doing with my diabetic fur baby, AKA my cat. I still need to give away some furniture too. If you can help with either of those things, or a flat in London, let me know!

Oh, and dates!

I leave NYC on June 20, so if you want to see me before I say goodbye for now to the Big Apple, let me know.

I’m in Ireland from June 25 to July 24, which will be amazing.

After that, I’ll be NoVA based (thank God for my mom) until I leave in late August or early September. If you want to see me there, let me know.

What Nationality Is She?

In case anyone reading doesn’t know me in person or somehow forgot what I look like from not seeing me in so long, I have Albinism. One of my first entries was about my relationship with the sun. The short version is that I am pale. I have pale skin. I have platinum blonde hair. My eye brows, eye lashes, chin hair … okay you get it … are all white. Daenerys Targaryan with the silver hair ain’t got nothing on me.

My appearance has led people to a “what nationality is she?” guessing game my whole life. I have been disappointing them since birth. My mom was a dirty blonde blue eyed California girl when I was a kid (that’s not to say she’s not blue eyed anymore, but the hair has changed color. Cancer and aging will do that.) When I was out and about with her, people would ask, “oh, is your husband Swedish?” Nope. “Norwegian?” No. Sometimes mom would explain; more often she was in a rush because that is a constant condition of being a single mom.

My dad has gotten darker over the course of his life. As an adolescent, he was kind of redheaded, at least he looks that way in a picture I have. By the time I came around, which wasn’t all that long after his adolescence, he had dark brown hair and greenish/hazel eyes. I can’t be sure. I don’t really look at my dad in the face, certainly not closely enough to discern his eye color. He also worked outside on landscaping crews so he was always tan. When I was out and about with him, everyone asked, “Is your wife Swedish?” No. “Norwegian?” No.

No. I don’t have Swedish or Norwegian lineage as far as I know.

One time when mom had taken me into DC to the Smithsonian to see King Tut when he was on tour, some people in line were gawking. Mom has never liked people gawking at her children. One funny thing about Albinism is I’m often too blind to notice the gawkers… it has to be REALLY bad, and it has been sometimes (those German guys in Paris? WOW friends, lean back, personal space and all). Mom got annoyed with the people in line and decided to educate them. “She has Albinism.” That didn’t shut them up or stop their staring. In fact, they then conducted a conversation in a whisper that was not quiet enough to miss my mom and me, “I thought people from Albania were dark.” We didn’t spare them our ridicule and still laugh about the stupidity over two decades later.

So, not Albanian either.

Unrelated to my coloring, but also in the game of “What Ethnicity Is She?” on a late night subway ride home a crazy lady talked to me for at least ten minutes about the fact that I AM JEWISH. She was adamant. I was sorry to disappoint her, but she did not believe me. She said that my nose gave me away (thanks for pointing out I have a big nose… I like to think of it as REGAL!). I laughed with good nature and assured her that I was German Lutheran, Irish Catholic, and Dutch Protestant. No, she continued, I must have had ancestors who converted to protect themselves, maybe even as far back as the Crusades. I only know my family history back to the nineteenth century – and that we were definitely out of Germany by the 1890s – so I had no way to prove her wrong. I retreated into my headphones when I realized she wasn’t going to give it up.

So, not Jewish.

Even my own grandma has chimed in regarding the family’s heritage, though her information is suspect and lends nothing to an explanation about how pale I am. She said we have Cherokee blood somewhere. Yeah. Okay, grandma. You’re also an astrologist, numerologist, alcoholic, and compulsive gambler who has said some of the most hurtful things in my entire life.

In fact, I forgot to include her in what went wrong in 2014 because I try very hard not to think about it. I’m thinking about it now, so are you ready for some of the bullshit she laid down in August 2014 at the family reunion in Colorado? At one dinner, she casually mentioned that my mom wanted to abort me when she found out she was pregnant because things weren’t going well with my dad and she was already overwhelmed with one child with Albinism. Um. Wow. Thanks for that, grandma. I tried to steer clear of her the rest of the time I was there because what do you even say to someone after that? Mind you, she is NOT my mom’s mom, and my mom was never close enough to her to confide anything so important, so I assume grandma was divining this information from the stars.

