Wednesday, November 30, 2011

stumbling blocks; or, what to do when everything is hard

Computers hate me. No, really, they do. In my life I have six computers. Seven if you count the dead laptop I left in a closet in Chico, but I don't know if it is still there, so we won't count that one. I have two laptops and four desktops. Only one of them is technically mine, but I use the others. None of them works the way I need it it too. Most have one capability but not another; and some just refuse to play along.

One computer does not get internet or have a printer, one gets internet and has a virus so very little can be done (this one is my roomates, not mine), one cannot print, and another doesn't have Word on it. Sigh. The worst one is my work computer. Sometimes it allows me to log on and sometimes it doesn't. 

Okay, Kat, so why all the whining? What is your point. The computers are just an example of how the little things wear a person down. How do you ever get going when it feels like the smallest things are a huge hassle?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I see London, I see France; or, priming the pump

I have always wanted to be a rich aunt who is a benefactoress. As a child, I read stories about young girls who are pulled out of their families and sent off to live with the rich dowager aunt. I identified with the aunt, even as a child. One of the biggest frustrations for me as I struggle with money is that I can't do things for other people, but I still believe that someday I will be in position to do so. I have dreamed of paying for my neice(s) to go to Europe since I was 16-years old.

Ever since my niece, Kaya, was born a little over nine years ago I have been plying her with stories of travel. I sent her postcards of exotic places long before she was cognizant, much less literate. She has gifts and postcards from the UK, Europe, Boston, New York, Austin and others with fantastic tales of all the fun I am having that date back to times when we were still counting her age in months. She fetishizes the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben in a way that makes me proud, and I know it is only a matter of time before she begins to want to see them for herself.

When Kaya and I go on the internet I take the time to show her distant lands and all the joys of travel. She is an anxious shy little thing and is timid about everyday activities. She will not talk to strangers, and most social situations can send her into small panic attacks. I like the idea of showing her that her world is so much bigger than she can imagine because I know that seeing herself as a part of something so grand, and so vast, may just make talking to the grocery clerk seem a bit easier. At least that is the theory. As a result of my efforts, she has a pretty good handle on geography, world landmarks, and folklore; at least a good handle for a nine-year old American girl.

She and I were in World Market (of course) the other day and among the items she picked out as possible Christmas presents were an Eiffel Tower snowglobe, a Big Ben paper weight, and a wall-map of the world. I said to her as we talked about her choices, "Wow, you seem to really like those landmarks. Maybe I will take you with me the next time I go to Europe." You would have to know her to understand exactly how that statement both thrilled and terrified her at the same time. She looked at me with her eyes huge with excitement, "I don't think my parents would let me do that." And I thought, well, that isn't a no now is it?

Friday, November 11, 2011

lucky; or, the literary critic in me needs this to mean something

In my last post, I wrote about the film Buck. I did so for more than one reason. The first is because I like opportunities to talk about our personal responsibility to be kind to one another. It is a lost art, kindness. The second is because of what happened after the movie.

As I was saying, we watched a film about horses and kindness. I enjoyed the film and walked out of class satisfied that the documentary was a good one and that it would lend itself to some good conversations for the rest of the term. I got into my car backed out and drove about three feet and then I saw something in the road that made me stop. In the road before me was a rusted horseshoe.

Weird right? This was about 5 minutes after the movie. I was moved by the experience. I mean, it has to mean something. Doesn't it? I brought the shoe to class on Wednesday and told them about it. I used it to teach a lesson on argument. I asked them to listen to a story, to briefly summarize it and to create a thesis statement of the story.  I shared the story, and the students immediately asked me if it was true. I swore that it was. We talked about their summaries and thesis statements, but they wanted to talk about what it meant, or could mean, so we created this list.

It is a sign that I am doing something right.

It is a sign I am lucky and should go to Las Vegas and gamble all
my savings.

It is a message that I should take something from the movie learn from it.

It is nothing, and the shoe has been laying there for weeks, but I only noticed it because I had just watched a film about horses.

It is fate. Destiny.

It is a coincidence.

It is a conspiracy, someone put that there because they knew I was going to watch that film.

It is something very important.

It is nothing.

We discussed the possible meanings. A student added, "It is God." Which I wrote on the board, but would not allow the students to use in the argument exercise (yes, sometimes my ideology does seep into the classroom in interesting ways). The most intriguing side effect of this conversation was that as my classroom became a battle over the theory of fate and nothingness, the students began to invest themselves in the documentary. Students began to believe that the movie and the shoe and this conversation was important. They tuned in, there was that "click" that teachers wait for, and they connected.

