Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sweet Irony of Life, I've Finally Found You...

So, I read Kate's recent post regarding what to do when life has you down.  I even posted a comment.

But never did I think I would re-read her post and my comment at 2:38 a.m. (approximately) and feel my stomach drop to my feet.

I better do twenty million GOOD DEEDS for peeps because I am currently MISERABLE.

The school year begins next week and I am in my pjs writing a post because I cannot sleep. Every time I try, I wake up, my heart beating in my ears, my teeth clenched.  Brideshead Revisited is completely overshadowed by my worries (I usually read to calm myself).

So what has me in a tizzy?

My job.  It bites.  Hard.

It all started sinisterly enough with a request/demand by my principal that I take a student into my "advanced" math class.  This student does not meet the test score criteria necessary to enter the class.  

I informed her of this.  I was met with a remark that shocked me.

"Well, I might have to make an administrative intervention!"

Me:  >:C   (for those of you who do not do emoicons, I was super mad and shocked)

One of my duties is to sort students by data into appropriate classes -- I didn't think my principal got to TELL me who should be in my class.   Not that this HASN'T happened before, but now I really have to put my foot down.  This kid has NEVER qualified, so why on EARTH should I consider him?

Perhaps his parents are supplying my principal with a lifetime supply of kitty litter (she's a cat lover.  And single.  Shocker.).  Or just the usual at my school -- complain to high heaven and you get what you want...if you are a parent.

But, today (well, yesterday) something worse happened.  I am afraid this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back (or whatever).

I had been fretting about the situation with the parents who want their kid in my class, but I kind of pushed that aside on the advice of my husband to "get over it".  

So, I sort of got over it, and moved on to planning for the year.  You know how sometimes there are little prophecies that signal what is to come?  Tiny premonitions that you cannot correctly interpret until an event happens?  Twice I had been asked about my schedule, and I assumed the same old thing with (hopefully) my classes broken up a little more over the day.

So when I received my schedule I fussed when I saw that I had three classes in a row again. "This bites," I thought and said aloud.  But on further inspection I drew in a sharp breath.

In three of my classes, I teach one less day a week.

My reaction:  0___0

While some of you (and my colleagues) may think "Big deal...wait...isn't that better?  Less work, more prep."

That might be true if I didn't love my job and students.  No one wins when you lose 40 days of instruction.  {Honestly, that is the only good thing that has come out of my day -- I realize I love my job and the students}

How on earth am I to teach the same content with LESS DAYS???  In one class my students are going to Tech Skills/Library Skills, so I might be able to integrate some cool math stuff there (and I have resigned myself to that fact).  But in the other two, the students go to PE or Spanish.

I seriously doubt the Spanish and PE teacher would be cool with me trying to integrate math into their lessons to make up for missed instruction.

And it wouldn't be so bad if it was just MY students, the ones who perform at the top of their class, missing so much instruction.  But what about those students who are below grade level? I do believe that most education research advocates MORE days instead of fewer days for all students, and extra time for those who struggle.

The worse part of all of this is I feel so disrespected.  I am (essentially) the department head/chair for math and I was NEVER consulted on this decision.  I ONLY found out about this when I received my schedule from the junior high department chair.  I have had no contact with my principal whatsoever regarding my schedule except for receiving it.

I feel powerless and stupid.   Like a joke.  I had created a survey this summer and arranged for math meetings before the year began -- it all seems pointless.  My fellow math teachers don't give a rat's fart that they have one less day.  Some have tried to take the sunny side of life "well, we'll just have to double up lessons (*stop whining*)".

I didn't cry though.  I threw a bit of a fit.  I turned the air significantly more blue (my vocabulary consisted mostly of $%&#$*% and @&!^*#& followed by !^#$&*!&@#).  I did no good deed as Kate recommended.

No, I waited till I got home and sobbed endlessly for half an hour into my husband's shoulder.

And like any good husband, he let me.  Then took me shopping.

For outdoor gear (he is getting ready for a trip).

The hubby says I am taking this all too personally (true) and that we all are just pawns and of little importance to those we work for (isn't he just a ray of sunshine).  He let me cry.  He cuddled me.

But I still can't sleep and am miserable.  I don't even want to go to school tomorrow.

I hurt.  

I feel like a moron for thinking that I was a respected member of a community. 

I am very seriously contemplating looking for other work for next year.

Ultimately, I don't know what to do, so I wrote this post.  If you read this, don't offer advice.  I don't need it.  

I need prayer.  So, please pray.

(perhaps a little encouragement if you can spare it)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In the Street

Author's Note: I often wonder why just writing posts is sufficient for the goal of this blog, but then I remember that writing is a creation. If I plan to get better as a writer, then I had better get writing!

It's pathetic really.

