Tuesday, November 30, 2010

20 Things That Caused Happiness, November 2010

1. Fuze events featuring Brian “Omni” Dillon, Omar Holmon, and Ian Khadan.
2. World War Cute: Otters v. Lions! (v. Kittens v. Sloths v. Puppies v. Bunnies…)
3. Indulging in bad Lolcat grammar with my little niece and Teh Itteh Bitteh Book of Kittehs. (Apologies to her grammatically correct parents! I agree with them! And yet!)
4. Family Mario Kart, even when Holden made me be Bowser instead of Peach. Also, Scrabble IRL!
5. Started rereading/re-viewing the Potters after our Deathly Hallows excursion with the Shaptowiczes.
6. Eating too many Bottle Caps during said excursion. (We’ll know we’ve made it when we can afford not to sneak candy into the movies. We’ll still do it though.)
7. Helping my pal Cristin prepare for her TED speech—so inspiring!
8. And SPEAKING of being inspired by Cristin, she won an NEA grant! Isn’t it great to see people who deserve success rewarded?
9. And! Previewing her new book!
10. Watching the rest of Veronica Mars, even if the ending isn’t an ending—somebody save Logan! Write a comic book or something!
11. Black Friday shopping with my sister and niece, and all of the subsequent napping.
12. Eggnog latte! (Decaf this year, but still!)
13. Doing acceptably in the Fuze IWPS final. Yay for getting to the second round, thanks to my coach/our IWPS rep Shappy!
14. Getting the horoscopes and some poems in The Legendary.
15. Writing some new poems!
16. Making my way through math class.
17. Awesome kid-art at work. (Plus we’re getting ready for our talent show!)
18. My ex-job blog posts were very healing.
19. TBTL’s lovable Thanksgiving-week programming. Their take on the Delilah show should be the new Thanksgiving-eve tradition.
20. Driving to Thanksgiving, and of course Thanksgiving itself!

Monday, November 29, 2010

November Resolutions Check-In

It's really hard to feel positive right now: we just got back from the opthamologist. It turns out that the spot in Amy's vision is an inflammation that may or may not be fixable--she had a steroid shot to the eye and that's supposed to help in some cases. I'm just so angry. Amy is the nicest person ever and these shitty things keep happening to her--kinda makes me lose faith.

Her brother was kind enough to lend us the money to cover some of the doctor visits and treatments, otherwise we'd truly be in a horror story right now. The whole experience just really drives home the need for me to end up in a full time teaching job, so that we can pursue our crazy dream of having insurance.

Anyway, before I head out to get the ingredients for Amy's favorite meal, here's how I did with The Happiness Project this month:
1. Take reasonable steps forward.

I think I did this--I've been soldiering through math class, with the goal of applying to teacher certification programs,(You need 6 credits of math to teach in Pennsylvania. I avoided math in college by taking advanced languages--like Ancient Greek was so easy...) and I registered for next semester's math class as well. (Linear Mathematics: I like systems of equations)

I've been a little more outgoing about making friends with people, even though it makes me feel embarrassed/jinxy to write that...

I booked some good events and stuff, too, but I think I could have done more.

2.Get back into the habit of yoga.

Done, but with some fast-forwarding of the tape.

3. Submit! (Poetry)

This was one of my most successful submitting months ever. I even found another home for my horoscopes. A pal of mine just won an NEA Grant, though, so I feel like I've got to step up the effort--I think that the entire theme for 2011 is: APPLY FOR STUFF.

4.Evening walks with Amy.

This was one of my favorite resolutions but I really forgot to do it. Expect it to be a December resolution as well. Christmas light watching should help.

5. Dance more.

I was doing great with this one over the summer, but lately I've been feeling kind of old-ladyish about it. Hmmm.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Poetic License Horoscopes for Nov 26-Dec 2

(Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Happy Birthday Month! Your celebratory quote comes from Leonard Cohen: “Once your life is organized so beautifully that there’s a table, and a chair, and a typewriter, that already is an incredible triumph.”

(Dec. 23-Jan. 20): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One is pretty bleak, but you can enjoy it more by 1) enjoying all of the beautiful landscapes, and 2) remembering all of the badassery to come.

(Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Dear Lost Friend: I don’t know if you still read these, but if you do: I still think of you every time I hear Belle and Sebastian’s song, Wrapped Up in Books, AKA the song on the set list that you didn’t play. I still have the set list, too.

(Feb. 20-March 20): A Scrabble Blessing: May you know all of your two-letter words, as well as the “q-with-no-u”s. May you never end up with all vowels or all consonants. May your seven letters spell one word, every time, and may you have someplace to put each one. Amen.

Aries (March 21-April 18): When Liz Lemon experiences a small victory, she says that she’s “high-fiving a million angels!” Prepare to have just that much to celebrate.

(April 19-May 18): Make like the “Tons of Fucking Sequins” guy. (Google it.) Load up your arms with something decadent and swear exultantly about it for all to hear.

