Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fields of children and career (slight) changes

Claire started softball practice last week. She'd been looking forward to it from the time I registered her three weeks ago to her first practice last Tuesday when she stepped the the edge of the baseball diamond, looked out onto the field of 9 year old girls tossing softballs to each other, looked back up at me and said, "I want to go home."
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I just want to go home," she replied, as plainly and seriously she'd said it before.
"You know some of those girls. Look, there're those twins Candice and Cassidy."
I pointed to two chubby girls whose arms giggled when they threw the ball. These poor kids had been pink-skinned and chubby since preschool. I looked at Claire, doe-faced, blue-eyed, and slender. What did she have to be self-conscious about?
"I'm not good, I don't want to go," she said, getting a little desperate now.
"But you've been wanting to play. We've been praticing. You're good."
"No, no." She stepped back. "I want to go home."
I put my hand on her back, and then followed that consoling gesture with something that didn't help at all. "Claire, I bought you a glove. We've paid for you to play. You have to atleast try."
Now she yelled, "Nooo!"
Luckily, the coach's wife saw the predicament and started saying soothing things to Claire, gradually getting her to step onto the field. I must have looked like one of those moms who forces their kids to play sports. I kept wanting to tell this lady, "No really, she WANTS to play! She likes to play! She's just shy! I'M NOT A CRAZY PARENT!!!"

Christopher was different. Yesterday was his first tee ball practice, and when I pulled up to the field, he jumped out of the car so fast I don't think I'd shut off the engine. (That's an exaggeration. I'd turned off the engine. But I hadn't come to a complete stop. Or something) The difference between the two kids isn't so much their athletic ability. When I play with them in the backyard, they both respond well to the things I teach them. Claire can even throw a football pretty damn good. But when it comes to performing in front of anyone but me, they're night and day. Claire's attitude is, "Oh shit, I'm in the spotlight and now I will wither like an insecure plant. Christopher's reaction is, "When these people see how I can throw this ball they are going to faint with ecstasy." He also believes that any ball hit in any direction is his, and he will knock over other kids for the chance to catch it, even if he's standing in right field and the ball is hit backwards towards the catcher.

So we're working on the teamwork thing. Both teaching Christopher to recognize other players on the field, and teaching Claire not to care so much about the other players on the field. Can a happy medium be reached? (you're all going to make a bad joke about the availablity of a happy psychic, aren't you?) We shall see.

In other news, I just registered to for classes in the summer. I've decided to get my teacher's certification for high school english. Why, you ask? Because I'm into pain. No, it's something that I've been contemplating for a while. I would like to help kids learn to be better, more confident writers. The Catholic school system will hire you if you're enrolled in a certification program, so I've started applying to high schools for the fall. So we'll see. I've been praying for guidance for a while now and I feel that this is where I'm being led. I'm not giving up writing, you understand. Shit, Stephen King was a high school English teacher when he published Christine. Obviously, he was eventually able to retire. I'm not syaing I'll have the same luck. But you know, if I don't that's ok. I want a steady job, but more than that I want a steady homelife. If I'm not the next JK Rowling it won't kill me. And speaking of that such stuff, who knows - maybe I'll get famous after I'm dead. Woo hoo!

Anyway, my mom was a stressed out teacher when I was growing up, so that makes me nervous. That's what's turned me off of teaching in the past, actually. But I look at my friend Christina and I feel inspired. She teaches English, heads yearbook, and the school paper, and she's functional. She gets stressed out, but she handles it in a healthy way. So I've got hope.

Here's hoping,
Madame G

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gorilla Mental Health Professionals

***Names have been changed to protect the Anomalous****

There was a pretty big group at Al-anon tonight, and I'd been hoping there wouldn't be. I got there about a half hour early, like usual, so that I can brew the coffee, set things up, and kick my feet up a while before people stroll in. Tonight when I sat back and gazed at the clock I was thankful that the meeting started in ten minutes and nobody else was there.

"Good," I thought. "Nobody will show. I'll say the serenity prayer, recite the 12 steps, give myself a hug, and go home."

I really didn't feel like talking to anybody, or even smiling at them really. It'd been a shitty day.