For me, I need it to mean something. If not just because I want to feel lucky, or a part of some larger universe, but because if this were a novel it would mean everything. What do you think?


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Buck: or, a lesson in love and kindness

On Monday, we watched the documentary film Buck in my class. The film is about a man, named Buck of course, who is a horse whisperer. He was the inspiration for the 1998 movie The Horse Whisperer starring Robert Redford. Buck was a decent film, not the best documentary I have ever seen, but it seemed to hold my student's attention which is saying something. The core message of the film is what makes it worth seeing.

The movie is about Buck Brannaman's life as a horse trainer. But really it is about how being a loving person is better than being a jerk. That is an oversimplification, but essentially it is the message at the core of the film. Brannaman's father was a horribly abusive man who beat Buck and his brother unmercifully. Finally, they were removed from the home and put into foster care. Now, many years later, Buck trains horses. He is using the lessons he learned from his own terrible past to teach the horse community that using brutal training methods is ruining their horses, and maybe themselves, and teaching the horses to be afraid. He, and the film, makes explicit connections between his own childhood, the horse training, and parenting.

The film moves back and forth between stories about Buck's childhood, clips of his training clinics, and itneractions between Buck and his teenaged daughter. His history of abuse was so bad that a childhood friend, a man in his 50's, breaks down and weeps while talking about it.  It is a touching and salient moment in the narrative when Buck points out that his daughter is just like him; and he is a little sad about the fact if he had been raised in love he would be as amazing as his daughter. Yes, I cried. It is clear that Buck grieves for his lost childhood, but also that he understands that he has to choose how to repudiate that history each day. He has to remind himself that he is kind, that the world is kind.

The big dramatic moment comes when a woman brings in a "demon colt" for training. Throughout the movie we see Buck gentle horse after horse. He begins with a frightened bucking animal and ends up with a pet following after him like the most loyal of dogs. It is amazing each time. But, back to the demon colt. The colt was orphaned and may have even suffered brain damage from a lock of oxygen, so the colt has had a tough beginning. But, the real damage, we are reminded again and again, was done by the trainer. She raised him with a pack of stud horses and let him remain a stud as well. Through her coddling of this horse she has allowed him to be spoiled and wild: She unintentionally trained him to be "a predator."  The horse is so viscious that he attacks one of Buck's colleagues with pure malice. It is clear that this horse is not protecting himself, but is instead intending mayhem. The trainer is so badly injured he requires several stitches to his forehead. They decide to put the horse down.

It is an emotial moment when they decide to give up on this horse and sentence him to death. As the demon colt is being taken back onto the truck the owner tries to force him and is yelling at him and yanking the horse around. Buck, who clearly dislikes this treatment, and has already told this woman that she needs to get help for her own problems, firmly tells the woman to step away from the horse. When he takes over he gently and calmly works with the horse until he dociley walks into the truck on his own. In that moment, you can see the difference the film is talking about. You can see that if that horse had been raised by another, gentler hand his life would be different.

The next day, at the training, a couple of people ask Buck to talk about the demon colt. They want explanations, and he gives them. He simply says, "The horse was failed by his owner, yes he was disabled, but that is not what made him what he is." A woman--who had been crying the day before as they loaded the colt--asked him about his kindness in loading this doomed animal onto the truck. He said, "Just because we have decided to put the colt down doesn't mean he deserves to be treated unkindly."

It is such a simple message really, but one that needs to be repeated. And repreated. Kindness matters. Kindness is a choice. So, please choose to be kind.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Plans; or, you were gonna do what?

I just returned from an unexpected vacation to wine country. My parents called me on Thursday night as asked me if I wanted to join them on a trip to Windsor, CA. They have a timeshare there and were being treated to a "party weekend" by the timeshare sales team. My Dad had a doctor appointment on Friday in San Francisco and they are not comfortable driving Bay Area traffic, so I was enlisted as a driver/navigator. They were supposed to be occupied by the wining and dining (literallyl) of the time share staff as they tried to talk my parents into buying more time in the timeshare, and I was supposed to be enjoying a quiet relaxing weekend alone. My dad doesn't like wine, so I got to be wined and dined and he got to relax.