(May 19-June 21): “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant/ Excepting Alice/ You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant /Walk right in it’s around the back/ Just a half a mile from the railroad track/You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant.” —Arlo Guthrie

Cancer (June 22-July 23): Replace all of your self-portraits with cels from your favorite cartoons. You’re almost a Care Bear anyway, so just go ahead and make the leap.

(July 24-Aug. 23: “If you have ever gone into the woods with me, I must love you very much.”—Mary Oliver. Grab someone brilliant and beautiful and go watch the last leaves.

(Aug. 24-Sept. 23): While everyone’s out starting their holiday shopping, stay home and repair what you already have; sew buttons on neglected pants, dust hard-to-reach places, back up your files. Soon you’ll need all of your energy for stringing lights.

(Sept. 24-Oct. 21): One of my favorite family-weekend traditions is after-dinner Mario Kart. Do something that makes you laugh hysterically and fall off imaginary rope bridges: 3! 2! 1! GO!

(Oct. 22-Nov. 22): “What a beautiful face/I have found in this place/That is circling all round’ the sun/And when we meet on a cloud/I’ll be laughing out loud/I’ll be laughing with everyone I see/Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all.”—Neutral Milk Hotel

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Aunt Jane's Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Cookies

I invented these last year for my little nephew, Quinn. Gonna try to make some tomorrow!

Preheat oven to 350

Using beaters, cream together:

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Add the following and then beat again:

1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp soy milk

Sift the following together, then add to above mixture:

1/2 cup soy flour
1/2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Then add:
2 cups rolled(not quick) oats
3/4 cup crasins
1/4 cup toasted pepitas

Songs of the Week:Thanksgivin' Mix!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Shae!

Nine years ago, the 22nd fell on Thanksgiving Day. My family was staying at my sister's in-laws. My sister went into labor first thing in the morning, and we all spent the day in the hospital. There was plenty of time to watch Thanksgiving-themed sitcoms and obsess to my brother about this girl Amy, with whom I'd recently attended a meteor shower.

After Shae was born, our whole family dynamic changed. We went from loving-but-squabbly to mostly always thrilled to be in each other's company.

I'm so glad I have my little niece to pore over Daily Squee with, to sit and read with, to have so much fun with.

In her honor, here's my favorite web gem of all time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Love Poem: Dear Pennsylvania

I haven't done a Friday love poem in a while. I thought this would be a good one, with all the family travel coming up soon. :)

Dear Pennsylvania,

You were the road I waked down
when I ran away from home,
the route renamed, untraceable,
but my mother’s lilacs,
still stronger than anything.

my Rumspringa,
the choice made once, stay or go.

I moved to Philadelphia
so that I could say every day

Drive north
to my family’s arbitrary landmarks.
We count everything in rest stops.
We fondly remember the Electric City.
We shop carefully at Amish STUFF etc.

I have loved your neatly marked tunnels
through mountains
since I was born.
Hazardous materials,
please take alternate route.
Remove sunglasses.
Did you remember to turn
your headlights off?
We worry about your batteries.

Poetic License Horoscopes for Nov. 19-25

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): I was disappointed last week when Kanye West said he was sorry for saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during that Katrina telethon, but nothing can unmake the art of that moment. He can no more apologize for that blurt than Andy Warhol can apologize for a can of soup.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): The Thanksgiving assignment from my (Unitarian) church this month is: Write down two blessings a day, one you gave and one you got. Corny advice, but then, the best things in life are often corny …

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): Give yourself a sick day, even if you feel fine. Wrap up in blankets and watch a season or two of How I Met Your Mother. Live on apple sauce and soup. Relax.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): I highly recommend the anthology Other People’s Rejection Letters. It contains, among other things, a notice discharging one Mr. James Hendrix from the military. (You’ll never guess what he got caught doing!) Here’s to major mishaps that help you survive and make music.

Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Your favorite movie star will come to you in your dreams if you devote some time to fantasizing. Turn off your headphones on long bus rides and walks to the bank; make your synapses ready like a soft bed, like an invitation.

Aries (March 21-April 18): Last night we were watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I said “This is the Empire Strikes Back of the series,” then realized that most of the Potters are like Empire: Always missing pieces, always regrouping, always up against impossible odds, but (like you) always magic.

Taurus (April 19-May 18): My teen assistant at work is writing a paper about what he sees as a New World Order conspiracy within the hip-hop community. When he showed me Kanye’s Power video as evidence, I said the following: “The devil isn’t the only mythological creature with horns,” and “Maybe it’s not a fallen angel. Maybe it’s just sitting.”

Gemini (May 19-June 21): Misguided apologies may be in style, but check your lists anyway — any genuine sorries owed? Even maybe to yourself?

Cancer (June 22-July 23): Follow the words of Weezer, from their last good album: “I don’t wanna be an old man anymore/ It’s been a year or two since I was out on the floor/ Shaking booty, making sweet love all the night/ It’s time I got back to the good life.”