I went to school today to tame the insanity that is my classroom. I cannot even begin planning for the school year until my classroom is ordered. As usual, I brought lots of stuff with me -- boxes full of new supplies and standards, a lunch tote, a bag brimming with placement exams, etc.

I missed the squished squirrel in the street as I pulled into the parking lot.

I took a few bags and my keys on my first trip from the parking lot to my classroom across the street. I still did not notice the squirrel.

I finally saw the carnage on my way back to the car. A tiny body face down in the street. Its head was smashed, brainy bits projected northward from the impact.

Another squirrel, a live squirrel, sniffed the body. At first I feared witnessing a "Silence-of-the-Squirrels" moment, but, as I approached, the live squirrel did not move in fear. It continued to sniff the body, ignoring me.

I began to fear that I had run over the squirrel. I offered apologies and condolances as I passed the scene (yes, out loud. yes, to the squirrel.).

When I got to my car, I checked the tires thoroughly. No pink blood or fleshy bits appeared on the wheels. A survey of the lot showed no trail from the incident to my car. I would like to think the illegally parked Mercedes next to me was the culprit, but there was no evidence.

I gathered my last load, a box, from the back seat and locked my car. A thought, silly now, crossed my mind -- perhaps I stepped on the squirrel? I put the box on the trunk to check my shoes. There was no flesh on my soles.

I passed the squirrels again with my last load. The live squirrel had moved on from sniffing the body to sniffing the explosion of brains. It was almost like the live squirrel was gathering the information it needed to comprehend why its friend was not moving. As if sniffing could perhaps provide a solution. That if it sniffed just a bit more, the friend that lay flat in the street would once again move.

"There is no solution," I told live squirrel as I passed. "And if you don't move, you'll meet the same fate."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Neil Gaiman: Not Just a Pretty Face

Perhaps some of my friends had spoken of Neil Gaiman before, but the name did not stick anywhere in my conscience.  I missed that recommendation or suggestion.

Over a year ago I saw the preview for Stardust, a new feature film.  I was intrigued by the fantasy elements as well as the humor in the trailer.  A few girls (literally, high school age) at church praised Stardust the movie as well as the book.

I picked up a copy of Stardust (novel version, I did not know it was also available in graphic novel/picture book format) at a buy 1 get 1 free promotional table.  I put it on my bookshelf and it waited.

I saw the movie Stardust on a plane ride...or was it train ride....I cannot remember.  Either way, I saw the film and liked it.

I went home and saw the copy of the novel on the bookshelf.  I walked past it.  It waited.

This summer, on a whim, I pulled the copy of Stardust off the shelf and put it in the summer-reading-stack by my bed.

Here was the stack:

The Guy Not Taken
Good in Bed
Mrs. Dalloway
Wuthering Heights
Crime and Punishment
Sense and Sensibility

Perhaps you have read my review of 71.4% (approx.) of this initial stack and know I was on the look out for more Neil Gaiman.  And I think I mentioned it in a previous post.  Anyhow, Crime and Punishment goes unread (see, I threw on the stack S & S because I couldn't get past the first chapter of C & P...I was hoping to read them simultaneously because I needed to balance the angsty Russian literature with some dry English wit.  Well, it didn't work.  I moved on.)

I actually read Decline and Fall by Waugh (what? I was waiting for Brideshead Revisited to come up on my queue at the library!).  It is a REALLY funny novel and even MORE FUNNY if you are a teacher.  Good times! (Though I am not sure if that was Waugh's goal in writing this particular novel...)

Well, to keep my ramble short, I read Stardust, liked it (kinda, click here) and wanted to read more by Neil Gaiman.  At a trip to Powells, Kate recommended I read Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of his short stories.  I thought I would give that a go rather than wait till fall to get my classroom in order and find my copy of Coraline.

Smoke and  Mirrors good.  In The Guy Not Taken, Jennifer Weiner has this section at the end where she writes a little bit about each of the short stories in the book.  Neil Gaiman does the same (but at the start) and it is REALLY fascinating for me to read what inspired his work and to read about his process.  

One story,


Ok, he describes one particular story as...well...  Either way I was INCREDIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE reading it.  It was like reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.  
I thought TSHotPC was going to be a HISTORY NOVEL...but there is a reason historical romances are filed in the ROMANCE section.  I was EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE reading it because there was very little history and a lot of...yeh. (In my defense I found the book in the fiction section and not on the shelves with airbrushed Fabio pictures.)

So, I read this VERY uncomfortable story thinking "oh crap, what the heck is this?  I was happily reading about werewolves and other totally messed up...what the heck?  I mean the shrunken testicles on the beach in that one sea-monster vs. werewolf story was messed up but this is...whoa, do people really do this kind of stuff?"

Then I read his author's note. HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!  HA!

