How To Dress Like Portland 2

A friend reminded me that I forgot a chapter in my guide to dressing like Portland… I neglected the rainbow chapter!

I’ve always been a lover of the rainbow… My elementary school drawings included a giant rainbow across the sky every single time. I once dressed as Rainbow Brite for Halloween–and that wasn’t  elementary school, but in my 20s! Colors make me happy. They always have.

Portland is a rainbowy city. And I love it. I love living in a time and place where people can be who they are, and love who they love, and generally not have to hide or fear. I know there are mountains of complicated politics and religious beliefs complicating that statement all over the place, and I don’t have all the answers to all the things. But I do have a simple happiness in other people’s happiness, and love for love. I’m anti-hiding, anti-bullying, anti-fear. And I feel like that’s a very Portland way to be.

So when things happen that make my world feel less rainbowy, kind, and loving, when I see my LGBT friends and neighbors hurting… there isn’t much I can do about it. But I do like to wear one of these Portland outfits, as a bat signal of love to anyone who needs it. Because, really, who doesn’t need a bat signal of love sometimes?

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There’s the prismy rainbow dress….I almost forget how much I love this dress! It needs to come out more often. Also, I’m going to have to do red in my hair again sometime….

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When I want to be even brighter and bolder, but also warmer, there’s the rainbow sweater. Worn over a black dress in this photo, but it goes with pretty much anything and everything. And I love it. There’s also a rainbow headband happening here, just in case there wasn’t enough rainbow… The world needed a lot of love that weekend, so I did what I could. (I was definitely in need of a fresh color job in my hair though. Looks like some severely faded purple with roots for days…)

I can be a straight girl who decks herself out proudly in rainbows. Because I am Portland…. Or at least I dress Portland. 🙂

How To Dress Like Portland

So now that I’ve been on Portlandia and shoulder the responsibility of representing my city, I’m perfecting the art of how to dress like Portland. I don’t mean how to dress like Portlanders dress; I mean how to dress like the city itself. If Portland were a person, this is what its wardrobe would look like. It’s time to document this style journey…

The project began when I was randomly invited for the audition. I had no idea what a person wears to audition for a tv show, but after a little facebook crowdsourcing, I came up with this…

portlandia audition outfit

We don’t carry umbrellas in Portland, or anywhere in the Northwest. But we can wear them ironically on our clothing. This umbrella print skirt is one of my favorite things, especially when I pair it with a notice-me-yellow top. (We don’t get enough sunshine in our Vitamin D deprived city, so I like to do my part by providing the sunny yellow.) And the outfit absolutely needed these shoes–normal people would call them brown Oxfords. I alternately refer to them as my hipster shoes, my old man shoes, or my American Girl doll shoes.

And accessories are important, so let’s not fail to give credit to the quirky cat necklace.

quirky cat necklace

I don’t know exactly why this outfit needed a quirky cat necklace, or why that fits the Portland theme. We’re really more of a dog loving city. Maybe when I wear it, people think it’s a dog? Whatever, it just felt right.

Having discovered my love for umbrella skirts, I came across this LuLaRoe maxi, and had to have it. There wasn’t even a choice in the matter; it just had to happen. The umbrellas and the raindrops and the utter essence of Portland…. I stuck with the bright yellow on top. I think it’ll be cuter with red flats next time, but it’s very hard to talk myself into wearing anything but boots in the winter.

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You have to zoom in to appreciate the full value of this skirt. The blue umbrellas have tiny unicorns on them!

umbrella unicorn

portland unicorn

 

Portland is a unicorn of a city. Magical, mythical, you can’t believe it’s real, even when you’re looking right at it. (Although it does have the ability to stab you. And it’s pretty white….) This Portland unicorn sticker lives on the side of my chair (thanks, Powell’s), and is another one of my favorite things.

 

 

My mission to dress like Portland continued when I fell in love with these leggings, which my friend said reminded her of the PDX carpet. There can’t possibly be another city in the world that loves its airport carpet with the same fervor that Portland loved this one. The carpet may have been replaced a couple years ago, but it will live forever in our hearts… and our tshirts, socks, mugs, key chains, and all varieties of merch. I have a pair of earrings that another friend says are reminiscent of PDX carpet, so obviously I had to wear them with the leggings.

PDX carpet clothes

And this outfit was born.

Portland carpet outfit

I am PDX.

Fun fact: I also wore that chambray shirt on Portlandia, only buttoned, and the costume department deemed it “very Carrie.” So, the outfit scores a couple more Portland points.

Next. For the last six years, I’ve had a fashion rule for myself: nothing with a bird on it. It was too cliche; I just couldn’t do it. Sometimes I’d find really cute things, but with a bird, and I’d get mad at Portlandia for taking birds away from me. When I fell in love with this shirt, I felt the familiar irritation rising… and then I realized, things have changed. Portlandia is part of me now. I not just can, but should own something with a bird on it. So I bought the shirt, enjoying my new fashion freedom, and saved it for the day my episode would air.

Bird on it outfit

Since it was an occasion, I had to go all the way with my theme, and wear bird earrings too.

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Hummingbirds are kind of my spirit animal. They just speak to me. And for some reason, I’ve stumbled into learning the word “hummingbird” in three indigenous languages, plus, of course, Spanish.

For Portlandia day, Carolee got in the spirit by wearing her bicycle scarf. Portland loves bikes even more than it loves putting birds on things! We tied ourselves together with the scarf, because sharing also feels like the spirit of Portland.

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I’m told that by sharing a scarf, we may or may not be married in Hawaii. I haven’t investigated this alleged tradition. But Carolee’s husband is a cool guy, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me being her Hawaiian spouse. It feels like an oddly Portland arrangement.