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): Last week at the Philly Poetry Slam, the featured poets had a feud going about who’s cuter, otters or lions. They even had special hats. Be as cute as that!

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): Elizabeth Bishop said: “I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,/ some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.” Try to mitigate the losing before it comes to that.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Yesterday I got not one but TWO mix CDs from a friend I’ve never actually met. To make me feel like even more of a millionaire, I recognized almost NONE of the songs. Hope that fate will bring you someone with the music collection not-quite opposite of yours.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Song of the Week Plus Fucking Sequins

My pal Scott sent me "Rubberbands and Matches: A Mix About Resolve, Probably." (After I sent him one called "a Mix About Amibivalence, Maybe") Who doesn't need more resolve, and this is my favorite track, not least because it refers to Huey P. Newton.

Also, this clip seems very relevant to serotonin...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nice Assignment from Church

They said, every day this month, write down one blessing you gave and one that you got. I am a sucker for a cheery list, so I'm giving it a try. :)

So far the "Given" list has included going grocery shopping so Amy doesn't have to, and the "Gotten" list includes very nice care (and may sitcoms)while I was recovering from a tooth extraction yesterday.

What are your blessings?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Poetic License Horoscopes for Nov. 12-18

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Give up commercials for one week. Not TV, just commercials. Take time to feel like mopping might not be your destiny, that you might not need to have babies, that it isn’t time yet to think about the holidays.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Make up your own holidays: Sleep For Twelve Hours Day! Last Autumn Leaves Day! Finally Scrubbed the Stove Day! Celebrate every little thing.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): The most sensible person in my iPod (even more so than Ira Glass) is Jen “Flash” Andrews from Too Beautiful to Live. This week she emailed to tell me to dream bigger, since my wishes are already coming true. I made a magic-marker list of “Bigger Dreams,” but I like the way that little dreams add up.

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Start making your holiday lists: What will you self-determine for Kujichagulia? When’s too early to make Egg Nog Bread Pudding? Who can you shake from your card list? What light is worth the miracle oil? Who gets the wish bone?

(Feb. 20-March 20): In the ’90s fish-out-of water comedy Northern Exposure, Dr. Joel Fleishman is forced to work in rural Alaska to pay off his medical school debt. For the first few episodes, he’s so intent on escaping that he doesn’t notice the gorgeous landscape around him.

Aries (March 21-April 18): “The choice to bless the world is more than an act of will with intention to do good. It’s an act of recognition, a grateful acknowledgment that in the midst of a broken world, unspeakable beauty, grace, and mystery abide.”—Rebecca Parker

Taurus (April 19-May 18): If you’re dreaming about morning glories, it means you want to go to bed earlier, or that you’re sad the only flowers left are mums, asters and roses, or that you regret having to walk through smelly ginkgo fruit. It’s the late-fall blues, and it can only be fixed with soup.

Gemini (May 19-June 21): As I think I mentioned before, my brother is graduating college soon. Let’s all clap our hands and hope that he decides to move back to the East Coast from Iowa. Here’s to reunited families, to sibling in-jokes, to packed U-Hauls. C’mon!

Cancer (June 22-July 23): Make art about something that riles you up! Write all the venom out of your bones. Let your heart cut up its own ransom notes. They say that it’s good for you, but I’m not sure.

Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): It’s National Novel Writing Month! If you’re not busy writing your novel, try 30 days of something else: Try 30 new recipes, see if you’re the next Julie Powell. Send 30 ill-advised emails. Try 30 new wines and start a wine diary. Or how about 30 new brooches for your collection?

(Aug. 24-Sept. 23): The CD for Band of Horses album Infinite Arms comes with a lovely pictures designed to look like snapshots: the Milky Way over a cliffside, a rustic church, some magnificent clouds. All the more reason for the old-timey habit of buying physical music.

Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Arbitrary divisions between groups of human beings can suck it. I would love to learn to reach beyond my categories more, to remember we’re all made of the same stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Healing the Resume, Part 4

Last night I had a dream that me and some of the stars of this story were having tequila shots together to celebrate the end of summer. Maybe that means that I really am healing, that maybe my silly soul will move on from those rooms…

Gonna try to keep this last installment brief. If you’ve read this far, God love ya. I owe you a million.

By the time I got to that last scary meeting, I felt both disappeared and surveiled. I felt like I had no right to a point of view and no place to turn. I felt like a pervert and a toxic spill.

The OM arrived at the meeting with a form to fill out. She wanted a record of what had happened between me and D. If I had it to do over, I would’ve taken the whole thing to actual HR. For whatever reason, The boss and I both left the car-aiming out of the story. I did say that I would have been terrified to contact D. outside of work.

In the process of filling out the form, I found out that after I confessed a crush on my (have to say here, ADULT) co-worker, CF and D. started to suspect that the kids weren’t safe around me. CF kept saying over and over, “I watch you, you know. I watch you.” Like I said, I was feeling watched, so it was at least comforting to know I wasn’t paranoid.

