Saturday, December 29, 2007

All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished

I am not sure how a twenty-four year old, single, unemployed person such as myself can accumulate so much stuff. But I did. In three and a half years, I've managed to acquire enough belongings to fill a standard-sized horse trailer -- and then some.

When I lived at Southwood for a month in the summer of 2004, I barely had enough to make a sub-leased room with a borrowed bed feel like home. I was able to carry the entirety of my book collection in one box -- the box my Tiffany lamp, which I bought solely for the sake of that room, came in. This weekend, I found that box -- labeled "BOOKS" -- and filled it with books again. Except, this time, I labeled it something like "Literature A-Cisneros" or "Spanish Language and Culture." See, I'm estimating twenty boxes of books that we packed into the corner of the horse trailer. The books, though, serve only as one fossil of this era.

When I first shifted my little pile of stuff from Southwood to Brentwood, my new apartment was still relatively empty. After hanging a freshly purchased shower curtain and feeling accomplished, I selected an English class literature anthology from my little bookshelf and sat in the floor, in the corner of the living room where the monstrous bookcase eventually stood. I read, from beginning to end, the Lorraine Hansberry play "A Raisin in the Sun" in one anticipatory afternoon.

I can't believe my apartment is almost as empty again as it was that day. It's not nearly as clean, though. I've still got that to do. But once I've collected the last evidences of my residence and once I've exterminated all the dust rodents, I think I'll have a seat in that corner again and read something. Of course, I would punctuate the chapters of my existence with literature.

But what should I read? Too bad all the books have been packed and taken away.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Show me that smile again.

Sunday afternoon in November. I am in the library, preparing for my final student teaching observation. Really, that specific task seems like the least of my concerns.

I decided to walk here. The weather is suprisingly warm to be this late in the year. And the leaves are peaking a bit late, too. So I collected my teachery things in my messenger bag, threw on a light jacket, and started out the door. But when I stepped out, I had a moment of inspiration. Quickly, I transferred my teacher's edition Spanish II textbook, my student teaching binder, and the notebook in which I scribble "lesson plans" into my black backpack.

This backpack has been hiding behind the driver's seat of my car for about five months now. I haven't carried it since this summer, when I hauled it to, from, and all over Europe. I had cleaned it out once I got home, but there are still residual items floating around. My travel alarm clock, a brochure of travel information about the train that runs from Bregenz to Vienna, the flimsy comb I took with me on the weekends because it took up less space in my bag.

There is something distinctly student about carrying your belongings in a backpack. So in last-chance fashion, I walked to campus looking like a student. But I realized something. I don't so much feel like a student anymore. As I walked past the gate guarding campus against who-knows-what, I saw a kid that I had class with first semester of my sophomore year. I said to myself, Is he still here? Of course, I then realized that I'm still here, too.

In this last semester, though, I have been subconsciously bidding this chapter of my life farewell, to use the cheesiest, most hackneyed language ever. Like I said about the inevitable roller coaster drop, I don't know what's going to happen on the other side of this, but no matter what, it is time for it to happen. And student teaching has been the context for this semester, but it hasn't been the entire focus of it. The process of it has made me re-evaluate life and how I choose to deal with it. I can't say I've resurfaced from the challenges that this process has presented, but it's been good. It's been a semester of growing pains, for sure. I don't think they're over, the growing pains, nor do I think they will ever be.

While it was nice to feel like a student again, walking onto campus and fists clinging to the shoulder straps of my backpack, I couldn't help but feel that I had outgrown it -- the backpack, the studentness. I could be wrong. I could be over-analyzing this, like I over-analyze everything else.

For the moment, though, I think I might be ready to stretch my freshly-sprouted wings. Now it's a matter of edging out of the nest. 'Course, I might need some nudging, but well, graduation is less than a month away now.

Deep breath, deep breath...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Please keep all limbs inside the car.

Somedays, I feel like I'm on one of those thrill rides that straps you in over your shoulders and lets your feet dangle as it whips you around loop after loop and plummet after plummet. Other, more peaceful days, I'm cruising along on the rocket-shaped kiddie car that glides gently over gradual hills and smooth curves. Being the risk taker that I am not, I prefer the latter.

Today, though, I can understand the thrill seekers of the world. As much as I would like to keep myself on the kiddie coaster, the reason the big rides are fun is that they make you realize you have something to lose, something valuable. They make you feel alive. In a warped sense, they make you see what you've got, even if it's about to be gone.

