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Unlocking Chains-An Attempt To Journal

I started writing in a journal the other night. I regularly start journals and rarely write in them for more than an entry or two. I am wretched at journaling. I’ve tried every combination of journal and writing tool, hoping the right blend will inspire me to fill shelves full of journals with chronicles of my life and bits of creativity and genius. I tried moleskins because those are cool and literary feeling and I think I heard somewhere that’s what Ernest Hemingway used. I’ve tried cute journals with drawings on the cover, school spirals, small notebooks, large notebooks, digital journals. My current journal is a composition notebook because I am a teacher and have a cupboard full of them. I am writing with a Bic blue ballpoint pen because that is ALL I can write with these days.

Except I am still crap at journaling.

I have realized that the problem isn’t so much the medium on and with which I am writing, but what I am writing. I have a crippling fear of actually extracting the thoughts in my brain and putting them on paper. Writing my thoughts gives them voice and makes them real and when they are real they can be judged and that is terrifying. I once went through all my old diaries and partial journals from my childhood and burned them because I was so afraid of someone finding them and reading about the crush I had on Peter when I was in the 7th grade or reading what was going through my head while my body went through puberty. Because that shit was crazy. While I wear so much of my life out loud, I deeply guard so much of myself. With really big chains!

So I am trying with this new journal. I am trying to step outside my fear and write every day. I am going to write ideas that are terrible and write stories that are honest. Maybe this time I will fill a journal, and even someday, a shelf.

A Letter To Neil Gaiman

Dear Neil Gaiman,

Last year I sat on the carpet with a fresh group of fourth graders and with marker and paper in hand, we began the tradition of brainstorming what our class name would be. “Miss G’s Giraffe’s” and “Miss G’s Gerbils” made the list, but nothing seemed worthy of making the cut. Alliteration is fine and all, but this was to be our identity for the year and we needed something that felt right. And then one student raised her hand and said, “How about the Phoenixes. I mean, we aren’t always perfect and we definitely mess up and have bad days, but just like a phoenix, we always get to start over.” Throughout the year, I watched as the Phoenix allowed us to forge incredible bonds and become so much more than the design on our shirt. We took risks, faced fears, looked out for each other, celebrated successes and offered encouragement and helping hands. We had each other’s backs because we were all in this together. We were Phoenixes.

We are still phoenixes. Another group has joined our classroom nest and we are once again sitting on the carpet with marker and paper in hand. Only this time, it is to come up with a Phoenix slogan and decide on important details like color scheme and font. One student lamented today, “I wish we could get it in Neil Gaiman’s handwriting. That would be better than any font” And suddenly the room was filled with the cacophonous agreement of 19 ten year olds all shouting (because 10 year olds only shout) “YES!! That would be the best!”

These kids are that cool. They are literary nerds and book worms. They totally get why I have a full size TARDIS door in my classroom and think I should frame the tweet you sent me last week and hang it on the wall. These are kids who come from all kinds of diverse backgrounds and academic levels, and who see the world in so many different and magical ways. They will try every plea and bribe hoping I will read “Just one more chapter! PLEEEEASE!!” of whatever story I am reading aloud. This week we are in Coraline’s world. We will enter many more Gaiman worlds before the year is over.

So, from 19 amazing ten year olds who are daring to face fears and take risks, knowing that failure and success are all part of the academic journey, we are wondering if you would lend us your handwriting for our t-shirts. They have decided to go with the chant we say at the end of each day:

 ”Rising From The Ashes, Phoenixes On Fire!” 

It will be accompanied by a stellar drawing from one of the students. We promise to send you one of the shirts and dub you an honorary Phoenix. Even if you don’t, we’ll still probably dub you one anyway. We’re a pretty welcoming crew.

Thank you for your consideration, your creativity, and your stories.

Sincerely,

Ms. G and the Phoenixes

UPDATE: Neil is the BEST and responded within minutes! My students and I totally flipped! What a top notch guy! 

Stories From The Trenches: Teacher Tales

When I want my students to listen to directions (ALL of the directions), I tell them that they cannot move until I finish and say the magic word. The first time I said this they immediately wanted to know what the magic word was. Truthfully, I had no plan and was totally bullshitting. And when they made me stop and think of it, I didn’t want to tell them any old word because then they would start moving without my finishing directions and they’d be all, But you just said the word! Because 10 year olds are all about semantics. So I said, You’ll know it when you hear it. 

When that time came I realized I hadn’t actually come up with a word, so  at the top of my lungs I shouted out the most magical thing I could think of. UNICORN!!!!! And then I got my unicorn figurine from the bin of toys I keep behind my desk (but don’t let my students play with) and put him up on the screen with the projector.

Now my students won’t do anything until the unicorn dictates it. Because magic. And pooping rainbows (which sometimes I will scream in class, just because).

Why yes, that is my storm trooper in the background.
Why yes, that is my storm trooper in the background.

