Now that Irma has Gone

The weird thing about the whole man vs. nature scenario is that, once a person survives, they become all nahnahpoopoo – until they realize that nature still wins every single time. During Hurricane Irma, I was reminded that nature is the boss of all of us. We think we control Mother Nature; we do not.

It was —  unsettling? nerve wracking? a wee bit scary? —  to turn my house into a fortress. We hunkered down in our aluminum and reinforced plywood cocoon and … played games, because what else are you going to do when the wind outside is screaming at you? We didn’t have to camp out in the hallway or the bathroom, though we were ready to. We had, thankfully, over-prepared for the storm. There was a brief moment in the hurricane zone of proximal catastrophe-ness when we were projected to have Category 3 and 4 winds. Nope. Nuh-uh. Not it. Count me out. Please tell Irma nobody is home.

Fortunately, Irma decided to settle down a bit. Though she swathed a path of mayhem, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been in my area. Temporary power outages and loss of water were the norm for my neighbors; catastrophic damage was not.

That was reserved for the Keys, Miami, and the Caribbean. Even though my community was tempted to say “take that” to Hurricane Irma, we can’t. Maria is buggering Puerto Rico, earthquakes are decimating Mexico – and overseas there has been a smorgasbord of rains, mudslides, avalanches, landslides, and monsoons.

In short, Mother Nature is whooping our behinds. One of my favorite snarky memes as Florida tried to play hide-and-go-seek with a hurricane was one in which people are saying “Take that!” to Mother Nature with pollution – and Mother Nature says, “Hold my beer.”

Not to go all flower child on the situation, but one of the coolest things about being human is living here on Earth. It’s a great planet. Not that I’ve lived anywhere else, but I like it here. We are silly if we think we are the boss of Earth, though. We can harness wind power, lasso solar power, dig deep and retrieve oil or coal. Mother Nature, however, can sprinkle catastrophe all over the human population and there’s little we can do except rebuild. It’s kind of like she’s knocking on our collective noggins and saying, “Hellloooooo! Global warming is not good for you!”

I hope we take the hint.

Advertisements

An Open Letter to My Students as Hurricane Irma Looms

Dear students,

I am worried about you. Whether you know what’s going on or not, your parents and caretakers are probably just a bit on edge. They don’t mean to be, but after waiting in 500 million lines only to be told there’s no water, they are going to be a bit cranky. That was hyperbole, you’ll remember from our quiz two weeks ago.

With all the preparations underway, I begin to question what it is I’m actually teaching. Are you going to feel more secure in this storm knowing that you can now tell a proper noun from a plural noun and that a pronoun is not a noun with a job? No, not at all. Are you going to maybe write in your journals or send emails? That one you might do. Please remember your salutations, closing statements, and body paragraph structure when you do.

I know you’re probably maxing out your data plans on your cell phones. Did you get battery packs for when the power goes out and you can no longer charge your phones with an outlet? I know you’re more worried about whether Tommy or Suzy like-likes you, and I can assure you that you will still have these concerns when the storm blows over.

I hope that you’ve been enjoying your time off from school. I have decided that the single most defining moment in whether or not you’re an adult is how you view forced vacation time like hurricane days. I wish that we could go back to school whenever it is that we return, secure in having just played for a quantity of days on end without any sort of consequence. My wish is in direct contrast to what I am seeing on my weather tracker, though. File this in your memory banks that adulthood is when you realize that forced days off aren’t free. Yes, you have to know this, and yes, this will be on the quiz.

Back to the worry. Please remember that when tomorrow comes, and it’s going to, the term “be safe” will take on a whole new meaning. It is no banal platitude (you’ll remember that from the vocabulary quiz). It is a desperate plea for your well-being. Student A, your mom is not trying to get on your last nerve when she asks you to help her; she needs your help. Students B, you will be fine. In fact, your ability to be fine no matter what everyone else around you is doing is one of your greatest strengths. Student C, if you could come over and hang out with us, I would have you here in a heartbeat.

When I see you next, you will wonder if I have slept. I probably haven’t. But the joy I feel at seeing you – right before you start asking me what we’re doing in class – will take away the puffy bags under my eyes more quickly than some cosmetic could.