Right now, I feel like the amusement park personnel has locked a harness over my shoulders and I can't see anything beyond the big hill in front of me and the hint of the inevitable drop. I can hear the click-click-click as I make my way to the pinnacle of what I can see, and for once, I'm sort of excited about what will happen when gravity wins over.

I'm scared to death, but I'm holding out for a safe return to the station.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The scientific method

I was really proud of myself the day I told my third block English class that they had to have the foresight to see the hindsight. I was hoping there was someone with ink and quill somewhere to jot down this line into a tome of timeless quotes, my name now among Abraham Lincoln and Confucius. I don't even remember the topic of that day's discussion, but I was giving some pseudo-sage advice about making wise decisions -- about considering the consequences of actions. Hindsight, we all know, is 20/20. So we have to look forward and consider what that hindsight will reveal to us. This is the simple and infallible key to decision-making.

It is also complete crap.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I cannot make decisions. I cower at questions and flee from responsibility. I don't know, maybe someday an editor of Bartlett's will include me, but only by mistake. Or only because of the cute parallelism of the sentence: We must have the foresight to see the hindsight.

As it turns out, this is a rule that I've been imposing upon myself for a very long time, but I didn't realize it until today. Let's face it, I'm drowning in a sea of decisions that need to be made. Or so it seems. They range from small (What am I going to teach tomorrow?) to larger (What am I going to do after I graduate? With my life?). And I get the distinct feeling that these are all connected. Like I can't answer one question unless I've answer the others. A circular puzzle. A dog chasing its tail, for sure. But nevertheless, I have been sorting out my thoughts in an attempt at answering the larger questions. The answers, though, don't come.

That's what I have been expecting for as long as I have had a concept of The Future. That life, its questions, and its answers come to me as they will, and I will be prepared to go with that flow as it drifts by. Recently, though -- and I am using a lose definition of the adverb "recently" -- I am realizing that passivity isn't exactly the best way of handling life. Yes, there are factors that we cannot control -- circumstances that present themselves, and the best we can hope for is to roll with the punches. But really, we have to be active, to be intentional, to take initiative. I realize this.

The problem is, though, that I don't take iniative. That requires making a decision. It requires, so I thought, the foresight to see the hindsight. It sounds noble, doesn't it? It's impossible, though. How can we possibly ever see the future?

I don't purport to have all the answers, but I think I've found one. I've looked at the decisions I've made, including some very pronounced indecision, and at the crises that surrounded those decisions. Then, I solved for x. Okay, it was more of a guess-and-hope strategy, but when I plugged "fear of regret" into all the equations, they balanced.

I have been operating on the principle that I should know how everything will turn out. Somewhere along the timeline, I got the idea that looking at all the possibilities of cause and effect was healthy. And I don't know, maybe it is. But what happens is that I try to channel my future hindsight, and as soon as I detect the possibility of regret, I melt down.

I know the what-if game is supposed to be pointless. But I always thought of that in the context of looking at the past. Somehow I have excused it by looking to the future -- unforeseeable as it may be -- and playing the what-if game with decisions that haven't even been made yet.

I'm afraid I'll make the wrong decision. It's that simple.

The question remains, though, what exactly is it that I am afraid of? How bad is a bad decision? Obviously, there are some decisions that are just plain bad, but what about the ones that are more nebulous? It's like forcing gray to be either black or white.

What ever convinced me that I wouldn't be able to recover from a mistake? Who ever told me that once I'm in a dreadful situation I wouldn't be able to get out of it?

There was a student in the same third block class who once encouraged me with a quote after I had attempted to conduct an activity that had not worked at all. In disgust at my own choice of instruction and at the group's failure to cooperate, I said something about it having been an experiment that had completely failed. He raised his hand and said, "No experiment is a failure." I responded, "Why? Because we learn from it?" He nodded his head affirmatively.

We can hypothesize all we want, but we never know what results an experiment will yield until we have actually carried out the process. Maybe life is just an exercise in trial-and-error, in guess-and-hope. Or maybe there are scientific proofs and mathemathical equations we can use to predict everything and to avoid hardships, but something tells me that there aren't.

