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Showing posts from 2010

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said  in 1817 that reading required a "willing suspension of disbelief" from the reader. In other words, the reader must voluntarily and consciously agree to believe the author, no matter how fantastical the plot or unlikely the outcome.

This willing suspension of disbelief--this voluntary pretending--allows us, as adults, to experience the world the way a child does. You see, children start out believing in the impossible. They believe the world is good, and wonderful, and that magic lurks around every corner. But children are in a hurry to be adults. They quickly become jaded and caustic. Teens, especially, are eager to be more "grown up." They don't realize that in growing up, they're sacrificing the most precious gift they're born with: the gift of belief. An easy ability to believe, to hope, and to have faith. The ability to get totally and unabashedly excited about something.

Of course, we adults still do t…

Why We Read or Yes, You Have to Read This

I am something of a classicist when it comes to literature, and this recently has been a subject of debate among not only my department, but English departments across the country. Is there truly a benefit to students in reading the so-called "canon" of literature? Do Hemingway and Steinbeck truly teach our students more than the teen books they might otherwise prefer? One colleague in my department--who I respect enormously--questioned at a recent meeting whether or not we should truly be teaching Shakespeare at all in this day and age.

Once I recovered from my shock (it took me five days to do so) I had this to say...

Yes, we should.

And while I think that response should suffice, I'll explain. First, do not misunderstand me. I am a fan of all literature, and I read voraciously both classic and contemporary works. I am a huge fan of Jonathan Lethem (read Motherless Brooklyn, my all-time favorite), Connie Willis, and Jasper Fforde. I see the value in contemporary literatur…

While my Soapbox is Still Out...

In the district where I am employed, we recently passed a renewal levy worth three million dollars...by 59 votes. As if that slim margin wasn't disheartening enough, one (crabby) lady living in the district has petitioned to have the levy recounted at the expense of the school district. Apparently that $25 a year she'll save if the levy doesn't pass is her bingo money. And we all know how important that is.

Bitterness aside (temporarily), I am baffled by people's reluctance in this country to support public education or those who make public education their career. I am disgusted by the lack of respect teachers receive from many Americans, including those whose children are currently in public schools. I understand I am biased; education is my livelihood, of course I'd like to see people willing to pay for it (and me) in spades. But I accept that this isn't the case. I just don't quite understand why.

Recently the NEA published an article about an essay writt…

Excuse Me While I Get Out My Soapbox...

I know that some people reading this may disagree with what I am about to say, but today is National Coming Out Day, and if I can't say it today, when can I? I work in a high school and I am a straight ally. I see kids everyday struggle with the knowledge that they are gay. Few students will ever feel comfortable coming out while they are still  in high school--peer pressure and fear of not fitting in are too strong. But some will. And I am appalled at the reaction most of them will have to face. I'm going on my third year at this school, and I have had three students come out to me in those three years, and another two students who let me know in a sort of round-about way. In one case, I was the first to know. In three of the others, I knew before most of the students' friends and family. As I talk to these students, I hear their uncertainty, their fear of judgement, their terror at having to redefine who they are--who they want to be. I see their pain as family members re…

Making Pickles, or How to Shower with Your Eyes Closed

I make pickles. I make good pickles. They involve garlic and dill and vinegar. And red chili peppers. I don't particularly like chili peppers because I don't particularly like capsaicin, that nasty chemical that sears the all it comes in contact with and makes your eyes water. I've always been a little perplexed by people's love of hot food, but to each his own, right?

Last Thursday, I decided to make pickles using the suggested amount of red chili peppers. I buy the generic red chili peppers, so they aren't particularly hot, but they do have a kick. In the past when working with these I have had the misfortune of touching my nose, which produced the aforementioned burning sensation in my nostrils, watery eyes, and much cussing. Since then, I've become smarter about my peppers and wash my hands at least a half a dozen times when working with them. This was certainly true this time since they seemed to possess a greater than average amount of seeds, and as all th…

A Teacher's Life...and Other Oxymorons

My feet ache, my laundry is piling up, and there are notebook fringies stuck in my living room carpet.

School has officially started.

Class begins at 7:30am in my district, which means that I have to be there at 7:00. Anyone who has taught knows that half an hour is simply not enough time to prepare your room or your mental health for dealing with nearly 200 teenagers. So, I arrive at 6:30am. That means I leave my house between 5:30 and 6:00. It takes me an hour to get ready...so I'll let you do the math for my wake-up time. It hurts me too much to say it. By the time I crawl back into my house at 6:00pm, I barely have the energy to change into my pajamas, much less eat, clean, correct papers, or talk to people. But you see, I don't mind not eating much--I've lost a lot of weight in the past six months as a result--and I'm okay with a fine layer of dust over everything in my house--I'm allergy free--and most of all, I really don't care when they get their paper…

Leave a Message at the Tone...

