Monday, October 3, 2016

Marrying Agnes

Good Monday morning.

It impressed me for a handful of reasons, one being that I flounder epically when it comes to opening lines. I can recite from memory the opening line of my book. Unsurprisingly, I don't love it. I knew I wanted the first word of the book, & thus the first word of the opening line, to be the protagonist's name because when I read Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway in college, my British lit teacher went on & on about that novel's opening line, which of course is, Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. From this one line we're introduced to the protagonist & we learn she's a determined woman, not content to sit around waiting for someone else to procure flowers. 

Now that I think about it, maybe I ought to reconsider the first line. Again. Last week my editor let me know my book is up next on her digging deep docket, & while that is exciting, it is really exciting, it's also making me feel breathy & panicky at a time when I don't have another open spot on my breathy & panicky docket.

In addition to the news from my editor, a thousand other things happened last week, & as I type I am debating how much detail to share. Remember that one time I blogged about being hospitalized with mastitis? What I am about to share also straddles the TMI (too much information) line, but I'm not going to write a faux-blog of sorts about last week & not mention what was pretty traumatic for me.

Okay here goes. On Wednesday afternoon after the bell dismissed my eighth-hour study hall I pulled out my flask went to pick up the kids from their classrooms. On the walk over, I was working out for myself exactly what I needed to do when I got home in order to have notes & what-not ready for classes on Thursday. I'm not even going to pretend I'm not working day-to-day when it comes to teaching because I so totally am. It is appropriate that I'm (attempting) to cover Faulkner's As I Lay Dying with my AP students because last week the blows just kept coming, & the most egregious one came Wednesday afternoon when, after he ran to hug me upon seeing me appear in his classroom doorway, I looked down at my son & lo & behold, his head was full of lice.

Yes. Yes. I had been warned. People told me it would happen. I didn't lose it, at least not then, nor did I vomit. I grabbed Reagan, buckled the kids in the car, & called my mother, at which point I think I began to lose it. 

I don't want to share details with you, not only because I am kind, but because I don't want to mentally revisit the incident. Suffice it to say, thirty dollars & five hours later, the lice were gone, everyone in the family had freshly washed hair, every towel, sheet, pillow, blanket, fluffy toy, & clothing item Henry had worn, touched, or breathed on in the previous week had been washed &/or spent time in the hot dryer. I learned via Internet research that for whatever reason dogs are immune to the lice that thrive in human hair, which is fortunate because I reached a point Wednesday night when I might've considered doing something drastic with my beloved pet, Sophie, had she too needed preventive treatment. I was a Faulkner novel Wednesday night, washing two weeks worth of laundry, vacuuming my entire house, cursing under my breath, & picking through my son's head while ungraded essays languished. 

Despite intellectually knowing they don't carry diseases & are - so I am told - common among young children, on a level of one to I'd rather give birth to him again, this incident falls pretty close to I'd rather give birth to him again, & if you recall, Henry's birth was by far the more painful of my birthing experiences. Right now I am on edge, checking hair constantly, & just waiting for it to happen again. It's a super healthy place to be, as you might imagine. 

I suppose my AP students are my AP students for a reason because when I shared the story with them on Thursday (or perhaps offered it as an excuse as to why I had little prepared & could not answer their burning Faulkner questions), their minds went the same place mine did Wednesday afternoon: to the horrible, horrible Robert Burns poem To a Louse. So many stunning aspects of nature, & Robert Burns forever immortalized a disgusting louse. Disgusting in no way conveys how disgusting these creatures are. I didn't sleep much at all Wednesday night because I was incredibly busy attempting to crawl out of my skin. I am screaming inwardly as I type.

In addition to delousing my son, last week I inadvertently stepped in it with a few students. No, no that's not true. I stepped in it with one student, a new & enthusiastic blog reader who was so eager to read last week he announced in the middle of a riveting Faulkner lecture I was delivering, Oh my goodness, you blogged again

I've been accused of the dreaded favoritism. As if I don't already lose enough sleep, what with essay grading & the haunting lice, now I have this hanging over my head, students up nights crying, hating themselves for not writing a better opening line, wondering why, why! doesn't Mrs. Zeigler love me, too? My accuser is a bit of a sleuth & informed me he knew exactly whose writing I was praising last week, that it was so. obvious. As you might imagine, shame & regret rolled over me in waves. Mother to a three and five year old, I know well what happens when only one gets a sucker. 

I think my accuser knows I think the world of him, that I laugh at his facial expressions because his face, like mine, most always mirrors his every thought, but here's what he may not know. When my daughter was hospitalized (for the third time) in 2014, his mother was the doctor who called me on my cell & talked to me about what she planned to do to stabilize Reagan's blood sugar once she was over the stomach virus that sent us back to the ER with her a few months after her initial diabetes diagnosis. His mother was the first doctor we'd dealt with who said she was calling Reagan's endocrinologist in Jackson, & that we'd get Reagan out of the hospital & home as soon as possible. My nerves were a bit on edge during parent orientation night, & I almost cried when his mother shook my hand after I finished my spiel. Were I not a completely objective professional, if, hypothetically, I had a short list of favorite students, I cannot imagine why this young man would think for a minute that he would not benefit from the existence of such a list. 

