Monday, November 25, 2019

Utah Offers Housing

You are on the park bench, bags at your feet.

A nighttime DJ voice escapes from your gentle face. You could have been in broadcasting.
Who are you talking to? To no one? To someone?
You are a father, a brother, a son.
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash
Perhaps you are explaining.
Perhaps reciting histories.
Bible verses. 
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
7 a.m., too early for such lofty thoughts.  My post-run coffee is calling my name.
Is there coffee waiting for you somewhere? Was there, once? What was your life like, then?

You are on the light rail, bags at your feet.
Sleeping, hunched over on 3 seats, head buried in a coat.
Your burgundy suede Timberlands are incongruous with your sweatpants.
A gift? A purchase too dear? A remnant of former prosperity?
It’s cold outside, but in here, it is warm, as we gently and noisily rock towards the airport. Through the neighborhoods. Slicing through the drizzling rain. You sleep.

You high-five your friends as you meet down by the water. All following the unspoken, practical dress code of canvas jackets, hoodies, backpacks, and grocery bags at your feet. Fathers. Brothers. Sons.

You hold your Big Gulp with clenched hands and richocheting eyes, speaking too loudly; cookies in a ziplock, furtively eating on the bus.

Who are you? I wonder.
How did you get here?
What broke?
Can it be fixed?

Can the system be saved? Is there a solution?
We talk in the comfort of our car, driving home from Baltimore. “Utah offers housing. Because without a home, we can’t even begin to address the mental health issues and the physical health issues that are driving people into the streets."

Utah offers housing. That’s a start, we say. 

You stumble out of your house as you wave at me cheerfully.
Stumblin’ Mark, we joke.
You serenade the neighborhood with Barry Manilow and Cream and NPR.
I post your musical escapades on Facebook.
Your faithful dog shits in my yard on the daily, but when they take you to jail again, I tentatively slide into the door off your back deck to make sure that the dog can get out and that someone will feed him.
Your second-shift job stopped years ago, as I am no longer awakened by the loud conversation at 4 a.m. as you get dropped off.
The dog gets slower and slower and then disappears.

Sometimes I see you walking with your backpack down to QD and back.
You get the mail occasionally.
Once we talked for a long time about kids these days as I planted flowers in the front yard.
Your son used to come over to your house. Loud arguments, doors slam. Car races away.
The camper sat listlessly in the side yard until one day it was inhabited with your ex-wife and more dogs than windows. We called animal control. I was afraid.
The camper and inhabitants were gone the next day.

Your house has been dark for a year now. 
No lights, no noises.
I think that the landlord should do something.
I think you might still be there. Once, the door was open.
I consider calling the police, but I don’t want to waste their time. 
I heard that your brother was trying to get you on benefits.
But I haven’t heard your music in years.
Maybe you moved out? 
Your long-dead car is still in the driveway; the Big Lebowski bumper sticker starting to peel.

I saw you walking to the mailbox last month. No longer stumbling, you could barely maintain a shuffle. You looked bad, man.
I thought to myself, you might die in that house and we wouldn’t know for weeks.
Would there be a smell? Would the police come?

They think you’ve been dead for quite awhile.

We’d been under a pretty strong freeze for a few weeks, so there’s one question answered. No smell.

Who were you?
How did you get here?
What broke?
Could you have been saved?
If I’d bothered to move from pity to pathy, would I have then offered you anything more than humorous derision? Would I have bothered to learn your real name?
Where was my responsibility in all this?
Was it enough to listen for the music and wait for the smell?
Was it enough?

- Mark Donald Thompson - May 1963 - November 2019 -

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ode to Winter

Winter, you suck.

Photo by Valentin B. Kremer on Unsplash

First, you are cold. It is impossible to dress in you. Put on heavy jeans and and two shirts and a sweatshirt and heavy socks because the hallways are cold...But then the coat doesn’t fit. Take off the sweatshirt, pack it in a grocery bag along with the real shoes, put the coat back on. Add gloves and a scarf? Can’t add a hat because hat head is really not a good thing when your hair is the only thing that makes you not look dead in January. Put the boots on, even though bending over in these jeans squeezes your kidneys like a sausage and now you have to pee.

Open the door and feel your nose hairs freeze. Skate across the frozen puddle of dog pee right outside the door because he ain’t going out in that, no way. Waddle out to the car. Turn it on. Listen to the grating sound of the wipers on the icy windshield while you find the scraper. Scrape the windows (try not to scrape the car) and live with the fact that you just woke your octogenarian neighbor up and it’s still dark outside.

