Sunday, March 7, 2021

The National Anthem: A Metaphor for our Country

 I have a complicated relationship with gratuitous nationalism.

The Pledge of Allegiance (for example) is a hot mess of flaming flatulence, a socialist and racist —and incredibly successful—attempt at subjugation.


After 9/11, the American Flag began to look like performance theater, waving in every yard like some sort of collective club insignia, proving that we were the good guys. 


Playing the National Anthem before sports events is downright nonsensical. I can’t believe I have much in common with Mark Cuban on anything (other than the fact that we both can't dance), but the National Anthem doesn’t represent everyone and it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with sports. Sports are entertainment. Sports are a business. Sports are not patriotic. It’s just tone-deaf to play the National Anthem at a pro basketball game or a high school football game or any game that isn't the Olympics.


But at a major political conference? Playing the National Anthem makes sense. Play on.


Look, it’s a complicated song with a complicated history. Set to the tune of an English drinking song, it requires an incredible range and a perfect pitch. It’s become a flashpoint of political tension, as those who kneel to speak out against injustice are villainized by those who see no injustice at all. No one agrees on what the National Anthem really symbolizes. And the third verse of the song is downright racist. 


And yet, to me, the National Anthem is beautiful and sacred. Whether you choose to stand or choose to kneel; whether you choose to salute, or put your hand on your heart, or bow your head; whether you choose to hum along or sing or sit in silence...you do NOT perform it in order to showboat. If you can’t sing it straight, don’t sing it. And if you really can’t sing, by god, don’t sing it. 


The National Anthem is a complicated song that mirrors how complicated our country is.


But it is NOT a song you fuck with. It is not a song you sing on a national stage because your daddy knows someone. This is not a song you can sing because you think you can sing.


To destroy the National Anthem is to disrespect what so many have fought for, even if we can’t agree on what it all means.


It’s interesting to me that the ones who have publicly slaughtered it the worst—Roseanne Barr, Sailor Sabol—they have been right wing ideologues who don’t even seem to understand the words they are singing.


And to them I would say


If you are so full of hubris that you think you deserve to sing the National Anthem at a major event? You don’t.


Your white privilege, your sheltered life, everything that has lifted you to a national stage without merit,..that all is truer than any key you attempted to sing in.


I realize, Sailor, that you are still a kid, only 19 years old. You didn’t put yourself on that stage. Some truly terrible adults did.


But you are representative of what is wrong in this country: white people, stomping around, belting out their version of nationalism. And it is so horribly off-key. It is out of tune. It is embarrassing. It takes a very skilled Black man to even begin to make you sound good. A man who would never, EVER, be invited on that national stage. A man who understands music, and who represents himself --and our national anthem-- and our country, in a way that you will never understand. 


In some ways, this really isn’t about you. It’s about a system that promoted you, that gave you opportunities that you did not earn on your own merits. This is really more a rant at the systems, at the people, who put you in that position. Who elevated you, who told you you were exceptional, who allowed you to believe that you were.


And the end result is that you stood on a national stagea stage built to model a Nazi SS symbol, a literal stage of white supremacyand you belted out a completely tone-deaf version of a song you claim to revere, to a nation you don’t even begin to understand.


2017 Lansing Catholic Players, from left: Kabbash Richards, Roje Williams, Michael Lynn III, and Matthew Abdullah kneel during the National Anthem. Photo by Al Goldis, Lansing State Journal.


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Saturday, March 6, 2021

I Started a Blog Post...

When you haven’t written in forever, it becomes incrementally harder to pick up the figurative pen. Kind of like when you haven’t called your mom or your dad in a month or two, it’s hella awkward at first when you finally call. It feels stilted and unnatural. There are so many stories to tell and yet they all seem so old and stale and irrelevant days or weeks or months after the fact.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

I have started at least a dozen blog posts in the last 4 months. I started a post about the holidays and rewriting family traditions during a pandemic. I started a post about traveling to Arizona, and how conflicted and excited and thankful I was. I started a post about trying to find ways to take care of myself and remember my own beauty, even as I stare at the scale in horror, even as I refuse to wear jeans because I am so uncomfortable, even as I buy clothes online in yet another size, hoping that maybe this time I’ll feel pretty.