Keep Portland weird! But not ugly. 🙂

Portlandia’s Coming….

I tend to  believe the future is never really coming. Does that mean I’m still mentally a teenager? Maybe. I usually have a mental calendar that goes to the next break from school, and then ends. (If I were Mayan, you’d all have 2012 style crises about six times per year.) That means I’m likely to enthusiastically agree to anything you ask, as long as it’s far enough in advance. Whatever it is, it sounds like a great idea, because deep down in my heart, I don’t really believe it’s ever going to happen.

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The world is ending AGAIN….
Photo Credit: insert screen name here via Compfight cc

And then I’m always wrong, and the day of reckoning comes.

Last summer, it seemed like a great idea to say yes when Portlandia texted me out of the blue, and asked, “Hey, random person who’s never even thought about acting before. Want to audition for an episode?” And it seemed like an even greater idea to say yes when they actually gave me the role! I feel like those are the kind of adventures that you don’t think about; you just say yes and go along for the ride.

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Bex.Walton via Compfight cc

My attitude from the first text message was, “Hey, this will give me a story to tell later.” And I’ve definitely told the story! I feel bad for certain people who must be so tired of hearing it. I don’t usually bring it up, but everybody else asks about it. So the people who spend the most time around me, end up hearing about it all the time.

Sorry-not-sorry, I guess. This part’s been fun! I love having a good story to tell. It’s fun to get a little attention. It was a crazy experience that I never dreamed I’d have, and I’m sure nothing like it will happen again, so while it lasts, I’m smiling and enjoying the moment.

But up until now, I’ve had all the control over the story. Everybody knows my version of events, and that’s it. For all anyone knows, I could be making the entire thing up!

That ends Thursday…

Well, more like Friday. Who watches TV live anymore? At 10:00? On a school night? Not even to see my own acting debut. Guys, I’m old.

This is the part where it feels like possibly the worst idea I’ve ever had!! I have absolutely no idea what this scene is going to look like. I could be completely cut out and laying forgotten on the editing room floor. Or…. I could look and sound like a complete fool. I probably do. I didn’t know what I was doing! I didn’t know what to do with my face, my hands, anything. When I’m nervous, my voice gets even more high-pitched and irritating than normal. Who wants to listen to that? Ugh…. And in front of the world? Other people will see this! Didn’t I consider that last August??

No, not really. Because in August, I didn’t believe in February.

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Save me a star, guys… Or a chair to hide under. Whatever.
Photo Credit: jimmywayne via Compfight cc

I’ll miss this whole phase of the Portlandia story, when nobody’s seen anything and it all feels imaginary. After this week, it’s entirely possible that I’ll never want to talk about it again.

Or I’ll run away to Hollywood and dedicate the rest of my life to my acting career.

Definitely one or the other. 😉

(This Thursday night on IFC, Portlandia episode 6.6!)

Thank you, Harper Lee

I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a while now, mostly so I’d have it to remember and make me smile later, but suddenly it feels appropriate right now.

I don’t want to give personal details here, so I’m just going to say that a student you’d never expect, surprised me several weeks ago. He’s never been a reader, but he informed me that we were starting a (very small) book club. He and his friend would be coming to my classroom twice a week during lunch, and we’d be listening to the audiobook version of To Kill A Mockingbird. My job was to provide the audiobook and press the play button.

You can’t say no to that!

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Photo Credit: Pickersgill Reef via Compfight cc

I have no idea where he got the idea to read TKAM. He heard about it somewhere though, and according to plan, he’s dragged his friend along twice a week to eat lunch in my room and listen to the book. They sit mostly in silence, occasionally asking me to hit the pause button so we can discuss part of the story.

I can’t emphasize enough–this wasn’t my idea! I didn’t do this. I’ve made a lot of efforts to encourage my kids to fall in love with reading, but I never suggested this book, and I never suggested lunchtime book club. In fact, I’m probably the least engaged member of the club. While they’re listening to the book, I’m usually working on other stuff and only kinda-sorta paying attention. When they want to stop and discuss, I’m leaning heavily on my memory of reading the book way back in high school, and seeing the movie several years ago. Zero effort is going into teaching this novel.

I can’t even tell you how happy it makes me. Book club completely warms my teacher heart. Watching two kids giving up their free time to voluntarily enjoy a classic novel–it’s the dream. And not just any two kids, but kids that I originally met as total non-readers.

We do all kinds of language activities in my ELD classes of course, but my favorite, and the kids’ favorite, is when we read a novel together. Yes, I make them do academic work to go with it. But sometimes I wish we could just sit around, reading and discussing novels, every single day. Drop the structure and accountability and grading and everything else. Just savor good books and discussion. The kids wouldn’t complain!

Harper Lee passed away yesterday. And I’m remembering that quote somebody said on Twitter during the celebrity death streak last month–“Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them; we cry because they helped us know ourselves.” The quote struck a chord with me, but as I’m thinking of it now in relation to Lee and other writers, I want to add to it–artists help us know ourselves, and help us know outside of ourselves.

When our book club started chapter one of To Kill A Mockingbird, the kids were asking questions like, “Does this take place before or after 9/11?” (If I’d been actually teaching the novel in class, I would have provided some background before jumping into the book. But since this was so informal and student-led, I hadn’t done that.) I paused the book and we all took a step back to discuss the setting and some historical context.

The conversation felt a little bit like this:

“We’re in the 1930s… Great Depression… ”

“So, slavery?”

“After that.”

“Martin Luther King?”

“Before that–well, actually, he would have been a little kid at this point.”