Because, second of all, winter, (you asshole), you are so freakin’ dark. Like, unnecessarily dark. Needlessly dark. Redundantly dark. The entire state trudges through all the months of standard time because of our collective seasonal affective disorder. We have a drinking problem and we eat far too many potatoes and I blame this all on you. Sure, some people pretend to like to ski, but they live above my pay grade. I do not do “the winter sport,” unless drinking more stouts and porters counts as sport (it really should); the Y smells like chlorinated Brussels sprouts this time of year, but I drag my bloated potato body there and hoist myself onto a treadmill and sadly, mournfully jog because it is too dark outside to brave the ice and the oncoming traffic.

Not only is the ground frozen and our hopes and dreams and hair and skin shriveled beyond rehydration, but the produce has also given up pretending. The strawberries are pale. The grapes are depressed. The apples are losing their luster. The cucumbers are barely erect. The root vegetables are beginning to look like the backs of my middle-aged hands. The oranges taunt me with their Florida glow, but there will be seeds and too much pulp mocking me if I dare to momentarily dream of vitamin C from natural sources.

Winter, you are cold and grey. You are grits with no cheese or salt. You are oatmeal with no sugar. You are porridge with no butter. You are instant mashed potatoes with no milk. You are comfort foods stripped of their comfort. You are miserable and I am miserable and I am not leaving my couch again until the sun breaks through the clouds and Daylight Saving Time rescues all of us from our ennui and pending morbid obesity.

Somebody bring me a porter. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

I got catcalled on my 47th birthday.

This was not your standard "walking by construction site in excellent shoes and catcalled by man in yellow hardhat" that one experiences from the ages of 12 - 38; this was a whistle ricocheting off the ice crystals of a November morning, sent out the open window of an early 2000's silver Honda Civic with a bike rack on the back, aimed toward me as I jogged up the hill at the end of my morning run, unbrushed hair straggling out under a stocking cap, mismatched socks showing under too-short running pants that kept spontaneously rolling down my perimenopausal muffin-top in 30 second intervals.

I glanced around. Was that whistle meant for me? Was it an ironic whistle, mocking the middle-aged lady shuffling up the hill? A generous whistle sent in the false belief that women like to be whistled at? A whistle sent by someone I vaguely know? (If so, why would you cat-call? Do you even know me at all?) A whistle mistakenly sent in a case of false recognition and then instantly regretted?

And, how, exactly should I feel about that whistle? There was no one else around. It was clearly meant for me. The car kept driving; it did not slow down. I did not feel particularly vulnerable. I did feel like I should be offended--yet  I was mostly amused, my self-deprecating brain inventing 27 rebuttals on the spot.

And then I started to over-analyze my self-deprecation. Was I implying that I was not worthy of a catcall? Too middle-aged? Too plus-sized? Too awkwardly-gaited? A woman beyond repair? A woman beyond (possibly ironic or mistaken) appreciation?

I am just as worthy of being degraded as any other woman out there, dammit!

This is my dilemma.

And so I have made a decision.

I am going to own this catcall, just this one time, as an act of true appreciation for how truly amazing I am. I am a work in progress, to be sure. But I am a damn fine piece of work, refusing to age gracefully, refusing to go quietly, refusing to be anything other than who I am today.

Today, I got catcalled. Today, I am 47. Today, is a pretty fine day, and today I am pretty fine.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Just Write Something

The challenge for November: Write Every Day.

Just write something. Write something meaningful.

Today, I wrote 7 things on a list and crossed 4 of them off.

I wrote an impact statement to DonorsChoose donors for funding my project.
I wrote a request to DonorsChoose asking if I could hand-deliver thank you cards to donors from students (they said no).

I wrote lesson plans for the sub for Monday and Tuesday.

I wrote 4 text messages to the kids’ grandpa, 4 text messages to a student who seemed down, 3 text messages to my mom, 2 text messages to my girl scouts co-leader, and an email to my daughter asking her why she wanted me to email her English teacher. I then wrote an email to my daughter’s English teacher, giving my daughter permission to read a book in class.

I wrote 4 responses to friends on Facebook (2 responses were snarky).

I wrote several messages on Messenger to Alicia, about surviving the day, and several more to Noel, about surviving the next election.

I wrote an email to my principal (why is it so HOT in my room? And why did the guy from Herff Jones talk to the seniors about partying, getting married as they stand before God, and their gender identity --only choices available? male or female-- all in an attempt to get their orders for graduation gowns before 8 a.m.?).