Why does this matter? Well, I had plans. Twice. I was going to relax at home, watch tv, and blog this weekend. Then once I had been invited to Sonoma I was going to nap, read, and swim in the resort pool. In the end I ended up wine tasting and schmoozing with folks who were, on average, 30 years older than me. And it was awesome. However, I am not going blog every day. And that's okay.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

dilemma; or, leap of faith

In the movie classic Indiana Jones and The Search for the Holy Grail there is a scene where Indiana Jones must take a  literal leap of faith. He has to step off a cliff and trust that he won't fall. Of course, it is Hollywood and Harrison Ford so everything turns out okay. There is a rock path that is the same color as the cliff face. It is in fact, not an empty chasm before him, but a narrow rock path that is just difficult to see. As Indiana Jones walks he throws sand on the path because he want to be sure that the path really is there. He does not want to have to trust that it will be there when he gets back, he just wants to know. Is that such a terrible thing? To know?

What comes first? The leap? or the faith? If you don't have faith you won't jump, if you don't jump there is no faith. Jones jumps because if he doesn't his dad will die. Perhaps faith works best when we are thinking of something else. When I was in high school, my church youth group took a trip to a local swimming hole called Hell's Gate (I know it's ironic, somebody call Alanis Morrissette). At one end of the pool of cold, green water there was a smallish cliff the older kids would climb up and jump off. Because I was a girl, and because I was young, I had never been expected to jump, but that day I had decided to.

I didn't really want to climb up the cliff, and I definitely knew I didn't want everyone looking at me while I stood at the edge. I was 14, and my body was curvier and bustier than I was comfortable with. The boys had suddenly developed a habit of staring at me. They would look at me, my body, and then look away. I finally understood what my books' had meant when they described a man as "leering."  But a boy had looked at me and his green eyes sparkled as he asked if I was coming, I forgot my awkwardness for a moment and suddenly I didn't want to stay down at the bottom alone.

There were about seven or eight of us, and I was the only girl. I was the last one up the cliff and the boys had been standing at the top looking down into the water for several minutes. They were teasing each other and taking their time, pretending to push each other, laughing. I did not wait; instinctively I knew if I thought about it I would not jump. I reached the top of the cliff, made eye contact with those green eyes one more time, walked to the edge, and I dove into the water in one single motion. Once I bobbed to the surface the boys lost little time falling in after me.

Does it count as a leap of faith if you only jump because you are afraid not too? Or, maybe it just doesn't matter as long as you are in the water?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

blogging for blogging's sake; or, words, words, words

I have signed up for nablopomo (again). I remember being told once that it takes 15 days to make a  new activity into a habit. At the time, that seemed like a big challenge, sticking to something for 15 days. I must have been very young, like 19, or so, and 15 days seemed like such a long, long time. I know I was young, because I believed it. Now, I know that 15 days is nothing. A blink. How can you undo a lifetime of habits in 15 days? It is silly really.

I am 39 now. I am standing on the brink of one of those ages. One of those birthdays that marks your life and changes the way people view you and you view yourself. It is a benchmark of how you have spent your time and what you have sown and what you will reap. But, I am still sowing. Yes, of course. We all are. And so with the idea that the teacher never really stops being a student, and that the harvest is never really at an end, and marking birthdays like they matter is silly, I commit to blog this month with the hope that it will stick. That this time it really will become a habit.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

persistence; or, I get knocked down, but I get up again (and now that stupid song is stuck in your head)

About 15 years ago (back in the health insurance days), I was seeing a new therapist. As is protocol she asked me to share my history, why I was there, and what I wanted from our sessions. She asked me to write out my story and then read it to her. I began listing the litany of failures that had led me to her couch. At the time I was not in school, unemployed, and completely supported by my parents. I had traveled a little and had tried many paths to independence only to land broke and broken at my parent's door. After I finished reading my list I started to sob. The therapist looked at me and said, "Why do you see yourself as a failure?" I looked at her and didn't really say anything, I just gestured at the list of failed attempts to build my life. She said, "Well, I see a very determined young lady who has amazing persistence. A lot of people in your situation would have given up long ago." I sat up a little straighter and stopped crying.

