School Eve

In honor of School Eve, which some people refer to as Labor Day, I’m having a small party with my laptop and some pumpkin spice hot chocolate. We’re gathering to welcome Ms. Napper back, and say goodbye to Kristine. It can’t be a long party, because Ms. Napper has a to-do list that’s seventy miles long. Laptop is keeping us all honest by leaving Charger at home, so the party can’t possibly outlive Battery’s life.

Ms. Napper letter magnetsThey say there’s nothing like the first day of your first year teaching, and they’re right. I’ll always remember the off-the-charts anxiety that I walked in with that first day, no idea what I was getting into…. These days, the first day anxiety is because I know exactly what I’m getting into.

Anxiety isn’t nearly an all-encompassing enough word to describe it though. The truth is, if there’s a feeling, I’m feeling it. All the feels.

I know by now that there’s room in my heart for countless hundreds of kids. I had three student run-ins just this weekend–one who will be in my class again this year, one who is just now leaving me for high school, and one that graduated high school already. Every one of them made my heart smile! Also, every one of them saw me and reached out to connect before I even saw them, so I think that means Ms. Napper is doing something right. (Although I guess I don’t know how many other kids might have seen me this weekend and hid….)

There’s a very real part of me that loves the first day of school. A perk of teaching ESL is that I get many students for more than one year, so the first day of school is like happy reunion time. “Hello!! How are you? How was that summer Cali trip? How’s your new baby sister? Do you have pictures? Love those new shoes! When did you get so much taller than me?” Even with the new 6th graders, there are usually a few shades of family reunion, “Wait, you’re Maria’s cousin? Does that mean you’re Brandon’s little brother? I love your family! Haven’t I met you at conferences before? You were tiny then, but if I remember right, you weren’t shy….”

There’s some magic where we all like each other more on the first day of school than we ever have before. A little magic happens over the summer, and the kids are slightly more mature. They’re refreshed, full of hopes and goals for the school year, because this is the year when they’re going to get their act together and fix whatever habit was holding them back last year. It’s good energy, and I try to make the most of it. Also, now that it’s a new year and they have a new set of teachers to figure out, I’m the familiar face, and there’s nothing more comforting to the nerves than a familiar face. We don’t have to start back at square one in my class; we can pick up where we left off. We already know each other’s strengths and limits; we know how far we can push, and where we should tread lightly. We have a bank of shared memories and struggles and inside jokes to pull from, and they make us stronger.

I really do love my kids, and it’ll be great to see them this week.

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The kids get even more wacky when the wi-fi goes down… How could you not enjoy these weirdos? 🙂

All those goals and hopes and dreams they’re coming with? I have them too, for the kids and for myself, times a thousand. Here’s where the anxiety starts creeping in. I have a million and one ideas for how to better teach and support my students this year, and I want to make them all happen. I spent all last year pushing, pushing, pushing to get my schedule set up a certain way this year,  believing it would allow me to do better work. After a little more pushing last week, I got my way! My teaching schedule is (almost) exactly what I’ve been asking for. And that’s great, but it means now there’s even more pressure. I have the structure and the responsibilities that I requested, so now it’s on my shoulders to make the most of those opportunities.

My kids deserve the best, and I want to give it. My colleagues too. I work with so many incredible people, and I’m sure I spent more time than I should have last week just chatting with many of them, but you know what? Enjoying socializing too much with your work family seems like a pretty good problem to have. I know that my fellow Whitford teachers also want to give their ESL kids the best they’ve got, and as a specialist, I want to support them in that. It’s part of my job, and with increased staffing this year, it’s back on my priority list, as it should be.

“My job is to serve the public, not save the public.” A very smart educator friend told me that years ago. She’s right, and I believe it in my head, but it’s hard to convince my heart. No matter how many good intentions I’m overflowing with, my supply of time and energy is still limited. So limited! I’ve reassured my newer teammates a hundred times that every year we come into this job with a thousand goals, and we accomplish like six of them. The other 994 get put on next year’s list, along with three hundred more that we think of over the course of the year, and that’s ok, not a reason to beat ourselves up. But secretly, I’m telling this to them because I need to hear it myself. The unmet goals eat at me. My shortcomings taunt me. My failures, insecurities, and unsolved problems are always in my peripheral vision. Because those things aren’t just about me, they all come with the faces of kids I love and want to do better by.