After avoiding her most of the trip, she grabbed me one night after dinner and maybe in her mind tried to make “your mom wanted to abort you” okay. Except she dug herself a deeper hole by telling me that my soul was not sure it wanted to be born into my life, that I was sick as a baby and had to go back to the hospital for several days because my soul was unsure about its participation in the life I would have. Well, science says it was a Staph infection and jaundice, but who am I to argue with grandma? She kept going. She said my soul’s uncertainty was also the cause of my suicide attempt when I was a week shy of 16. I try very hard to avoid my grandma at all costs after this encounter. I don’t need any of what she’s got in my life.

So, not Cherokee or whatever other weird painful shit my grandma thinks.

Today, though, today was a SCENE. My ankle is still weak, so I had it wrapped and was wearing capri pants and loafers when I went out to the drugstore. I had my very white hair up in a ponytail and quietly made my way through the aisles gathering what I needed before I approached the pharmacy line to pick up my diabetic fur face’s insulin like the good pet mom I am. (Happy mother’s day to me!) There was a woman leaning on the counter having a full conversation with the pharmacist. I guessed they were speaking either Russian or Polish based on the demographics of my neighborhood and what I know of how the two languages sound. I stood patiently in line, not making any faces or checking the time, just letting them do their thing, shoot the shit. I wasn’t in a rush.

The customer saw me and immediately started speaking to me in the same language. She then turned to the pharmacist and pointed at me, continuing to speak in the language. She stepped away from the counter, closer to me, talking rapid fire and LOUDLY in a language I do not speak. She pointed to my ankle, noticing for the first time that it is wrapped, and said a single recognizable word, “pain.” I nodded and said, “yeah, it hurts, but it’s okay.” She then advised me that my hair is very pale. (Prior to her saying so, I didn’t know, right?) She pointed to me and continued speaking to the pharmacist about me. She then asked me a question that I should have been able to answer because she believed that I speak her language. She gave up at some point, maybe because my polite smile started to slip because I wasn’t in the mood (am never in the mood) to be a spectacle. She finally asked in English if I’m Polish. Again, I had to crush someone’s guess in “What Nationality Is She?” I told her no, just American. She wanted to know my heritage, so I said some Irish and German. At “German” she spat at my feet. She told me I should dye my hair. The pharmacist indicated that this woman didn’t have any real business and that I could step forward and get my cat’s insulin. The insistent customer kept trying to speak to me in Polish, CONVINCED that because my hair is so white, I MUST be Polish. She offered a few other nationality possibilities, like Italian (what?). She continued to speak in Polish throughout much of my transaction, indicating with hand gestures that I should speak Polish, I must speak Polish. Finally she went away, and the pharmacist offered apologies on the woman’s behalf. “Barbara is okay. She just, she thinks you have to be Polish because of your hair. Sometimes she’s a little… ” and a gesture to indicate off kilter. “I’m sorry she offended you.” I wondered briefly what my face looked like because I wasn’t offended so much as confused at how emphatic she was. I assured the pharmacist that it was fine and left.

Walking home, I tried to think of the people of Polish decent that I know. Not a one of them has hair nearly as blonde as mine, though many of them are very tall like me. I was also amused by the notion that I should either dye my hair or learn to speak Polish to satisfy that woman’s view of where I fit in her world.

So, not Polish either.

Just a person with Albinism and mixed western European heritage. And disappointment for those who persist in guessing. And waning patience for vociferous guessers.

The Seven Year Itch (aka When It Went Wrong)

Last week Tuesday I had too much whiskey. I know, I know. There’s no such thing. Except there is because I was ssssuuuupppppeeeerrr sssssllllloooowwww on Wednesday and the frittata I was excited about making didn’t happen until Thursday. And on Tuesday night when I got home, I was running circles in my head and took an old journal off the shelf to retrace how I got off course and ended up taking a year off and still not knowing what I’m doing. (Instead of going deeper into that rabbit hole, I listened to this song.)