While in grad school, I was asked to participate in an experiment for the psychology department. I was asked to take a test in which I would take a silly test and then answer some questions afterwords. The test was simple there was a paper with rows and rows of dots. I would need to connect the dots and form boxes. The task was to guess how many boxes I could make in a given time. The test started. The administrator asked me how many boxes I could fill in 30 seconds. I said, "30." The administrator raised her eyebrows, wrote down 30 and started the timer. I did 20. The adminstrator told me that was "very good" for the first try, that most people get 15 or less on their first try. I barely heard her. I was frustrated that I did not get 20. Round 2. "How many do you think you can get in 45 seconds?" I said, "50."  She didn't say anything and started the timer. I got 45. The administrator could see that I was frustrated. She told me that one per second is really great, and that is among the fastest anyone has ever done the task. I could barely hear her as I was too upset and frustrated. I just asked if I could do it again. She said okay, and asked how many I could get in 45 seconds. I said "55." She stopped and looked at me. Finally, she said, "Why? Why would you think that you could do that many?" I explained that now that I had done it a few times I felt like I was experienced and I had an idea for a strategy that would really work. She wrote something in her notes and started the test. I got 50. And once again, I was upset because I did not meet my goal. When the test was over the test adminstrator took me aside and said to me, "Listen, this isn't any of my business, but you are putting way too much pressure on yourself." 

There is a scene in Forrest Gump where Jenny, whose goal is to become a singer, is working in a strip club. She takes Forrest to see her act which consists of her sitting naked on a stool and playing guitar. The audience jeers her as she sings. She is humiliated and embarrassed by this mockery of her dream. Forrest says, "Jenny had accomplished her dream, she was a singer." I wanted to become an American Literature professor. Instead, I am an adjunct composition instructor.  I believe that somewhere in between the lines of these stories is enlightment. That between the person who is persistant and the one who sets her expectations far too high is the answer to how to improve my current life. It has to do with remembering to persist and remembering that failure is objective. It has to do with forgiving myself for my mistakes, complimenting myself on my successes, and picking myslef up and carrying on.

Monday, October 24, 2011

down; or, even these words will give me something to stand on

I tried to give this blog away. I erased all my information, profile, changed the name, etc to give it to my brother. He was going through a tough time and was using facebook to vent. I told him that was a terrible idea and that he needed a blog. He is less tech savvy than I (which is saying something) so, instead of creating a new blog I just tried to give him mine. It didn't work out. And now I am glad that it didn't because I need it.

It is a small thing, I suppose, to be grateful that my blog is still here and recoverable. But in a life where I have made bad decision after bad decision it is nice to see that even this small thing has worked out. Small victories are still victories.

I am down. Down. Capital "D" Down.Coffee and licorice for breakfast down. Not even fresh coffee. Coffee that is heated up from yesterday. Coffee run through yesterday's grounds down. No shower wearing an ugly sweater down. The kind of down where looking up is hard because my head is so heavy.

So, here we are dealing with the demons of depression. Again. This is a fight that has gone far beyond a boxing match's 10-12 requisite rounds. I remember telling myself that things will get better, just hang in there. But really, better is so unquantifiable. What is better? Having the energy to brew fresh coffee? Taking shower? Having a life?

Down. Down. Down. Such a loaded word. Down for the count? I hope not. The counterweight to down is up right? So there has to be room to rise. There has to be steps leading up to the light. I just need to find that cellar door. That pep talk that takes me from here to there. I need to find the words that will pull me up. Again. And hopefully when I get there I can stay there for a awhile

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

tiptoeing around; or, when you need to vent, but you shouldn't

I undertand how people get fired for things they say on their blog. Bloggers are writers. Writers process their experiences, emotions, their very lives through words. Some people can do this privately for themselves in a secret journal; but for some of us, these words are stories and they must be told. So, it is easy to see how a blogger could say too much or the wrong thing and cross an undrawn line. Blogs are still relatively new and the ettiquette is vague, at best. So, today this blogger is going to tell a story. If it seems lacking in details... that is on purpose.

It has been a hard, hard, hard year in my teaching. There has been student event after student event that needed handling. Legal things. Embarassing things. Ethical things. Sad things. A lot of things. Some of this became public, some much too public. And through it all, I did my best to handle my classroom, and the people in it to the best of my abilities. And really, I thought I had done a damn fine job. Then came yesterday. And an email. Sigh.

Sometimes, when people of any age are in situations of emotional duress they see things in a slanted way. A way that those standing a little less close can see in a calmer, straighter, different way. Who is to say which of these views is more true? Certainly not me. But, at times, it seems that our stories of our experiences can be florid and overwrought. So, when listening to such stories, I find it is always best to listen with calm. To try to avoid being caught up in the other's emotions. Especially, if you have to listen to more than one side.