That was before Large Contessa strolled in, walking stick in hand. That's not her real name, that's just the name that pops in my head when I look at her - Large Contessa. She's enormous. Tall, wide like silly putty stretched across your hand, and morbidly obese. That's not a term that I'm fond of using (morbidly obese), but good Lord man, there are just no other words. She wears hiking boots, dirty brown pants, a black T-shirt and a green flannel. All that plus her wide rimmed safari hat and walking stick makes her look ready to hit the trail.

She sat across from me, was silent a moment and then said, "I didn't weed my garden all last summer."
"...No?" I asked.
"Not at all," she admitted. "The whole yard's a mess. I mean you let it go just a little while and..." She lifted her hands and waved them above her head, the gesture implying that if you let the yard go for just a few weeks it could explode.
"Yeah, I know how that is," I said.
"I got those long plants," she said. She sat back and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to think. "What are they called? Do you know what I'm talking about? The long plants with the long leaves?"
I waited for more details but she left it at that.
"No, I don't know."
Then another girl walked into the room. Her name was Pipi Longstocking, and she dropped herself into the seat next to Large Contessa.
"Hey," said Pipi. "Do you go to the zoo? Like, often?"
Large Contessa's eyes widened. "YES."
"I think I saw you by the gorillas."
"You must have, I go down there to talk to them a lot."
Pipi squealed with glee. "You talk to them? I talk to them too." Then her smile faded. "I think they're very sad."
Large Contessa gave a large nod. "I know."
There was silence. And then Large Contessa piped up.
"Some people like the orangutans," she said. "But I don't."

And while this conversation was going on I found myself thinking something that I often think at Al-anon, which is, "These are my peers. These are the same people who, when I finish sharing with the group, sometimes come to me, take my hand and say, 'I know eactly what you were talking about. We have so much in common.'" Is this ape conversation real or did they stage this just to fuck with me?

More people came in after that. Lots of people, acually, and I managed to chair the meeting without bitching about my day or losing it because life can be so unfair. I've got anger issues, man.

Looking back I realize that what I should have asked Large Contessa is how the gorilla consultation is working out for her because if it's helping AND it's cheaper than my therapist then this might be something I should look into.

Monday, March 9, 2009

This post meanders - bear with me.

What bothers me about the term "it is what it is" is that it doesn't describe anything. It's like that Faith No More song "Epic."

It's it!
What is it?
It's it!
What is it?

No it's not. You can't define a term using the same term. What is happiness? It is to be happy. Does this really define anything for you? No.

But my dislike of the term "it is what it is" doesn't just have to do with the fact that it gives you no useful information. It's because whenever I hear someone say it, they're just saying it for lack of anything else to say at a time when I'm looking for a real answer.

"It's so bullshit that I can't find a job. Why is it so hard for people to find a job nowadays?"
"I don't know. It is what it is, you know?"
"...I have no idea what you are talking about."

Why not just say "I don't know?" It is what it is does not sound all that deep and wise. I know that it is supposed to mean "there is not a great, complex answer. It will simply be itself, just as you and I and he and me and we are all together. Coo coo cachoo." Its atempt at simplicity only confuses me more, although it does make me think of John Lennon, which is kind of cool.

Or, and I HATE this, the term is used when someone is really pissed at you and they're being sarcastic. Like the term "Whatever." Have you ever known someone to say "whatever" and really mean it? No. Most of the people I know say "whatever" when what they really mean is, "Yes, what you have suggested and/or just expressed bothers me deeply and I have great concern for how things are going to turn out, however, I'm going to give you a sarcastic response that will make you feel like a selfish asshole who does not consider my feelings to be important."

And now I will completely change the subject. The other day I asked my grandpa if he wanted me to say anything in particular at his funeral. He had heart surgery last week and none of us, including him, were sure that he was going to make it. He's been so weak lately and that big artery in his neck was almost completely blocked. In the days leading up to the surgery he mentioned dying a few times, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask if there was anything he wanted me to say in particular.

I was sure he'd want me to talk about being a pilot in World War 2, which is a half truth (he was a pilot but the war ended before he got to kill anybody, something that's always bothered him), he flew B-52's during rescue missions in the Azores (true), he wrote a book (true) and he invented the six pack (though I don't have confirmation on this one I'm going to guess that's a lie). The things I'm sure that he won't want me to mention are that he beat the shit out of my dad as a kid, he once told dad and his brothers that women were like cows - only good for dropping babies, his mother was a stoic woman who didn't smile and never told him she loved him, his father beat the shit out of him even more than he beat the shit out of my dad, his five children don't like him, he had scarlet fever (or yellow fever, I forget) and was quarentined when he was ten, during which time he was so lonely that he made up stories and characters and lived in his imagination for a little over a month, and the last thing he wouldn't want me to say is that he's a compulsive liar.