Through conversation, but mostly through Harper Lee’s words, the kids and I are being transported back to rural Alabama in the 30s. For the students, this is their first journey, and they’re learning the language and flavors and background of a new-to-them time and place in our country’s history. For me, it’s a comfortable return to a place I’ve visited before–but only via literature. I’d read plenty of historical fiction and had lots of relevant background knowledge the first time I read Mockingbird in sophomore English class, but the novel still shines brighter in my memory than so many others I’ve read. Lee’s stories, characters, and words never really leave you.

Book club hasn’t gotten into much of the heavy stuff yet. We’re still romping around, bugging Boo Radley. The kids are charmed by the small town, entertained by Dill (who can read!), unimpressed with Scout’s experiences with public education, and intrigued by the elusive Radley. They’ve been shocked by some of the racial language, casually used, that they know is unacceptable today. I have no doubt that the discussion will be rich as they meet Tom Robinson and get into the court battle. Their sense of justice, equity, and right/wrong is strong, and they’re going to have thoughts and feelings about this one! I can’t wait.

They’re learning about the world beyond their own experience. And they’re also learning about who they are, and who they want to be. Because who can read about Atticus Finch, without internalizing some desire to be that person?

For right now, I’m happy to let them stick with the Mockingbird version of Atticus. It’s developmentally appropriate. They need to believe in a world where good guys stand up against injustice, fight racism head on, and win their battles. They need to learn and believe the lessons Mockingbird Atticus has to teach–lessons about what courage really is, about listening to your conscience, about understanding other people. Correction: we all need Mockingbird Atticus.

And someday, when they’re older, I hope my students return to Maycomb and get to know Go Set A Watchman’s Atticus. That story and that Atticus are harder to swallow, but we need to grapple with them. One day my students will have to understand that racism doesn’t just belong to the bad guys. It’s embedded into the very structure of our society, and its insidious traces can be seen even in people we love and respect. They’ll learn that good guys and bad guys rarely appear outside of the comic books–most of us are just humans, products of our environment, doing the best we can with the knowledge and experience we have. Just like Jean Louise and her Watchman Atticus, my kids will see their own heroes slip off pedestals, and their own ideals fail them. Hopefully Watchman Atticus will help them learn that a person’s heroism doesn’t make them immune to wrongdoing, but their shortcomings also don’t cancel out the good they offer the world. Watchman Atticus can help them learn to live with some cognitive dissonance, and think critically with their heads and their hearts.

Mockingbird Atticus will help my kids want to change the world, and Watchman Atticus will give them the smarts to do it.

Thank you, Harper Lee.

What’s My Age Again?

It’s amazing how quickly one can get old anymore. I remember accepting that my childhood, and my teenage years, were already relics of a distant past. That overalls and puka shells were to be used for throwback costume purposes only, and that the holographic, platform-inspired, periwinkle Sketchers I once treasured now looked like they came from another planet. But that’s what happens, right? Middle and high school were a long time ago. Circle of life, or whatever.

TMNT overallsperiwinkle shoes

College, however, just happened. Not that long ago. Because I’m still young. Stuff I did in college was just a few years ago, right? Right…?

Maybe not right.

It hit, and hit hard, when I was doing some planning in my classroom recently. I was researching some iPad apps, figuring out what could be useful in my classes, how I could best use it, how to manage the logistics with the kids. I spend a lot of time this way, and that day I felt a wave of irritation that the technology class in my teaching program at BYU didn’t teach my any of this stuff. Why didn’t we spend any time learning about iPad apps that would be useful in education? Tips for managing a class set of these devices? Why didn’t we learn about navigating Chromebooks, or even using Google Docs with students?

Oh. Right.

Because none of those things existed when I was in college… I graduated from my teaching program in 2007. The first iPad was introduced in 2010. Even the first iPhone came out a few weeks after I walked across the stage in my cap and gown. Google was still mostly just a search engine, although we felt cool for having Gmail addresses, and Chromebooks wouldn’t exist until 2011.

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Don’t let the ancient CD player in the background ruin your enjoyment of this modern tech cart.

Literally all of the technology that I base my teaching around now, didn’t exist when I was in college. The more high-tech professors were still getting students to pay big bucks for “clickers” so they could respond instantly to questions in class. Nowadays, I can name half a dozen websites off the top of my head that let my students do the same thing for free.

How is that possible? How can college be so long ago, that it’s essentially another era? Have I really been teaching that long? Was graduation that long ago?

When I stop and think about it, though, I guess a lot has changed. Sure, I had a cell phone in college, and it had a camera and texting… But the photos were terrible, like no megapixels, and most of us were still paying per text. We generally still used our phones for actual phone calls. We left voicemails. We played Snake. And that’s about it.

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Look how pixely my roommate and I were when Spiderman 3 came out!

It was easy to be cool when I started teaching. I could T9 text faster than any of the kids—under the table, without taking my eyes off the person presenting at a meeting. And I had a Facebook profile. (Which I had to log onto an actual computer to look at.) That’s all it really took to be relevant. But now you need accounts on a million different social network platforms, with a new one popping up every time I turn around, and you have to check/update all of them constantly.

The Gilmore Guys have also been making me feel old. I went through college with Rory Gilmore, and looked forward to the show every week. I specifically remember being fidgety in one of my ESL Ed classes on Tuesday evenings, just wanting it to end so I could get home and watch Gilmore Girls…. But now I listen to Kevin and Demi analyzing every episode of the show, and constantly referring to how “It was a different time.” Was it? Was it really? Was Gilmore Girls on the air that long ago?

Yeah, I guess it was.

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Remember when only the gillies knew about Melissa McCarthy?

I guess it has been a while since I’ve worn a corduroy jacket over a t-shirt declaring in rhinestones that I’m a “princess,” “cute,” or “sassy.” And I can’t remember the last time I logged into AIM. Nobody quotes Homestar Runner or Charlie the Unicorn anymore, and the last time I dropped a Napoleon Dynamite reference, only one 8th grader got it.