I started a post about the ridiculousness of shoving standardized testing down the throats of our children during a pandemic, how absolutely ridiculous and meaningless that concept even is. When our students and our teachers are struggling, let’s isolate and ostracize them even more by forcing them to take bullshit tests that tell us what we already know: their SES and their mom’s educational background.


I started a post about waiting, endlessly waiting, to get back some of the things I love. Drinking an IPA with my guy at the rail of my favorite bar. Hanging out with the roller derby crowd. Going to a movie. Ordering a meal at an actual restaurant instead of taking home another bag of food from the drive-through window, only to realize that they fucked it up and put cheese on my kid’s burger AGAIN.


I started a post about the National Anthem. I started a post about The Love Boat. I started a post about triage teaching. I started a post about the low birth rate in the United States. I started a post about my white privilege. I started a post about Dr. Seuss. I started a post about anti-racist teaching, and how terrifying that is, knowing that any minute now, an angry white dad and a fragile white mom will try to once again threaten my job because of my “liberal agenda.” 


And I started a post about leaving toxic relationships and finally giving away that last piece of clothing from my old job, finally erasing that domain and rebranding my website, finally deleting those old logins and passwords from my Chromebook, and finally realizing that almost everyone there never really was a true friend, and that maybe I'm okay with that.


When you haven’t written an actual post in forever, it seems like every abandoned idea you’re sitting on is old, the relevance has passed, and you’ve got nothing important to say.


Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
But sometimes you accidentally butt-dial your dad, and even though the conversation is stilted and awkward, you are so happy to just hear his voice. Sometimes you call your mom because, even though you don’t have any good stories to tell, you just want to say hi.

Sometimes you start a new post and you write about how you haven’t written in months. Sometimes you decide that you’ll take the leap, finish the post about nothing, and actually publish it this time.


Sunday, November 1, 2020

25 Hours

 Today was the end of Daylight Saving Time. Today we got our hour back. Today was a unicorn.

Every day should have 25 hours.

It dawned on me, as today seemed like it stretched on forever, that this is exactly what I need. I need 25 hour days, every day of the week.

In 25 hours, I can sleep in a bit. I can go to Costco. I can hit the liquor store, return something at J C Penney, swing by Rite Aid. In 25 hours I can read random websites, check the polls, scroll through Facebook. I can have a meaningful conversation with my daughter. 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
In a 25 hour day, I can make a meal, eat it with the family, and put the leftovers in the fridge. I can start the dishwasher.

In 25 hours, I can take a bath. Write a blog post. Write lesson plans for the week. Check my credit card balance. Take out the trash. 

Even with 25 hours, I did not manage to fold the laundry.

In a 25 hour day, I can do yoga. (I cannot do Chaturanga.)

Right now, in the last waning hour of this 25 hour day, I can sit on the couch, a cat on my lap, and think. Imagine.

If I had 25 hour days, what would I fill that extra hour with? How long would it take before I needed another hour just to feel like I could catch my breath?

It will be a year before I get another 25 hour day.

I wonder if I will ever figure out the balance.


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Pandemic Holidays

 It’s Halloween. 


It’s Halloween and my kids are nearing the end of their trick-or-treating careers. At 12 and 14, they no longer hold my hand, a fairy and a monster, eagerly bouncing along the sidewalk until they dash up to the door and yell out “trick or treat!” sliding over their R’s with childish haste and giggles. Now they are stylized anime characters, precisely recreated superheroes, goth teenagers all in black, too cool to wear a coat, too young to feel the cold. 


And, of course, this year, they are none of the above. 


Pandemic halloween. 


Pandemic halloween means that the social media community groups are throwing shade and insults at each other as they fight about safety, selfishness, and their incessant need to put what they want above what they should, throwing death rates around as if even one death is worth it for a bucket full of candy.


