28 June 2011

Facebook Sucks

Some of you are probably laughing right now, knowing as you do how often I use my Facebook account. And while I admit that is true, I also contend that each time I sign off Facebook, I say the same thing--internally, at least--"Facebook, you suck."

A lot.

Let me explain. In the past, you graduated from high school and, unless you kept in touch with everyone, waited until your high school reunions to see what everyone was up to. Inevitably, at that event, some people would show up with amazing and envy-inducing lives, inspiring you and your spouse to grumble about "those people" during the car ride home. Once home, you were once again blissfully unaware of everything others were doing, wrapped in a cocoon of ignorance.

Then Facebook came along and turned everyday into one big class reunion.

Let me give you an example. Today I woke up and perused photos of friends' recent home renovations, travel albums from exotic places like Marrakesh and Thailand, and their plethora of cute baby photos. Do not misunderstand me. I am happy for all those people. I just wish I could be blissfully ignorant once again.

I've been happily married for almost four years; my husband and I both have steady, very secure jobs in a crummy economy, and I have been able to travel (albeit limitedly) in the United States over the past couple years. We are planning a second honeymoon to London/Paris in a little less than two years, and I have the most amazing friends. I know I am lucky. However, I also am aware that I am missing many of the trappings of adulthood--most noticeably children and a house (probably in the reverse order).

This is a result of very careful decision making on the part of my husband and I. At this point, those things just aren't calling to us; there is so much else we want to do (travel, get our masters degrees, travel) that children and a house just seem unnecessary. And while we are okay with our decision, we are constantly reminded that--to others--it somehow makes us "less adult" than our peers.

We are asked with astonishing frequency by our friends, family, and sometimes even vague acquaintances, when we are going to buy house,or have children. "Are you guys thinking of buying a house?" "Do you think you'll have children?" What astounds me most--aside from the shockingly personal and private nature of these questions--is the implicit criticism contained in them. No one asks an 18-year-old if he is going to buy a house soon; and we wouldn't dream of asking a 20-year-old when she's going to have children. People at that age are young and there's plenty of time for those things to be decided. So, when people do ask those questions, the implication is that there is no longer plenty of time. The implication is it is time to get a move on. The implication is: "Why haven't you done these things yet?"

I don't think anyone means this harm when they ask, but that doesn't stop each remark from rankling. It's uncomfortable to have to explain major life decisions to people who really have no business getting involved in them in the first place (in this case, anyone besides my husband falls into that category). Some argue they're just being curious, and that really it is possible to be polite and ask these questions. I argue it is the same as if I were to ask a friend with six kids when on earth her husband is going to get that vasectomy. After all, I'm just being curious.

Obviously, some things just don't need to be asked.

I resent the idea that my childlessness and apartment mark me as somehow "less-than" other people who have made different choices. Our society, for all its progress and open-minded ways (yes, you did just hear me scoff, but rest assured, that's another blog entry), still seems hopelessly mired in old-fashioned expectations. If my husband and I decide not to have children, I have no doubt we will raise eyebrows, not just among friends and acquaintances, but among our own family members. Because ultimately, in our society, we still expect married people to have kids. And woe betide those who decide not to do so.

The comments people throw our way remind my husband and me that some people--however unfairly--view us as less grown-up than our peers. I know I will need to develop a thicker skin--I can only assume the rude comments will get worse the closer I get to 30--but I also have to resist pointing out the obvious: my husband and I are grown ups, and as such, we have made very adult decisions about what is best for us in our life. Will we have children one day? Perhaps. Will we buy a house someday? Most likely. But for now, we know that those things aren't right for us. And so we'll wait and try to ride out the invasive comments.

So go ahead, ask away. But don't be surprised if we talk about you on the way home.

And unfriend you on Facebook as fast as we can.

26 June 2011

Ode to Book Sniffing

Ever since the summer started, I have been suffering from a spate of migraines, making it nearly impossible for me to concentrate on anything for very long and plunging our apartment into a continual state of semi-gloom. So I resorted to my light-reading standby--Harry Potter.

Rest assured, I can hear your snickers from here, but by this point, I am impervious to your mockery. Yes, I have read the books more times than I can count; yes, I have three different complete sets of Harry Potter books  (paperbacks, hardcovers, and the British editions); and yes, I went to Chicago (twice) to see the Harry Potter exhibit when it was traveling. I love Harry Potter. I've come to terms with it. So should you.

But my love of Harry Potter is not my real confession here. My confession is this: as much as I love the story, there is one thing about the books I love more: the smell. Two nights ago, I was curled up on my couch with the third book when I heard my husband snickering from the kitchen . When I asked him what was so funny, he informed me he was amused to see me sniffing my book. I hadn't realized I had been doing it. More importantly, I hadn't realized he was in the kitchen to see me doing it.

