Monday Earworm: School of Rock Kids (Sing The Mamas and the Papas)

One of my colleagues whose classroom is across the hall from mine plays music at the start of his classes just about every day. Really loudly. And it’s often good music. I started the day with Beck’s “Qué Onda Guero” in my head, but then this song started up across the hall, and now this one has been stuck in my head all day.

But rather than show a clip of the original, I’m using this cover by a School of Rock Camp group, because it is actually, in my opinion, better. (And yes, I know people will argue with me about that, and I even know who will be the first to register a complaint in the comments. And who will want to, but then refrain from doing so just because I’ve pre-emptively called it out.)

Enjoy.  😉

Monday Earworm: (Deleted)

EDIT:  It has recently come to my attention that the song I included here today was by a band whose members included a known perpetrator of sexual assault. I had no idea. The song I played here is the only one by that band that I ever really knew, and I hadn’t paid attention to anything else they’d done. I regret that and hope that my post didn’t cause anyone distress. I will leave up the anecdote but not the reference to the song, which I’ve removed.

Instead, please feel free to post in the comments on whatever music or book you’re enjoying right now to make your own part of the world better and more enjoyable for you. 

 

I’m cleaning out my classroom at school this week. Plans for the fall semester are still in flux, of course, but I know that some stuff needs to come out of there, so. One thing I’m doing is bringing home my classroom library so I can make more room on my shelves. These are primarily books which have been withdrawn from our school library and given away free to a good home. These are books which belong to me personally that I keep around for my students when they are looking for something to read for fun and need some inspiration.

Those who know me well know that I might be slightly obsessed with books. They were my most enduring form of entertainment the whole time I was growing up, and that has never really changed for me. I’ve been reading stories on my own since I was four and writing them since I was eight. And I cannot seem to stop acquiring books.

One of the reasons I have a Little Free Library — aside from the desire to provide free books of quality to anyone walking past my house — is so that I don’t feel I need to hoard books. So I brought home a literal carload of novels and culled through them this afternoon to figure out which ones I wanted to keep and which were going to the Little Free Library, either because I already owned a copy or because the story blurb didn’t interest me overmuch. Four large bags of books are destined for the LFL, and one large bag went up to my bedroom….

…where I already have a TBR stack that is, I kid you not, an entire bookshelf plus three tall stacks on top of my dresser plus two stacks on top of my nightstand plus my Kindle.

I might have a problem.

And what have I chosen to read for fun this week? I’m rereading Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston because it is, hands-down, my favorite alternate timeline I wish to all the gods that have ever been that we were living in right now. It’s also hilarious and sexy and deeply smart and character-driven and just all-around well-written. It makes me genuinely happy to read it.

*le sigh*

In the comments, tell us your favorite book obsession — whether it’s your favorite storyline or your author obsession or your book boy-/girlfriend. Inquiring minds want to know!

 

Working From Home. Still. So Far.

So about three months or so ago I wrote a post about the pandemic and the coming lockdown and what I thought about why people were losing their minds over it. I generally still stand by what I wrote then, particularly about transitions and information overload and the way we as humans tend to respond to disruptions and anxiety. Today I’m writing about pandemic-related business again.

So three months into this thing, how are we doing?

As a nation, not great. The lack of leadership has been astounding, even compared to the track record over the last three years. I can’t even go into it here. Lots of other people have, and I’ll let them, but suffice it to say this is my current social distancing bingo card.

That said, my daily logistical life has been overall pretty reasonably good. Stable, for the most part. I have found that there are some things about working from home which I rather like. (I was teaching synchronously on Zoom to mostly engaged students, so my experience was maybe anomalous.) I missed seeing my colleagues and my students in person, but working from home in our house is not miserable. We are steeped in good fortune in that sense, since all four of us can work or school from home without being on top of each other, and the kids didn’t have to do school in their bedrooms. I never for a moment forget our privilege in that regard.

But I will also say that working from home had a steep learning curve, for a variety of reasons. (And those reasons weren’t necessarily the same for each member of my family.) I found, as a teacher, that grading on my computer took about three times as long as grading on paper. And for all my apparent wisdom about transitions, I did not allow myself enough of a transition time to move from one modality (teaching in person in a classroom) to the other (teaching on Zoom). So things took a lot longer than I expected, and that caused me some real stress. It took me a while to come to an awareness that my mindset had been struggling to shift and adjust. After a couple of weeks, I accepted that I was still in a kind of transition myself and needed to cut myself some slack over it. Only after the awareness and acceptance could I take meaningful action, which was to get my work actually done. (For what it’s worth, I was not alone in this, even as a teacher; most of my colleagues were going through much the same process.)