Be safe. Listen to your families. Come back to school so that I can see you and complain that you’re too loud. Only this time, I probably won’t. Your noise will be the best tonic in the world.

Until then,

AlwaysLiz

 

On Getting Ready for Irma to Hit Florida

I am gazing out my front window at the moment, watching the sun stream over the bushes in my yard. I could go for a walk, tend the landscaping (which I never do), or sit outside in the shade and talk to my son. I would … except for Hurricane Irma is busy coming right at my home state. It’s not due yet, but it’s on its way. The sunshine I see on the bushes right now carries with it a sense of foreboding. Going to Target to meander aimlessly is a waste of gas. It’s always a happy waste of money, but for today wasting the gas seems wrong. If I could cue the music from Psycho, I would, because the air is a wee bit oppressive right now.

Schools have closed so that our neighbors evacuating from Miami can use them as shelters, and so people can prepare for the storm themselves. I am glad to be home to help board up windows and assemble my hurricane preparedness kit, but I am also very much not glad to be home. I worry about my students, their families, my friends and their families. I can’t worry about everyone, can I? Yes, yes I can.

Hurricane Harvey scared the bejeezus out of us. I am heartbroken over the families who are suffering and the friends who lost their homes. I am struck by the reality that we tend not to worry about other people’s weather problems until they impact us directly. If we don’t have family or friends involved, we make our donations and then move on with our day in benign ignorance of the actual devastation. Now, before the flooding has even receded, our friends and families in the Caribbean and then Florida are going to suffer. For myself, it is not a question of whether I am going to ride out a storm; it is a question of what type of storm I’m going to be watching happen right over my head.

I have every reason to think that the house will still be here when the storm passes, that the Category 5 ass-whooping Mother Nature is doling out right now will settle down to a Category 2-3 spanking, but that is still too much weather happening all at once. Realistically, unless Irma decides to spontaneously disappear, damage is going to happen somewhere in Florida. This does not sit well with me. Of course, Mother Nature is not known for asking my opinion.

There’s preparedness, and there’s mental preparedness, and I’m working on the second one. I have decided to shelter in place for a variety of reasons, so I have all the items and whatnots and doohickeys ready that one needs to go all maverick and stay safe. I am also practicing the art of ready and waiting. There is a certain type of energy in preparedness, in which doing anything can be misunderstood as being productive. My house is clean, my junk has been shifted so that we can hide in the closets if need be, but I am not sure how useful that is going to turn out to have been.

Watching news updates full of information about that mass of cranky energy is impressive. Understanding that underneath those pretty pictures is … not much, is terrifying. Things can change, her course could alter or it could disappear (that gets my double vote), but we still have to make it through.

I plan to hunker down, spend time with my family appreciating this extended vacation we don’t want, and use all my best storytelling devices to keep us all entertained and calm.

For now, the sun is shining and it’s a lovely day outside. The air is humid and oppressive, sure, but I think I’ll go for a walk. I’m definitely not going to tend the landscaping because that’s just weird. It’s not like Irma is going to care whether I have weeds in the front yard.

 

Living by the Numbers

Even though people claim to have a poor relationship with math, we sure do live in a wriggly snake pit of numbers. For example: I have two children, one cat, one husband, one mom, and two siblings. I have a numeric value for how quickly I solve certain types of arbitrary problems (an IQ), another numeric value for a measure of my mass (my weight), and all manner of numeric values for my eyesight, my hair length, my ring size, my pants size, my bra size and even the size of my feet.

I don’t generally mind all my numbers because put them all together and they add up to one of me, but I mind a whole lot when my numbers are used as a comparison for myself vs. someone else’s numbers. I can accept – begrudgingly – the need to standardize sizes some kind of way so that I can buy a clothing item with a reasonable expectation that, given a certain number, it means something relative to my ability to wear it without it either cutting off my circulation or falling off of me. Got it. But then we have to get all immature about it and use our numbers to shame and/or brag. Oh my goodness, she wears a size 00, she’s so lucky. Ummmm, why? Or, she needs to stop eating so many deserts – she wears a size 14. So? Stop it. Just stop. No. Take a time out or a nap until you can make better judgments.