My greatest wish is to be able to spend time being both Ms. Napper and Kristine on a daily basis. That’s what people don’t understand about teaching when they make comments, sometimes in bitterness and sometimes in fun, about how “It must be nice to get summers off.” Let’s set aside the fact that I’ve never had an entire summer where I didn’t work, mostly unpaid hours. Even if that weren’t the case… Summer is when I find Kristine again! I miss her during the year. It’s exhausting to go all year without ever clocking out. This job follows me every minute of the day. If I’m not working, I’m feeling guilty for not working, and feeling the weight on my shoulders getting even heavier. We’re set up for failure, because the to-do’s aren’t just more than anybody could do in an 8-hour day; they’re more than anyone could do in a 24-hour day. And none of it’s menial, mindless work. It’s mentally and emotionally draining. I would try and explain how physically taxing it all amounts to for me, but I can’t even put it into words anyone would understand. I know that teachers aren’t the only workaholics around, but I don’t think it would be hard to make the case that we’re the lowest paid workaholics.

I say all the time that I have no idea how people manage to be both teachers and parents. Endless respect for those who do. I’m barely even coherent when I get home every day. I can’t imagine having anything left to give to my own kids.

This year is particularly frightening for Kristine, shoved back into her summer closet, because Ms. Napper (re)started a master’s program. I’m glad it’s happening, and it’ll hopefully be done in a year. But it’s another huge time commitment. Another energy commitment.

I’ve been really trying to find small ways to let Kristine out during the school year. That’s why I joined PDX Vox and let the choir thing back into my life in 2015. I’m not giving that up! I refuse. Singing makes me happy, and my choir community is just the greatest group of people. But even so, it’s a struggle every Thursday night, when I want to be fully engaged in rehearsal and the people around me, but my brain just won’t keep up.

Same reasoning went into starting this blog last January. I almost forgot how much I need writing to feel like myself. It gets all those thoughts and feelings that swirl around chaotically in my head, and puts them somewhere external, tangible, and manageable. I need this! And I’m afraid that personal writing, meaning this blog, will take a back seat this year. If I’m sitting with my laptop, the school work, and the other school work, is always going to feel more pressing. I’m not saying goodbye, because I hope to keep making time for my blog this year. But I’m afraid it might be a ridiculous hope.

I hate feeling my own thought processing slow down during the school year. It’s only been a week of preservice, no students yet, and I can already feel it happening. My brain gets smart but my head gets dumb. I can’t hold onto a thought long enough to complete it, and it just turns into a mess up there.

I’ll post this in the morning, as I head off to First Day #1. (6th graders come for the first first day. The 7th and 8th will join us for the second first day.) Ready or not, it’s here. My head and heart will be fully in the game, and it’s going to be a good year. I’ll do my best not to beat myself up for all the ways I don’t succeed this year, and I hope others will be kind and forgiving with me as well. I won’t have much left to give outside of school; I tell everyone that “I’m really only a good friend in July.” But please don’t allow me to rely too heavily on that excuse, because I also need friends the rest of the year.

Pumpkin spice and scarves and boots will have to be enough for me now. Luckily, Kristine and Ms. Napper both share those not-even-guilty pleasures.

Harry Potter and the Trip Through Time

Last week I loaded Harry Potter and the Cursed Child onto my kindle app, excited to read it on the train ride to my parents’. I didn’t expect it to live up to the original series or anything, but I figured it would be a fun read, and what could be a more perfect place to read Harry Potter than a train? In my head, I was basically rocking Platform 9 3/4.

I’m not gonna lie–the first couple pages had me cringing a bit. The dialogue felt a little clunky, and I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to get into it…. But the plot picked up quickly, and I felt myself getting sucked into the adventure. I kept reading. It was like when you see an old friend after years apart, and it’s a little awkward as you’re trying to figure out this new person. You kind of see glimpses of the person you remember, but aren’t completely sure whether you’re still friends… But then you work through the awkward and find your new rhythm, because you remember how much you actually love each other. That was me and the Hogwarts gang. They’ve changed, and I’ve changed, but being reunited feels so good.