So… I guess it’s been a minute since college happened. How does the world change so quickly??

Gilmore Geek

I love that we live in an age where it’s socially acceptable to be an out-and-proud nerd about our favorite things. I couldn’t care less about anime, or Lord of the Rings, or Star Trek Wars (Did I just eliminate my entire audience?), but I’m so glad the people who do care, and care a lot, have entire communities where they can come together, dress up in costumes (excuse me, cosplay…), and just geek out together.

Top of my own geek-out-about-it list? No contest–Gilmore Girls! For years, I haven’t even known how to answer when people ask about my favorite tv show, because it seems wrong to name a show that hasn’t been on since 2007. (And that last year barely even counts, amirite, gillies?) But it would be dishonest to put any other show above my Gilmores! I’m not usually a rewatch person. With so many movies, shows, and books that I haven’t experienced yet, I rarely go back to old favorites. But I never get tired of watching GG episodes again and again! To me, the characters are all real people, and Stars Hollow is a real place. The way everyone talks in super fast-paced, witty dialogue, peppered with cultural references that span all of history? That’s my dream. I don’t care that people don’t actually talk that way; I wish they did.

As Rory and I grew up together (She was one year younger than me, but I spent 5 years in college, so we ended up graduating at the same time.), I made a life rule for myself. If I were ever to meet a random celebrity, I wouldn’t be annoying and go interrupt their day…..unless it were a Gilmore Girls cast member. Then, all bets off, I’d absolutely go say hello, get a photo, probably make a fool of myself, but have my moment. Yes, it’s an oddly specific life rule, but it always felt right.

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Thank you, Netflix, for saving me from needing a stack like this.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/23412868@N03/5341066529/

Around the time Netflix made us freshly gaga for Gilmore all over again, a wonderful phenomenon was born–introducing, The Gilmore Guys. Their podcast analyzes every episode of GG in great depth, including the f-f-f-fashion, pop!-goes-the-culture, ….is-that-homophobic?, say-yes-to-the-Jess, etc. Kevin is a lifelong gilly (a term that I’m pretty sure he coined); Demi is watching the show for the first time, and they’re both very funny, entertaining guys. Since becoming a big thing, the Guys have been able to do special Gilmore Gab episodes with cast members, writers, casting directors, etc. And I love every second of it!

It takes way too much exposition to get to the main event, but here it finally is…. Since the podcast became so huge, they started doing live shows around the country. And last week they came to Portland!! Nothing was going to keep me from that show, and it took zero arm-twisting to convince my fellow gilly friend, Heather, to come with me. (This isn’t my first friendship that’s at least half-based in Gilmore love…. Hi, Samantha!)

Wheelchair perk: Since the tickets were all general admission, no assigned seating, they let wheelchair users come in first to beat the crowd and get settled. Well, if you insist… front row it is, then!

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Do you see that? I was at a town meeting! Practically like being in Miss Patty’s barn!

I know that you normal people (Are there any still reading?) don’t understand why it’s so cool to sit this close to a couple random guys who put a thing on iTunes… But, A) they’re hilarious and I love them, and, B) I figured this was the closest I’d ever get to my lifelong dream of meeting any GG characters.

While waiting for the show to start, we bought the obligatory and adorable t-shirts. We rocked out to the soundtrack of every song they’ve ever played on the podcast. We discussed the rumor that Michael Winters (Taylor Doose) was going to show up, since he allegedly lives in Oregon and performs Shakespeare in Ashland. And we thought the Asian lady who walked past us looked uncannily like Keiko Agena (Lane Kim).

And then, this wonderful moment happened….

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The episode of the night was 6.08, the one where Jess comes back and talks some sense into Rory-the-Yale-dropout. I remember losing my mind when it aired in 2005, but turns out that was only a foreshadowing of the heart palpitations I’d have when these two came out singing “Let’s Talk About Jess” (thanks, Salt-N-Pepa), with a slideshow of sexy Jess/Milo photos happening behind them!! My eyes didn’t know where to focus! Should I be watching the Guys, or my guy in the photos? I don’t know! It didn’t matter! It was wonderful!

As Heather put it afterward, sitting in the front row made it very tempting to invite ourselves into the conversation the entire time. And it was beautiful to be surrounded by people who don’t think it’s weird to spend over two hours listening to people discuss a one hour episode of a WB show that aired ten years. Just look at all those gillies!

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Sometimes inside show-jokes are a lil’ bit creepy.

We had the privilege of witnessing a historic moment. Kevin is known as the crier. Not like the town crier who makes public announcements on the street corner. (Although doesn’t it seem like Stars Hollow would have one of those?) No, he’s the crier who tears up at every emotional moment, and/or every time Emily Gilmore is on the screen. Typically, the crying happens during his private viewings of the show, then he shamelessly admits to it on air. However, for what seems to be the first time, Kevin shed some tears right there on stage. What inspired this public outpouring of emotion? The scene where sick Paul Anka spends the night on Rory’s bed. Yes, I’m serious.

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It’s ok, Kevin, go ahead and feel all the feels.

(By the way, the la-la-la-la special guest in the middle is local comedian and gilly, Caitlin Weierhauser.)

After watching the clip together, and crying about it, we still weren’t done with the Paul Anka bit. Then it was necessary to rework the scene, with Kevin playing Lorelei and Demi as Paul Anka.

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You know that Paul Anka is actually a dog in Gilmore land, right? Right.