“Things I Say When I’m Not On Drugs” or “Why I am an Elementary School Teacher”

Last month my appendix decided it no longer wanted in on our relationship and it was decided that it should be removed. It was a terrifying experience and one that I was entirely unprepared for. I had driven myself to the emergency room thinking this was going to be an expensive way for a doctor to tell me it was nothing or that I just needed to fart. Instead, they told me they would be removing an organ from my body and they were prepping the OR immediately. It was overwhelming and scary and lonely and I couldn’t help but cry. Maybe a lot. I assured the nurse that I was being brave, even though there were tears on my face. She told me that I was definitely brave.  That made me cry more.

A friend of mine showed up to hold my hand and tell me that everything was going to be all right. I’m not sure what I would have done if he hadn’t been there. For sure it would have involved many more tears than there already were. But even he couldn’t be there for all of it. At some point, they make the kind friend go to a waiting room and then wheel me down a long, scary, fluorescent-lit hall way to an operating room.

I assume that everyone channels someone or something when they are scared and being forced into bravery. Maybe it’s a person or a mantra. Mine was Coraline Jones. Spunky, blue-haired literary character who faces evil “other mother’s” while wearing yellow rain boots. That entire ride down the hall and up the elevator and down another hall, I kept thinking, I’m going to be brave like Coraline. I’m going to be brave like Coraline. I’m going to be brave like Coraline. And I was. Or at least I felt braver. When I got onto the operating table, they were plugging me in and getting everything ready and I told all the doctors and nurses, I’m totally being brave like Coraline right now! The nurse laughed and agreed.

And then they gave me the drugs.

I have decided to dress as Coraline at this year’s Comic Con. It is my homage to the literary gem who helped me be brave, even when I was afraid.

grumbly things

I was so excited for this year because everything wasn’t going to be new anymore. I knew the routines and I knew what to expect. Except EVERYTHING changed! For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, our wonderful schedules and routines that had been built and tested over many years were thrown into a jar with a bunch of nails and scratchy objects, shaken up, dumped out and proclaimed as official. Or something like that. It has made for a very grumbly work environment these past two weeks because adjusting is hard and the bags under my eyes are especially brooding and my voice is shot and my back hurts and AAAAHHHHH I JUST WANT TO YELL!! Yesterday someone asked me if I’d gotten caught in some kind of wind outside. No, I said. It’s just been a long day. Today I was called a zombie. 

I’m trying my best not to be grumbly or yell loudly with lots of screams (because it scares Cooper). It is a challenge that is taking a lot of tea, a stack of Neil Gaiman books, extra snuggles from Cooper and (as soon as I get it fixed…) a lot of scooter rides because it’s hard to be grumbly while zipping along with the warm Texas wind in my face.

 

While We’re On The Topic Of Camping…

I ventured camping this weekend and while some called me crazy for sleeping outdoors in the sweltering Texas heat, it was the perfect thing to do after my first week back to school. Escapism at its best. And there was a breeze and we were on the water and I didn’t plan a single lesson, so it was quite delightful.

Cooper was also a fan of camping weekend. He swam and splashed and swam some more. He was only displeased that the company didn’t seem to fall for his big, adorable, “I see you have a sausage in your hands and I happen to love sausage” eyes.

An Ode To My Tent

I saw you across the old, funky smelling warehouse that was Tent City and I knew you would be mine. I was sixteen and often fantasized the day when camping with my family (all of our vacations meant camping) would no longer mean sharing a cramped space with my parents and brothers. You would be my independence, my privacy, my sanctuary!

With the help of my saved up paychecks, you came into my life for good. You were perfect. You were mine. Through the peak of my awkward adolescence, you protected me from the elements and the kicking and prodding of gross, smelly brothers. You stayed with me into adulthood for campouts, adventures, and a place to rest my head when we ran out of beds at large family gatherings.

You have traveled up and down the eastern coast, seen mountains, oceans, lakes and rivers. You shared a cool breeze when Mother Nature thought to offer one, and always kept me dry when her moods were not ideal.

You have been my outdoor home for half of my life and this weekend as I took stock of your wearing seams and rugged edges, I wondered how many adventures you still have in you. I am not sure it is many.

You have been a trusty companion and of all the tents in that old warehouse in the shady part of town, I would pick you every time.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologist

A few weeks ago I had an appointment with the gynecologist. It was a routine visit, one that both my vagina and I are used to and I casually lay back on the table with a blanket draped over my pantsless legs while I waited for the doctor. He walked in carrying my chart, stopped,  looked at me and pronounced loudly,

“What are you doing on birth control??”

What? Was there something wrong with my birth control? That’s not what that appointment was about. What?

“Why aren’t you having babies?? You should be having lots of babies!”

Wait, what??

“Um, because I don’t have a husband?” I responded, wondering where this conversation was headed.