In June 2014 I drunkenly wrote something on my phone at a co-worker’s retirement party… something about being exactly where I was supposed to be. I didn’t mean geographically, although the wine cellar of a basement the party took place in was pretty cool. I think I was speaking less literally that I was all good… even if I felt like I was fumbling around in the dark.

It ended up being a curse. Things fell apart shortly thereafter.

Not immediately because Germany had that epic World Cup, as I had predicted for two years. SOMEONE had to unseat Spain and their no real striker bullshit. (And this song from a commercial that played a thousand times will always remind me of mom’s crush on Neymar.)

The morning after Germany took the trophy, I met a man I could travel the world with… except he was already traveling the world with his base of operations on another continent. He was ahead of me, but he proved to me that I have a type… I distilled it as follows “Brown hair and eyes, wickedly intelligent, a little arrogant, a little ignorant, honest, upper middle class, unapologetic, thinks I’m a genius.” (Not that I -always- go for that.)

I was also staying in an awesome Brooklyn Heights apartment, dog-sitting an adorable labradoodle that week. So things hadn’t fallen apart yet.

I think it happened in August and continued into September.

Having asked to teach AP Lit for three years, I finally got the green light and spent a week of my summer in a training with the College Board and additional time planning the course. In August, I found out that it wasn’t going to happen yet again because it would interfere with too many other teachers’ schedules to let me have a chance at ONE class.

Then I left my phone unlocked on a drunken karaoke night and a friend put words in my mouth. Whether those words were ever mine (could have ever been mine) is irrelevant. Whether that’s why this song sometimes gets to me is probably also irrelevant.

Next a story broke in the news casting me (and most other teachers at my school) as an extra in a horrible afterschool special. (OMG I don’t think I’ve ever seen that video hahahaha.) It was the stuff of nightmares for many reasons. It threw a shadow over the whole school and had resounding effects.

And on the first day of school, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when I saw someone needed help, so I ended up with a shit-tastic schedule on top of my existing disappointment..

What’s with the “seven year itch” though? Ah, let me tell you. February 2014 marked my seventh year in the DOE. I was hopeful that the seven year itch wouldn’t get me because I was continuing to develop in my practice as a teacher – National Board Certification, a student teacher, finally getting the challenge of an AP class – but like I said, that’s not what happened. Instead I felt very much like Ari Hest knew my life when he wrote “Dead End Driving.”

Even though I ended up loving my sophomore class that took the place of the AP class, and I’m grateful to have had the amazing personalities in the 9th and 10th period Gothic Lit classes, it felt like it was time to go. It was October 2014 when mom generously presented me with a way out. I couldn’t process what she was offering me, and it took me a few months to decide if I could accept her kindness. Except that I would never leave in the middle of the school year, so it meant sticking it out until June 2015. But in June of 2015 I was eight and a half years in, meaning I only had three more semesters to hit the magical ten year mark. When you hit ten years in the DOE, good things happen a million years later when you retire... if you don’t die first, if the system hasn’t sucked your soul from you. Friends said I HAD to stick it out.

2015-16 and 2016-17 were labors to get to a benefit I could die before I see, but they happened. And 2016-17 was not nearly as bad as the prior year. But I was long past my seven year itch. I was stick-a-fork-in-me DONE.

Now I wonder if I was supposed to make the change FOUR years ago, am I already that far into my next seven years? Or have I delayed the next set so that whatever I start (when/where I start?) I’ll have a good seven years before I look around for something new? Maybe we don’t have to have seven year itches at all when we find the right thing. Cue me wondering if not cutting and running in 2014 also means I missed the window for the right thing… whatever and wherever that might be. (Heeeeey it’s another John Mayer song!)

Had I set out anywhere in the summer of 2014, I would have missed being here in February 2015 for my best friend’s cancer journey… much like if I had gotten the job in the Netherlands in 2012, I wouldn’t have been able to help mom through hers. There’s that… I had to be where I was for both of those struggles for my own sanity in some ways, but more to be a supportive daughter and friend. God knows that I hope to have someone who would be that support to me if I find myself in a similar situation.