I would like to say that this next photo is Demi’s cool guy way of covering up his own Gilmore tears… But I’d be lying. Demi is a robot who will live forever. Instead, this photo may or may not be during one of the half a dozen reenactments we saw of Jess in his bookbinding job… I realize that doesn’t sound worthy of a half dozen repetitions, but does it paint a better picture if I mention that Ginuwine was playing? No, that doesn’t make sense either? Ok, well, I tried.

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Note that Caitlin has fled the stage at this point. Traumatized.

Toward the end of the show, my face was hurting from nonstop smiling, laughs, and gilly-chucks. Then just when it seems like things might eventually settle down with some pretty typical audience Q&A, Kevin fake-stumbled upon this notable audience member… In the microphone, she shyly stuttered and that her name was Christine and Lane Kim was her favorite character. But look! Look! Look!!!

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Fun fact: I looked on Wikipedia later, and Christine wasn’t just a randomly chosen pseudonym. It’s actually Keiko’s real first name! For Spanish speakers, Lane Kim is my tocaya!!

Turns out we weren’t just being racists at the beginning of the show, thinking all Asian women look like Lane. It really was Keiko Agena!!

I can’t even express the fireworks that were going off in my head at this point. I was in the same room as a Gilmore girl! I could barely stay in my seat! Keiko has memorized word-perfect pages of Amy Sherman Palladino scripts. She’s spit out “this band meets that band meets this other band” lines at the speed of light. She’s eaten Luke’s fries and crashed on Lorelei’s couch. She’s drummed in Hep Alien. And she was right there!!!

We did manage to refocus long enough to wrap up the show and all sing the theme song together. There’s nothing like an entire theater full of people standing to sing and dance to Carole King’s “Where You Lead.” Nothing like it.

And then! Then I got the chance to finally live out the good half of my “don’t be a fool in front of celebs, unless Gilmore” rule. Because I’d been true to my word up until then! When I spent some magical time with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, I kept my cool. The universe owed me this!

When it was our turn to meet and greet, I shamelessly and awkwardly babbled about my life rule and the “exception clause for residents of Stars Hollow.” No regrets. Keiko graciously agreed that it was a very good rule to live by. And then took this photo with us.

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I think Heather and I should be Lane’s very own Madeline and Louise. Yes? Also, how much do you love Heather’s hoodie? Almost as much as you love Keiko/Lane looking like our bestie?

And obviously this photo also had to happen. How cute are Demi and Kevin? I love the Gilmore Guys more than ever! It’s crazy that their show is such a success, and I’m so glad that it is!

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Just quick note of f-f-f-fashion…. Yes, I’m wearing the wrong t-shirt. I sadly had nothing Gilmore to wear, so I decided to go with another dated tv show that’s about to have a revival. Also, I realized that’s the rainbow sweater I also wore when hanging out with 105.1 The Buzz’s Daria, Mitch, and Ted. It’s officially my meet-cool-people sweater.

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And I’m going to finally end this entry by giving a shout-out (or, in Kevin’s words, a Stars Holla!) to someone named Lisa Santucci Schvach for creating the Spotify playlist of Gilmore Girls music, which kept me in the mood to write all this.

#ILikeThatSong

A Case Against Colorblindness

A little light, fluffy, no big deal topic to kick off your Monday morning….

Ok, maybe not, but it’s been floating around my mind lately, so I’m putting it here to flicker through a few other minds.

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I grew up in the “colorblind” generation. We talked about race once a year, when we celebrated Martin Luther King for ending racism. We were taught that everyone is equal, the same, period, the end. They taught us not to see race, so we didn’t.

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He might not approve of our approach…

If asked to describe the demographics of my schools k-12, I’d say “White and Asian.” There were other groups represented of course, but hardly enough to register on the pie charts. Still, “few” is more than “zero,” and I can remember the names and faces of a handful of Black students too. (And others, but I’m focusing here.)

The weird thing is, I mostly remember them from my classes in elementary and middle school. They all kind of disappeared in high school, as far as I could tell, if I’d ever thought about it. (I didn’t.)

My high school had at least as many African American students as my previous schools, of course. I saw them in the halls, or sometimes in an elective class. But high school is a segregation machine, and I was one of those kids taking all the honors and AP classes…. It took these last two days of stretching my memory, before I finally came up with one person in one class who had dark skin–I think she was African American, but I couldn’t swear it. That’s it. Just one, and she’s a “maybe.” That doesn’t mean no other Black students ever took an advanced class in my school, and I’m sure my classmates will tell me who I’m forgetting… But the fact that I can’t remember any in my own classes seems significant. I never noticed at the time though. It didn’t occur to me until years later, as an adult going into education, when I learned about underrepresentation in some places and overrepresentation in others.

I was taught not to see color, so I didn’t. I didn’t notice when one color disappeared from our happy little rainbow.

*****

Those students that I wasn’t seeing, did speak up during my junior year, requesting that the school start a Black Student Union. Now, I realize that many schools have had a BSU for a long time, but for some reason, this was a subject of great debate and controversy at our school.

The good news is that I wasn’t one of those people arguing that “BSU’s are racist! What if we tried to have a White Student Union? What would people say then?” Thank goodness, even in my most naive days, I was never that ignorant… No, I was one of the kids who felt very enlightened and egalitarian when arguing, “Why don’t we start a Multicultural Club instead? It would be a club for everyone!” The way I remember it, there was an absurd number of discussions before a decision was ever made. And I wasn’t involved in student council or anything; it just seemed to come up in every class. (Also of note: since I can’t remember any Black faces in those classes, that also means I don’t remember hearing any Black voices in those debates.)