I wrote an email to my whole building asking if anyone was going over to the middle school who could deliver a package, an email to the middle school teacher (the recipient of said package), and another email to my whole building pointing out that the Powerteacher gradebook might delete full assignments with all entered grades if you tried to change anything about the assignment after it was recorded.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
I wrote an email to the parents of my English 3 students, informing them of upcoming assessments and midterm feedback.

I wrote a Creative Writing project for next week and posted it to Google Classroom.

It is 1:30 p.m. I could use some coffee.

I really want to write a blog post. Something that feels meaningful. Something that feels like my soul gets to speak up. But I’m too busy writing, it seems.

Monday, May 20, 2019

"My heart hurts," she said.

She came into my classroom, clearly agitated. I had a mountain of grading to do, but I could tell this couldn't wait. I asked her what was up.

"Have you seen what's going on in Alabama? In Georgia? In Missouri? I can't even process this. I just can't. I'm so afraid."

And we talked.

We talked about my own miscarriage years ago at 6 weeks pregnant, when my uterus reabsorbed the embryo, which would have been the size of a pomegranate seed. With no proof of natural miscarriage except for exceptional cramping, dropping hormone rates, and extensive bleeding, could I have been investigated for murder under these new laws?

We talked about the 4 miscarriages her own mom had endured; about the endometriosis that runs in her family, making dangerous ectopic pregnancies highly probable. "Why do these people value a fetus more than they value my life?" she asked. "Why isn't my own life important? If I got pregnant, I could die. Why do they value the not-born more than the born?"

She showed me the social media posts she had seen, where old men were spouting highly unscientific "facts" about pregnancy, clearly showing no understanding of women's bodies, nor of gestational development.
Photo by Victor Lozano on Unsplash

"My heart hurts," she said. "Why don't they value our lives?"

And what could I say to calm her fears?

Later in the day, another student came into the room, 20 minutes late to class. She kept her face hidden, her hair hiding her eyes. She handed me her late pass, avoiding eye contact. I asked her if she was okay. "Yeah," she said.

But I knew. I knew she was not okay. These men ranting about adoption and rape and insisting that pregnancies conceived in rape were more important than the women who had been raped were causing harm to this girl. This girl, who has been abused and raped as a child, was reliving those moments again and again, triggered by the news telling her that her horrors would have been blessing, were she only lucky enough to get pregnant.

What can I say to alleviate her pain?

Still later, on Facebook, a former student and dear friend works through her own pain, dealing with the anniversary of her ectopic pregnancy and the health scares and crippling depression that followed. Daily, she is stunned by the men spouting fallacies about "transplanting embryos" as she attempts to get on with her life and heal her body and her heart.

What can I say to help her heal?

Another hour, another beautiful girl, 6 months pregnant, takes a seat and opens her journal. She writes about the moment she realized she was pregnant, eating breakfast with her grandma at Bob Evans.

And still, two hours later, another pregnant girl, this one a senior, smiling gently, knowing that she will graduate. Knowing that she will not go to college or open her yoga studio or follow the dreams she once had.

These pregnant teenage girls will never again be able to jump on a trampoline, sprint down the hall, or do jumping jacks without peeing their pants. These girls will have their perineum torn as they give birth. They will have stitches, stretch marks, and scars. They will never be able to go out with friends without spending a fortune on a babysitter. They will never sleep through the night. They will probably never earn their future 79 cents on the dollar like the other women in our country who were lucky enough to not get knocked up during their high school years. And their babies will have a higher chance of crib death, learning disabilities, addiction, and childhood poverty.

My own daughter turns 13 next month.

I lost my virginity when I was 13, not entirely by choice. Thankfully, I escaped pregnancy.

What do I say to my daughter to keep her safe?

How do we explain to our girls this fetishization of the fetus, the valuing of a life only if it remains unborn, in its pure, virginal state?

Because our girls are watching; they are listening. And they understand that if these laws are allowed to stand, it means that we value a fetus--a heartbeat, but no brain and no ability to feel pain--more than we value the beautiful young women forced to give birth. Our girls have hearts that hurt with this knowledge that they are not valued, nor are they truly wanted once they have been born.

Monday, May 13, 2019

There is gum on my bathroom wall...