But are we any better? 


There is no trick-or-treating for us tonight. Instead, each kid gets a single friend over, girls upstairs in the trash pit formerly known as my daughter’s bedroom to watch some unpronounceable anime something-or-other, boys downstairs in the mancave to watch Nightmare Before Christmas. Michael and I will stay in the living room, cleaning up after pumpkin carving, roasting the seeds and drinking bourbon and arguing about whether or not the boys can have candy downstairs. This isn’t really social distancing or quarantining. This is compromise, compromising on the standards we should maintain in order to give the kids—and us—what we want, some semblance of normal. Because we want to. And because we are so tired of should.


com·pro·mise

/ˈkämprəˌmīz/


  1. an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

  2. settle a dispute by mutual concession.

  3. accept standards that are lower than is desirable.


Monday is my birthday. 


Because I have a full day of work tacked on to a full afternoon/evening of parent-teacher conferences (5 minutes each, lined up in a zoom room, no time to pee or even breathe), Tracy and Krista and I went out to dinner last night. It was the first dinner I’d had fully indoors since that last time at rail at the Mayfair in March, before all the restaurants closed. The girls treated me to the most amazing meal at EnVie, a local bistro in downtown Lansing. It was clean, and professional, and socially distant from all strangers; at capacity, the bistro only seats 60. Under current regulations, there were only 8 tables, capacity at 50%, and only half of those were seated. The food was amazing, the company was incredible, the service was fantastic, the wine was spot on, the cake was to die for, and I felt honored—and incredibly privileged-—to be able to put aside the pandemic for two hours and just be. 


But of course, I couldn’t put the pandemic aside. I thought about our server who would only get 5 or 8 tables that night. How could he possibly pay his bills on that income? And the bartender, with no rail...how does he even make minimum wage? The cooks in the back wouldn’t get tipped out much; and how does the place keep the lights on? And then at our own table, we were not 6 feet apart. We are friends, but not necessarily always in each other’s pandemic circles. Is that wine, that cake, worth dying for? Do the risks we take to have these moments inherently put others at risk?


Even my own pandemic circle looks more like the model for caffeine than the model for quarantine. And I wonder—I fear—that these compromises we make might compromise others. That we might be part of the problem.


And Thanksgiving is coming. 


Thanksgiving is coming and it is cold outside. There is no chance of staying outside. There is no chance of keeping our loved ones safe. There are too many cousins and too many contacts. Everyone is working. Teachers and construction workers and small business owners, we are all surrounded by people daily, out in public. Numbers are spiking all over the state. The public is focused on want over should. And I want to see my family at Thanksgiving. I want to turn my nose up at green bean casserole and I want to eat too many mashed potatoes. I want things to be normal.


But they are not normal. None of this is normal. 


And to carry on like everything is normal is to ignore the very real fact that people are dying. When we compromise safety standards, we compromise public health. And I don’t want to compromise the health of my family, of my parents, who are at risk. So many wants and shoulds all blend together: an uncertainty soup, a quarantine casserole, a Thanksgiving conundrum, a disappointment daughter, a recognition that we probably shouldn’t go to Thanksgiving, even though we want to. We want to.


In a few hours I will go and pick up my kids’ friends, and I will carve pumpkins with the kids in the kitchen, and they will watch movies in the basement while I argue with Michael about candy, and I will sit with this uneasiness for a while longer. I will hope that we haven’t compromised too much. I will hope that this pandemic will eventually go away, even though I know it will not go away anytime soon. I will hope that I’m not a part of the problem. I will acknowledge that I probably am. I will hope that we all stay safe. I will hope that’s enough.

Photo by Taylor Foss on Unsplash


Stay safe out there.


Happy Halloween.





Saturday, October 17, 2020

One Last Day on the Roof

 The sun is shining, and my skin prickles as the warmth seeps in. I shiver from the heat and I take a deep breath, trying to remember how to fill my lungs with sunshine after a long week staring at a screen. It’s painfully bright, squinting into the glare in order to see his face. But I don’t want to put the umbrellas up. I don’t want the shade to interrupt this moment. 