In my post a few months ago I noted that I wasn’t panicking or having anxiety attacks, and to my general surprise and delight, that has mostly held true over the last few months. (Knock on wood.) As someone who suffers from anxiety generally and who has felt the existential dread of living under the current regime since it was just a gleam in a crazy person’s eye, I am pleased to report that I’ve had only a very few meltdowns over the last three months, and they were fairly brief.

As I have noted before, action dispels anxiety. For me, that means that I do things rather than stare at the walls in despair — or at least for 85% of the time, I do. That’s just how I cope. I had the necessity of cleaning out my home office (my study, my studio, whatever) so it could become my classroom. It took me three days over Spring Break, but I’ve been generally pleased with the results, and once I finish getting art on the walls, I’ll post about my workspace. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll note that my cats like to hang out in here. About a month into distance learning I told my principal I didn’t think I could teach without a cat in the room anymore, so we should think about getting me one for my classroom. He laughed, assuming I was joking. Dear reader, I was not. But that will be a conversation for another day, I suspect — probably in August.)

I’ve been on a major decluttering kick for quite a few years now, and being in lockdown gave my family the opportunity to get some of that done. Well, I saw it as an opportunity. My family (especially the kids) saw it as a chance to prevent Mom from going nuts and throwing out all their stuff. Tomato, tomahto. We’re not completely finished yet. However, stuff got cleaned up and cleaned out, and I’m calling that a win.

One significant revelation I have had is that for the first time since I had kids (and y’all, they’re both teenagers now), I had downtime on the weekends. Yes, it was enforced because where was I going to go? But also, it’s kind of wonderful. I do not miss the hectic-pace lifestyle we had before in which I spent most of every Saturday and Sunday running errands, and wow. Dear reader, we do not want to go back to that.

I have not abandoned my social life, although it has significantly changed. I am grateful to have Zoom so this can be possible. I’ve hosted dance parties, art and jewelry making parties, and had many conversations with faraway friends. My writing critique groups meet online now, and participation is substantially more robust and improved now that we can video conference from home. I’ve even attended the occasional happy hour or game night. All to the good.

On the other hand, out here in the state of Texas, which is badly governed during the best of times, things are becoming stressful. The state did not meet its benchmarks for opening up — I’m not sure any of the fifty states did, by the way, though correct me if I’m wrong on that — and now our cases of COVID-19 are rising significantly. We had been in really good shape, nowhere near capacity in our medical facilities here in Houston at the largest medical center in the world, and now? Can’t really say that anymore. We opened up the state too soon, and while some people are handling this in a mature way, knowing that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something, enough people out there have decided the pandemic must be over because they can hang out in restaurants and bars again.

So let me say this again for anyone who hasn’t gotten the message:

Wash your hands. Wear a mask in public. Stay home if you’re sick or if you don’t have to be out. PLEASE.

Here are a few other reminders of things you’ve probably seen in memes and which are also, in fact, true:

Opening up doesn’t mean the pandemic is gone. It just means they have room for you in the ICU.

We stay home now so that when we can safely get together again, everyone will still be there.

Economies recover. Dead people don’t.

Look, I recognize that this may seem very glib for me to say because I haven’t lost my job and can get pretty much all my absolute necessities met, and because I live in a house that’s enough. It doesn’t mean that everything is easy, though: my kids miss their friends terribly, I miss my friends and family a lot, too, and it would be really great not to have to worry about everything so much. But those of us who have the ability and freedom and privilege to take extra precautions for the safety of ourselves and others should do so.

And in this regard, I recognize that this isn’t all about me. Or my situation. Or even my immediate family’s. It’s about the wider community, and our obligation to be responsible for the wider community, recognizing that our actions are not in isolation, especially when we ourselves are not isolated.

Isolation is not fun. Even the introverts in my house are a little tired of it. And I get that.

But still.

I suspect I will be writing more about this, and I promise it won’t always be in my Stern Teacher Voice. Just wait till you find out about the movies and TV we’ve been catching up on!

Peace out.

Poem-A-Day: Dede Fox

A few months ago I was invited to become a member of the Board of Directors for Mutabilis Press, a publisher of poetry, and of course I jumped at the chance! I’ve long been an admirer of their anthologies and have had the pleasure of being published in some of them over the years. This year I’m including some of the Mutabilis Press poets in the Poem-A-Day series for National Poetry Month. Today is the first.

This poem by Dede Fox reminds me of the precarious balance I observe on the daily, as a parent of two teenagers (even saying that wracks my nerves) and as a high school teacher. I want so very much for my children, my own and the ones I teach. I want so much for the world to be an excellent place for them (even if it’s a wreck with, as the poet Maggie Smith suggests, good bones). I want so much for them to find their passions, and for those passions to contribute in beautiful ways to the world. I want so much for them to be unburdened enough to enjoy their youth but responsible enough to recognize it’s okay that youth doesn’t last forever, because good choices make for a much better other side of age.

I want so much.