The boss’s boss kept making fun of me, saying “Oh, yeah, let me go hit on my straight coworker, ha ha ha.” (Perhaps she got so very straight by aiming a car at me? I don’t know.)

The reason the meeting had been called was because CF was mad that I’d been trying to work out something so that my teaching partner would be civil to me. “All you do is try to force people to like you.” All I wanted, all along, was some semblance of pleasantness. Neutrality, even.

At that point, I stayed civil, but all of my frustrations from the past few years came pouring out. I said I felt too sick to work that day, and CF did her CF thing and rolled her eyes to beat the band. I went home on the understanding that I was going home to figure out whether or not to give notice.

I called Amy, my Mom, my Dad, my brother. When I told my Dad that I felt like I would be letting down Martin Luther King if I didn’t complete my second term of service, he said this: “Well, a lot of people let down Martin Luther King.” Everyone was so kind and supportive. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through it, otherwise.

In addition to mulling over the job-quitting that day, I was also waiting to hear if I’d gotten into Teach for America. I was so tired, drained and lost, that it was kind of a relief when the rejection came. A then-muse sent me a text saying “Isn’t that a good thing?’ and I saved it for a good-luck charm.

Blessedly, Amy was using up some vacation days. She took the next day off. I called in sick and gave my 2-Week notice. My friends in the main office began calling immediately to offer me help and try to convince me to stay. I really appreciated that so much, but I didn’t call back.

Amy and I went to the Picasso exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sitting there on the Picasso-designed couch looking at the beautiful paintings and cinnamon-colored walls, listening to some ladies behind me go on and on about who would inherit the family china, it was the most like a person I’d felt in months. I knew I couldn’t go back to work.

The Pennsylvania Director was upset because she knew I’d lose that year’s education award (around 1800$) for leaving early. I hoped that that might make her notice what’d happened.

Closeted Mormon Boy texted to say he didn’t think he’d make it without me. Can some angels or something please look after him? And convince him he isn’t going to hell, while they’re at it?

I feel guilty that I didn’t get to say goodbye to the kids, but I didn’t want to involve them in the drama, and I didn’t want to be watched for 2 more weeks. I emailed my grown up friends to say that I wouldn’t be coming back.

When Amy brought me to the site the following day to pick up my stuff, I was scared to death that they would somehow make me stay. I saw one of my cute students on the way in, just smiled and said hello. Luckily no adults had come into the office yet. I left a note that said “I am sorry. I have to get myself healthy or I won’t be able to help anyone.” I packed my little pink bins again, threw them into reusable shopping bags, and went back out to the car. On the way back to the apartment, some XPN song came on about having to lose things so that new things could come. I wish I knew what song it was. Seems like they only played it that week.

(That Friday, I would go to the Fuze and meet my future boss, who was then the boss of one of the students from my adult poetry class. That synchronicity gives me faith)

The teacher bins sat in the car for a few weeks, then in the hallway for a few more weeks. They were hard to face.

It’s been a very tough time since March, but also on of the most creatively fruitful. I think I’ve gotten more publication credits in the last 9 months than I had in the previous 5 years. I am so, so lucky that I got the time to write and convalesce, and I am so, so lucky that I’m now back on a gentle trajectory towards teaching.

I hope that in the time I was there I was somehow able to impress upon my little students how special, gifted, inspiring, funny, brilliant, lovable, worthy, adorable, promising (etc, etc) they are. I wish I could tell them I’m sorry for leaving them. I loved them so, so much.

Song of The Week: You are What You Love

Not what loves you back!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tweezing the Ex-job Splinters, Part 3

(Before I wade back into the mess, I should say that yesterday was a perfect work day at the new job. Tuesdays are arts and crafts. We made up our own holidays, wrote descriptions of them, drew ourselves celebrating, and made decorations. At the end of the day, my boss told me that she’s really impressed with the job I’m doing, that no other After School Leader had been able to get the kids to write like I do. I feel lucky and safe…)

It should be said that, in spite of her reporting me to the OM, I’d become friends with Contempt Face over the summer. She was one of the few people who would talk to me during camp. I was relieved to know that she was the new coordinator, since I wouldn’t have to shock another boss about the kids still Knowing About Me.

The 2009-2010 school year had a lot of bright points. I got to work with the little kids, which suits me because you get to smile more. I had my own classroom, even if it doubled as CF’s office. Before long, the walls were plastered with the kids’ projects, bright and unassailably beautiful as kid-art always is.

Also plastered on the wall, behind CF’s desk, were like 20 pictures of CF and her family. Her and her boyfriend at prom, them home with their little daughter, etc. To her credit, the OM (We’re back to the boss’s boss from the original “You offend our culture” conversation.) realized the unfairness of this and asked CF to take down the pictures, but CF wouldn’t.