So, if you find yourself listening to a single side from a crying girl it may be best to comfort her and say you understand. It is not a great idea to contact me with suggestions for how to teach. Because, it just may be offensive. An assumption that personal situations outside the classroom could somehow be alleviated with a better written syllabus is ridiculous, it trivializes my work as a teacher, counselor, and person. So, frankly, dear emailer. You can stuff it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

deaf ears; or, when the theatre is empty you have to leave the stage

I am by nature a storyteller. I view the world as narrative(s). Even while in the midst of an activity I think about what story I will tell. I watch the world around me for images, sounds, colors, themes, sound bites so that I can create my story. I hold stories in my mouth until they are polished and glowing. I had a bit of low point yesterday when I realized that I have been shaping these stories for one person. Someone who told me long ago that he doesn't want to hear them anymore.

My realization that I think about this lost friend more than I ever realized came this weekend when I had a similar experience with a different friend I hadn't seen for a while. This weekend I went to San Francisco. I spent three days, mostly on my own, touring the city and then running in the 100th Bay to Breakers. On Friday, I drove to the city, I had dinner with some friends, and checked into my hotel. Saturday was spent touring Alcatraz and Angel Island, then on Sunday the race. As usual for those of us who watch for stories I had my share. I was supposed to meet this friend in the city and I was looking forward to sharing my adventures with him. I greedily gobbled up each interesting thing and sprinkled the details into the stories I was writing in my head. But then, we never met up (his fault). I was so intensely disappointed. I kept asking myself why this was so painful for me? This was just a friend, nothing romantic, and yet I felt like a jilted lover. And then it hit: I was disappointed that I couldn't tell him the stories I had collected for him. My disappointment was a reflection of the pain I have been feeling for another. I have been doing that for another for nearly 8 years.

Swallowing words can leave you ravenous. I am not able to stay silent for long, so eventually I tell my stories to whomever will listen. But, because they were crafted for one person I am always disappointed in the telling. I choose words and details that I know he would like. I am unfairly impatient with my audience, waiting for a reaction that can't ever come. It is a cruel life and hopefully with this epiphany will come change. I can't keep talking to someone who isn't there. In the words of Rihanna (sage that she is) its been quite a show, very entertaining, but this show is over it's time to leave the stage: at least for now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

an open letter; or, I wish

Dear Student;

Thank you for your email explaining that you could not attend your mandatory conference with me today because your other (much more important) meeting ran late. I am so glad to hear that you are incredibly sorry, and that you would like to reschedule with me so that we can discuss your research project. I am sure that you would very much like to discuss your research project considering that you are well over the maximum number of absences allowed under my very clearly written and oft mentioned absence policy. I am equally sorry to have to notify you that, no, I cannot reschedule my appointment with you. I have every hour of the next week packed with conferences with other students, meetings, and a graduation. The thirty (unpaid) minutes I set aside for you was the only time I had available. I understand that your involvement with (insert student organization name here) is a passion for you, and I am glad you are so interested in the campus activties. I do want to remind you though that in order to get a degree in any major from any institution in the United States you will need to pass my class.


Adjunct Professor

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ode to joy; or, Happy Opening Day

Opening Day. For baseball fans it is a holiday. A day to play hooky from school or work and head out to the ballpark; or at least, to stay home and watch baseball on tv. For the past several years I have had to teach on Opening Day, so I would put the games on in my classroom. At the beginning of each class I would tell my students about Opening Day and the hooky tradition. Inevitably one or more would suggest that I would still have time to make it to Oakland or San Francisco if I let them out early. Silly students always trying to get out of work. Even if only for a few hours.  I would use Opening Day to talk about traditions--national, religious, and personal. Usually, I would tell them stories about the joys of baseball and ask them to share their own stories. Then we would return to work with the Yankees, Giants, or whomever was playing that day flickering on the wall behind me. The day would mostly return to the normal lecture or discussion except for the interruption of occasional gasps of surprise or joy when a player did something amazing.