I am not, however, ashamed of unconsciously and surreptitiously sniffing my books. My British editions of the Harry Potter books smell very distinct and they are by far the best smelling books I own. As I said to my husband that same night (after forcing him to smell my book and admit that it was pleasantly aromatic) I wish I could smell like that. I admit, I smell my books when I buy them.  Library books are particularly enchanting--though I admit to being a bit leery of getting my nose too close to the pages, aware as I am of the plethora of hands in which they have been. Library books--older and bound better than regular books--give off a particularly sinful smell of dusty paper and slowly cracking glue. And I have no qualms about returning a book to the shelf if it "smells wrong."

Perhaps only other bibliophiles can understand this particular obsession of mine. In this age where digital media are all the rage, so much of the joy of physical reading is ebbing away. I understand the lure of things like Kindles and Nooks; as my husband and I plan our second honeymoon to Europe, I find myself thinking more and more about the practical nature of these devices. But I cannot deny that for me, at least, reading is not mental. It is not merely the stories that I love. It's the feel of the book in my hands. The forms and shapes of the various fonts on the paper. The sound of the paper. And of course, the smell.

For me, books engage all the senses (okay... I admit, I am yet to eat or taste a book, but the sentiment remains the same). The pleasure comes from finding the book that feels right. That is why I am so picky about the books I buy; the paper must feel right, the pages must feel right along the open end (oh how I loathe the trend toward unfinished ends). The covers flop just precisely right as it falls open. The font needs to look right on the page (I am particularly fond of certain fonts' question marks). And certainly, the right smell is positively intoxicating.

I know, despite those of you scoffing out there, that I am not alone in my love of book-sniffing. I have had many students--usually those who are also avid readers--remark on which books "smell" the best. And I've caught more than one of my honors students sniffing the spine on the day I pass out copies of To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies. I am not alone. Perhaps we should start a club.

A recent discussion within my department has centered around how to turn our students into life-long readers. There is a wealth information out there and numerous studies, all with their own suggestions. But as I smell my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix I realize this is really what I want to impart on my students--the glory and pure, unadulterated, joy that can come with reading. The sensual physical pleasure of simply losing yourself in the texture, sound, and smell of words. I want them to understand that reading can be so much more than just the stories; it can be truly transcendent.

Perhaps when I hand out the copies of To Kill and Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby this fall, I'll force all 200 of my students to take a deep whiff. It'll amuse me, at the very least. And just maybe I'll manage to create one more life-long book-sniffer.

13 June 2011

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Teachers love summer. This is not to say we don't love our jobs or students, or that we are not eager and ready to go back to work in September. This is only to say that we, like our students, love summer. Unabashedly and unequivocally love summer.  So, in the spirit of the first day, I will count the reasons for my love of the next twelve weeks.

1. I get to sleep past 4:30am. There is nothing--nothing--to rival this feeling.

2. I can once again read for fun. (Okay, to be honest, I do a fair amount of this during the school year. But during the summer I can do it guilt-free).

3. I can pee whenever I want. Perhaps only other teachers can truly understand the wonder that is the unscheduled bathroom trip, but it is not to be underestimated.

4. I see sunlight. Often. During the school year, I work in a windowless classroom, and--as Minnesota winters stretch the dark hours of the day to 14 hours or more--I often go five or six days at a time with no real proof that the sun actually does rise everyday. Thus, I have learned not to underestimate the importance of Vitamin D.

5. I do not have to wear makeup everyday or relentlessly flat-iron my wavy hair into submission. This may not be a benefit for those who see me everyday, but that matters less to me.

6. For 12 glorious weeks, I will not have to say any of the following phrases: "Yes, you may go to the bathroom," "There is a test out right now; you should not be talking," "Yes, it is still late," or (my favorite) "Stop touching each other."

7. The emotional baggage I deal with over the summer is mine, not that of the 200 students who filter through my room, many of which will come to me with problems that will occupy my waking hours and prevent me from sleeping as I worry. Summer gives me a chance to recharge my emotional reserves, which will--of course--be required during the course of the upcoming school year.

8. My spare bedroom is miraculously free of that guilt-inducing stack of waiting-to-be-graded homework.

9. I can once again see friends and family without fretting about how I will possibly get everything done. And my friends and family appreciate the noticeable reduction in the number of my stories beginning with, "So one of my students . . ."

10. And--the most important reason I love summer--I can once again file away another year and focus on how I will improve for the next year. Mine is a job that affords me the opportunity to start anew--to start better and stronger--every nine months. I appreciate the summer as an opportunity to study, to improve, to plan, and to reflect. I appreciate the summer as an opportunity to put away past failures and shortcomings and find new excitement and passion for a new year.

I know some people can't believe teachers get 12 weeks off. They think it is ridiculous and means that we do not work hard enough, or that our jobs are somehow not as "real" as other jobs. I, in return, cannot believe that some people in the world get paid to work more than 40 hours a week and do not take work home routinely. In my opinion, we're square.

And with that all said, I just learned that I have a curriculum review meeting tomorrow from 8:00 until 3:30pm that our Curriculum Review Specialist didn't tell many of us about until the last minute. So perhaps my ode to the wonder of summer is a bit premature.

Such is the life of a teacher.