Let’s go through the cast of adult characters: There was W, a guy’s guy who kept complaining that a gay-seeming 6th grader needed to start “acting like a man.” (To her credit, CF thwarted this kind of talk once she realized it pissed me off.) There was a sweet, sweet closeted Mormon boy (hereafter CMB) who came to me for advice and became my confidante. There was Ms. K, the curriculum supervisor who wouldn’t do anything that isn’t in the Bible, including Thanksgiving. (Once I heard her complain that all of us women should be home teaching our daughters how to do laundry, like The Lord wanted us to.) My teaching partner was a very nice Muslim lady who brought a lot of peace and order to our classroom, at first. And there was D, the floater, who filled in whenever anyone’s partner was out.

Looking back, I guess the first symptom of depression was stage fright. I stopped performing at my own venue because I couldn’t stand the sound of my voice. Before I went to check in for the Encyclopedia Show in Chicago, I had a panic attack so bad that I almost ran away from a reading we’d driven overnight to attend.

It’s hard to say when I started to be afraid to come into work. Maybe it was CF’s love of iterating rape plots from Law and Order while everyone wrote their lesson plans. She seemed very offended when I asked her nicely to stop. Not to be culturally incompetent, but the constant presence of religious fundamentalism did not make me feel safe. Nor was it soothing when a closeted friend (She put off her ENTIRE coming out until her AmeriCorps service was done!) at another site told me about a staff meeting she’d been in where everyone agreed it was their duty to set gay-seeming kids (especially boys) straight.

Ms. K, who led the older kids’ class, did a project for Growing Peaceful Communities where they cut out pictures of celebrities and sorted them between ugly and beautiful. She gleefully iterated the vivid, misogynist, racist ways that her students had ripped apart the people in the pictures- no lips, hair, or boobs were safe from dissection and criticism. She said she’s let them do this as a reward. And this was for a project about changing the world through positive language.

In the midst of all this, D. and I became friends. We had a great conversation on the way home from the company Christmas party, and she seemed like an artsy kindred spirit. I sort of overcame my aversion to online chatting to get to know her. The times she’d filled in in my class, she said she really liked my teaching style, and she was so supportive throughout my process of applying to Teach for America. She started to feel like a good luck charm.

Through some coincidence, D. and my teaching partner started being really rude and unpredictable to me around the same time. D. was really close with CF, and I felt really envious of their closeness. Instead of leaving D. alone, I confessed that I had a crush on her, which was a dumb, dumb, dumb, unprofessional thing to do. I also sent her a (chaste) poem I’d written. I am still apologizing to that poem. After I told D. how I felt, she clearly told CF about it, because the two of them began looking at me like I was some kind of monster. D. even said one day to CF, “Escort me to the parking lot, so the Boogie Monster doesn’t get me.”

One day, I couldn’t stop crying enough to teach my class. D, CF, and I decided to have a meeting after the kids left to clear things up. I made it clear that I would leave D. alone and act professional, but the meeting ended with her screaming and flailing at me, and with CF saying threateningly “Leave her alone.” As CMB and I left the parking lot that night, D. came speeding at us in her car, radio turned up like a movie. I wouldn’t say she tried to run us over, but almost.

Again, how did I go in to work the next day? I was so ashamed, of the crush, the poem, the crying. I told CF that I’d gotten on a waiting list for therapy, that I would be strong and professional from then on. I took D. off my facebook and treated her with cordial professionalism.

My teaching partner, however, was being less and less help and was being ruder and ruder to me. She and CF did a two-person eye roll almost every time I was talking. That thing kept happening where conversation would stop whenever I’d walk into the office. Finally I asked CF to facilitate a team time with me and my teaching partner to help us get along better. Why did I keep going to her for help? I don’t know. I guess I had to go to someone.

About a month had gone by when CF said “We have to meet on Monday. Just you and me. Can you come in early?” I tried to get her to change it to Friday, so that I wouldn’t have to be nervous all weekend, but, no, Monday it was. I knew it was going to be bad, and spent the weekend sobbing with my heart racing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Old Job Venom-Removal, Part 2

I thought I’d come up with as many clichés for removing bad feelings as possible.  I absolutely CANNOT wait for this series to be over—editing a trauma is so distracting from the general niceness of life, I don’t know how memoir-writers do it!

Anyway, I was superexcited and super daunted by my new position. I would be the main teacher for grades pre-K-1st and 4th-8th at the summer camp, in the same place where I’d just finished the school year. It would be my first real-sized paycheck and I was just blown away by the amount it seemed possible to accomplish. The trainings, especially the literacy ones, were so compelling that I stopped being able to sleep or read- I was just nervous and obsessed about how to pull this off.

This was also the first time that I lead adults in a job. I got a meeting together with the counselors who’d be sharing the classes with me. I made it clear that since a lot of the curriculum we were working with was tolerance based, I wanted us to treat each other and the kids with respect. I’d overheard one young dude making lots of “That’s so gay” comments during training, so I got on a little soapbox about avoiding those kinds of comments. Other than that bit of soapboxing, I tried to be collaborative and egalitarian. It is possible that I might have been a bit of a jackass.