Happiness can be elusive. I remember being at a party as an undergrad, listening to a guy talk about his struggles with depression. I was listening intently the way that women do when they are into a guy. For the most part, it was the standard tortured-soul conversation like those that earnest english majors have in between quoting snippets of their favorite books and poems; but, there was one moment that has left its imprint and I remember quite clearly. He said something about seeking hapiness. I looked at him and leaned close, as I like to do when I think I am about to say something interesting or profound, or when I want to signal that I am into you. I said, "Fuck happiness. Seek joy!" He didn't get it, so I tried to explain, but between the booze, the noise, the night, and an unfortunate denseness on his part, it was futile.

What I meant that night, and what I now hold to be true is that happiness has an expectation of permanance. Joy is sudden. It is bright, and totally attainable. We have these sudden moments of brightness, warmth, and peace all the time: this is joy. It doesn't take a lot of work to attain as there is a multitude of opportunities for joy in the little things: And baseball is all about the little things. It is about sitting in the sun with friends eating stadium food and talking about your lives. It is about collectively holding your breath as you watch to see if what will happen on the field. It is about rising as one with hundreds (or thousands) of other people to praise or boo. Baseball is sunshine, green grass, sunflower seeds, and a couple of hours without care. It is caring about where your favorite player postions his feet, how far a small white ball can sail, and who catches it. It is about being carefree for a few hours in the sun. It is numbers, lines, statistics--ridiculous and otherwise--fences that are designed to be malleable. It is joy, personified: And that makes me happy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

kat fight; or, engaging in a class war with myself

Warning: I come across as really snotty in this post. But, for some reason, I am okay with that.

I am having a small identity crisis. Well, it is prolly a part of the larger identity crisis that is a constant for me. But lately, I have been wanting to do something that I have always looked down on. An act that is the territory of folks on Jerry Springer, girls on trash tv, and the people in bars that I always feel sorry for. You see, a friend of mine has been hurt by his partner and I want to kick her scrawny ass. Okay, so that is prolly overstating it, but I would like to tell her off. For the first time in my life I really understand the idea of sending a nasty email, calling and chewing someone out, and other acts of emotional vandalism.

When I was in the fourth grade, Laura Mitchen was so angry at me that she stood up in class and called me a bitch. I remember being shocked that she would use such language in front of a teacher. A teacher! I don't even remember being hurt by her slander. I just felt so damn sorry for her. Ashamed for her that she would behave in such a vulgar manner over a petty disagreement (I can't even remember what happened). I do remember the image of an angry Laura standing up beside her seat in the back of the class framed by the light streaming in from a bank of schoolroom windows. Standing tall, her hair disheveled, without style, overly thin, her face red with anger as she spat out that ugly epithet: BITCH! Laura was the tallest girl in the school and like most from Hayfork she was poor, unkempt, and distinctly labor class. The emotional impact of being publicly attacked like that struck me as such a low moment for her that I have never forgotten it. None of the characters in any of my books would ever have done what Laura did. Well, okay, maybe Anne of Green Gables, but she would have been very sorry later, and prolly wouldn't have used that word.

My sister is family and I love her, but she is very much a product of the labor class that she lives and works in. My parents both come from poor working class backgrounds. My grandfather on my mother's side was a journeyman handyman without any real trade. I know that he bought junk and fixed it up to sell, but other than that, I am not sure he ever had a real job. My grandfather on my dad's side was a logger. He lived hard, worked hard, and apparently drank hard. My family definitely lives with a chip on their shoulder and the swagger of those who are quite proud to have escaped the effete fate of the manor born. I became middle-class in attitude and personality through books and education. I chose PBS, literature, and the classics because I did not want to continue the blue-collar life lived by my ancestors; and because of it, I am the black sheep. My sister, however, reminds me of that background often. Last week, she told me a story about getting into it with a "friend" at the bar. Apparently, she called her "friend" a tramp. When the girl asked her why she would say that, that they are supposed to be friends, my sister answered, "Well, because you are a tramp. I am just being honest." I cringed.

I am not perfect. I am a product of my milleu. In elementary school I got into a showdown with Annette Maroni. She was two grades below me and  even then, I must have been 11 or so, I felt sort of silly "fighting" with a child. But, really, she was six inches taller and in a story that one could not make up it turned out that she was actually older than me. When she was supposedly 16, her parents found her birth certificate when she was applying for her driver's license and discovered that she was actually two years older than they thought. Yes. Two years. I never really understood how the mix-up occurred. They said it was due to a divorce and some confusion about records. I was so embarassed by the whole idea of not knowing your child's age that I tried not to talk or think about it much at the time. She came to me one day and asked my advice about taking the GED. She realized that she would, through no fault of her own, be nearly 21 years old as a senior. But, during our playground spat we all thought she was two years younger. I was yelling at her in the way that one was supposed to do these things. Posturing. Threatening. There was no violence other than verbal, but the boys were chanting my name and Annette backed down and I was declared the winner. Of course when I got home I was horrified with myself and it still ranks among my most embarrassing moments.