All I know is that when I'm trying to make a decision, all I can see is the possibility that, no matter what I choose, it all might go disastrously wrong. I forget that it all might go miraculously right. I just never know.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The theory of relativity

This summer, when Holly and I were traisping around Europe, we visited the apartment in Bern, Switzerland, in which Albert Einstein conceived the theory of relativity. After reading over the panels of information hanging on the walls and even making shadow puppets on wall where a documentary of his life was being projected, I still don't understand the theory of relativity. I just put my trust in the knowledge that it has influenced our lives and that being in the room where it sprang into his imagination is something of an interesting experience.

Now that fall is setting in, I spend my days in a high school classroom extolling the wonders of literature to students, sometimes to receive only blank stares in return. One of those blank stares came back to me when, in a what-I-thought-was-explanatory moment, I said, "Well, everything is relative, right?"

For whatever reason, I didn't take that moment to explain myself, but something occurred to me. This understanding of general relativity that some of us enjoy isn't innate. Somewhere along the line, probably in a university humanities or philosophy course, someone pointed out to us that everything is dependent on everything else for its quiddity. ["Quiddity" is a word I recently learned. It means essence or thingness.]

To define a word, we need other words. To define ourselves, we look to the selves of others and differentiate for meaning. For instance, I am a daughter only relative to my parents. If someday I have children, I will be a mother relative to their being my offspring, but I will still be a daughter. It is the paradox we live in.

Like, right now, I am a student teacher. The term "student teacher" itself seems an oxymoron, but it is apt. I am teaching my students, but I am still learning from my own teachers. I pass seamlessly from one end of the spectrum to the other without notice. But I wonder, do we retain something in this liquid process, or are we just mutable, intangible somethings -- real only within our contexts?

Leave it to me to look to a tree for answers, but I think this example helps me know that I am more than my relative definition: When growing up, I liked to play under trees. I have yet to explain this kinship with them except that, through the years, I have drawn more analogies between human existence and the nature of trees than I can now name. However, in the years before I realized my very existence could be explained through dendrological metaphors, I played beneath the backyard hickory nut tree.

I could bound out the backdoor of our trailer and run diagonally to the right, at some indeterminate angle, and land within a few seconds under my favorite tree. It was a rather uncomfortable play place, what with all the sharp, broken hickory nuts poking out of the ground, but I put them to good use and collected the bits as currency in my make-believe economy. (See, money really did grow on trees...) Eventually, however, I outgrew the tree, and its attraction and (monetary) value faded with my age. We moved away, too, so visiting the tree every afternoon wasn't feasible, even if we still owned the land on which it stood.

Now, around thirteen years later, my parents are building a house on the farm, which is where our trailer used to sit. Interestingly, though, the house has been built farther back on the property. The trailer, were it still around, would now be in the front yard of the new house. The hickory tree, though, still stands, and it is in the front yard. My beloved tree stands sentinel to the left of the front porch steps. (Left, that is, if you're coming down the steps. See, relativity.) So now the tree that I always viewed as "the backyard tree" is now a "front yard tree." Who knew how much orientation colored my understanding...

But this backyard/front yard tree, though my concept of it has changed, is not really different. Putting a house behind it didn't change it. Sure, it has grown another year's worth of leaves, bark, and hickory nuts, but beneath that is all the growth that happened during the years when it was behind the house and during the years when there was no house around it at all. No matter what situation we put the tree in, it is still the same.

Doesn't that mean something? Does it mean that no matter what situation I am in, no matter what definition I acquire due to my surroundings, I am still me? Maybe it is a simple understanding. And maybe I don't even understand the implications of it yet, but I like it.

I wonder if, someday, adventurous twentysomethings will make shadow puppets on these walls. I doubt it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

If I am alive this time next year.

After I had been blogging for a year or so, it became an OCD obsession of mine to make sure that I posted an entry to this blog at least once a month so that my archives list would always show consecutive months. Alas, this is no longer true.

It seems that blogging has fallen out of fashion among people I know. This is reasonable. I did not quit writing on the blog because it was, say, uncool -- whatever that may be. It petered out because I didn't have time to write, or I didn't have anything to say. While I am not sure much has changed, I find myself missing the blog. So here I am with a two-month gap in my archives list.

I am sitting in my apartment on this Wednesday night. I am only here briefly because, these summer days, I try to stay at home as much as possible. At home, I am spending my days trying to get prepared for student teaching this fall. It is still unreal to me that I won't walk Murray's campus anymore as a student enrolled in proper classes. While graduate school has been on my mind lately, it sure hasn't been a vision of Kentucky's Public Ivy bouncing around in my head. So, I am making my oh-so-blurry transition from student to teacher, a hazy area between the two ends of the continuum that I imagine I will never fully venture out of. I am excited to delve into America's literary history with a group of high school juniors this fall, but I can't help but already miss the classroom in which I am the student.