Eventually, a decision was made, and the Multicultural Club was born. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with a Multicultural Club; I’m sure it’s a good club that does good things. (It still exists; I looked it up.) But looking back, I’m so ashamed of that entire debate and my own stance in it. We were wrong. A very small minority of our student body banded together and expressed a need, and the oppressive majority shut them down. I don’t know who the Black students were that originally made the proposal, but I can’t imagine the feeling when they were told, “No, the White kids voted, and they decided this other thing would be better for you.”

I wish I could tell those students that I’m sorry.

We were taught not to see color, so we didn’t. And when color demanded to be seen and heard, we shut it up.

*****

Two of my best friends from high school–the kind of best friends that last no matter how much time has gone by–are Vietnamese-American. I knew that I couldn’t pronounce their middle names no matter how much I tried, and I knew that [insert Asian stereotype here] was stupid and offensive…. And that’s about all I knew. Race didn’t matter. We were all the same. We went to the same school, ate the same french fries from the cafeteria, complained about the same homework, watched the same movies… I guess I did end up owning more Sanrio paraphernalia than the average White girl, but other than that, race wasn’t really a factor.

iron kids
Why were we posing under the Iron Kids sign? No idea. The better question is, why don’t we have any more recent photos? This is pre-pixie hair… I think we just enjoy our scarce time together too much, and forget to photo-document it. 🙂

Let me insert a #WheelchairProblems bit here…. Nobody’s house is ever wheelchair accessible. Like, ever. I almost never get to hang out in other people’s homes. My high school friends were no exception. We hung out at school, at my house, or “out” somewhere. If we went anywhere together, my parents drove, because accessible van. That meant that my friends knew my family and the vibe in our house, but I never really knew theirs.

That’s bothered me my entire life, but it really came into focus when my friend got married several years ago. The wedding was beautiful. She was radiant. I had so much fun, and the biggest meal I’ve eaten to date. I don’t want it to sound like a bad thing when I say that I felt out of place, surrounded by so much Vietnamese culture and tradition and language and people. That’s actually a situation I quite enjoy, being immersed in something new.

But it shouldn’t have felt so different and new, and that’s the part that bothered me. Two of my best friends were Vietnamese, and I felt like I was finally noticing it for the first time. I knew so little about their culture. I didn’t know what it meant for them and their families. (I couldn’t pick their parents out of a crowd.) I don’t think I even knew that either of them spoke as much Vietnamese as I heard that day. What kind of friend was I? How could I miss an entire dimension of some of my closest friends?

My other friend (not the one who got married that day) and I talked about this later, after we’d both grown into adults with a passion for social justice. We talked about race, and what it meant for us, and about why we hadn’t talked about it before. All those years, I hadn’t even known that wall was there, but it felt so good to knock it down.

I was taught not to see color, so I didn’t. I was taught that we are all the same, so I believed it. And I missed so much.

I don’t know if “colorblindness” is a goal we should have for a future generation, but if so, it’s a distant future. For right now, I don’t want it. I tried it, and it kept me from seeing too many things, as blindness* tends to do.

 

*I say that in the literary sense, not the disability sense, but hesitate as I’m writing it. So I want to clarify that when I say “blind,” I’m referring to people choosing to walk around with their eyes shut. That’s very different from an actual blind person who’s alert and aware of their environment.

They Don’t Teach This Stuff In Teacher School

A couple weeks ago I shared one of my great secrets to teaching. One of those things they didn’t teach me in teacher school. Today, out of the goodness of my heart, I’d like to share another. Please don’t underestimate the value of this gesture! Some people go into a lot of debt to study the art and the science of teaching. But here I am, just giving away my secrets like they’re AOL CDs in the 90s. (If I make a reference like that in the classroom, it gets me blank stares, so you’re going to have to humor me.)

I used to struggle a little with how to handle swearing in the classroom. Obviously it’s important to establish a professional atmosphere where the kids learn to express themselves appropriately. At the same time, I don’t feel like it’s usually an offense worth making into too big a deal. It’s a tough balance. Also, I don’t feel like all swears are created equal. Different words have different intensity, and different people would rank and categorize swear words differently. And there’s a difference between a minor swear slipping out of your mouth when you’re frustrated or hit your funny bone, and directly cussing somebody out. But middle school kids are a fairness police force to be reckoned with, and just try explaining the ambiguity and nuance to them, when they’re incensed over “this kid got a detention, but that one two months ago didn’t!”

The struggle was real when one particular student had a strong swearing habit. He wasn’t intentionally being defiant, and he wasn’t generally expressing any strong emotion when he swore. That was just how he talked. Each word was usually followed by a cringing, “Oh! Sorry!!” That class was a pretty tight group; most of us had been together for a couple years by then. So we eventually started joking about how we wished we had a nickel for every swear….

Then I did what any reasonable person would do, and I got a class swear jar. Here, I’ll show you a picture.

swear jar
Ta-da! Another secret to teaching revealed.

You see it there, right? Resting on the table? That’s my invisible swear jar. And any time I hear a student swear, they have to put an invisible coin in the invisible swear jar.

Yes, I’m serious.

It’s the greatest thing. And my kids are the greatest people. They go along with this shenanigan wholeheartedly.

When a student mutters “%$@#,” I stop what I’m doing, and mime lifting the jar off a nearby table. (If I pick it up from a different surface than where I last left it, the kids call me out on it!) Sometimes I complain about how it’s getting heavy. Then I hold it in front of the offender, and wait for them to make their contribution. The kid generally makes a show of reluctantly reaching into their pocket and fishing around, lots of dramatic sighs, and finally throwing an invisible coin in. Sometimes they claim to be short, and ask a neighbor if they can borrow an invisible coin. A few big spenders offer an invisible dollar.

When the kids ask what I’m going to spend the invisible coins on, I assure them there’s a plan. “Invisible computers. We can always use more technology in the classroom.”