Tonight, as we were getting ready for bed, my partner yelled for me to come upstairs. What was this thing adhered to the wall in the bathroom next to the mirror? Was it some sort of leech? a cocoon? a snail? a horrible pod of spider eggs? What exactly was stuck to the wall next to the bathroom mirror?

On closer examination, we determined that it was, in fact, gum. Which totally makes sense, because my 10 year old son bought a pack of gum with his allowance earlier in the week, when I let him ride his bike to QD after school...

But why is there gum now stuck on the bathroom wall? Was he saving it for later? Or was an experiment to see how long it would stick there?

I mean, I know my kid. I get it. I know what happened. He had gum in his mouth and he was told to brush his teeth and he was supposed to floss and brush his retainer, but he had gum in his mouth that he wanted to save. And, hey, look outside the window, is that a squirrel? And now, looking back in the mirror, what if he held his head at this weird angle, then he'd look like an alien! And if he flexed like this, he looks like Hulk! And now mom is yelling, "hurry up because we are going to be late again!" And was that another squirrel outside? And "I'm coming, mom, I'm coming as fast as I can!" and "Come ON! We're going to be late AGAIN!" And...

And now there is a wad of gum stuck on the wall next to the bathroom mirror.

But this kid--this kid is amazing. This kid had to create a city at school yesterday that had clothing and food and books and money, but his group was only given construction paper at their table to create their entire city and they ran out of time before they'd created the clothing for their residents...and this kid...he saved the project by announcing to the class that their city was called Nude York. This kid, who is so smart and so funny and so kind and so clever, is also the kid who stuck gum on the wall in the bathroom next to the mirror.

I know this kid will be an incredible adult someday. After all, he's a pretty incredible kid. But he's also a kid who will stick gum on a wall and then somehow forget about it. And I'm just not sure that the M-Step or whatever other standardized measures of proficiency we create will be able to accurately measure this kid. I'm just not sure that he will thrive in school without being ground down into submission and bubble sheets if a squirrel happens to be outside the classroom window.

There is a wad of gum on my bathroom wall. And I'm hoping that some rubbing alcohol and peanut butter will fix it and all's well that ends well, but I also know, deep down... that there is a very good chance that my kid will be measured out there by the gum he sticks on the wall and not by his clever save of the city of Nude York. I don't know how to focus his power for good, and I don't know how to tell my son that Nude York was a genius move, even if it didn't earn him the points, and honestly, I'm not entirely sure how to get the last of the gum residue off the wall next to the mirror in my bathroom.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Too much.

Too loud.

Too bossy.

Too thick.

Too driven.

Too sarcastic.

Too bitchy.

Too cold.

Too much hair.

Too much baggage.

Too many shoes.

Too many books.

Too many opinions.

Too many tattoos.

Too many expectations.

Too progressive.

Too obsessive.

Too sweary.

Too perfectionist.

Too complicated.

Too much.

Challenge accepted

She challenged us to post about how we loved our bodies.

It reminded me of something I wrote several years ago.


These legs.

You’ve got legs like a piano bench, he said. What does that even mean? I was 8, or 10. or maybe 12.

I internalized that he meant that my legs were like tree trunks. But tree trunks don’t look like a
piano bench. Piano bench legs are delicate. My legs are not. Perhaps he meant that I have no
ankles, which is a fair assessment.

These legs. These legs have been a lifelong struggle.

Always pushing me into the next sized clothing, even if that size fits no where else. These legs
make me a mudder, not a sprinter. All the romance heroines have grey eyes and delicate
ankles. Clearly, those books are not written about women like me.

These legs.

You have old lady veins in your legs! She said. And she was right. I was 17. How many
procedures have I had, do I have before I give up, and just deal with these old lady veins...How
many years of refusing to wear shorts before I say, “fuck it, these are my legs and I’m simply not
going to care. I’m going to own them.”

Because here’s the thing:

These legs ran 4 miles today.
These legs are strong.
These legs are solid and they keep me practically on the ground, even when my aspirations and
my obsessions would have me losing sight.

These legs are not delicate and lovely; but neither am I. I am loud and bold and colorful and
opinionated and strong. These legs are, too. They have never let me down.

Legs like a piano bench? Legs like tree trunks? Old lady legs? Yes. Legs that run mile after mile
and are strong enough to walk down the stairs every morning with 60 lbs of 9 year old in my arms; these legs climb ladders and roof houses and ride bikes and run races and play soccer with the kids. These legs keep me on my feet. They are strong, not delicate. They are in your face, not acquiescing. They are powerful and they are reliable.

They are.