Monday, January 23, 2017

The Breathings of Your Heart

Good morning.

If you're assuming I have things to say about last week's inauguration, you're (mostly) wrong. I watched it in my classroom Friday surrounded by students. They literally surrounded me as we watched it on the monitor on my desk since the wireless Internet in my room is always on the fritz. Maybe one day I'll have more to say, but that day is not today. The shortest version is this: the federal government has too much power, & that remains the case whether a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House. The only thing that changes is the group that's outraged because it's not their man wielding all the power. I want an inaugural address littered with the words freedom & liberty; I want a president whose goal is to back off & get out of my way. Sure, I'm glad Obama's gone. He was exactly the president I expected. Maybe Trump will surprise me; we shall see.

Highlights of the inaugural included Melania's Jackie O shoutout, the always incredible West Monroe High School band, hearing the usually stoic, quiet Clarence Thomas administer the oath for Mike Pence, & Paul Ryan coordinating his tie & his eyes. We used to have such a good thing, Paul. Reign in your budgets  & regrow your beard & who knows, Paul, who knows.

My life, y'all. Things are spinning fast here lately. The kids have both been sick. Henry was the sick one last I blogged. After our lovely MLK Day holiday, Henry stayed home from school Tuesday because I thought he needed one more day to return to full health. Wednesday morning Reagan woke up feeling puny but she insisted on going to school because she had a test (I was proud). After the test she kind of fell apart. There were tears in the hallway. She came & sat in my classroom during fourth hour, mingling with my AP geniuses, & then I took her to Trey & they headed home.

Meanwhile, I returned to school to teach my seventh hour class, aware that there was a serious situation developing in my left eye. In nearly six years of blogging I find it unlikely I've never shared with you my proclivity to develop fever blisters on my left eyelid, but I guess it's possible I have not. It's not at the top of my list of favorite topics. They plague me once or twice a year. Occasionally one will pop up on my nose, but since around the age of three or four I've had at least one a year erupt on my left eyelid. Always the left. It's a cold sore like most people get on their lip, only my body doesn't direct the virus to my lip.

I've dealt with them so long I can usually tell one's coming before there is any physical manifestation. This one was different, though. By Thursday morning I realized the irritation I'd been feeling in my eye was a fever blister; by Thursday afternoon, my eye was swelling shut because the sore(s) were not on the lid, but rather so close to my eye I had to lift my lid to see the actual blisters. Normally I just let them take their course. Depending on how close they are to the eye, there are a variety of topical creams that somewhat help. When I was younger I worried about them because I was young & vain & had no kids & worried about my appearance. Now, if I can see, I usually let them play themselves out.

I was so desperate Thursday afternoon I called my doctor. There is nothing as fun as calling your GP, - whose son is in your AP class - & explaining that you have large, herpetic sores on your eyelid & you're dying & would he please call you in a prescription. That's a fun phone call. He went above & beyond & not only called me in a prescription, but made me an eye appointment for Friday morning because I think my description of my eye over the phone frightened him.

Friday morning Reagan still wasn't up to snuff & so I left both kids at home with my mom. Henry was sad Thursday that Reagan was at home with Nana, & since I had an early eye appointment, I let him have his day at home with Nana Friday. Due to said eye appointment, I slept in until six o'clock Friday morning, so that was nice. The medicine I'd gotten in my system Thursday night was helping & by the time I saw the doctor my eye was improving & I was pretty sure the sores hadn't infected my actual eye. He confirmed my cornea was fine, said my eye was the craziest thing he'd seen, & told me that I need to relax because stress will cause the outbreaks.

In addition to sick kids & the general day to day rigor of teaching, I suspect last week's disgusting eye event was the result of some book-related happenings. You may recall I sent the edited book back to my editor last Monday. I'd no idea how long it would be until I heard back from her, but on Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday . . . last week is a blur of coughing kids & snotty noses & herpetic sores) she emailed to say I'd done a good job with edits. So that was nice. Then she said I needed to reread the book, fix a few minor things noted in the document, & get it back to her Monday (that's today), understanding that this is my last chance to change anything. She said, We're almost there. 

This past weekend was a merry-go-round of switching the nebulizer from one kid to the next, reading my book incredibly closely to check for errors - grammatical, spelling, continuity - & attempting to ready myself to teach this next week. The seniors are about to take a quick stroll through the Stuart Period in British history, with a brief stopover to study some of John Donne's poetry. Up next for my AP students: Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. I don't feel fortunate at the moment; I feel tired & stressed. I do recognize that I'm fortunate to have a job where I'm not only allowed, but encouraged & expected, to teach the poetry of John Donne & Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. That's not a bad week. That it falls the week I'm letting my book go, final copy, done, done, done, is fitting.

Orwell & Donne were on my mind last week. Orwell greatly feared the rise of a totalitarian government that would control every aspect of citizens' lives, including their thoughts. He foresaw this happening primarily via manipulation of language & the use of technology. Technology has changed us, though in ways I don't think Orwell could've imagined. 