(Sidenote: The “That’s so gay” dude always wore a keychain around his neck with a picture of him and his girlfriend. Those were common, and reminded me that my relationship was not considered equal to his within the company.)

Most of the camp counselors decided that they hated me. Instead of working as a team to lead classes, they were always texting, correcting me, or rolling their eyes. Especially the leaders of the older kids’ class, which had 50 students in it. The kids picked up on the teachers’ dislike and made it very draining to get through a lesson or project. One morning I found that a discussion group had veered off topic onto a discussion between the kids and adults about how they didn’t like me. The mean-girl grown-ups had made sure I heard it.

I cried to the coordinator (a different one from the school year) and a team time was called. The Operation’s Manager (also a different one from the school year) joined in the team time. This was basically nine people, including my superiors, sitting around telling me that I was too full of myself, that I wasn’t working hard enough because I wouldn’t yell at the kids, and that I had to grow a thicker skin. (In case you’re wondering, I still haven’t quite gotten to that magical skill of not taking things personally.)

After I apologized (?!) to everyone, the OM said that there was one more thing that we had to discuss. She cleared the room of everyone except the coordinator, co-coordinator, and me. Then she made this clearly well rehearsed speech about “Not teaching about my lifestyle.” She said it several times and in a very menacing way. I had to ask what the heck she was talking about—I hadn’t mentioned my family situation since that meeting in the spring.

With a look of absolute contempt in her face (good LORD contempt-face should be illegal), the co-coordinator said “A student came up and said to me “Ms. Jane is a lesbian.” and I just don’t know why you would’ve said that in a classroom situation, so I let the OM know what happened.” The student was of course a student from the school year, and at no point in the intervening weeks had anyone asked me if I’d taught a class about being gay.

Instead of apologizing for the misunderstanding, the OM said “Some of the counselors were very hurt and upset by this. I hope you’ll take some time to apologize to them.”

I definitely did not apologize for whatever aspect of being queer hurt their feelings so much, but we all did manage to get along better for the rest of the summer. I finished up the summer with successful student surveys (The older kids still didn’t like me, but they learned everything they were supposed to learn) and a 20% increase in letter-recognition among the pre-K students.

I was very conflicted about re-upping, so I wrote a letter to the CEO (LinkedIn is amazing, isn’t it?) telling him what’d happened at the Scary Team Time. He was upset and promised he would speak to the OM about it. He sought me out at the end-of-summer picnic to see if I was alright, and that made me feel like something might change.

So, when organizing the craft closet made me curious about the school year to come, I signed up for another school year as group leader. Little did I know, I would have a new coordinator again: Contempt Face herself.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Old-Job Exorcism, Part 1

The other day at work, I was sitting around with the children's librarian and a couple of students watching the Philadelphia Free Library’s “It Gets Better” video. I wished that I could send a video of that moment to my eight-months-ago self.

My high school bullies seem dumb and insignificant to me, as they should at 36, but the adult bullies of the past few years feel like zombies: I’m safe for now, but they’re always coming for me, ready to take everything.

I guess “exorcism” would be mixing my monster-metaphors, but I really hope that writing out the homophobia and fear from my old job will go some distance towards getting the fear out of my mind and heart.

Disclaimer 1: If you come to this blog for a cheer-up (and why shouldn’t you?) you may want to skip this series.

Disclaimer 2: Some people that I like, including one of my favorite readers, still work there. They do a LOT of good work and this is definitely not meant to hurt them.

Disclaimer 3: I don’t want to paint myself as a victim. My inability to deal with my own culture-shock went a long way toward making things harder, and I have a lot of regret about my various storm-outs. I wish there was a way to make it up to the kids I left suddenly, to the friends I lost.

The company that I worked for during my AmeriCorps service (Sept 2008- March 2010) had this mission statement: “To enrich the lives of children, youth, and families by providing educational programs and services in communities confronting high rates of poverty and other barriers to educational achievement.” That’s worth going through a lot for and I’m glad that I tried as hard as I could to accomplish that.

It is not illegal in Pennsylvania to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation. However, since my AmeriCorps stipend was paid with federal funds, I do believe that the law was broken. You’ll see, though, why I feel like there’s not much I can do about that. Partly it was my own dumb choices.

The first afterschool site was straight-up sexist and racist. When I asked the manager for help with classroom racial tension (I was feeling drained from kids’ and coworkers’ near-constant “White people are evil” type comments, and I was unsure of how to address them) the manger responded by saying that we needed “a male teacher in the classroom, to bring more order.” My teaching partner and I were in the middle of trying to facilitate some kind of object lesson about unity, and this man wanted to pull a barrier down the middle of the room to separate the boys from the girls. I was so shocked and livid that I packed up my little pink teacher bins with my supplies and left before the kids arrived for the day. I felt like a horrible abandoner to my partner and students. I still feel that way while typing this.