There are no bees up here any longer, drunkenly pitching headlong into their hiding places; it is too cold at night for the bees. In the distance, a train rumbles through. I can hear the Big Wheels on the track off to my left, kids screaming in delight and wheels screeching in complaint as they go under the bridge and collide with the sticks and the leaves that have blown around in the park overnight. One hardy water skier is on the lake, the engine of their boat revving in the distance, while hoards of geese (gaggles?) squawk overhead, giant V’s of awkward flapping piloting their heavy bodies towards whatever deck they’ve chosen to poop on today.


Nathan brings two pints, not ostentatiously frosted, thank God. IPAs, hazy, fresh; they taste like summer. Nathan’s mask covers his adorable smile, and I think again about how to set my oldest daughter up with him. 


I know that, tonight, Michael and I will walk back home in the cold darkness, and that tomorrow it will be too cold to sit on the roof any longer. 


I drink it in, the last remnants of summer; we order burgers, clink glasses, breathe. 


Cheers.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Cake

 It's such a little thing. Cake. 

I happened across a Facebook post today, saying goodbye to a person who had been there for one year. They made her a cake. She will be missed.

One year.

I was there for two decades. 

Two decades of my life. A marriage, two kids, a divorce. 4 different classrooms. 10 different preps created from scratch. 2000 students. I dedicated my soul to that building, to that community. I sacrificed my mental health, my physical health, my marriage, my pride, my maternity leave with my son. I gave everything I had, and somehow it was never quite enough. Never quite enough to fit in, to be in the "in crowd."

I couldn't play the game I was supposed to play. I didn't know the rules. I've never known the rules. I was told to "just have fun" but I'm not even sure what that looks like, day-to-day. I loved my job, I loved my kids, I loved my curriculum. But I'm not sure how to "just have fun" when we are talking about teenagers' lives. And I'm not sure that "fun" is in my nature, no matter how hard I try. I am passionate. I have a wicked dark sense of humor. I am quick. I am smart. But I'm not so sure I know how to be "fun."

I'm probably not fun.

There was no public goodbye for me. There was no Facebook post. There was no cake.

When breakups happen, we are trained to say, "it's not you, it's me." We take the fall. We take the blame. We put it on ourselves, so that the other person doesn't feel bad.

But I'm not going to take the fall, no matter how I've been painted.

I gave everything I had. I gave too much. I fought for every damn kid who came through my door, but I didn't know how to "just have fun" and look the other way when asked. I didn't know how to acquiesce, how to kiss enough ass and stroke enough egos to placate the politics of the place. 

I think I can live with that.

At the end of the day, I can walk away, even though I didn't get cake.

Because I know that --at the end of the day-- it was not me. 

It was never me. 

It was you.


Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Thursday, August 27, 2020

No Preconceived Notions

 Two days into a new school year, teaching all new classes, at a new-to-me district, and I have many (so many) thoughts.

Numerous people have told me in the last week, "Congratulations on your move to Okemos! I think that will be a much better fit for you."

And while I am still processing that statement (and so much more), here are some of my thoughts and questions.

  1. Isn't it strange that it's only other adults (parents, teachers, colleagues) who are saying this? Not a single former student of mine has said this. Only people who have never actually had me in class. What gives? Where do these ideas come from?
  2. What are their assumptions that are driving this statement?
What are their assumptions about Okemos?
What are their assumptions about me as a teacher?
What are their assumptions about me as a person?
What are their assumptions about Bath?

Every year at Bath, at the start of a new year, students would tell me, "Hey, I had heard you were a real Bitch. But you actually are really nice."

So, why was it so impossible to change my reputation, if every year I was informed that my reputation was wrong? Is it ever possible to change what people believe about you, what a community believes? Or do you just have to leave, start over, and try again?

What was driving my reputation? 

And how in the hell do I avoid that reputation following me, going forward?