Added to all that is the fact that when I moved into my current apartment in summer 2012, I had lived four other places in NYC, so I proclaimed (maybe just to myself) that when I moved again it would either be to a place I own or a foreign country or both.. I want to honor that proclamation, so that might be another reason I didn’t get up and go when I felt the seven year itch and things broke down. It’s also why I’m looking outside of NYC now – I don’t want to own property here.

I guess I do know how I got to April of a year off, but I don’t like that I don’t have a clear path forward yet. I guess I have to be patient and have some faith.

Etymology Isn’t the Study of Bugs

Etymology is word origin. Entomology is the study of insects. People get those confused. They’re very different. One of them interests me; the other bores me to tears. I’ll let you guess which is which.

Yesterday I was feeling down, unable to shut off the negative thoughts like “you fucked up,” “that’s never going to work,” “they still laugh at you for that,” “you’ll never be x, y, or z,” and “you’re always going to be a, b, and c.” Y’know, the voices in your heat that you want to tell to SHUT THE FUCK UP, but sometimes they don’t listen. I knew what I needed to do (shut up and sweat), but I wasn’t into it. I decided I’d let myself have a bad day, recognizing that eating Ben & Jerry’s milk & cookies was only a palliative. It would not solve anything.

Then I started to think about how the hell I know the word palliative. Yeah, my vocabulary is pretty impressive (if I do say so myself), but palliative is a weird word to pull out of nowhere when thinking about eating ice cream.

Pause to say that the speed at which my brain moves is something akin to Attention Deficit Disorder. The difference is I can concentrate because no matter how fast my thoughts are scattering in innumerable directions, I can turn that noise down enough to get something done, or if I do get off track momentarily, I can easily come back to the topic at hand. 

The Ben & Jerry’s was merely a palliative. I knew it. I was okay with that. I reset this morning, and it’s been a decent day. But where did I pull palliative from? I retraced the steps in my life that developed my vocabulary.

When I was little, three women read aloud to me. Mom read anything and everything, but some of the most memorable are Maeve Binchy books. (In fact, I have only “read” one myself. All the others were read to me by mama.) She also read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye… extremely memorable, probably not age appropriate, but it gives you an idea of how important reading was in our house. My aunt (who is also my god mother) read The Narnia series to me and my older brother. My dad’s girlfriend (who I always thought would be my stepmom and who mothered two of my half siblings) read drugstore romance mysteries. I loved being read to; however, I hated books on tape. I couldn’t stop a book on tape and ask it what something meant. And I did A LOT of that.

Mom was always the most insistent on consulting a dictionary, though she did her fair share of explaining without that resource. Sometimes it wasn’t just a word I didn’t understand; it was a situation. All three women explained when I had a question – I can’t remember now if their explanations were sugar-coated for my age (knowing me and knowing them, there was no sugar-coating. Perhaps some euphemizing and saying you’ll understand later in life…) Similarly, I can’t remember instances where their explanations were inaccurate or flat-out wrong, though I’m sure there were a few of those times too.

The habit of stopping to ask questions of a text (hey, I think we call that “close reading” or “annotating” in the teaching world) was established early. Along with this interrupted reading, I was accustomed to bringing in the dictionary to assist. I did these things while listening, so it was natural to do them when I started to read more on my own. I’ll admit that I begged all three women to read to me long after I was able to read on my own. Even when I stopped asking them to read to me, mom still read what I was reading so that she could talk to me about it (PRO TIP FOR PARENTING: read what your kids are reading so you can talk to them about it! Be involved in their education!)

I read with a pen or pencil when I read on my own. When the vocabulary was easy, my margin notes were sometimes reactions or summaries. As the books got more difficult, I started to underline the words I didn’t know. Instead of stopping to look up every word, I would finish a chapter and then go back with the dictionary to look up the words I had underlined. Mom even got me an electronic dictionary because not only could I look up words, I could also play word and spelling games. And I had outgrown our large print beginners’ Merriam-Webster.

