Monday, September 26, 2016

The Metaphorical Bleed

I've no idea where to begin. I have a lot to say, at least that's my assumption because I physically feel the weight of what's thrashing inside me. There's some purging to do before marching ahead with a new week.  On this week's agenda is concluding Middle English literature, forging ahead with As I Lay Dying, saying an emotional & abrupt goodbye to my beloved Les Miles, & my debut as Batman. I figure as long as I am juggling the colorful cast of characters in The Canterbury Tales & the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of Addie Bundren & her offspring, I may as well be wearing black pleather & a mask.

To those who've expressed sadness & regret over the lack of pictures from previous it's-Friday-yay-football-let's-dress-up days, I promise pics of my Batman debut. And I know. I know what you're thinking, & the thing is, I couldn't find an adult-sized Superman costume that came even remotely close to being decent, & you know, while anyone can put on that Batman costume, there is only one Superman, & he is British & tall & lovely & I'll leave the Superman gig to him.  

I'm falling into an agenda habit, for myself more than my students, really. I try to keep updated weekly agendas posted online, although I highly suspect I am the only one who sees them, & I catch myself including agendas within sets of notes as I compose them. You know, "We're going to discuss the Middle English Period in four phases: politics, economics, religion, and literature." Organize, organize, organize. 

In the spirit of organization, & in an attempt to structure my brain fog, last week I learned:
 (1) Reagan's most recent A1C, (2) of a friend's suicide, (3) the details of many of my students' lives . . . their joys, their heartbreaks, their struggles, their pain, both physical & emotional. The week was capped off with my Papaw's ninetieth birthday party, followed by LSU's win / loss to Auburn, & the firing of Les Miles. I am tired, which is par for the course lately, but I am also emotionally spent. Caput. I also have an incomplete set of notes on As I Lay Dying that are begging for some attention, & oh yeah, upwards of sixty essays I need to grade. 

During our last tete-a-tete, I told you we were headed to Jackson for the day. The day went well, both numerically & otherwise. Reagan's A1C was a seven-point-three, which is just a tick up from where we were three months ago (seven-point-two). The doctor was thrilled, especially considering the significant changes in Reagan's schedule over the past month. For any new readers or anyone who's forgotten, here's an explanation of the A1C test.

Here are the children trying mightily to behave while we waited to talk to the endocrinologist. 

Happy with the A1C news, & happy that I received no alarming calls or texts from the substitute teacher standing in my stead back in Louisiana, we headed to Another Broken Egg Cafe for a late lunch.

It went something like this.

They had some new "fall" items on their menu, one of which I opted to try despite it being nearly one-hundred degrees outside. As you can likely surmise from the photos, I ordered grits, special grits made with gouda cheese & drizzled in a lobster sauce, topped with pieces of lobster.

Grit-regret seized me about half an hour later when I was trying on sales items in Anthropologie & thought I might have to jet out of the store to vomit. I don't know all their rules, & I don't even look at anything that's not on sale, but I bet they frown upon vomit in Anthropologie since, if you hit something, you'd likely have to take out a second mortgage to pay for it. 

Monday afternoon we drove home. My plan was to read a good bit of this month's book club book, The Glass Castle, & maybe a chapter or two of As I Lay Dying. As soon as the kids were buckled & settled, I buckled myself & started scrolling though Facebook, happy to have two hours during which I was guaranteed time to sit on my rear. Almost immediately my phone was filled with the broad smile of a woman with whom I attended graduate school. Two seconds later I realized why. Her husband had shared her photo, accompanied by his thoughts on the one-month anniversary of her suicide. 

I'd been unaware of her death for a month. The four weeks that unfolded from August 19 - September 19 were some of the busiest in my life. August 19, the day my friend Erin took her own life, was my first official day teaching high school English. A year ago, Erin gave birth to triplets I've watched grow & change via social media. After the initial shock of what I'd learned settled over me, I read everything I could in an attempt to put the puzzle pieces together, realizing that in the months prior to her death, Erin had been battling postpartum depression. Later Monday evening I messaged another graduate school friend with whom I've kept in touch. He was also unaware of Erin's passing, & concluded his email by saying, "This has knocked the wind out of me." Ditto, buddy. 

I returned to school Tuesday morning a bit of an emotional mess, & that's a dangerous position to be in when seventy or so teenagers shuffle in & out of your room daily. I can't remember what we did Tuesday, but what I wanted to do was talk to them. I wanted to talk to them about life, & why it's worth fighting for, & about the door to my classroom, which will always, always swing wide open for them. 