This is not to say that I am completely unaware of my numbers. Nope, I am aware that my number is bigger than some numbers and smaller than others. I don’t blame commercials for this, nor do I blame some plastic doll. Does anyone really think they ought to look like Barbie? Scratch that; I know the answer and I am not smiling. If I am going to be silly and compare myself to others, I will most definitely compare myself to a living person who represents a quality I admire – and when I do that I am not thinking about whether I can borrow their clothes. I have to remind myself that clothing sizes are not a measure of human worth and awesomeness.

I would like it if my brain wouldn’t get stuck on the sizing loop, but after a particularly fruitless shopping expedition of looking for blue jeans that involved the sales clerk recommending a store with jeans better suited to my age bracket (oh yes she did), I have concluded that the blue jeans of my dreams are somewhere sitting beside my sewing machine waiting for me to make them. My body didn’t do anything wrong; it was minding its own business of respiration, digestion, and locomotion, so it’s my brain’s fault for overthinking the numbers. My best way to rid myself of this numeric nonsense is to create a story problem: if a woman goes jean shopping on a Monday and the relative humidity is 80% while a train is coming down from Chicago to Tampa at 60 mph with a stop in Kentucky because it’s pretty, how much does the size of the blue jeans matter? Not a bit.

I am now heading out to the movies with a friend wearing my favorite blue jeans because they are the exact comfort level I want. Also, I cut the tag out of those a long time ago.

A Scientific Quest

Questing is great fun. Whether you quest for love, dinner, adventure, sales or memorabilia – even the word is awesome. Take, for example, a conversation that recently happened in the house of AlwaysLiz:

Husband: “How was your day?”

Me: “Really great. I quested for science courses today.”

Husband: “Very good.”

While I’m aware the conversation sounds mundane, it is greater than the sum of its parts. My husband is perpetually considerate enough to ask about my day, and I usually have some snippet to share. His response is “Very good” if he can tell that the information I’ve shared is positive. In this particular case, it was “Very good,” followed by “Are you taking a class this summer?”

The quick answer is no, I am not. The longer answer is yes, yes I am. I am undertaking the most lovely of scientific quests: a review and continuation of the science I learned over 30 years ago when I was in high school and knew everything. Now that I’m on the other side of 50 and cruising along, perfectly secure in the conviction that I don’t know everything, I realize that anything worth knowing is worth relearning if I’ve forgotten a thing or a plenty along the way.

This brings me to my strange, sometimes antagonistic, relationship with science. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, I have brains in my head and feet in my shoes, but I didn’t go to Science-land when I went to college. I went to hang out in Humanities town, with some business classes and French tossed in because why not? I took a math class for fun, and a physics class to get the science credit – and it was in that physics class that I realized I hadn’t paid much attention in high school. Not that I disregarded the whole notion that the universe is an amazing place made up of incrementally smaller parts, little Matryoshka dolls of atomic and subatomic particle-ness stacking within each other with ever-expanding and no-edge type limitlessness.

No, I found the universe to be compelling and quite harmonious but freaky as crap. I do not apologize for this. I am at heart a dreamer, and there’s nothing quite like the notion of an asteroid hurtling toward Earth at a skamillion miles per hour (that really needs to be a word) to give me the heeby-jeebies. Further, in a less universal (ahem) notion, there’s diseases on Earth to obsess about. Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, and so forth are absolutely fascinating, and under a microscope quite lovely, but again there’s that whole nightmare-inducing component. It’s kind of like when a student gets lice, we all get itchy. Just saying.

Enter my daughter, who has impressed me time and again how awesome science and math are when one approaches it with a sense of humor and a certain method. Those of you who are science-y call this scientific inquiry, but I am still not invited to the science-people party even though I window shop occasionally, listening to my daughter tell me stories of experiments gone awry and other experiments gone well and ruminations on nature and global warming and things that People Should Really Care About. Because I do care, I am now embarking on my science quest. I started today, with Biology Crash Course. I have been a fan of John and Hank Green via Vlogbrothers and the Crash Courses of History and Literature but I have stayed away from the science courses because, again, I have felt uninvited to the party, an intelligent layperson who is content to listen rather than participate.