I don’t know when I dropped the habit of underlining the words I didn’t know. Of course, as I read more, there were fewer words I didn’t know, even as the books got more and more difficult. But because I was marking my books, I also bought my books. What I have now is a record of what I didn’t know when I was in a particular grade.

This proved useful when I became a teacher and wanted to incorporate grade-appropriate vocabulary work for my students. I just took down a book I read in tenth grade for my own tenth graders. Boom! Weekly vocab list created! Many times, I had to be selective because there were A LOT of words I didn’t know. I also learned that context is everything when it comes to vocabulary. My NYC students didn’t know what a corral is… because they live in a CITY and have no reason to know what one is.

Pause to say that I know a lot of books that are in the canon have pre-fab units to follow with vocabulary lists included. I’ve never been a fan of pre-fab units because creating my own assignments and lessons is part of what I love about teaching. I also teach a lot of texts that aren’t in the canon, so there are no pre-fab units. I should get paid to write some, right? Right. 

I have solid evidence to show students that I was once a student like them, that I indeed annotated my texts to learn how to be a better reader, that I wasn’t always the genius I am today (ha ha ha), that anything I ask them to do has been asked of me at some point in my academic history. It’s a great resource that I didn’t know I was creating when I was frustrated and underlining every other word in a text. It also gave me an idea of what words my students might stumble over even if I didn’t read a particular book at their age.

One such vocabulary word was palliative. I gave it to students as an adjective meaning “easing the symptoms (of something) without curing the cause” or “reducing the intensity” with the example of palliative care when someone has a terminal illness – you can’t make the illness go away, but you might be able to manage the pain.

You’ll notice that I used it as a noun when I thought of it. This also goes against the shortcut I sometimes teach kids that words ending in -ive are adjectives. Except not always, like so many other quirks of the English language! In looking up the word now, I see that it originated as a verb, yet I myself have never seen or heard it used that way. I think when the medical field commandeered it, the verb form became less popular.

Thanks for nerding out with me! This is all to say that I’m looking at graduate programs in applied linguistics, English language, and language education because the whole getting a work visa thing seems like it isn’t going so well. Shifting sands, moving target, and all that.

The Pope’s Tweet (and other stuff that may or may not be important)

My laptop is totally busted. The keyboard panel popped off, and I could see all the insides. The only good thing about this is that it was under warranty, so I don’t have to pay for the repairs. I am “typing” this entry by speaking slowly into my iPhone instead of trying to make my fat thumbs find the right letters. Of course, my laptop being broken ruins any plans I have to apply to more jobs, so everything is frozen on that front until I get it back from the geek squad… presumably that will happen before I die?

Related: Some of the schools I have applied to are classy enough to mail me a letter from England to tell me I didn’t get the job. Two such letters arrived today. Yippee!

It’s the first day of spring, and I can hear sleet against my window AC unit. It’s supposed to snow anywhere from 4 to 12 inches between now and this time tomorrow. Another yippee!

Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City, has announced that she is going to run for governor of New York as a Democrat. I don’t know what I think about Miranda as a governor. Yeah, she was a successful lawyer and she was the smartest of all those women (maybe?), but I don’t know that we have a great track record of former actors making good politicians. I guess it doesn’t really matter because I can’t vote in a primary in New York as I am not registered with any political party. (Which Marx brother said I won’t belong to any group that will have me? I don’t know the direct quote…) I suppose if Arnold and Reagan and Al Franken can do it, so can Miranda. Please let’s never speak of Kid Rock though.

Sidebar: it’s weird how talking into your phone produces no punctuation whatsoever even when you say it out loud.

I’m not Catholic. I was Baptized, given my First Communion, and Confirmed in the Lutheran church, which is at its very foundation NOT Catholic. However, my mom’s dad was an Irish Catholic boy whose family disowned him when he married a German Protestant girl. it didn’t matter that she was rich; they didn’t want any of that nonsense.