Anyhow, the things on my mind tonight? I am wondering what my hair will look like this time tomorrow. I am bravely handing over my hair to an unknown stylist who will hopefully do some magic to transfigure me from lazy student to semi-professional educator -- avoiding a "teacher" haircut at all costs.

Also, I am geekily anticipating the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I won't lie and say I am not excited. It always bugged me when certain childhood friends of mine used the word "excited" in such a way that it carried a negative connotation, meaning emotionally upset. Perhaps, though, this is what I mean here by "excited."

In the more traditional sense of the word, I am here to proclaim my exultation at the discovery that even the Murray WalMart stocks Nutella, the hazelnut and chocolate spread that enamors all those who have tasted it abroad. I was so excited that I even developed this somewhat-fraudulent graphic to display my relief.

With this probably being the one and only post added to my blog in the light of this "rededication," I say so long. Perhaps I will keep it up. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Don't go breaking my heart.

The past week has been interesting, indeed.
  • I got my nose pierced. This, of course, is old news these days.
  • I had my first accident in which I am the one to blame. Backed into a car in the Corvette Lanes parking lot. You can get any classier than that.
  • I found out my rent is going up and that my landlady wants me to sign a new contract. This puts me in a particularly precarious position as far as living arrangements go. Who knows where I'll be nine months from now, much less a year, which means I can't sign a year contract. Which means that I don't know where I'll be living, like, a month from now. Oh, I think I just had an instantaneous nervous breakdown.
  • And other assorted matters of the heart which I cannot quite verbalize.

I am putting my Scholars Week presentation together. Me, oh my. What fun.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

First thing I remember.

middlefield pond 006

This title of this entry is in honor of the realization I had about the parallel structure of Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening" and Better than Ezra's "Recognize." Not that it's earth-shattering. It's just that I realized it all of a sudden and was surprised at how I had missed it for so long.

To be honest, the only reason I'm checking in here is to say that I've been feeling as intense need to be creative. Maybe it has something to do with spring. I've made a purse, which is what I am most proud of. I've redesigned this blog thing. Kinda. I've been shooting some pictures. I feel like busting out my watercolors. To paint what, I'm not sure.

The good question, though, is why the heck am I sitting in the library?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's just this thing the seasons do.

I acknowledged my station in adulthood yesterday. I bought a living room suit. Sofa, chair, ottoman. Goodbye futon, hello real people furniture.

Spring break is over, and it signals the homestretch for my last semester of classes. Next semester is student teaching. That's it. Then graduation.

But there's lots to look forward to, you know, besides being an adult. Like going to Austria and assorted other European destinations with my best friend.

And wearing my new wardrobe, here and abroad. It's not new clothes, really. I just had a wardrobe renaissance today. I rearranged it and ended up with something quite nice. It involves lots of flip flops, skirts, and necklaces. Quite girly, in fact.

Oh, and I made myself a purse tonight. A hobo sling, if you will. Joy of joys.

On a family excursion to WalMart, I laid the most superficial (er, girly) stack of purchases on the conveyor belt that I've ever seen. Us Weekly magazine, makeup, and the American Beauty DVD. Not that American Beauty the film is superficial. But, you know, the whole beauty thing.

It's warm. My apartment windows are up and the fans are on. Leaves are budding. Blooms are blooming. I'm happy indeed.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The weight of tomorrow.

I took an hour-long nap today on a couch in Waterfield for no other reason than I couldn't make it home before I fell asleep. That was a strange experience. It was one of the best naps ever, and I took it while about a hundred people milled around me, getting their homework done.

I got three interlibrary loan books today. One of which I don't need anymore because it relates to research topic number two. I've opted for research topic version 3.5. I am glad practicum is almost over because I am actually quite excited about examining Sandra Cisneros and her book The House on Mango Street within the new American canon. It involves both of my majors and education, even. Hopefully I can stay motivated.

One of my professors is coming to observe me teaching tomorrow. It will be my last day at the school. I am a little stressed -- surprise, surprise -- because today's class got out of control. I am going to have to do an unexpected lesson tomorrow on how to use and to cite sources. Great fun.