He's also not a very good writer. I would have felt awful saying that before, but I don't now. Maybe it's because I've been so raw and angry lately. What I feel bad about saying is that I would rather not read the poem that he handed me when I asked him what he wanted me to say at his funeral. It's called "Sing No Sad Songs For Me." Not only does it rhyme (shudder), but it tells everyone, everyone at his FUNERAL, to stop crying. He says,

"Oh, no, no sad songs for me;
I have always abhorred the weeper."

This is a person who is so terrified of emotions that he even needs to repress people at his funeral. "I have always abhorred the weeper." Abhorred? Dear Lord, what a drama queen.

Anyway, he lived but we've got a deal now that I'm going to read the poem. So what will I actually say at his funeral? Should I just get up there and say "He's dead. It is what it is," and sit back down? Nah. I'll probably say that despite what he told my dad about women, Grandpa always told me that I can do whatever I set my mind to, and he always called me "Number One Kid." My grandma recently told me that he started doing that when my parents were separated and he noticed how down I was all the time. He would call over to me, "Hey, fella! Who's Number One Kid?" and I'd smirk all shy and self-conscious and say, "Me," and he'd give me a hug. He still does that. I will probably talk about how he always quotes poetry, and how incredibly smart he is. I will probably say that he recently told me that he doesn't know how to tell someone he loves them because he was never taught, and whenever he does it now it feels forced and awkward. But he does it anyway. I will probably say that other pilots have told me how beautifully that old guy can fly a plane, and that he saved lives flying rescue missons in the Azores. I will say that he wrote a book, something that he always wanted to do. And I will definitely say that it is because of him that I have a reverence for things that have a quiet grace about them, little things like the slow drift of tobacco smoke and that curve in the hand between the thumb and forefinger. Whatever else he might be, he is a man who points these things out.

In honor of that beauty and grace, here's a poem I read yesterday. I love the word "Madagascar" in the middle of it. Grandpa taught me to say a word and let it melt on my tongue like hard candy.

by David Shumate

I am seduced by trains. When one moans in the night like some
dragon gone lame, I rise and put on my grandfather's suit. I pack a
small bag, step out onto the porch, and wait in the darkness. I rest
my broad-brimmed hat on my knee. To a passerby I'm a curious sight
—a solitary man sitting in the night. There's something
unsettling about a traveler who doesn't know where he's headed.
You can't predict his next move. In a week you may receive a
postcard from Haiti. Madagascar. You might turn on your
answering machine and hear his voice amid the tumult of a Bangkok avenue.
All afternoon you feel the weight of the things you've never done.
Don't think about it too much. Everything starts to sound like a train.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fast breaking agent news!

The agent wrote me back. She says she loves the book!...So she wants me to write another draft [simmering smoke drifts from the top of my frustrated head]. She wrote a long email of suggestions, only a couple of which I have a problem with.

In the book, my main character is a tomboyish, androgynous kid who gets made fun of a lot. Actually, a few of my characters have this problem. A lot of my writing (go figure) has gender confusion themes, and the agent says that she likes the questions I bring up about gender roles and sexuality, but that "androgyne seems a little too complex for 15 year olds." She suggests "raising awareness of stereotypes instead." I cringe at this idea. The whole thing about Judy is that she is NOT a stereotype. She's a boyish girl who wants a boyfriend, but other kids keep lumping her into a stereotype. Tricia, one of my other characters, has a different struggle. She IS more of a stereotype. She's a boyish girl who likes girls, but she's trying desperately not to be. The theme that links these girls is that there's nothing wrong with either of them. Some people are a bit stereotypical and some people aren't. The important thing is that they're themselves.

This theme, the whole people-are-complex-and-difficult-to-define theme, also goes along with the obituaries that Judy and her friend Ana are writing. They write them because they're angry and frustrated, and they want to lash out at these other people but they're too timid to do it in a confrontational way. They don't really want to hurt anybody. BUT when the obituaries are discovered all that the principal and the school's superintendent see is that they are two girls writing stories about other students and teachers dying. The stereotypical Trench Coat Mafia, shy and quiet but deadly, school shooter kid pops into their minds. But the girls are NOT this way.