My new students know nothing about me. No reputation. No preconceived notions. All they know is what I show them, what I tell them, what they see on paper and in Zoom.

There is an incredible freedom to being able to start fresh.

Maybe, going forward, things will be different.

Maybe I will be accepted at face value.

I will be a little fish in a big pond. There is so much water here! So much space.

I'm going to take a deep breath and jump in.

Photo by Zen Maldives on Unsplash





Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Endings. Beginnings.

 Divorce is hard.

It's never an easy decision. You don't just give up and walk away, no matter what the self-righteous married folks will tell you. You will fight, often for years, to stay in there and make it work.

But sometimes it just doesn't work. You can't make it work. You can't break through all walls you've built to protect yourself from the rocks being thrown and you're out of band aids after all the paper cuts. year after year. 

And once it's broken, once you are broken, it all becomes unfixable.

Today I turned in my keys and my letter of resignation to Bath High School.

I have been there for 21 years, almost half of my life. I have taught at least 3000 students in those 21 years. I have been called every name in the book. I have hugged so many kids. I have written 100s of letters of recommendation. I have proofed countless Common App essays. I have fought so many fights with so many people, trying to explain why they should care, why it all matters, why what we say and what we do--why it matters.

Today, I gave away 5 t-shirts, 7 coaching shirts, a sweatshirt, and 3 running shirts. When you break up, you bag up those clothes and you give them away. You think about setting fire to them in your front lawn, but that seems a bit melodramatic. You're an adult. Also, you loved being a Bee. You believed. Beelieved. 

You are so tired.

Tomorrow is the first day of a new year. You'll build a new wardrobe. I think it's burgundy? You'll meet a whole new group of students, ones who don't have preconceived notions about who you are.

Maybe you can beat the reputation this time. Maybe the name-calling won't happen anymore. Maybe the staff will accept you at face value, and not assume that you have some underlying ego thing driving every damn conversation.

Maybe. 

Divorce is hard. There are so many things you wish you could say. So many things you will never say. So many pieces of the past that you will continue to love, while you extricate yourself from the dysfunctional relationship you have been in for far too long, and move forward, into the unknown.

Into your future, whatever that may be.

You can hope.

I have hope.

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Coronacation Diaries, Episode 100

Endings


Like a great British tv show, it's important to end a thing before you run out of things to say, before you jump the shark. You shouldn't write 7 seasons if you can figure out how to end somewhere in the middle, maybe at the end of season 2. 

Maybe at Coronacation Diaries post 100.

I've thought a lot about endings, about famous final lines, about how to end a thing that has become, literally, a part of my daily life, a part of who I am as a person. As Holden said, “It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” By putting a part of my heart and soul out there on the Internet, by building a small but loyal following of readers, I have accidentally tapped into something much bigger than me, much bigger than my thoughts or words. 

Because, it turns out that the cliche was right: we are all in this together. Well, maybe not all of us. I'm not going to even pretend that I can connect with the "historical statues matter" folks, or the "never maskers" or the "barbershop or die" crowd, or even the "all lives matter" folks. I'm not even sure that I want to. But I can see the community out there of people like me: people who are trying to do the right thing. People who fail, but then get back up, apologize, and promise to do better. People who care passionately about our country and recognize that "I don't do politics" is a road we will never walk. People who sometimes struggle to get out of bed or accomplish anything of meaning...and who recognize that tomorrow is a chance to get up and try again. People who struggle to connect with the ones they love, who struggle being together, who struggle being alone.

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Tonight, I am alone for *I think* the very first time in 100 days. Michael is out running. The kids are at their dad's. Daughter from another mother is out for the evening. It's just me and the dog, hanging out in my home office/front yard, watching the battery tick down on my Chromebook. It is peaceful, but strange, to be alone after so many days of forced togetherness. 

But these so many days of forced togetherness and so many days of having to put my thoughts into words has helped me to make meaning of it all and to find meaning in each day. And my final thoughts are not final, of course. I will still write, I will still blog, and I will still search and find something in each day that is worth writing about. Even though the pandemic is not over, this particular series has ended--but only to make room for other things that need to be unpacked, that need to be said.