The book that lived...
The book that lived…

I didn’t fully appreciate just how appropriate the time and place was for reading this new Harry Potter, though, until the next day as I read the last few pages. By that point, I wasn’t just reading for plot anymore; I was fully wrapped up in the humanity and heart that our wizard friends offer, feeling all the feels. Suddenly, I realized that I was sitting in the exact same spot–my bedroom at my parents’ house–as the last time I read a brand new Harry Potter book.

When I both eagerly and reluctantly read the last in the original series, it was July 2007, and I was a hot mess. My parents had just moved from the only house my family had ever lived in. I’d just graduated and left BYU. Being a person who doesn’t handle change well, it really threw me to be uprooted from all the places, and most of the people, I’d ever known as “home,” all at the same time. I was interviewing for jobs, but didn’t know where or if I’d land. The future was a foggy black hole. I had a shiny new teaching degree, so I was interviewing for teaching jobs, but I’d hated student teaching. I wasn’t at all convinced that I had what it takes to be a decent teacher, and I was pretty sure I’d never be happy doing it. But what are you supposed to do when you’ve just invested five years and a zillion dollars into a degree you then think was a mistake? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a great way to escape reality for a day or two. But then it ended, just like every other era in my life had just ended. Did I mention I was a hot mess?

A couple days after finishing Deathly Hallows, I interviewed with Whitford. The job was different than all the others I’d been applying for, but it also felt so much more right. I wanted that job. And I got that job.

And then I blinked, and it was 2016, and I was back in that same room, reading Harry Potter. There was never going to be more to Harry’s story, but it turns out “never” was a strong word. (I prefer #always anyway…)

I was never going to make it in teaching, but here I am, about to start year ten, and I’ve done more than just survive teaching. I’ve lived it, slept it, and breathed it. I’ve found passions and areas of growing expertise within my teaching world that I never would have guessed. I’ve amassed a list of hundreds of kids–not all of them such kids anymore–who I love dearly. I can confidently say that I’ve made a difference for at least some. I laugh every day. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake…

I was afraid I’d never find a place that felt like home again. But I dropped my roots onto Oregon soil, and they like it there. It’s still a struggle sometimes to be alone and feel like I actually belong in a place with no family. But it’s a really good place, filled with really good people. I have communities that I’m grateful and proud to be part of. I have friends and connections that I treasure. And as half the country, unfortunately, seems to have discovered, Portland is just really cool!

Gave my heart to Oregon, then pinned in on my bag.
Gave my heart to Oregon, then pinned it on my bag.

I was sure that my parents’ new house in the middle of nowhere was never going to be home…. and, well, that’s still mostly true. I can’t visit without getting homesick for our real home. But, funny thing, becoming an aunt has helped a little. There’s been life and memories attached to the house now. That’s where I spent hours cuddling those sweet babies. I just spent a week hiding, seeking, and running around like a crazy person with my cutie pie niece in all random corners of the house. This is a house they’ll look back on nostalgically someday when they’re remembering their own childhood. My 2007 self didn’t imagine ever caring much about the next generation in Harry Potter’s world. And had no idea how deeply in love I’d be nine years later with the next generation in my own family.

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The first time I finished Harry Potter forever at my parents’ house, I couldn’t see where my life was about to go, and it terrified me. This time, as I finished the turns-out-it-wasn’t-forever Harry Potter, I had to smile about all the unexpected directions it’s taken. If I had been able to see my future, I wouldn’t have recognized it. How could I have recognized the 32-year-old version of myself who would color her hair like a peacock, earn an IMDb page, become a minister-by-the-powers-of-the-internet, write stuff on a blog that eleventy billion people would read, and occasionally ask herself if life in Nebraska would be so bad? (Ok, there aren’t that many regular readers of my blog…. But some days it feels like it.) And who knew that version of me would be reading a new Harry Potter book?

Life is weird. I should stop trying to predict it.

When the tragedy hits way too close to home…

This really, really isn’t what I wanted to write about this weekend. But after pushing through and doing all of this weekend’s have-tos, I’m finding this to be the only thing I can write about….

Like everyone who calls Mukilteo home, I’m thinking about the shooting that happened late Friday night. I don’t want to write the details; you can read about it at the link, or plenty of other news sources.