When I was 12 to 14 years old, I learned the Small Catechism, the basics of Lutheran theology, in order to cement my place as an adult in the congregation. This process was in addition to Sunday school classes and occurred on Tuesday nights before or after the youth choir met, so you know I was there. It was a lot of reading and discussion, and it was usually fascinating to hear what other people my age who were raised at my church had to say. One of the pastors who led the classes talked about Baptism being your parents writing a check and Confirmation being you endorsing the check. I can’t remember now if the check was made out to me, to God, or the world or who else, but you get the picture: one of the things was someone else’s decision and now its your turn to decide.

I took the decision seriously, and my mom encouraged me to be open-minded and curious in my exploration of other religions. I had a few Mormon friends, a few Catholic friends, one Buddhist friend I think, several Protestant friends including Presbyterians and Episcopalians. My dad sometimes took me to a Baptist church. I was looking around to see if I really did want to be a Lutheran. There was always something appealing about Catholicism’s traditions and ceremonies. Theres something about a private confession followed by an immediate measurable consequence. Confession in the Catholic Church is also specific whereas in the Lutheran church group public confession is very general – forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us – as the Lord’s Prayer teaches us. It doesn’t say much for personal accountability and consequences, so I was intrigued by the Rosary, Hail Marys, and the like. Acts of contrition aside, there were other intriguing things about the Catholic church despite my indoctrination in Lutheran values. There were a lot of media portrayals that made Catholicism look cool in a weird masochistic way.

The end result was yeah I DID want to be Lutheran. In fact, I wanted to be Lutheran all throughout high school and then I applied to a private college associated with the Lutheran Church. I didn’t know that this would get me a whole lot of money towards tuition, but it did and I’m glad. So are my parents. Also interesting to note that I contemplated (for a brief moment) being a Lutheran pastor, but decided I am too fond of cursing. I did study the historical sources of the New Testament, World Religions, Lutheran theology, and the political and social ramifications of the Reformation during college (and several of my friends are pastors or work in other capacities at churches).

I don’t go to church on a regular basis these days, but I still consider myself Lutheran. Lutherans are some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. If someone is cool, you should probably check if they’re Lutheran because I bet you’ll learn some surprising anecdotal information to support my claim. We can compile all the data and have statistical proof that Lutherans are awesome.

So I’m not Catholic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t follow the Pope on Twitter! Pope Francis seems great. I mean, he chose not to live in the Papal Apartments because they were too gaudy for him and he didn’t need all that. He only needs the minimum that he required to live comfortably, not to live extravagantly. He also seems to have the right idea about a lot of social issues that have kept the Catholic Church in the dark ages for a long time.

But mostly he tweets amazing shade at the orange moron who you might better know as Donald Trump.

Anyway, the tweet I’m thinking of has nothing to do with the orange moron or the Catholic church. It’s just some wisdom that I thought was worth closer contemplation as it speaks to my current life changes and a question I had about whether or not I could trust my heart.

Il Papa tweeted, “Let us learn to recognize that which leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, knowing that it comes from God” on March 6th. It seems that Pope Francis disagrees with Ms. Donna Tartt.

The Pope’s tweet has stayed with me all this time but was particularly on my mind yesterday when a long time friend asked me, “what’s in the UK?” when I told him that I was trying to move there pending a job. As the universe would have it, he is a friend originally from church as early as preschool. We ended up going to the same high school, but our friendship existed primarily because of our history of seeing each other in church and Sunday School every week month in month out, year in your out. We also had some pretty good times on youth group mission trips where we built houses because y’know that’s something to do with a week and a half of your summer vacation. My short answer to “why the UK?” couldn’t be the Pope’s tweet because I’m pretty sure this friend doesn’t follow the Pope on Twitter and also that he doesn’t even “do” Twitter because he’s better than that. Instead of saying, “THE POPE’S TWEET” I said “well, what’s in the UK? My temperament.” Somehow I think he knows me well enough to make sense of that even though he doesn’t know a whole lot about the UK (which is weird because he has a lot of Scottish heritage and should know something about that beautiful country).

Ooooooo new mission: drag him to Scotland to bag some Munros! Maybe that’s all the Pope’s tweet meant.