Because I refuse to walk back to the hotel in the rain. I refuse to lay down my brush in extreme fatigue, having had my vision. I will always beat on, boats against the current. But I refuse to be borne back ceaselessly into the past. There is no room for defeat, for getting stuck into the what ifs, for attempting to live and relive the past over and over again, for throwing my hands up in the air and declaring my work here to be done.

There is so much yet to be done. There is so much to do. And if I have learned one thing--one singular thing throughout this whole pandemic--it is that our words have impact, not only in how we frame our message for others to hear, but in how we characterize our days and our moments. The words that we use frame our lives, frame our relationships with others, frame every moment. These words, no matter how poetic or succinct, have the power to change our world.

And now I will go clean my desk.

"Are there any questions?"



Monday, June 22, 2020

The Coronacation Diaries, Episode 99

All the Things I Did and Did Not Do


I'm just gonna put this right here and move on: I have not yet cleaned my desk.

I know that I said that I was going to, that it was on the short list somewhere around blog post #5, but it still hasn't happened. I also haven't unpacked the boxes from the great house remodel of 2018.

I have, however, managed to run 3 miles without stopping. It took 45 minutes, or the amount of time it would take to walk 3 miles quickly, but I ran it. I can run 3 miles. This is a thing.

I also can do a chaturanga. I did 4 of them in my circuit training tonight.

I did not finish the 30 day yoga challenge. Daughter from another mother and I got to day 18 and then she ended up with a (totally unrelated) stress fracture. I really want to yoga, intellectually, but I haven't figured out how to get that back into some sort of routine. It's been 99 days and I'm on day 18. I can't claim this one as a win.

 I have established that I write best in my front yard. I have also established that I currently have 32 mosquito bites.

After 3 months sheltering in place, I am closer to my daughter and to my daughter from another mother than I was before this all begin. This is priceless.

I still fight every day with my son. I have a lot of work to do.

I got the garden in before Memorial day. It remains to be seen whether or not anything will grow.

I have tried 7 different brands of hard seltzer. Corona wins. Ironic?

Photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash
I have written 99 blog posts. Some of them have been really good. Some of them have been kinda lame. But I haven't had to post the one I wrote and kept in reserve about mashed potatoes. I've managed to write 99 posts without including the mashed potatoes post. And no, I wasn't drunk when I wrote it.

I have written a lot about Black Lives Matter, about white privilege, about what it means to be white in our country today. And I've gained a lot of readers and a lot of shares. I thinks that we can maybe be part of a movement, a movement of white people, who act for the greater good. I think, maybe, that our voices can make a difference. I think that we can get our heads out of the sand and really work for positive, productive change.

I also lost a union election in my job and I gained a position facilitating the CRWP Remote Literacy Learning Institute. I'm still processing this one, but I know that, in the long run, the people who walk in this world much in the way that I want to walk, they are the people with whom it isn't a popularity contest. I think I maybe came out a winner, even though that loss was incredibly hard.

I did not lose 20 pounds, as planned. Instead, I gained 19. I have to figure this one out.

I have thrown the squeaky hotdog for the dog 1,435 times. I also figured out how to groom him, but I did not figure out how to trim his nails.

I drove to Florida to adopt a cat and ended up spending a week with my dad, getting to know the man who did not raise me, but who always loved me.

I have learned that, although our relationship is not one based on Hallmark movies and Harlequin romances, Michael and I work really well together. If we can weather this together, we can weather anything. This singular fact gives me hope.

I have learned that, although patience is not my strong suit, I have a lot of it. I can do patience. I can build patience. I can have patience.

I'm not sure that I learned what I wanted to learn throughout this whole pandemic thing. I'm not sure that I accomplished the things that I wanted to accomplish. But I know that I am not exactly who I was 4 months ago. And I think that I have learned a lot about who I am, about what matters, and about what is truly important to me.