I used to have a cell phone. It was apple green with a little sliding keyboard, a rather antiquated screen, and an alarm that woke me up everyday at 5am. Often I'd get to my car after work only to realize I'd left it on my desk; I would not make the 50 yard trek back to my room. Sometimes I went entire weekends without knowing, or caring, where it was.

I say was because in May my husband decided we needed new phones. On the way in the store, I looked my husband in the eye and said firmly, "We do not need data plans. No one needs to have the internet that close to them that often." Two hours later, we left the store, my husband pocketing his new Blackberry while I lovingly cradled my Palm Pixie Touch--with a data plan. The world as I had known it was over.

Prior to my fancy smart phone, I checked email once every week or so, Facebook roughly once a month, and sent approximately one text a day: a short message telling my husband I had arrived at work safely. I called my …

Taking Stock

Thursday evening I flipped on the news to see each channel reporting live from their booths at the Minnesota State Fair. I promptly turned off the TV and fled the room. Others celebrate the "Great Minnesota Get Together." I see it for what it truly is--the death knell of my summer.

According to the powers that be, the year ends December 31st. But my life has always been tied to the school calendar--first as a student, now as a teacher. Fall for me is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings. Summer then, particularly August, is a sort of ending. It is the time when I take stock of my life, an inventory where I look around and say this is what I have, where I've been, and where I'm going. But what I feel most this time of year is always the inexorable pull of the past, the weight of hurts unmended, friends unspoken, and opportunities lost. Such is the nature of endings.

But this year I remind myself that time always marches forward, and always, always there will be th…

Pirates and Princesses

This weekend was college move in across the great state of Minnesota. The majority of college campuses are now teeming with students, the dorms (no, I will not call them residence halls) are once again slowly baking their freshman inhabitants alive, and RAs are rounding up beer cans and cheap vodka bottles by the bag. It's autumn in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Most of these students are, right now, experiencing that first lonely, homesick night. They're wondering why going away to school seemed like a good idea and they're desperately calling, texting, facebooking, or skyping every high school friend they didn't alienate during their last senior summer in a last ditch attempt to stave off tears. As I watched the laundry carts roll down the sidewalks and the cars crammed with mini-fridges, microwaves, and terrified families stream into town, I began to wonder about the dreams that brought those students to college.

There are, naturally, students sitting in dorm rooms right …

Chasing Summer

According the calendar put out by the school district which employs me, I have been enjoying my summer vacation since June 10th. Teacher workshops begin on August 30, which left me with 11 weeks--77 days--of glorious, sunshine-y summer. Now, 66 days into my summer, I am confused.

As I watched my students file out of my room on the last day of school--wishing some a fond farewell and secretly hoping others would transfer to another district for next year--I was all too aware of the fact that I had curriculum writing the following week, which hardly felt like a vacation. Two days after that, my husband and I left for five days in New York. Now, I recognize that most would say five days in New York is, in fact, a vacation. But as any adult can tell you, vacations are usually far more stressful than working. We returned from New York and I began prepping for summer school. To this day, I am unsure what demon possessed me and convinced me to teach summer school for the month of July, but I …

I could be a 50s Housewife...

A good friend of mine recently moved to Montana; since then, she and I have started a rather intense but lovely email relationship consisting largely of emails that are, in complete honesty, novel-length and full of snappy remarks. Yesterday, I was feeling a bit blue, so my Montana friend recommended I keep myself occupied and distracted with a bit of work. Housework. I agreed, as my apartment was disgustingly overdue for a cleaning. And this is when I discovered my true calling in life: 50s Housewife.

During my venture into the world of home economics yesterday--they call it family science now--I scoured my apartment whilst listening to Broadway showtunes at an obnoxiously loud volume to annoy my neighbors, who I dislike anyway. I polished furniture, put away dishes, organized drawers, washed windows, and mopped my floors. I dusted baseboards and scrubbed sockets and switchplate covers. I vacuumed in an apron. I washed towels and linens, did my laundry, and even hand-washed a garment…

When Did This Happen?

Do not misunderstand me. I understand that I am 26 years old. I understand I have graduated from college (twice), traveled around the United States, and been married for nearly three years. I do my laundry, cook dinner, clean, and pay bills. I have my own car and medical insurance. I have a job--nay, a career--that I love. People under the age of eighteen are not allowed to call me by my first name. Parents ask me for advice on how to handle their teenagers. These are the trappings of adulthood. I recognize that. But still I find myself asking constantly, "When did I become a grown up?"

It's not that I mind as much as that I am constantly baffled by this fact. Being a full-fledged grown up seems like a momentous event, something that should be marked by an elaborate ceremony. And yet all around me I watch as my friends, with little fanfare, continue to do things that can only be described as adult. My friends are getting married (to be fair, some fanfare is involved in t…