The company was kind enough to transfer me to a site with a more progressive coordinator. One of my first days there was for the yearly field trip to Washington, so it was pretty easy to bond with the kids quickly. As I always do, I answered their “Who are you married to?” questions honestly and matter-of-factly, and the coordinator supported my choice to do so. One little girl spent the trip saying things like “That’s disgusting, that’s wrong, that’s a sin,” but most kids kind of just took it in stride after a few follow-up questions.

Things went really well at the new site. We published a chapbook of the kids’ poems, I got to emcee the talent show, and I brought in some slam veterans to create the tiniest performance poets. My artsy boss made me feel like my skills were welcome, even calling me “The Poetry Lady” rather than my real title, “Group Leader.” I felt like I’d found a place to fit in.

But a coulple of months after I started, The Operations Manager (my boss’s boss) pulled me aside at a training and let me know that a parent had complained and accused me of showing a kid pictures of Amy on my phone. (I hadn’t, but that seems pointless to say.) She said that talking about my family was offensive to people’s culture, and would I please show some more respect. She said that she wouldn’t want her own children to know about Amy and me.

I responded calmly but asked for a meeting about a week later. I told her that I felt discriminated against, since my coworkers could talk all about their families. My boss’s wife was always around with her pregnant tummy and their little daughter, flaunting their heterosexuality for all to see. I felt like OM and I reached some kind of understanding, but of course I never mentioned my family again, and my “progressive” boss acted terrified whenever the kids brought it up.

Since I’d accomplished so much, projectwise, in my first school year, I was promoted to Summer Program Facilitator. Stay tuned, if you can stand it, for what happened that summer.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Advice From Jen "Flash" Andrews of TBTL

Re: this week's Virgo horoscope...

"Dream bigger next time...since your dreams are coming true and all..."

Thanks! I've got some ideas...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Horoscope: The Drunk on Civility Edition: Starring Tim Gunn and the Rally to Restore Sanity

For Nov 5-11

Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): My wife and I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity last weekend and I found that being an exemplar of politeness (albeit a somewhat smug one) for the day was very spiritually rewarding. I still hate anyone with a “wag more, bark less” sticker on their car, though.

Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): In his book Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making it Work, Tim wonders if maybe it’s “too tough to behave well under all the crazy circumstances life throws at you … you wonder if you should become an advocate not for manners but for living in a cave with a boulder rolled in front of it.” You can try that, but only this week.

Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): Some favorite rally signs: “Everyone here is CUTE!” “Plurals don’t need apostrophes” and “Save Ferris.” What would your sign have said?

Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Veering off the civility theme for a moment — Gretchen?!!? Really?! I will continue to wear as many simultaneous patterns as possible just to continue supporting Mondo. You were ROBBED!

(Feb. 20-March 20): “Few activities are as delightful as learning new vocabulary.” —Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style. Buy yourself a page-a-day calendar and a bottle of nice wine. Wake up loquacious and delighted.

Aries (March 21-April 18): This morning a reader of mine breached etiquette by calling me up repeatedly and breathlessly to worry about something that I wrote on my blog. Dude! That’s what comments are for! I said, “What are you, my father?” Then realized that my father would NEVER tell me what not to write. Thanks for being awesome, Dad!

Taurus (April 19-May 18): Running out of steam? Tim Gunn says: “As long as we have Netflix, Turner Classic Movies, Amazon, YouTube and bookstores, there is no excuse ever to lack inspiration.” Googling “Kittens Inspired By Kittens” is a nice place to start. (It never stops being funny.)

Gemini (May 19-June 21): A loving message from Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy: “An open hand /and open heart/there’s no need to be afraid. /Open up, this is a raid /I want to get it through to you: /you’re not alone.”

Cancer (June 22-July 23): From the best band to see at a rally, The Roots: “Out on the streets /Where I grew up /First thing they teach us: /Not to give a fuck. /That type of thinking can’t get you nowhere /Someone has to care.”

(July 24-Aug. 23): Jon Stewart says that every-other-person merging is proof that we are inherently civil. Meditate on this at every entrance, exit and construction zone: You go and then I go, you go and then I go, you go and then I go …

Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): This week I achieved my dream of being mentioned on my favorite podcast, Too Beautiful to Live. (tbtl.net)It just goes to show that if you pick little, reasonable dreams, they can come true every day.

(Sept. 24-Oct. 21): One more message from Tim Gunn. He says that when you hold a door open for someone, you are telling them you care enough about your fellow human beings not to want the door to hit them in the face.

The Vegan Barley Soup of Happiness

Yesterday started out a really crappy day- the rain soaked my socks and my math test erased my brain like a magnet to a cassette. It all started to turn around once I started working on this variation on my mom’s veggie barley soup. It’s not as good as hers, of course, but still very yummy.

Here’s an EXTREMELY imprecise recipe; taste as you go along.