But the greatest part is that nobody has ever refused to go along with this entire charade. (I just jinxed it by saying that on the internet.) An invisible coin always makes its way into the jar. Sometimes I’m busy and ask someone else to fetch the swear jar; they do. I might pass it off to another student and ask them to carry it back to the table; they do.

My favorite was the time a kid brushed up against the counter, then jumped back and admitted that she had just knocked the swear jar on the floor. “Then you’re not leaving this room until every coin is picked up. They’re everywhere!” I said in the exact same tone of voice I would have used for a visible mess on my floor. “I’ll help!” another kid offered. Soon, half the class was busily gathering stray invisible coins and returning them to the invisible jar. “You missed one, right there, next to your shoe,” I’d direct.

In the middle of this, a couple kids came in from the hallway to meet their friend. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. But the look on their faces was priceless as they watched us all acting out this scene with completely straight faces. It was like we all could see something they couldn’t….. We did all exchange secret smiles after we finally agreed that every coin had been returned to the jar.

Our school’s drama teacher is pretty fantastic. But, I don’t know… I’m not sure even he could get an entire class to improv a scene with the level of buy-in that we’ve achieved in ELD.

I can’t prove it with data, but I actually do believe it reduces the amount of swearing in my class too. They really try to avoid having to donate invisible coins to the jar. For most minor swearing offenses, it’s just enough accountability without requiring some big punishment.

(In between the nonsense, learning really does happen in my class! I swear it does.)

Art Appreciation

I want to tell you about the background art on my blog. It’s one of my favorite things–if I were Oprah, you’d all be going home with a copy. This is the full image…

wheelchair art cropped

This beautiful piece happened in June 2011. My art teacher friend and I had been talking all year (at least) about how much fun it would be to create some “wheelchair art.” We must have been inspired by some muddy tire tracks or something. Finally, we decided to make it happen on the last day of classes, with my Beginning ELD (English Language Development) class.

You guys, Beginning ELD classes are like nothing else. There’s magic. You get these kids together from all over the world, and they couldn’t be more different. But they’re all figuring out this new language and culture together, and also sharing their home languages and cultures with each other. They spend equal amounts of time bickering, and helping each other, until before we know it, we’ve become a crazy, quirky little family. My favorite days are the ones when my lesson plans get shoved aside  because the kids have more interesting stories to share. I don’t even feel guilty about it–they’re telling stories in English, and isn’t that the goal?

So by the end of that 2010/11 school year, like always, the beginners had transformed from quiet, scared individuals, to a chatty, expressive team that shared inside jokes and memories that still make us smile when we see each other in 2016. What better way to celebrate our community than by creating some art together?

Art Teacher Friend had a canvas tucked away that we decided would be perfect for the project. She came with materials, and we pushed the furniture to the back of the room. I’d told the kids there was going to be a surprise on the last day of classes, but they had no idea why they were putting on aprons and filling dishes with paint… When we put sponge brushes in their hands, and told them to start painting my wheelchair tires, the looks on their faces were priceless! They all hesitated for a bit, clearly wondering if they’d understood the directions. But soon enough, they each had chosen a color and claimed their space on a tire.

Once the four wheels were sufficiently rainbowed, I rolled across the canvass until we needed to repaint. We repeated the process a few times, with the kids suggesting which parts needed more color, and which direction I should drive in.

It looked…. ok, until one kid suggested, “Ms. Napper, you should do a… a… um… how you say… like Homer Simpson eat?”

“A doughnut!” Excellent idea. We refilled the paint once more, and I spun in a circle this time. He was so right. That’s exactly what it needed.

At some point, we noticed a wheelchair-using student passing by in the hall, so we invited him in to see what we were doing. His jaw dropped. “My mom would KILL me!!”

I assured him that, “So would mine… don’t tell her!”

Before we were finished, the kids all painted the bottom of their shoes, and paraded around the canvass. It’s hard to see in the photo, but you can see in real life that their footprints are intermixed with the tire tracks.

(The shoes were easy to clean afterward… The tires were a beast. There were traces of paint left for months, but I kind of loved it.)

The finished product makes me all kinds of happy! I’m usually one of those people who don’t “get” abstract art. But somewhere in those colors and patterns, I see a ridiculously accurate depiction of my classroom. That’s exactly what my kids and I look like, and what a day in my job feels like. When I look at it, I remember the specific kids who helped in its creation, but it reflects all my other classes too.

ms napper n lucy
Lucy is my chair’s name. Some kid apparently thought both our names should be on the board. 🙂

Some less socially skilled individuals have asked, and others have wondered silently, “Can you really be a teacher with a wheelchair? Do the kids actually respect you?”

Short answer: Um, yes…

Longer answer: I could talk all day about the ways Lucy (my chair) makes me a better teacher than I’d be without her. Let’s list a few…

  • There’s nothing like living with disability to make you a creative problem-solver. This point really deserves its own blog post, but for now I’ll just say that I love helping students discover creative ways to use their strengths (which they’re usually not too aware of) to get past their weaknesses (which they’re usually very aware of).
  • My students learn to get outside of their own heads and offer help so naturally, that it’s almost eery. I’ve had classes where all I have to do is think, “I wish somebody would…” and before I can finish the thought, somebody is already doing it. They learn to think about and help the people around them, and that there’s no shame in asking for help when they need it.
  • It’s ELD–pretty much all of my kids have experienced feeling marginalized, put down by society. I can relate. I may be part of the racial and linguistic majority, but I can absolutely relate. The kids and I can talk about the tough stuff on a level that really matters.