“That doesn’t matter! You should be having babies! You’re tall and skinny. Tall, skinny girls should have lots of babies.”

I mean, I was flattered but…WHAT? The HELL??

“haha, I’m a teacher, those kids are plenty for me.”

“So you know how cute they are! You should be having a whole brood!” He smiled and continued with my examination.

A brood??? Good God what was happening??

And suddenly my routine visit was not so routine because both my vagina and I had been working hard NOT to be full of broods and could this man be trusted or was he down there syringing a broods worth of sperm into me? And I didn’t know what to do because I am not equipped to handle Dr 1952 (who apparently did not have 1952 feelings on single parenting) and THERE IS NOTHING MORE VULNERABLE THAN HAVING YOUR FEET IN STIRRUPS AND A MAN FEELING AROUND YOUR VAGINA TELLING YOU TO HAVE ALL THE BABIES!

“Looks good.”

Healthy good or baby good??

“Umm. Thanks?”

“Just go out and get pregnant!” and he smiled even more and held his hands wide as if hugging all the babies of the world and walked out of the door.

I stayed there a moment and wondered if it had all been real. My vagina and I are so used to living in our strong, independent, liberal, girl power, age that we’d forgotten 1952 is sometimes still alive and well. I assured her that we would be having no babies any time soon and I wasn’t sure how many were in a brood, but we probably wouldn’t have that ever.

And then I shook my head and laughed because sometimes life is just ridiculous.

A Day At The Races

Turtle racing is real, y’all and while I thought I had stumbled upon some new new and novel idea, apparently it’s a ‘thing’ in lots of places, including Austin. It involves a ring, in the center of which are placed the turtles, marked with numbers. First one to make it outside the circle wins. For all it lacks in complication, it delivers in whimsy and delightful fun. I mean, it’s turtle races!

What I did over my summer vacation

I am likely going to ask this question of my students in just over a week when I will once again set my alarm for ungodly early hours and spend my days with rowdy 10 year olds as I attempt to mold them into book loving, problem solving, Doctor Who loving nerds. But what exactly have I been up to this summer?

1. I traveled up to the northeast for family time and respite. It included a stay in the Adirondacks where I hiked and sat in waterfalls, slept in hammocks and read ALL the books. I also went to Maine and tried to help them out with their plethora of lobsters problem (I don’t think it’s really a problem). And then maybe got food poisoning from eating so many lobsters and puked in three different states while driving back home. I have no regrets. Because lobster.

2. My fish, Allen Ginsberg, committed suicide, which I was pretty sad about. So I replaced him with a pink and purple fish named Sylvia Plath. You know, just in case she has the same idea…

3. I broke my appendix. And then doctors removed it and now I have three super cool scars on my belly. Guys dig chicks with scars.

I kept making E.T. jokes. I probably would have made them even if I wasn’t on a lot of drugs.
I kept making E.T. jokes. I probably would have made them even if I wasn’t on a lot of drugs.

4. I was feeling blue one day, so I bought a Bearded Dragon and named her Elizabeth Bennet. I have no reasonable explanation for getting her, and even though I previously thought I hated all lizardy creatures, I am totally smitten with her. She will eventually live in my classroom, which is good because Cooper hates her. Also the crickets I feed her. He’s kind of beside himself.

5. I learned how to change a spark plug in my scooter and even though most people have rolled their eyes at me because it’s “super easy to change a spark plug”, I am super proud of myself because before this summer, I didn’t even know what a spark plug was. I’m so fucking handy!

6. I dyed my hair pink. Well, ‘atomic magenta’ to be exact. I love it so much even if I’m pretty sure my family doesn’t really know what to make of me.

7. I went to the beach and put my feet into the Texas Gulf. But just my feet. Because sharks.

8. I bet on a turtle race.

9. I watched an embarrassing amount of reality television. But I also read about a dozen books, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

10. I stargazed and howled at a full moon. I watched the sun rise and set. I danced and built blanket forts when it rained. I laughed and smiled more than I cried. I made grown-up adult decisions and sometimes ate a lot of fruit loops to deal with the consequences of some of those decisions. I listened to a lot of music. I slept. Sometimes I did nothing, just because I could. I checked off most of the things on my No Bummer Summer list (my appendix got in the way of a few of my plans. Glad that bastard’s gone!)

Since this photo I have also checked off sandcastle, beach day, make out (hells yea!), bubbles, night swim, rooftop, bbq, outdoor movie, drive-in, swing set and picnic.
Since this photo I have also checked off sandcastle, beach day, make out (hells yea!), bubbles, night swim, rooftop, bbq, outdoor movie, drive-in, swing set and picnic.

And now I am ready for another school year. I am ready to be a second-year teacher and perhaps not be as entirely overwhelmed as I was last year. I am excited for routine and purpose, even if it means having to set my alarm back to those ungodly early hours. Last year did a number on me and this summer brought me back to life. It feels good.