Neil Gaiman said he blushed most of the time writing it and it took him four years to finish it due to the blushing.  So glad I am not the only one who has difficulty writing scenes like that.  I have a story in my head about Severus Snape and I REALLY don't want to write it because there is some really messed up $#*! happening and other...things...that I don't feel comfortable writing about. 

(The Truth: I was hoping Crime and Punishment would help we write that story, but it has not.  I just got depressed by the first chapter.)

And I KNOW I READ JENNIFER WEINER and she has some scenes that are WAAAAAAAY "whoa!" but for some reason I can read those and be ok.  She is writing from a woman's perspective and I can understand that.  Neil Gaiman on the other hand...

He writes well.  He writes so well in fact that I am...unnerved?  Disgusted?  Shocked?  I don't know quite how to describe the squirmy sensation and slight nausea that comes with reading the male perspective of intimacy.  It is so...ew.  


Is this really how guys think?  If so, my thoughts of what how Severus Snape would react are TOTALLY off.

What was equally fascinating about Neil Gaiman is an essay he wrote about writing have a gender.  He assigns a gender to his work.  He saw Stardust as a girl's book.  Well, as a girl, I was not entirely satisfied by the characterization in the novel, but that only helps my thoughts on how gender works in writing.  

The best writing is writing that comes from one's experience. You take in an event or lifestyle and you write about it and try your darnedest to write it well and vividly so that someone can pick up your writing and understand your experience, whatever large chunk or small grain of it you have put into the piece.

Some writers have the gift of writing any character, male or female.  They can put themselves in any pair of shoes and write brilliant stories.

Others, and I put myself in this category, are not so great at it.  But we try...and sometimes we succeed.  And those who write the sensitive, romantic Draco "emo!" Malfoy fanfics are plain dillusional.

I tried to read C & P (with a bit of S & S) for the Snape angst and wit, but reading Neil Gaiman has given me a better understanding of the English male perspective.  

But I still don't know if I can write the story...

Agh, I just need to go write it and see what happens.

End babble/review.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gettin' Lucky

I went to Half Price books in search of some Neil Gaiman to read.  I unfortunately did not find what I was looking for, but I browsed the clearance section like my friend Kate who always finds good books there.

As my eyes scanned the many titles, I came across The Lucky Shopping Manual.  Those of you who know me very well would say that I don't need a shopping manual and would probably be better with a book titled The How Not to Shop All the Time Manual.  But I had perused the the Lucky Manual on a trip to Powell's and thought it well done in terms of accessibility and advice. However, at Powell's it was $30 and at HP it was $2.  So I picked up the Lucky book with the slightly crooked spine (probably from being shoved in a purse) and set out to read it.

I agree with most of the chapters.  There are a few exceptions that I don't think account for Orthodox Christians.  We wear a lot of skirts and the authors write that the best hem for a skirt hits at the mid-knee.  "With the top taper of the calf revealed, legs look longer and shapelier; the total effect is cool instead of frumpy."

When one is visiting a monastery, it hardly matters how your legs look -- they should be covered up!

And, on how to wear a long skirt (a snippet I read with interest),  the advice is "a long skirt should just almost touch the floor."

Um, these ladies have obviously not done a lot of prostrations.

When prostrating in long skirts, women often stumble from stepping on the hem (or get trapped in the skirt like I tend to do).  A gal at church did this odd skirt flipping thing on Holy Friday to avoid the predicament of the prostration with skirt that nearly touches the floor.

Also, in summertime, a church can get really hot really fast.  You don't want the skirt to nearly touch the floor because you need a little circulation to stay cool.

However, the snippet on long skirts did advise that drapey long skirts should have a fitted hip, which is true (except you don't wear drapey skirts with fitted hips to monasteries).  Also, "Don't wear heels with long skirts unless it's for evening.  For daytime, stick with refined pointy or plain-toe flats that just peek out the front of the skirt."  Some solid advice there.

And, overall, they write that A-Line skirts work for everyone and long skirts hide thick legs.  

But they write that long  skirts make one look taller.  I disagree.  No long skirt I have ever worn has made me look taller.

Then again, I don't wear my long skirts the way they advise, so that might be my problem.

At the end of each chapter, there is a guide for building closet.  So for a skirt closet the advice is:
2 all-season work skirts  (tropical wool especially)

1 day-to-night skirt (that one can "dress up or down")

2 summer work skirts (skirts that are "crisp and structured")

1 denim skirt

2 summer weekend skirts (again, that you can "dress up or down")

And if you never wear pants: add a summer evening skirt...a winter evening skirt...a leather or suede skirt

Well, so far I have a TON of summer work and weekend skirts, a denim skirt, and a few winter evening skirts.