It’s a crazy dance of rainbows being splattered in every direction…. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Dear Grammar Nazis,

Dear Grammar Nazis*,

I get it. I’ve been one of you. As an English teacher by profession, people assume I still am, more than ever. Because let’s be honest, it’s kind of fun to roll your eyes every time somebody misuses there/their/they’re. It strokes your ego when you can feel superior to someone who can’t distinguish good and well. And it’s easy to disregard somebody’s entire argument when they mix up it’s and its. Also, when you notice these English language infractions, you can’t be expected to keep them to yourself. The world needs to know that you know a grammar error occurred!

assorted stationary
When you want to take a red pen to somebody’s speech…
Photo Credit: Shek’s Aperture via Compfight cc

But here’s the thing. I’m not one of you anymore. I’ve changed. I’ve evolved. The funny thing is, it’s my years as an ESL teacher, along with being a Spanish learner, that have me convinced–grammar just isn’t that important. Yes, it’s important. But not nearly as important as I once believed.

Let me tell you about my Spanish learning journey.

When I entered college, I was the first in my immediate family to do so, which meant I didn’t have a lot of guidance on how to do things, like sign up for classes. The ginormous course catalog gave me anxiety. I knew I wanted to keep taking Spanish, but I had no idea which class to sign up for. Luckily, there was a handy placement test you could take online.

I took the test, which was multiple choice, mostly grammar questions. For some people, that would be a nightmare, but I was a good test taker. I didn’t always understand the vocabulary in a given question, but I knew the answer demanded an imperfect subjunctive verb. When the test score popped up, it said I should register for a 300-level class. Not really understanding what that meant, so I just did what the test told me to do.

Fast forward to my first day of classes–BIG mistake. I wasn’t in the room for five minutes before I knew I did not belong there. I couldn’t understand a word the teacher was saying. The other students were conversing easily en español, and I couldn’t begin to follow. I wanted to run from the room immediately, but I also didn’t want to draw that attention to myself. It was a long hour of hoping nobody spoke to me, and trying not to cry. (Have I mentioned what a cool kid I still was at 18?:))

As soon as class was over, I dropped the class, and picked up a 200-level one it its place. Much better! I’d already learned all the grammar in the 200-level classes, so the textbook exercises were easy. But I had no fluency. I needed time to pick up more vocabulary, acclimate my ear and tongue to the language, soak in the patterns so that the grammar became an invisible structure, not a list of rules in my head. When I returned to 300-level Spanish a year later, it was still challenging, but I was ready this time. I came in armed with more than just grammar rules.

It wasn’t smooth sailing after that, though. I never really grasped that being a good student, and being good at learning a language, are two different sets of skills. I sat quietly in class, took notes, did my homework, and got good grades on my tests. But learning a language requires talking! Lots of talking! I was too scared of opening my mouth and making a mistake. Before saying anything out loud, I’d practice it in my head, thinking through all the different grammar points. Most of the time, I’d end up not saying anything. By the time I graduated, I’d gotten good grades in tons of Spanish classes, but still didn’t feel like I spoke the language.

FullSizeRender-4
Desde que puse la bandera mexicana en mi silla, hago más amigos hispanohablantes. 🙂

Progress finally started happening when I became an ESL teacher in a school that had many Spanish-speaking students and, at the time, few Spanish-speaking teachers. Suddenly, I found myself regularly in situations miles from my comfort zone, speaking to students and/or their parents, sometimes interpreting when a more qualified interpreter wasn’t available. There wasn’t time for me to analyze all the grammar in my head. I just had to open my mouth and hope something intelligible came out.

I don’t actually know if my grammar has gotten better or worse since college. Many patterns and conjugations and things have become second nature, so I don’t have to think about them anymore. But I’m pretty sure an enormous number of errors have crept in too. That’s ok. I’m actually communicating now, which I wasn’t doing before, and isn’t that the point?

On the other hand, I’ve seen some great examples of the other side of the coin.

I’ve met many English language learners–my students, but also my peers, and other professionals–who navigate the English-speaking world daily with imperfect grammar, and it doesn’t get in their way. They understand, and they’re understood. They might not conjugate every verb correctly, and they might use the wrong preposition now and then, but so what? They’re expressing complex thoughts, and small grammar errors aren’t keeping anyone from easily understanding them. Wouldn’t you rather listen to the person who’s speaking with depth and sharing complicated ideas, even if they make a few syntax mistakes, than the person who’s playing it safe and only saying the simple sentences they’ve practiced and know they can say error-free? In an engaging conversation, how long does it take before you stop even noticing small grammar stuff?

As an English teacher, I’ll keep teaching grammar, and correcting my kids’ mistakes. Grammar does matter. It gives structure to our language, so we can understand each other. And, unfortunately, it influences how we’re perceived. People judge you as more intelligent and capable when you speak according to a certain standard.

But, my grammar nazi friends, don’t be those people. If you’re as enlightened as you like to consider yourself, then you must realize there’s no correlation between a person’s grammar and their intelligence, abilities, or value. We all have our strengths. If somebody can’t figure out apostrophes, it doesn’t mean they don’t have great stuff to say! It just makes us look pretentious when we have to point out mistakes.

Also, if you’re the linguist you fancy yourself, then you realize that language is constantly evolving, and the “rules” are arbitrarily, unintentionally chosen by people with social status and power. There are many different dialects of English, and none of them are objectively better than another.

Please don’t expect me to follow you down the grammar nazi path. And don’t think that because I’m a teacher, I’m judging your grammar. I’ve been there, and it’s not for me anymore. These days, I focus on being a “word nerd” anyway. It’s much more fun.

 

*I’m aware that it’s controversial to use the word “nazi” lightly. I debated in my head, and decided to stick with it. I’ve heard many people own the term “grammar nazi” proudly, and I find it fitting with the elitist, intolerant attitude that it tends to accompany.