Here's one thing I've learned in the past month:  I am not teaching fools. These young men & women are smart, & many of them, more than I'd have originally guessed, have lived a thousand lives, & fought a thousand battles, in their few years on earth. I know this to be true because since Friday, when they submitted their narrative essays, I've read about their battles. I told them I'd be the only one to read their essays, & I will not break that promise, but to sum up, Friday afternoon, & in the days since, I have cried more than once. 

There were a handful of essays I was eager to read, some because I'd read rough drafts & wanted to see the changes that were made, & still others because, well, I teach several young men & women who do mighty things with words & it's a privilege to read their writing. I told myself I'd save these essays for last, as a reward of sorts. Because I lack self-discipline, I did not do that. I read them almost as soon as they were submitted; they didn't disappoint.

Over the last few weeks, I've teared up a handful of times reading some of the rough drafts. I sent an email to a young lady with feedback on her rough draft because I knew I'd not be able to discuss it with her face to face without squalling. There's been some hugging. It's an odd position to be in, straddling the line between, You need a comma here & I am here for you, can we hug?  

While my seventh period class worked on a study guide Friday, I sat down with my afternoon coffee and opened a paper I highly suspected, based on what I'd been told of the content, would likely gut me, but do so in a stylistically glorious way. It did gut me, only I wasn't fully gutted until later in the day because I read the first line during seventh hour & I knew I better step away & read it in its entirety later, alone, so as to avoid tears in front of the eight juniors I teach. 

It's a perfect opening line, a Hemingway-esque opening line, born of the pain & self-searching that fueled Hemingway. The line is brief but sums up the thousand or so words that follow; it immediately pulls you into the story that unfolds. I know it is effective because it rolled around in my head all weekend. I haven't put grades on any of the papers yet because I like to do an initial read before commenting or marking them up, but other than, I am jealous of your ability, I'm unsure of how to phrase commentary for this paper. 

Be careful what you ask of your students. If you ask them to write, some of them may do it the way Hemingway did & sit down & tap a vein. If you ask them for narrative writing, if you ask them to tell you a story, thinking you teach at a private, parochial school & thus will receive fluffy stories about childhood pets & various other things that are "awesome," think again. Think again. Like death, pain & heartache don't discriminate based on race, wealth, or religion, or the lack thereof. Also, & students will hear this again soon, avoid the word awesome. It's grossly overused &, p.s., you have peers who're using words like perdition, encroach, & disparaging, & I think it is only fair to let you know what you are up against. If everything is awesome, then nothing is. 

This Friday, high school students & high school teachers will be given the opportunity to come to school dressed as a superhero. I plan to take full advantage of this opportunity to deviate from the normal slacks or a dress or a skirt monotony that plagues me every morning before work, but I am now poignantly, achingly aware of superheroes who waltz in my room every day, young men & women whom I pegged as mature, as resilient, within a week of meeting them. Now that they've done as I asked & told me more of their story, I know where the maturity & the resiliency come from, & I remain tear-stained & in awe, & yeah, maybe asking for one too many hugs. 

Given what I learned on Monday, what I want to say is that, first, I hope my students are learning to appreciate the cathartic experience of writing, & second, my plan is to teach English until my children graduate from high school, & my youngest is three, so if you need me, you know where to find me, whether that's tomorrow, or in ten or fifteen years. I will help you place commas, find a synonym for awesome, or just sit quietly if you need a sounding board; I can sit quietly without commenting. 

I suppose I walk away from the past week with a renewed determination to listen, to watch, to pay attention to people, especially when they're hurting & searching & lost, & also simply to be kind, because the odds are high that we all, on a daily basis, encounter people who are waging battles we cannot fathom.  

On Saturday, I spent several hours with my Papaw & roomfuls of people who love him & were eager to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. He is no stranger to heartache, having buried his parents, his wife, a granddaughter, & all his siblings. I had many thoughts Saturday (it was a very stream-of-consciousness kind of day). The dominant thought, after the week I had, was that I am blessed to have been raised surrounded by selfless, loving adults, one of whom has been granted ninety years on this earth. More important even than commas or expanding vocabulary is the opportunity before me to be a selfless adult in a world in which they seem to be an endangered species.

I'll leave you with a glimpse of Saturday, because I know you love pictures, & because I want them on the permanent record.

 I know; he doesn't look ninety in much the same way I don't look thirty-ish.


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