As Hank Green was talking about covalent bonds and the octet rule, I started laughing. Leave it to the brothers Green to write and present information in a way that would resonate with me: gossip, happiness, and the fundamentals of life. The whole episode started off with a presentation of how carbon is a tramp. Brilliance. I am no closer to being able to participate in a science-y conversation of science than I was 15 minutes ago, but I am on a quest and my adventure is a productive one.

When my husband comes home from work tonight, he will ask me about my day and I will be able to tell him that I started my science quest. He will respond, “Very good,” — and it will have been.

Replenishing My Bucket

Tom Rath presented a wonderful analogy of interactions and their effect on people in his book How Full Is Your Bucket? The premise is simple: either you have a positive interaction which adds to your bucket, or a less rewarding interaction that empties it a bit. You also do this to yourself through positive and negative self-talk. Big interactions reap big effects, sometimes filling that bucket up to overfull and sometimes emptying it till all that’s left are pieces of lint and rust — kind of like burning the candle at both ends and getting singed in the process. In the spirit of overextending metaphors as I do and using the bucket analogy of life, some people are bucket heads, some people put out fires with their buckets and some people share the water in their buckets until there’s nothing left for them.

This brings me to May. April is the cruelest month for T.S. Eliot and tax preparers; May is the cruelest month for teachers. We walk around like extras on The Walking Dead, shuffling with arms outstretched in an effort to catch that last little morsel of learning (braiinnnnnnnss) and prove to the students that they really can master the concept we’re teaching. Teachers are committed, desperately so, to the notion that our students are important. Their futures matter, their psyches matter, and their goals matter. I don’t have time for the argument about the bored teacher who gave up on the students; I only have time to be inspired, so I look for those teachers. They are abundant and cross all grade and subject areas.

As a buffer to the news, to the end-of-course exams, and to the students’ burn-out, I have devised a few strategies to keep my bucket full:

  • Thank you notes. I write positive notes to parents, to the students, to my teacher friends, to anyone who could use a smile. They include emoji stickers or scratch and sniffs because stickers are a universal smile inducer. If you don’t like stickers, I will stay away from you, I promise.
  • Candy. Yes, it is not healthy, and no, I don’t care. I share my candy. My friends at work know where I keep the goody stash, and unbeknownst to them, they are the ones I buy it for. Very rarely do the students get the chocolate; that’s an adult reward.
  • No surprise here, I keep a gratitude journal. Each day, I write down three things I am grateful for and three things I hope for. I don’t write a to-do list; those things get freakishly long and I do best focusing on one thing at a time.
  • Inappropriate lyrics to songs. I rework lyrics to songs when I need to regroup. Fortunately for the world, I keep it in my head. The cadence of Frozen is a good one to use: “F—it all, F – it all, stop passing notes in class,” will usually yield a smile wide enough to make the students wonder what I’m up to. That’s all anyone hopes for: curiosity on the part of their students.
  • Award certificates – I derive fiendish glee in making award certificates for ridiculous categories and giving them to people. It’s like a sticker, only more official looking.
  • Exercise. I hate it that I typed that, but it’s true. Exercise helps keep me from burning out.

The reason I write about the book and my strategies is that I needed every single one this past week. It was a whopper in teacher-land: students who didn’t want to take finals (like, who does?), colleagues who are overwhelmed, way too many social events and way to little sleep. Added to that, I will miss the students. There are plenty of memes and video clips out there about people counting down the last days of school, but I don’t. It makes me feel a little bittersweet. When we do our job well, our students leave us. With all the tribulations of testing and grading, the graduations and the celebrations (I don’t know why I needed three –tions, but there it is), my bucket’s wobbling a bit. I have to remind myself that the best part of this time of year is the hope. The graduates, the transitioning students, the parents: we’re all looking forward to a notion, an idea that the next great adventure is on the horizon and that the people who are important to us are ready for it. For me, that next great adventure involves sleep and a trip to the bucket store.

 

A long Week

At the end of my post from January 11, I mentioned that in the following week I’d post my version of an annotated bibliography of my favorite Neil Gaiman books. It has therefor been a long week, because right after that posting, I stepped into a space/time vortex and have only just emerged. I am alive, well, and relatively unscathed, sheepish for ignoring my blogging time, and happy to return to posting.