When it comes to student writing, there are differences in skill level, sure, but one difference in some of the essays (that I am, yes, still grading) is the Agnes-factor. A few months back, when I was preparing to teach The Sun Also Rises & everything was all-Hemingway, all the time for me, I wrote this in which I discuss some of Hemingway's personal issues that fueled his writing, that in fact provided such a sturdy framework for some of his writing that all he did was change a few names & add a few bits of fictional flair.

I won't rehash his entire biography, as I know you're likely still reeling from the lice news & may want to get up & bathe or shiver or something, but I think when Agnes von Kurowsky (the nurse Hemingway met while recouping in a Milan hospital in 1918) rejected Hemingway, it destroyed something in him he spent a long time attempting to work through, culminating in the writing of A Farewell to Arms a decade after Agnes walked away from him. 

Had she not turned Hemingway down, had he married Agnes, it's likely A Farewell to Arms would not exist. Sad thought, I know. He had to lay Agnes to rest somehow, so he kills off Catherine Barkley - but it is worth noting that she dies loving him (well, Frederic). Catherine never rejects Frederic, & in fact is over the moon for him, their dialogue dripping with so much sweetness at times you know it was highly personal to Hemingway because otherwise he'd never have written it.

My life used to be full of everything. Now if you aren't with me, I haven't a thing in the world.

There isn't any me. I'm you. Don't make up a separate me. 

I'm not unfaithful darling. I've plenty of faults but I'm very faithful. You'll be sick of me I'll be so faithful. 

He needed Agnes Catherine to love him Frederic unconditionally, maddeningly, & so he wrote it & made it happen & then ended it on his terms. Some of my students are, at seventeen & eighteen, already living in a post-Agnes world, & if there is any benefit at all to that, it is that their writing is deep & rich; they've earned their A, & my praise, a thousand times over. Other students have traveled a different road; some married Agnes. Maybe she'll leave them eventually. Maybe she'll cheat on them, or she'll die suddenly. Sorry for the prolonged Agnes metaphor; you know I love my metaphors. I guess I've been thinking about an eighteen-year-old Hemingway, his heart broken, his worldview shattered by war & a lost love, because I've been spending time with real, live eighteen year olds who're sarcastic, & funny, & shy, & boisterous, & beginning to think about life & love & a whole host of abstract concepts & it is exciting (& thought-provoking) to behold.

Students are like people (because, you know, they are people) in that even after fewer than two decades of living, they are in different places, & you meet them where they are, because it is who they are, & you assess their writing through that lens as well, as I'm discovering. When I read something, I want to know about the author, & that's true whether it's a published book or a student essay, which is one of many reasons why I had them write their narrative essay first. It may not always seem apparent, but I do have a plan.  

Last week wasn't all lice & student jealousy, however. There were some high moments. I wore corduroy pants to school one day. I made myself hot chocolate one night last week; it was actually my dinner that evening. I legitimately needed a jacket at Friday night's football game, attendance at which has become a date night of sorts for me & Reagan because she loves to "cheer" with the cheerleaders & shake her rear end & wave her arms in the air when the band plays. Friday night I had adult back-up in the form of Trey, my dad, & my in-laws, so Henry came to the game too, as did my sister & her family. Reagan, Henry, & cousin Maisie set up camp near the student section & the band & had a blast blocking traffic & dancing erratically.

This next week Reagan will be attending an hour's worth of a cheerleading clinic every afternoon after school (Henry's excited because this means he'll be in my room with me & my dry erase markers). The excitement will culminate on Thursday when the cheer-camp attendees will perform at the pep rally, & then again at the football game that evening. Reagan's grandparents, consider this your formal invitation to both events. I meant to text you all about this last week, but then something distracted me - like lice. You read that right; this week's football game is on Thursday because on Friday . . . & on the following Monday & Tuesday, school will not be in session because of the blessed Fall Break, which I plan to enjoy because I will have all the essays graded by Thursday. I will have all the essays graded by Thursday

I'll close with some photos of last week. Not of the lice, mind you. 

Lice, stress, & ungraded essays aside, I love my job, & next year, when no one interrupts me while teaching to comment on - or read directly aloud from - my blog, or hurl accusations of favoritism at me, I will think about how utterly & completely I miss <redacted> & <redacted> because they're sarcastic in a way that calls to me, & because they make me laugh so much, particularly on days when I need it most, such as the day after I've spent hours delousing my house & my child. 

Below, people I've fallen hard for over the last month not taking themselves too seriously, which is one of the many reasons I've fallen so hard. If you look closely, you'll spot me in my Batman costume.

I jumped at the chance to teach seniors, because the younger my students are, the more my lack of patience becomes an issue, however teaching seniors means most of the people you know on campus are about to leave you. It's finally October, a month I always welcome, but I miss y'all already.


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