I have yet to obtain work all-season work skirts or a day-to-night skirt.  Having recently used the guide to clear my wardrobe, I find that I don't think much about skirts at work.  I think a lot about skirts at church because I wear a skirt at church ALL THE TIME (well, except choir practice).

As I cleared out my wardrobe, I had to re-organize the advice of the Lucky book and figure out how to build an Orthodox skirt closet.

I would give the following advice:

First, a good length for a church skirt is one that covers your knees standing and sitting.  One hot summer day I thought I would wear my breeziest and lightest skirt which hit an inch above the knee.  I only realized my mistake when we arrived at church.  I spent the whole service tugging at my skirt and feeling as naked as Eve.

Also, make sure the skirt has some room in the hips and the rear.  I have a lot of "junk in the trunk" ("baby's got back", whatever implies that I have a well endowed butt), therefore I must be very careful in my skirt selection.  You don't want the skirt to be too drapey so that you look ready for a toga party (or like you are playing "dress up"), but you also don't want to be a distraction.  Just make sure your front pelvic bone is not poking through front and there is no bunching in the back.

Another piece of advice:  if you do have a big booty like me, then you will want to avoid skirts with pleats or gathering at the waist.  I was working on eliminating my skirts and noticed I looked an awful lot like an extra from Gone with the Wind and I couldn't put my finger on why. Finally I realized that the pleats and gathering at the waist plus my massive tosh give the impression of a crinoline.  Circle skirts work well as do skirts with pleating further down the hips.  Skirts that have one big pleat in front do not work because the pleat does not balance with what is going on in back.  But pleats at the waist, if you have a butt like I do, do not flatter AT ALL.

This next piece of a advice comes via The Pumpkin King -- don't wear a skirt to church that has a large slit in the back because you never know when you will have to do a prostration. And, if you know you will have to do prostrations (Forgiveness Vespers, Holy Friday, Elevation of the Cross, etc.) check your skirt for modesty.  In fact, during Lent, I do a skirt check with my husband.  We call it the "Prostration Check" -- does anything show or look immodest when I do a prostration?  It is highly useful to have someone check for you (or look in a mirror).

Also, a long skirt and a turtleneck is a NO.  I never realized it before, but it does make one look stumpy.  Unless you are fulfilling some sort of penance or visiting a monastery, wear layers or a scarf to keep warm in a drafty church.  Also, if I wear a scarf around my neck, I wear a short headscarf or a hat.  Otherwise you look like a turtle. 

So, for building a CHURCH SKIRT closet you are totally covered if you have...

1 all season skirt (I would go with a tropical wool in camel or Carmel)

1 winter skirt (I would again go for wool and advise a long length -- church can be drafty. Charcoal grey is a nice color for winter)

1 bright season skirt (something light colored and light weight -- I have several in greens and blues)

1 denim skirt (great for Vespers)

1 skirt for Pascha (white would be best, but something really colorful would work too so you can mix and match tops every year.  I would also make this skirt mid-length with a lining.  It is often cold during the Pascha procession, so you'll want to keep warm, but it can be hot in a crowed church, so layering is essential)

1 skirt for a Monastery Pilgrimage (one long dark skirt that is not tight anywhere -- all season material is best)

If you want to add more...a nice skirt for Pentecost (in green), a nice skirt for Nativity (warm, but bright in color), a skirt for Holy Friday or Saturday (a skirt that is dark and nice for the funeral of the Lord).

So...all you Orthodox ladies out I forgetting anything?  I mean, this is the BARE ESSENTIALS.  Overtime, I would add more summer skirts.  I get more crossover in my wardrobe from my summer skirts for church than my winter skirts for church.

While it may seem base and vain to think of such matters as church skirts (and perhaps it is),   my mother taught me that you should always dress with respect and reverence for church -- wearing the proper things for the occasion.   Orthodox Christianity calls on all of your five senses for worship and to me one of those senses is clothes (or fashion sense...ha ha!).  

Seriously though, I feel a certain way when I wear certain clothes.  When I go to church to join with the world in praising God and seeking union through the sacraments, I want to go in my "wedding garment", my best and most appropriate clothing.  If I were inappropriately dressed, I would feel worse  -- that I have not the wherewithal to get properly dressed to stand before God.  In Haiti, some of the Christians do not go to church because they have no clothes.  While I am not in extreme poverty, I understand that feeling.  And I don't judge others by what they are wearing because I feel one must always assume the best -- what one wears to church is the best of their wardrobe.

It is the "robe of my soul" that needs to shine.  If I wear my best, it is effort to show a fear of God, to try for a true wedding garment -- a garment for my soul that will be worthy before Him.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Check out My Awesome Cousin!

Just returned home! My cousin is the one in fatigues -- congratulations to him and his wife on their new little Nolan!

And I found this nifty bit of info about cousins at wikipedia. So, Nolan is my second cousin!