Rest assured that I also follow God, Jesus, and the Dalai Lama on Twitter.

Macbeth

“Ms. D, why are all the characters Mac-something? It’s confusing!”

That was one I could explain: M-A-C is Scottish for “son of;” M-C is Irish for “son of.” It’s like Johnson, son of John. So Macbeth is the son of Beth, and Macduff is the son of Duff.

I taught Macbeth at least seven times. It was the one shared text of the Brit/World lit curriculum. I think I ambitiously started two junior classes with it before I learned in my third year to switch it up and start with Ibsen’s A Doll’s House instead… ending the course with Macbeth after some warm ups with John Donne to practice the Thees and Thous and Ists. Oh, and a solid seven months of close reading practice on more accessible texts. It always worked to bookend the class with the two plays because I decided gender identity was going to be the “glue” that held all my text choices together – mainly because nothing else did. I picked what I like because I know I can be more enthusiastic about it, and that goes a long way in the classroom. I hope students appreciated it. They seemed to.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Macbeth though. Maybe because if I were teaching this year, I’d likely have it on tap to start right after spring break. I might even be trying to re-work a student-led project I experimented with two years ago to get them to do more of the interpretive work around eight motifs. Or maybe because I’ve been reading and watching Outlander, so my head is in Scotland. Or maybe it’s because Macbeth has a lot to say about shaping the world to fit his will, fate be damned. He also didn’t bother to think about his actions after a while. Sure, that didn’t work out so well for him, but I think I could do with a little less thought.

:::pause while I grab my “well-loved” copy of Macbeth off the shelf to check that I’m accurately quoting:::

:::continued pause while I congratulate myself for remembering it right:::

“…for mine own good, / All causes shall give way…” (3.4.167-8)

This one has been bouncing around in my head since I wrote about shaping the world to fit our vision of how it *should be.* As ever, a certain singer/songwriter/guitarist was piggy backing on my brain waves and addressed that exact subject in an insta story last night/this morning. (That’s neither here nor there because I’m used to him inhabiting my skull.) Here, Macbeth means that everything is going to bend to his will or for his benefit. He’s going to get his, no matter what.

Sidebar: I always tell students that I don’t like No Fear Shakespeare because it locks you in to that one editor’s interpretation. On the real, half the fun of Shakespeare is seeing his double, triple, quadruple possible meanings and then explaining how you came to each one. Call me a nerd; I’m cool with that. 

Macbeth takes the idea to its extreme – not only will everyone do what is best for him, but if they don’t, they’re going to die. Again, I don’t think Shakespeare intended audiences to pattern their lives after Macbeth, but it speaks to ambition and what one is willing to do to achieve his/her goals. I’ve thought about what it means in a less murderous sense – in what ways is it applicable to the lofty goal I’ve set myself of getting a job at a WISE school? Macbeth was already in a position of power to influence events, and he had no qualms about using immoral means to keep that position, so there’s already that major difference between us.

But I can’t help but think his balls-to-the-wall attitude is in some ways admirable. He had an idea of the way things should be, and he put in hard work to make it so. Isn’t that essentially what ambition boils down to?

I wouldn’t do 99.99% of the things Macbeth does to get and keep power. I’m not willing to step on other people – literally or figuratively – to get what I want. Maybe that’s my problem. I will work hard (my beautifully colored application spreadsheet can prove just how hard I’ve been working), but I won’t even go so far as to make a pest of myself to people who could help. Shit, I am even worried that my short inquiry email might be taking someone’s valuable time; forget about a consistent email back and forth with someone who said he’d help! “All causes shall give way” …unless I’m bothering you!

Okay, so I could never be Macbeth. But maybe I could think a -little- less about things, like he says in a couplet to conclude the same monologue (yeah, I know he’s talking about murder, but “strange things” could mean other stuff too!)

“Strange things I have in head, that will to hand, / which must be acted ere they may be scanned” (3.4.171-2).

NB: Can you tell I miss teaching? I guess THAT part of my existential crisis has been resolved.