A whole bunch of dried lima and kidney beans
some carrots and celery
2 potatoes
1 can sliced mushrooms
palm-sized piece of onion
little bit of fresh garlic
tomato sauce
bag o’ barley
sea salt
garlic powder
Old Bay seasoning
bay leaf
nice olive oil

1. Cook the beans over night in a crock pot with cumin, garlic powder, salt, and a bay leaf. Start your soup when they’re almost done.
2. In the bottom of your soup pot, heat up some nice olive oil. Dice in the onion and garlic. Add a whole bunch of sea salt. Let that cook for a while. Your house will start to smell really, really nice.
3. Add mushrooms and potatoes. (I like the skins on the potatoes but you can peel them if you want to.)
4. Shake in some rosemary and cumin. Stir it all around in the oil for a few minutes and then add a little bit of water. Keep stirring it around.
5. Chop up your carrots and celery and add them to your mixture.
6. Add the beans and a few ladles of the juice from the beans.
7. Add a little bit of tomato sauce and water to fill the pot.
8. Add as much barley as you want to, but remember that it grows. Barley takes about 45 mins to cook.
9. Add a whole bunch of Old Bay seasoning.
10. Sprinkle with toasty pumpkin seeds and eat.

The awesome thing about barley is that unlike pasta, its texture gets nicer and nicer as it’s reheated. You’ll have soup for days.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November Resolutions

1. Take reasonable steps forward.
2. Get back into the habit of yoga.
3. Submit! (Poetry)
4. Evening walks with Amy.
5. Dance More.

Side resolution: this morning I weighed myself in at 260.4 pounds! I am horrified and I really want to get a grip on my weight. I'm going to try to get more exercise and be less in love with sugar. I'll post my weight here each month as an incentive...

20 Things I LOVE LOVE LOVED about October 2010

2. Seeing the President and Vice President—WITH THE ROOTS!
3. My new book came out and I got to co-feature with my pressmate Mike O’Hara at The Fuze.
4. The Night Kite Revival Tour refreshed my soul.
5. Visiting my childhood home and finding it still fairly wooded.
6. Featuring Apiary/Light of Unity at the Fuze.
7. Spending a wonderful Saturday afternoon writing in The Last Drop Café.
8. Getting obsessed with Veronica Mars.
9. Settling in at my wonderful library job.
10. Reading/workshopping at Courtney Bambrick’s East Falls Poetry Festival.
11. Leafing to Lancaster.
12. Making our “It Gets Better” video and wing-womaning for a newly out pal.
13. Giving up some bad connections.
14. Getting Turtle Ink books in at Jean-Jaques Gallery, a wonderfully artsy boutique.
15. Sometimes getting a handle on Intermediate Algebra feels so good.
16. Joining a Small Group Ministry at church with my pal Sarah.
17. Discovering a cool East Falls art spot: Tattoo Gallery Café.
18. Doing yoga for the first time in months—welcome back, Chi!
19. The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. Last Night at Chateau Marmont, by Lauren Weisberger. Gunn’s Golden Rules, by Tim Gunn.
20. Of course! Getting drunk on civility and signage at the Rally to restore sanity.

October Resolutions Check-in

(These monthly resolutions were inspired by The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I highly recommend it to anyone who’d like some smart self-help.

1. Embrace imperfection.
I regretted making this resolution—the universe (and my own mistakes) gave me far too many opportunities to practice it. I bounced the checkbook, a nasty event coordinator e-yelled at me for four paragraphs when I canceled my Winter classes, odd traffic tickets kept popping up, I struggled in math class even though the professor kept saying “It’s just common sense…” etc.

However, I’ve learned to sometimes be able to see problems as just themselves, not as universal exemplars of catastrophe. Yes, I was stupid with the banking, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid forever. A beeyotch yelling at me doesn’t mean I am permanently unable to connect with people. Math conundrums were often figured out after a good night’s sleep.

This was HUGE progress for me. Gold star.

2. Walk in the woods.
Every Fall, I worry that we aren’t looking at leaves enough. Weekly or twice-weekly walks/runs in the Wissahickon go a long way towards assuaging that worry.

3. Buy less.
While I was depressed, I developed a very mild shopping addiction, and I feel like that’s starting to fade.

We get a thrill from grocerying at the Save-a-lot instead of the Acme. We keep wondering why we didn’t do that before.

4. Make meals that involve steps.

My favorite one of these is my mom’s broccoli soup: Boil a whole bunch of broccoli stems in salted water for about 2 hours. Mash/cut up the stems and add the broccoli florets to the broth. Cook some elbow or farfalle macaroni in a separate pot, strain and add to broth. Cook for a couple more minutes. Serve with generous amounts of grated fresh parmesan.

I also like Rachel Ray’s Cabbage and Straw.

Next month I hope to recreate my mom’s vegetable barley soup.

5. Follow curiosity more avidly. (See: 20 Things I LOVE LOVE LOVED about October 2010)