Saturday, January 26, 2008

Here we go...

Another season of speech is two months in (auditions in the final week of November), but our first tournament was just today. Eight weeks in a row of giving up our Saturdays to the siren song of speech. Those who have never experienced a speech tournament will never understand its allure. We had one varsity and one novice speaker break to final rounds, taking 2nd and 6th, respectively. This is a modest achievement, with only 16 students participating (we took 15th out of 22 schools). What excites me, however, is the success of some of my first year students. NONE of my novii went 5, 5, 5. Now, if you don't "speech", you have no idea what this means. It's a good thing. Anyone close to me in the past 2 years has heard me complain endlessly of being a head speech coach. And, indeed, it is a trying experience (especially when you are 6 days away from hosting your own tournament). However, it is the thrill of seeing students achieve their goals this first week of competition. They go into this first tournament with trepidation, not knowing entirely what to expect. We have to explain to them what their scores mean and if they're "good" or not. It is an exciting moment.

I'm sad to give up my Saturdays until March. I'm happy to watch the enthusiasm of my students. I'm often confused and angered at the results of many tournaments. I'm rarely disappointed in the effort my darling kids show weekly. It's a manic depressive sort of activity.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Overdue gushing post

(I write this while on four different drugs during my prep hour [I have a sinus infection, but told the doctor yesterday "I cannot miss work again", so he gave me nasal spray, antibiotic, decongestant, and recommended ibuprofen for the pain.] It will need revision most likely when I am well.)

I have long considered myself a lover of poems, a writer of poems, a novice scholar of poems. To hear the words read aloud, or be the one reading the words, images, art, is an articulate pleasure. Poetry was my chosen category in high school speech, and it took me to state; beginning my love for this thing we call "oral interpretation". In high school and college, I kept a poetry journal. Random snatches of feeling captured on fine paper in a leatherbound book no one has ever read. Early on, I was obsessed with the intricacies of rhyme and meter. Later, the rage of a bad relationship garnered poems with hard edges and sophmoric angst. I'd like to think they aren't ALL bad, but I wouldn't know for sure, as I am too self-conscious to share them.

I have "taught" poetry to 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th graders in my five years of teaching. Taught meaning followed the laid out curriculum, but also tried with fervor to share my passion. The passion, however, isn't something easily taught. Trying to get small-town high school seniors to understand the difference between Shakespearean and Edwardian sonnets is like pulling teeth when you're in a classroom with a hillside May. I don't think half of them even learned how to say "iambic pentameter", let alone recognize it. But I tried. And isn't that what matters?

I tried this year to organize a Poetry Out Loud competition at school at the prodding of one of my literary magazine students. We posted fliers and made announcements, but only 3 people signed up, not enough to hold the event. Poetry, perhaps, isn't what it used to be.

This felt like a strong relationship to poetry, this writing, studying, teaching, reciting. And perhaps I am flirting with poetry in my life still, writing a poem every now and then when the moment captures me. But if I am flirting with poetry, then my dear friend Molly is engaged to poetry; married, perhaps, when her first book comes out, which I assure you, will be someday soon. Friday night I trekked to the far away town of Fridley to sit on a plastic chair in a room with chipping paint and wide floorboards in a farmhouse-turned-tavern-turned-brothel-turned-hardware store-turned-arts center. (An adequate progression, to be sure.) There, with a beautiful quilt exhibit in the adjacent rooms, Molly read her poetry.

I have read many of Molly's poems, as she shares them on her blog from time to time. I bought her lovely postcard when it was published by Yes Press in October. I knew she was an extremely talented writer. But nothing compares to hearing an author share their own work aloud. It is so raw, so passionate, so pure. Such confidence, such grace.

Molly read second, after an MFA candidate who does have a published book, something that would intimidate me to no end. But despite the other reader's "success", I felt Molly was more real and alive. She brought the audience to both tears and laughter on several occasions. Her father drove over from Wisconsin, two other friends were there as well. Snow fell in light flakes outside the window. It was most simply, quite beautiful. If I were her, I could describe the moment better. She would find more to say. Alas, I am out of words. Just, well done, Molly. Thanks for sharing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I guess we should think about these things

On the way home from work yesterday, I heard two stories on MPR that made me think about death. The first was about baseball-themed caskets and urns (read about it here), and the second was about a soldier who had been blogging for five years. He wrote a final blog post to be published if he died. He did, and his final post was published here last week. The story mentioned the end of the very long post, in which he sends love to his wife. After shedding some tears, I thought, "I don't even know if my husband wants a casket or urn. What if he died tomorrow? I certainly wouldn't expect blog entry from him, but it would be nice to know what he wanted."