My friend is also not a perfect man. I have known him for several years and frankly some of his relationship blunders have been noteworthy. He is not always honest with himself, or with the women he is seeing. However, I am his friend, and I hate to see anyone get hurt. As a joke, he suggested that I send his heartbreaker a nasty note (email) and I replied that I would like to do more than that. However, in reality, I don't know what to say. I only met her once. But, I do feel the urge to say something. My tounge can be sharp and I know how to cut if I need to. I just don't see myself as the kind of person who would/could/should do so. Maybe I should ask my sister to do it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

more of the same; or, after the crash

Last week, after receiving my rejection from UNR's doctorate program in English, I sort of half-jokingly asked for suggestions for how to "radically change my life" on my facebook page. The responses to my query (no offense to anyone who may have posted) were a surprise. For one thing, they weren't all that radical. Get a haircut. Change your diet (which I translated as "lose weight"). Get therapy. (Yikes.) Oh, and then there was the person who advised me to "get a doctorate" a bit of advice that was as ironic as it was unintentionally painful.

The advice was mainly about the kinds of things that no one really wants to be advised to do. Sort of like how I imagine those who find themselves on a makeover shows feels. In reality, I was really hoping for a lighter type of response. Become a roadie for Josh Groban. Only speak in proverbs. Begin referring to yourself in only the third person... you know, fun stuff. Instead, it became incredibly clear that folks genuinely thought that I needed to make some pretty solid life changes.

I am no stranger to change. I traffic in self-help and introspection. I am nietzchian in nature. I am constantly tearing and stripping down in order to rebuild. So much so that recently I have begun to think that perhaps I need to stop with the deconstruction and begin to build. Part of my reasoning for wanting to return to grad school was to finish what I had started. I rarely do that you see. So, a part of me thinks it is slightly hilarious that this time around applying to finish my PhD was one of the most mature decisions of my life; that I genuinely felt like I was on the right path for the first time in a long time. That decision is unfortunately one that is out of my hands.

As to my present, I have a job, and while it is part-time, it is still a job; so, I will continue working. I can apply to other PhD programs next year if I wanted to, or full-time community college jobs, or maybe another MA. Or, I could do something else. Right now the possibilities are a little overwhelming. Or, I could just get a cute haircut, and some therapy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

hope; or, the space between

When I was a senior in high school, our senior trip was to a confidence building camp in Etna CA.  We did a ropes course (complete with a zip line that began 100 feet above the ground).  I was not really afraid to do the course, but as I began moving through it, I did find that I was physically unprepared. The ropes cut into my flesh leaving huge bruises on my arms and inner thighs. My soft hands were ripped by the ropes, and my recently rehabbed knee became a liability. The course was designed to challenge you emotionally, not physically. But, for me, it became not a matter of conquering fear for me, but of making my body do what I needed it too. 

There was one part of the course that I remember very clearly. I had to jump from one platform to another. The platforms were about a foot and 1/2 apart. It wasn't supposed to be a physically challenging exercise, but for me it was. You see I have an injured knee. So, even though I was 100-feet up (in a harness of course) I wasn't afraid of falling. I was afraid that my knee would crumple when I landed on the other side. The coach was telling me to visualize myself landing on the other side, to take a breath, and to jump to the other side. She said, "By the time you release that breath, you will have made it. Inhale hope, leap with faith, land with confidence."

It took me about twelve minutes to be able to jump. In the end, I was fine. But, I couldn't explain to those watching and coaching that this was different for me. I was already in some pain and I had been hurt quite badly before. When I saw myself leaping, I didn't see a graceful landing. I saw my legs giving way. I felt the crunch that only those who have been injured truly know. I remembered what it was like to fall, to lie on the ground clutching myself in agony.