What have I been doing while not posting, you might wonder. The quick answer is that I haven’t been doing anything in particular – or at least, not anything different. At work, I experimented with fresh perspectives on educational relevance and switched up my lesson plans to allow for more kinesthetic learning opportunities. I tried and failed fantastically at letting my students use bottle flipping, one of their favorite pastimes, in a classwork activity. For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided this, I will describe: Take an un-full water bottle and flip it. If it lands upright, or even on its bottle top, then you win – nothing. Just joy, I guess. You will want to try at least five billion times to achieve this balancing act of purposeless awesomeness. Think back to a drinking game you may have played in college of cup flipping, but with no relay race and no adult beverages involved. Lots of noise, big screechy fun – it makes teachers miss the days of pen clicking.

I allowed my students to flip bottles for sentence work. If the bottle landed on its side, they were to write a declarative statement. If it landed upright, they could choose a complex or compound sentence, and if it landed on the bottle top, they wrote a compound-complex sentence. My purpose for this little activity of pain and suffering (for me) was to increase sentence fluency. At the end of each period, students volunteered (and by volunteered, I mean assigned) to clean up the spills, toss out the bottles, and reminded to never speak of this activity again. The kids said it was their favorite lesson from that week – and their quizzes reflected this. For me, two acetaminophen tablets and a 15 minute lie-down took care of the pain. Suffering for one’s art is not always a metaphor, I reminded myself. Plus, we now have those fun fidget spinners to contend with. Do I think they’re useful? Yes, if used appropriately. Do I think they bother the living snot out of fellow students and the occasional auditorially impacted teacher? Most definitely.

In the land of Alwaysliz, I paid taxes as further evidence that I am a breathing adult-like person. I read a whole truck-ton of books as I continue on my quest to read All The Things. I measured out my life in coffee spoons (thanks T.S. Eliot), though not sadly; contentedly grateful for the smaller rituals that make my life all mine.

Back to present day: I am relaxing at home while on my school’s May break. One of the many advantages of a year-round educational calendar is the interspersed week off while still maintaining instructional momentum. Less regression, more concept consolidation. Count me in. Additionally, I can get caught up on projects. Not cleaning-the-garage projects, a week isn’t long enough for that; nope, contentment-building projects like this, reading All The Things, and fresh air.

However, the original “next week’s” posting was supposed to be about Neil Gaiman, and I keep my commitments to myself, however long it takes to do so. I won’t annotate a bibliography of books by Gaiman; there are plenty already written by and about his work. I will simply relay why his work matters to me: he believes in words. Using words matters, and reading them matters, and working with them matters. What matters is that we remember that we can change infinities with words, create and devastate worlds with words, change political systems with words. I’m paraphrasing him poorly, but everything he has written, whether I’ve liked it personally or not, resonates with an appreciation of words. His word choice is no different than the words you and I use; he is just uniquely talented at presenting them. I am grateful for this every time I read something he’s written.  While I don’t know him personally, he appears to be unsnobbish, humble even, in his approach to language, reading, and writing. He writes with the same affection about ghost stories and romance novels as he does about fairy tales and journalism. I respect that. In fact, I celebrate the living daylights out of that.

Gaiman stated, “Prose fiction is something you build up from twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes” (Why Our Future Depends on Libraries Reading and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013). Yep, twenty six letters and some odd punctuation marks and you too can change the world, or at least how you think about it. Woahhh.

Give yourself the gift of some Gaiman time if you haven’t already. Any of his works are wonderful. American Gods has premiered on the Starz network; read the dang book so you can compare and contrast in your noggin rather than let someone else’s vision inform you. Read Smoke and Mirrors or Trigger Warning if you prefer short stories and poetry interspersed with your regularly scheduled novel reading. Read Good Omens if you want a fresh perspective on the struggle between good and evil and why the line between both is a little vague. Read the Sandman series if you prefer graphic novels or comic books. Gaiman lives his literary life in the shadows between myth and reality, of ghost stories and real-life horror. Just read his work. Your brain and heart will thank you.

There you have it: from bottle flipping to taxes to a celebration of all that is Neil Gaiman. it’s been a long week (ahem), but a good one. Hope yours has been a celebration of the things that bring you joy as well.

Previous Older Entries