So last night before bed, we talked about it. Do you want a funeral? To be cremated? You don't want (heaven forbid) a baseball casket, do you? Do you want me to take you off of life support if you're suffering and won't make it? How much life insurance will I get? (I'm kidding about that last one; have to keep it mildly light-hearted.)

My husband, so sweet, kind, understanding, did not hesitate to engage in this conversation with me. We are only 26 (me) and 32 (him), so have no reason to assume we will die any time soon. However, if something were to happen, I know I want to be as informed as possible about any wishes he may have. Just as important is how I want him to handle my death. There are no certainties but death, and you really never know when your time will come.

To my questions, he says, "Well, not to be morbid or anything, but, I'll be dead." Duh, honey. He went on to explain that he would want me to do whatever would provide me the closure I needed. (Completely selfless even in he perfect or what?) So we talked. About what our families traditionally have done, what we might want to do, what would be best both monetarily and environmentally.

Although we are both believers, neither of us are fully aligned with the doctrines of a specific faith. Me baptized and confirmed Lutheran, him Catholic, we choose to worship personally, in our own time, in our own ways. Our Sunday mornings are spent in bed or at the bowling alley (they have an amazing breakfast special). Some religions frown on anything but the traditional act of burial; we do not agree. I have always thought cremation and then burial of my remains in a cemetary plot would be best (it's how my father and both of his parents are interred). I know cemetaries are for the living, and I do find solace in visiting those plots in Southern Minnesota. But where would my husband and I buy a plot? My home town? His? Our current town? I don't want to live forever in Minneapolis, so if he did die tomorrow, I wouldn't want him here. So, maybe no gravestone; no unnecessary expense. Patrick (I hope jokingly) said I should sprinkle him on homeplate at the new Twins stadium. Me: "You want me to get arrested for you? I'll be a mourning widow and you want me to spend it in jail?" Him: "You can just use the life insurance to pay the fine."

Today, I looked up green burial. It seems like the most common sense option. Good for the pocketbook and the environment. Later, I'll ask my husband about this option. Maybe we'll even have living wills drawn up (wouldn't want to be in a coma with my mom clinging to my life and my husband ready to let go). It wasn't depressing to talk about these things, if you can believe it. Most practically, we do plan on being alive for a really long time. But I am a planner. Of course, in an ideal world, we would die together; a car accident or explosion (the gas detector hasn't gone off again recently, in case you're wondering) or some other simple death. We would prefer neither of us should suffer the grief. I suppose kids might change this view, we wouldn't want to orphan them, after all. But for now, we only have each other. I told him we could go like this, wrapped in each other's arms, to Paradise together. In good time, I'm sure we will.

"I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” --Winston Churchill

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Mid-year impressions

The end of the semester fast approaches, two weeks until it's over. I do not hesitate to express joy at this group of students moving on, nor do I keep my sadness in check either. Love/hate, eh? I really enjoy my 153 students this semester. Some drive me insane, others let me (really, themselves) down more often than I'd like, and still others make me want to quit. Yet, each of them enrich my life daily. Laughter, tears, real conversation, and genuine trust and caring have occurred in this room this semester. I am thinking of these things now because I just sent to copy my course evaluation. This is not required, as it is in college courses, but I have students evaluate both me and the class for my own good humor and learning and improvement. Most realistically, I want honest answers, but I don't hide the fact that I hope my evaluations are on the "good" side. I feel like a better teacher this year. I am finding my place. I embrace the reputation as a "meanie" as well as that of "awesome" (both of which I've heard recently). I like to think I can be both. Some students will always hate my strong expectations; others will always find a way to connect with me (our shared love of broadway, choral experience, the same role in the school play, Sunday's football game [or Monday's...ouch, OSU], gossip, tv shows, movies, books, politics, etc...all enjoyed conversations). I think my students know the "real me". And just as plenty of people in the "real world" don't like me, so too will many of my students. And I'm pretty sure I'm okay with that, so long as they're still learning and respecting me. Some things I've learned this year:

*Laughing at your own mistakes is always worth the slight humiliation.
*Students have strong opinions and should never be silenced (I am very much looking forward to next week's persuasive speeches that offer up topics of all social significance from the war to school rules to the environment to education and media and space exploration [I could go on and on, as I told them no two students could speak the same argument; 153 students=153 different viewpoints]).
*Their feelings should never be taken for granted either. The sadness I see in their eyes, especially those who have talked with me about their issues, makes me proud they continue each day.
*School lunch really isn't that bad.
*Sharing moments of laziness or unpreparedness or apathy with the students brings me to their level. I am human; they need to remember this. I need to remember this sometimes, too.
*This year, I've used the phrase "When I was in high school..." more than ever before. Perhaps it's because I am getting older, and HS does seem ages away. But it's sharing the experiences that make a difference (yesterday: overheard "I don't want to take Earth Science, because I hate the teacher." I begin to intrude, "You shouldn't limit..." meaning to say, "...your classes just because of who's teaching it." But instead I stopped and said, "You shouldn't limit...wait, nevermind. I did the same thing in HS, why should you be any different?" which gleaned a giggle and a conversation about why the teacher can make such a strong difference to the class.)
*Going out of my way for a student feels great; having that student take advantage of it is a knife in the heart; and seeing them succeed because of my help is indescribable.

Okay, I guess I like my job. Here's to second semester. Cheers.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Adios, 2007

I am lame, so I typed “New Year’s Meme” into google and found this to be the most commonly used yearly assessment. I think I did it a few years ago, before a blog existed, and emailed it en masse. It is a nice reflection. Enjoy.

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?

Most obviously, I got married (which I fear will define most of the answers in this summary, as it truly what made 2007 the best one ever). Additional, random things: drove to Arkansas (twice), had dinner at Café Maude, went to California, played Wii, various other daily differences.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t even remember my resolutions from last year, so I guess that means I didn’t keep them. This year, I will try to be healthier. I will eat better, work out more, and de-stress more often.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Various acquaintances gave birth (there was something in the water at my job), but no one really close to me. Maybe this year???

4. Did anyone close to you die?

I am affected easily by anyone’s death. I feel the pain of my loved ones and their losses. For that reason, yes. My husband’s uncle died, and he was an amazing man who I wish I knew better. My sister’s dog died (don’t laugh), and it was tragic and unexpected, therefore heart-wrenching. A student at my school was killed in a car accident; this semester, I teach her brother. I had a couple of friends who lost relatives, so sad to see them experience this pain.

5. What countries did you visit?

Just this one, but we did go to Chinatown in San Fran…does that count?

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?

More time to enjoy life, which I’m sure I will have, since I am no longer planning a wedding and working on my Master’s degree.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

January (date eludes me): my sister moved to Arkansas
May 12: Brendan and Kelly’s wedding
June 29: My own wedding
August 1: the 35W bridge collapse
August 11: Molly and Ryan’s wedding
September 16: Phoebe came into our lives
December 10: End of graduate school

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Completing my Master’s degree; it took 4 1/2 years, and this last one was definitely the most trying. The stress of procrastinating on my capstone project led me to writing an alternate plan paper that turned into a thesis in only three weeks.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Weight loss; cliché though it may be, I even worked with a personal trainer this year, and still managed to blow off going to the gym often enough to not lose weight. Boo.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

In March, I had my tonsils out after years and years of suffering. Pain! Oh, the pain. Not a fun surgery from which to recover. In the end, it was worth it, as I do not get food stuck in my throat any more, nor do I get sick as often.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Tough call, as my husband and I definitely did our part to help the economy this year. We enjoy our Wii and our new TV, as well as the carpet and walls in which they reside. Everything purchased in the name of wedding was great. I’d say our honeymoon trip to California was the best purchase overall, I guess. Definitely a great way to begin our life together.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I celebrated Angie’s decisions this year: being brave and moving to the cities alone is admirable. I never would have come here if it weren’t for my husband. I also think Leslie and Josh deserve praise for being good spouses and moving many states away to make their spouses’ dreams come true.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The president’s. Researching NCLB for my paper made me infinitely more aware of how deceitful that administration is. Obama in ’08!!!

14. Where did most of your money go?

To the wedding and the basement remodel.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The wedding and honeymoon

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?