This has been a great learning experience for me. I know that I have a long way to go to become an effective teacher (ooh, that phrasing feels like the product of being brainwashed by the teacher preparation program), and I am excited about having my own classroom with my own students to teach. I worry, though, how much I am making an impact on these students' futures while I thrash about, making a trial-and-error process of their educations. I wonder, after a week of making them think about their opinons on immigration, are they still closed minded? Tomorrow is my last chance -- or last cha, if you will -- to see to it that I'll be leaving these students in a better state than I found them.

The weight of tomorrow just got heavier.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I can't believe it, but it is true.

  • I just taught an English II class for four days. Almost successfully.
  • My best friend forever slash is on the road right now, less than two hours from Murray!
  • The same man for whom I've driven over 2,000 miles (total round trip nileage) to see over the past few years, the same man who is on the cover of this week's Rolling Stone named as a Guitar God, the same man who just won 2 Grammy awards on Sunday is in this town right now. Murray. Kentucky.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hold the apples, at least for a few more minutes.

It's Saturday night, and I'm getting ready to make a Viewing Guide to go along with a ChannelOne video series called "Crossing the Border." I've already make a grade book, a rather detailed assignment sheet explaining how to "picture a poem" using Google Images and PowerPoint, a unit anticipation guide, a unit reflection guide, a scoring guide for the reflection guide... The list goes on. All of this is only a portion of what I've done (and what I've yet to do) in preparation for teaching an English II class for a little over a week. One class. One week. And I haven't even taught yet.

I don't like how this bodes for my future.

But who am I kidding? I actually enjoy all of this, and I think working with the students -- all this planning in action -- will be fun, too. Even if the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Hopefully I can deal.

Last night, I was watching the 10 o'clock news at my sister's house. When the sports segment came on, I found myself engrossed in the report on the Calloway County versus Graves County boys' basketball game. Who knew I cared? But oh, how I did when I saw one of "my" students on the ol' television making a play. I was so proud, and I haven't even taught the kid yet.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if this really is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. Not that I've even started yet. And not that I hadn't been planning it all along.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

There's a reason I love IMDB.

Eighteen-year-old Zach Braff. And to think, I remember watching this episode of Babysitters Club. I didn't have a clue I'd fall for the geeky (or as they say, "really cute, don't you think?") David Cummings, like, twelve years later.

Enjoy the flashback.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's not you; it's me.

Just this past semester, I wrote on the front of one of my classes' folders: I HATE POETRY. It wasn't true, even then. Maybe it was the class, the professor, the specific poem that we were harassing as a group. Or rather, it was the way the professor was using the poem to harass us that made me write it in capital letters, to emphasize my disgust. That's the thing. Over the past years as a literature student, I've come to view poetry as a weapon scholars use to batter us intellectual fledglings into humble submission.

It makes me sad. So much so that a couple years ago, I wrote a research paper about ways to make poetry seem less intimidating in the classroom. Hoping that students and poetry can be friends, I decided that the microteaching that I have to deliver in a couple weeks ought to be about poetry. So I set out on the search to find the poem to incorporate into my lesson. I still haven't found a poem I want to "teach," but I have found my new favorite poet.

Introducing Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate and NY State Poet, and his poem "Thesaurus."

It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.

It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.

Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.

See, I don't hate poetry. Thank God, because this stuff makes me happy.

It was this passage from the poem "Reading Myself to Sleep" that had me at hello: "and the only movement in the night is the slight / swirl of curtains, the easy lift and fall of my breathing, / and the flap of pages as they turn in the wind of my hand." Aaaah.

So now I'm going to go put fresh sheets on my bed and read myself to sleep.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The grass may be greener on the other side, but it still needs mowing.

Apparently I have to keep moving to stay sane. I'm back in Murray for a refresher. I have things I want to get done. While I don't mind whiling away the hours at home, well, I can only knit so much before I go insane.

I've made myself a decent-sized list of things to do tomorrow. I'm not calling it a new year's resolution or anything, but I'm actually going to try to get a jump-start on this semester. I can already feel that once it gets started, it'll snowball out o' control. It's best to not put things off, so says my conscience.

I'm uploading a handful of photos to Flickr. I got a handy-dandy tripod for Christmas, so during the last few seconds of daylight on New Year's Eve, I tore it out of the package and used it to shoot a few fun-filled photos. Yay for alliteration!

Were somebody to force me to make a resolution, it would be to write more. Yeah.