One night last week I picked up my copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's a nice hardback I've had since the fall of 1998. Trey sent it to me for my eighteenth birthday. I was a freshman at Harding; he was six hours away in his sophomore year in college. We weren't even dating (but he was smitten). We'd had a discussion about the book over the summer, & so he mailed me a copy for my birthday. Inside the cover is a handwritten note. The following spring semester, after we began dating, a plethora of handwritten letters would follow the note he left in my copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four. That spring Trey was on a John Donne kick, & thus in many of his letters he'd include some of Donne's lines - sometimes a single quote, sometimes an entire poem. It was the first time I'd paid much attention to Donne. So here I go, off to teach Donne's poetry & Orwell's masterpiece. 

I can't even remember what night last week I sat down with Nineteen Eighty-Four, but I opened it & reread Trey's note, a note in his handwriting, a scrawl I'd recognize anywhere. This is one way technology has changed us; it's a change I've witnessed in my lifetime. Everything is digitized now. Orwell knew the power & historical significance of recording one's thoughts, of filling pages with your handwriting; Winston Smith's first rebellious act is opening & writing in his diary.

All he had to do was to transfer to paper the the interminable restless monologue that had been running inside his head, literally for years. 

Young men, you should write your girlfriend handwritten notes. You should write her letters, even if you see her every day. Ladies, ditto. In twenty years, when you've been married several years & you have two sick kids that are demanding your time & attention, your wife may sit down to reread a book you gave her when you were dating, because, I don't know, she needs to relax or her job demands she reread the book. 

Leave a trail. Write things down. Your handwriting is a tangible extension of you. Another tact Big Brother takes in Nineteen Eighty-Four is altering history by rewriting it. There's an entire governmental department dedicated to this task. Leave little bits of history for your spouse to find, for your kids to find. Shared history is so important; it can potentially build powerful bonds. Buy cards, write letters, leave a post-it note in a book or a magazine. You never know at what point, what low point, in the future it may fall in your spouse or your child's lap & change the course of their day. 

I am as guilty as any of you about reveling in the digitalization of everything, she typed on her blog. When I wrote Dear Miss Moreau the one thing I knew from the outset was that Edie & her hunk of a professor would exchange letters. I wrote the book around the letters. I knew I had to be realistic about modern life but I didn't allow them to exchange phone numbers right away because I didn't want a lot of texting.

During the editing process, I've let go of a lot of things, namely a mountain of adverbs, exclamation points, & by far the hardest to part with: Dr. Foster's thoughts. I've made peace with it all. This weekend I read the entire book for, oh, the twentieth time, & it flows nicely now. The pacing is so much better. The dialogue resembles, well, dialogue. During edits it was suggested I omit &/or edit a letter or two, & at this point I was like . . . 

I was worried about continuity issues, for one. Striking something in one letter would mean striking the reply to it in the corresponding letter, & also digging through & altering dialogue in which something in a letter was mentioned. So, that would've been awful & tedious, obviously. But above all I just love the letters. People say things in writing they won't or can't otherwise say, for one.  Letter writing is uniquely intimate; it is an invitation into someone's mind, their thoughts . . . which is why, after eliminating his thoughts from the novel, I was desperate to keep the letters - his especially - because they allow you inside Dr. Foster's head. And it must be said that people sometimes don't know their own feelings until they hash it out in writing for themselves (raises hand). 

Maybe most of all, I love the letters because when Edie's in her thirties & her kids are driving her crazy & herpetic sores are threatening to shut one of her eyes, maybe she'll stumble on one of his letters. Maybe she'll pick up a Hemingway book because she needs to be alone & read, & out will tumble one of his letters. She'll run her fingers over his choppy handwriting; she'll remember her days in graduate school, & why she fell in love with him, & why she loves him still, in spite of his inability to put trash in the trash can, opting for the lovely, clean counter top instead.

I need to go. I am pretty certain I've decided to have the seniors do some letter writing. They write in their journals often, but they need some blank, lined paper, pen in hand, specific audience (Dear Mom  & Dad . . . Dear Mrs. Zeigler . . . ) letter writing experience.

I don't know when I'll have further book news. I am cool with no news at the moment. I've been singing Whitney Houston's One Moment in Time in my head a lot these past few weeks. I go & go & go. I want a few minutes to enjoy something. A meal. A movie. A shower. Healthy kids. I still haven't watched the final ninety-minute Gilmore Girls episode, Fall, if that gives you any idea of how much down time I've had lately (the answer is: none). I was about five minutes away from watching it over Thanksgiving Break when, if you recall, I got a phone call from Trey letting me know Reagan had vomited. Sigh.

Anyway, I don't want to end on a vomit note. I hope you have a lovely week. I hope I have a lovely week, but if I don't, you can be sure you'll hear about it in a week's time.


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