My peer group and I are reeling. We didn’t know the people involved, but shave off a few years, and we would have known them. We basically were them.

They went to Kamiak High School. So I’m remembering Kamiak. I remember feeling pretty safe and protected from the world most of the time; we were 90s kids in an idyllic town overlooking the Puget Sound, and I don’t think lockdown drills were a thing yet.

But you know what else I remember? I remember the bookends to my KHS years–freshman year was Columbine (Remember how that was a tragedy we’d never imagined, not “oh no, another school shooting?”), and senior year was 9/11 (Remember how that felt so impossibly surreal and nobody knew what to do next, instead of “Here come the pundits, seizing another chance to make the same political arguments as always, and everybody will have added a filter to their profile photo within an hour…?”). The world wasn’t safe then either, and we were just starting to realize it. We were teenagers, still kids, and we didn’t know what to do with that kind of fear. But we were also teenagers, on the brink of becoming adults, and the world was asking serious questions about how to become a safer place while maintaining the freedoms we treasure as Americans… and we were starting to realize it would be our responsibility to answer them.

You know what else I remember? I remember the choir room. The safe space. When life was too much to deal with, choir was always comfortingly predictable. Always the same people, in the same routines. We went on a retreat in the woods every fall, sang the Messiah and Carol of the Bells every winter, and went on some big trip every spring. We made beautiful music and memories together. It’s almost cliche to refer to the “choir family,” but I realized how extended that family is when I went back to visit several years later. The kids didn’t just follow all the same routines I remembered, they’d heard of my class! “You were one of the blesseds?!” Yes, I was. Yes, I am.

The shooting involved choir kids. That means they’re extended family. When I watch videos of them singing, I just have to close my eyes, and I can see my own generations of choirlings, plain as day.

You know what else I remember? Coming home from college in the summers, and reuniting with friends. Having people to “catch up” with made us feel a tiny bit adult, while falling into old patterns made us feel like we’d never really grow up, or maybe wish that we didn’t have to. Exactly the same as these college kids were doing Friday night. On the same street they were partying on. The only thing separating us from them is time.

You know what else I remember? The Harbour Pointe LDS Church building. I went to church there, youth activities there, early morning seminary there. I got to know God there. I felt the love of being part of a giant church family there. It was a refuge.

It was also the gathering place for kids and their families after Friday night. It hosted a vigil on Sunday night.

You know what else I remember? Every single mass shooting since I became a teacher. Every lock-in, lock-out, lock-down, whatever they’re calling them this year, drill since I became a teacher, all of which stir up memories of those shootings. Because now it’s not just about feeling unsafe; now it’s worrying about the safety of the kids. Kids who I love like my own. Kids who trust me to keep them safe. Kids whose families trust me to keep them safe. And on a regular, day-to-day basis, I do a pretty good job of it. Most kids feel safe enough in my room to express themselves, to make mistakes, to have fun, to ask for help, to try things, to share bad news, to share good news, to be themselves. But what about when I can’t keep them safe? What about the stuff I can’t protect them from?

Those kids in Mukilteo had some of the same teachers I had. And those teachers are living one of my nightmares right now.

You know what else I remember? Every kid I’ve taught that was holding onto some deep and unresolved issues. Emotional issues, psychological issues, issues that clouded the light in their eyes. Kids who got everything I had to give and services from those more qualified than myself, but it never seemed like enough. They might be the bullied, or the bullies, or both, or neither. Kids that were hurting somehow. Kids that might be capable of hurting others one day, especially if they have easy access to a weapon. I hurt for them when they were my students, and if the worst should ever happen, I’d hurt for them then too.

Those same Mukilteo teachers are living that nightmare also.

I don’t know how to end this post. A plea for better gun laws? For better mental health services? To stop hate and remember love? Do I express my love for the communities that I’ve found homes in? Do I express my faith that God is still with us? Hope for a better tomorrow? Despair for how the todays feel like they keep getting worse? Condolences to the families and those close to them?

All of those things. But… I don’t have closure right now, so I can’t write closure. Just… here we are.

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.

Portland outfit - umbrella maxi

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.

bird earrings

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.

portland selfie with carolee

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.

mayan calendar
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.

portlandia statue
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.

hollywood stars
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!

to kill a mockingbird
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.