In some ways, what I learned from that ropes course is that life is a much different experience for those who have truly been hurt--as opposed to those who only imagine or fear the pain that might happen. I also learned that with some coaxing I will take a deep breath and jump anyway. I sure hope this time I land okay, because I have had enough crashing and I could really use a soft landing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

fast; or, outrunning what used to be

Until this week, I hadn't run since I was 17 years old. At times it is hard to imagine, but I used to be an athlete. In high school I played volleyball, basketball, softball, and ran track. Yeah, I know. In retrospect this was not the right identity for me, not really. I prolly should have been in theatre or student government. I did a little of that stuff, but not nearly enough. Playing sports happened for two reasons. The first, because my dad was an athlete and a coach, and I desperately wanted him to like me, which he didn't. The second was because I was fast, really fast.

In elementary school, we would have a school-wide track meet every spring. The whole school would go out to the track-and-field area and watch races and track events all day. The high school would send students to volunteer as starters and judges. It was a big deal The events themselves were for 4th-8th graders only, but everyone would watch. For many years, my brother and I were the fastest runners in school. We were minor celebrities. Kids would line up to watch our races. They would point to us and say things like, "That is Katherine Frye, she is the fastest girl in school." and " Yeah, the only one who can beat her is her brother."  I was faster than most of the boys and for a very short time I was faster than my older brother, but that was short-lived.

I loved to run. I loved it. In the days leading up to the big school meet I would go outside and "train." Of course, even though my dad was coach, I had no idea what it meant to train, so really, I would just yell "go" and then run across the meadow as fast as I could. I didn't care about distances. I would just run fast. Stop. Then turn around and sprint back to where I started. Head up running like an idiot. Mouth open. Arms pumping.

I hurt my knee playing flag football for the powder puff game during homecoming week when I was 16. I was the quarterback and the middle linebacker. The "stud" positions.  I was injured when I chose to keep the ball instead of handing it off. I kept it because I wanted to run. I was tearing down the sideline headed for the goal line when I tried to jump over a girl and landed awkwardly. That was it. After that, I had to be cautious. I still played sports, but the running was different. It was careful. No more abandon. I injured my knee twice in high school badly enough to need two surgeries. I spent 45% of my high school days on crutches and a long 6-months in a full leg cast that spanned from hip to toe. I have had another surgery since, and need another, but without health insurance it will just have to wait.

I know exactly what day I would return to if I could go back. I would go back to the last Spring track meet of my 8th grade year. A teacher encouraged me to run a longer race than I was used to. I don't remember the length, but in memory even a  mile seemed far to me then. I didn't want to do it. I wanted to save myself for the sprints. I didn't want to be tired. But, I am a middle-child who has always craved approval, so I said yes. I made my way to the start and waited. I didn't stretch. I didn't even take off my black hooded sweatshirt. It wasn't a sprint so there was no starting gun. A teacher just said, "go," I don't think she even yelled it. I ran for about half a lap and didn't want to run anymore. So, I veered off the course and ran straight into the open door of the back  of the gym and into the bathroom. I hid until the race was over then I trotted out and said that I had suddenly gotten sick. Really, I just didn't want to do it and didn't know how to say no. Now, these two things have haunted me. Illness and an inability to be true to myself. I somehow feel like if I could go back to that moment I could either say no, I don't want to do that. Or, finish the race. And somehow, my life would be different. Better.

I ran for the first time since I was 17 years old this week. It wasn't fast. It was careful and plodding. But it was running. It felt so good that I just keep thinking about it. The weather has been sketchy so my workouts have been inside since then, but I just keep thinking about that half mile. It wasn't shuffling. It wasn't speed walking. It was running. And it felt damn good. I cannot help but think that I have signed up for this upcoming 12K in order to run in a race again. To get a new start, and a perhaps even a new finish.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Um, has it really been since May 2010? or; jesus, talk about inconsistency

Oh blog. I have missed you so. It isn't as if I haven't been blogging... okay, well, I guess writing blogs in my head isn't really blogging: it's thinking. 

Things that have been going on since May. Well, Egypt has changed its government. I started running and lost 30 pounds. I am still teaching at Shasta College and running the Puente program. Um, I cut bangs. Hmmm. you would think there would be more. Oh, I paid off my credit card debt (mostly).

I have not learned to speak French, worn my pink dress any where cool (not that I can't, I just haven't yet). I have not returned to grad school, or found a new job. Yet.

I am in the midst of a 100 Day Challenge. The challenge is to 1) Be positive 2) Be active 3) Eat healthy for the next 100 days. And, I think that this will be the perfect place to talk about it.