The song we danced our first dance to was Levi Smith’s “I’d Like to Think So”

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? Definitely happier; I love being married!
b) thinner or fatter? Sadly, fatter
c) richer or poorer? My life is far richer, and I suppose my bank account is more full as well

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Working out, spending time with friends

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Griping; I tend to vent about darn near everything instead of trying to see the bright side. It is a very unhealthy habit.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

I spent Christmas Eve and Day at my aunt’s house in Bloomington, the following Saturday was spent celebrating in my husband’s home town.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?

I fall more in love with my husband every day. I fell in love with our new dog Phoebe. I fell in love with Ugly Betty (thanks, Angie!). I fell in love with Harney and Sons silk tea bags (thanks, Heather!).

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Grey’s Anatomy tops the list again, as Survivor has gotten predictable. Top Chef and Project Runway are up there.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No, I equally dislike the same people I did last year, as far as I can tell.

24. What was the best book you read?

Oh, goodness. Reading is a passion, of course. So it’s a little difficult to pinpoint a “best.” I really enjoyed Reading Lolita in Tehran. I procured much research for my paper from Save Our Schools. I also read a great memoir (turned prose piece) by a mother and daughter called Comeback.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Without a doubt, the best new music in my life this year is Ingrid Michaelson, brought to me by Angie. Thanks, hon!

26. What did you want and get?

The love of my life’s hand in marriage.

27. What did you want and not get?

A honeymoon to Italy. We were in the planning stages last winter when our furnace went out. Heating our house in the middle of January seemed more important than an Italian honeymoon. So, to California we went, and it was fabulous. Italy will be that much more special in the future.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

It’s hard to remember all the movies I’ve seen. Freshest in my mind would be Juno, which was honest and beautiful and funny all in one. It reminds me of Garden State, which I heart with passion. Harry Potter 5 cannot be forgotten, as it was the best film yet, even though the books continue to be better.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

It was finally my golden birthday, 26 on the 26th, and it wasn’t as special as it was supposed to be. Anne was 28 on the 28th, and we were always going to celebrate together, but then she up and moved to Ohio, so it was not to be. Instead, friends and family gathered at my favorite bowling alley, Memory Lanes, for food and bowling fun. Pretty good times for a Thursday.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

This is sad, but I think the one thing that would have made a greater difference this year is my dad. I am a traditionalist in many ways, and although I loved having my mom walk me down the aisle, I wish my daddy would have been there. After 11 1/2 years without him, it is mostly the big events that stand out. I still think about him and miss him every day, but the pain is pretty strong on days like a wedding.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?

If it fits and doesn’t smell, it’s in!

32. What kept you sane?

My husband, no question. He is very supportive in every way.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I fell in love with Ellen Page a little after Juno. She was excellent.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The start of the race for the White House really got me excited to get rid of our current president as fast as possible. The war in Iraq still makes me sad every day.

35. Who did you miss?

I miss my dad, my grandparents, and my friends and family who no longer live near me.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I was fortunate enough to meet many of Molly’s friends this year, fun, fascinating women who I’m pleased to know. With Angie and Lane moving to Minneapolis, I’m sure I’ll get to see more of them soon.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.

Always remember that God’s plan for my life is better than my own.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

The song we walked down the aisle to was done instrumentally by my husband’s brothers, but the words are wonderful. “Heaven’s Already Here” by Collective Soul:

Wake up to a new morning
Got my babe by my side
Now I won't yield to new warnings
'Cause I got my piece of mind
Who's gonna bring me heaven
When heaven's already here
No more living in darkness
Now that love lights my way
I don't need any new changes
To make me love today

Happy New Year, everyone. May your year be filled with blessings.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I am not gone

I am just lazy. Ironic that while I was feverishly working on my paper in October, I posted 10 times. In December, after finishing my paper and my degree, I only posted 3 times. Perhaps I am more eager for escape when overloaded with worry and work. I have had more than enough time in the last two weeks to blog as much as I wanted. Apparently, sleeping until 11 and watching movies and doing puzzles and playing Wii and celebrating the holidays (all with my husband, who also took the last 2 weeks off) took precedence over journaling my daily thoughts.

In a fury of "Best of 2007" posts throughout the blog world, I have only one thing to say right now: 2007 was without a doubt the best year of my life. I'm hoping they will only get better. Because I love lists and reminiscing both, I will do a cumulative review of my year. Just not now. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe in April like another dear blogger did in 2006. Just not now.

Happy New Year. Happy Belated Christmas. Merry Belated Hanukkah. I hope you enjoyed the Festivus.