This is a very long winded way of saying that there are too many stories and after school specials that debunk stereotypes and I don't want my book to be another lame shot at a tired issue. Also, androgyne is not too complex for teenagers to understand. Even a grammar school kid knows what a tomboy is, and a tomboy is an androgynous person. Besides, I'm basing Judy on the way I was as a teenager, and believe me, I knew that sexuality was complex. I didn't understand it, and I didn't like it, but I knew it wasn't simple.

Plus, I don't want my book to dumb things down for kids. Yeah, kids can be stupid, but they understand more than we give them credit for. When I was a kid I read books that challenged me, not books that assumed I was dumber than I was.

So enough about that. That was the only one I had a big problem with. One of her suggestions that I dug in a major way was putting graphic art into the book. Judy is an artist, and Sarah (the agent - I might as well just use her name) said WHEN IT'S PUBLISHED [squeals with girlish glee] it would be good to have Judy's drawings next to the obituaries. I love this idea.

I apologize about my payphone absence. My facebook account has tumbleweed blowing across it as well, with a profile picture of me on the back of a milk carton. Things have been busy and frankly kind of shitty. But for my next blog, which will hopefully be later today (fingers crossed!) I will discuss my Grandpa's eulogy poem, and the way I feel about the term "It is what it is." No, my grandpa didn't die, but he had major surgery a few days ago and he gave me a poem he'd written to be read at his funeral. It's...interesting. Stay tuned! And until then refrain from saying "It is what it is." It causes some of us to go nuclear.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Holy hell, Joan Jett and Lita Ford kick ass!

I can only blog a moment because the girls are beginning to fight, but I had to share this. I was tooling around on youtube, wondering like all of us do, "what 70's punk bands are there that I haven't heard?" Then I remembered the movie Juno and how she said her favorite bands were Iggy and the Stooges, somebody else, and The Runaways, and I thought, "Oh yeah, I've been meaning to look them up." So I did. And forgive my ignorance if you guys have known this all your lives, but Joan Jett and Lita Ford were in The Runaways as teenagers! It was an all girl punk band! It kicked ass! Observe the link below, and note Lita Ford's guitar playing. You might have to wait for it to load. It's from a concert in Japan and it's not good quality, but DAMN!

A breakfast offering

I have to hurry out the door this morning, though I have set aside a time later today to blog further. There is so much further to blog. And to read! I haven't caught up with Tom, Billy, or Mel in a couple of weeks. But anyway, I read this poem this morning and had to share it with you. Consider it compensation for my silence at the payphone lately.

In the Coffee Shop
by Carl Dennis
The big smile the waitress gives you
May be a true expression of her opinion
Or may be her way to atone for glowering
A moment ago at a customer who slurped his coffee
Just the way her cynical second husband slurped his.
Think of the meager tip you left the taxi driver
After the trip from the airport, how it didn't express
Your judgment about his service but about the snow
That left you feeling the earth a tundra
Only the frugal few could hope to cross.
Maybe it's best to look for fairness
Not in any particular unbiased judgment
But in a history of mistakes that balance out,
To find an equivalent for the pooling of tips
Practiced by the staff of the coffee shop,
Adding them up and dividing, the same to each.
As for the chilly fish eye the busboy gave you
When told to clear the window table you wanted,
It may have been less a comment on you
Than on his parents, their dismissing the many favors
He does for them as skimpy installments
On a debt too massive to be paid off.
And what about favors you haven't earned?
The blonde who's passing the window now
Without so much as a glance in your direction
Might be trying to focus her mind on her performance
So you, or someone like you, will be pleased to watch
As she crosses the square in her leather snow boots
And tunic of red velvet, fur-trimmed.
What have you done for her that she should turn
The stones of the public buildings
Into a backdrop, a crosswalk into a stage floor,
A table in a no-frills coffee shop
Into a private box near the orchestra?
Yesterday she may have murmured against the fate
That keeps her stuck in the provinces.
But today she atones with her wish to please
As she dispenses with footlights and spotlights,
With a curtain call at the end, with encores.
No way to thank her but with attention
Now as she nears the steps of the courthouse
And begins her unhurried exit into the crowd.