 

Hide and Seek

She posts photos:
her dreadlocks through stages
in the dying process—
brown to blonde to purple,
lips stained dark blue,
emaciated torso in a black T-shirt,
feet in stiletto platforms

her favorite animals:
red-feathered chickens playing
follow-the-leader across hardscrabble soil,
turtles that she’s saved from 18-wheelers
crossing country highways,
dogs, cats, donkeys, fish, horses,
a bearded dragon with a human name,
all squatting at her dead grandmother’s
house with the girl and a boyfriend,
so young that he hides his age
behind a bushy beard and glasses

She sketches:
faceless teens with the words
“don’t let your light go out,”
or “I hope that one day you see me
for who I am
and not who you want me to be,”
but people who love her
at nineteen know her —
no GED, no job,
no driver’s license,
a frightened child
playing grown-up,
hiding out,
allowing her promise
to dim in the settling dust.

Only she can’t see
her unlimited talent,
wasted until she ignites it,
accepts responsibility
for lighting her own world.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Dede Fox is the 2017-2022 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Texas. For four years she mentored writers as the NEA/DOJ Artist-in-Residence at the Bryan Federal Prison Camp for Women and currently works with Houston’s Writers in the Schools at Texas Children’s Hospital. THE TREASURE IN THE TINY BLUE TIN, her first novel, was listed in 2010 BEST JEWISH BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS.  Dede’s poetry collections include CONFESSIONS OF A JEWISH TEXAN and POSTCARDS HOME. “Chapultepec Park,” winner of the Christina Sergeyevna Award at the Austin International Poetry Festival, served as catalyst for ON WINGS OF SILENCE, her novel-in-verse published in 2019.

Monday Earworm: Michael Bruening

So this week I will begin teaching online. I’m looking forward to some aspects of it, although I suspect that the longer it goes on, the more I will sincerely miss being with my students and colleagues all together in one place. Here’s hoping the new dynamic is worthwhile.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to keep other routines in place as much as possible for the sake of easing stress. Still, I suspect my first day online with my students is going to be show-and-tell of our pets…

Monday Earworm: Dustin Ahkuoi

My brother who lives in Hong Kong sent this to me recently, and not only is it hilarious and smart and well done, it also encapsulates some of the reason I’ve stepped back a little from some of my usual social media platforms. (The other reason is time. I’ve been swamped at my day job lately, which is perhaps more rightly to be called a days-nights-and-weekends job, and I’m also trying to finish edits on my next book so it can go into the print queue and be released this spring. Yay!)

Anyway, this parody is rich and entertaining. Do enjoy. (For my part, I’m getting back to work.)

12 Days of Seasonal Earworms You Need Right Now (Day 4)

Okay, I have to include this new Christmas song this year because it’s by Wrabel, and I have a special fondness for Wrabel’s music because when he was in tenth grade, he was in my English class.

So, shout out to you, Wrabel. Your English II teacher is proud of you and really happy about the art you’re putting out into the world. “11 Blocks” is still in heavy rotation on my playlist. Happy holidays, kiddo. Good job.  🙂

 

Monday Earworm: Chris de Burgh

I was reminded of this song recently when we were discussing the Marie riddle, a moral dilemma from Donald Hall’s extremely dated piece “Argument and Persuasion.” The discussion was interesting, though, mostly because it exposed the societal prejudices my tenth graders have either absorbed or already, wisely, discarded.

This video used to be in frequent rotation in the early days of MTV, when I was glued to any screen playing that channel (much to my mother’s extreme consternation). How many of you remember this one?

 

 

Monday Earworm: Talking Heads

I signed up for an hour-long webinar on self-care for teachers back in August. I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend when it was live because I had a meeting to be in. But that was okay; I could have a link to watch it later once it had aired.

I got the link. It has been two months, and I still haven’t watched it, because teaching (including lesson planning and grading and a couple of new curricula) has kept me so busy for the last two months that I haven’t had an hour of free prep time to sit and watch it.

I’m almost done grading and am more than halfway finished with comments for my report cards. This is good news, since they’re due Thursday. I’m pretty far behind on my revision deadline for my next book — which is part of the Animal Affinities series, by the way, the first book of which was Finis. — but I’ll get there. And afterward, I’m hoping to have the chance to sit and watch that webinar.

In the meantime, do enjoy this song.

Monday Earworm: No Doubt

So last week at a faculty meeting, we all had a conversation about dominant versus subordinate social groups: to put it in extremely simple terms, we self-identified into a number of groups based on our identities that marked us as part of the dominant culture or targeted. For example, a person could identify as male (dominant) or female (targeted), as hetero (dominant) or LGBT (targeted), as middle- to upper-class or poor, as White or POC, Christian or Jewish/Muslim/Hindu, etc. You get the idea. And then we paired with one colleague and talked specifically about our own experiences, whatever we were comfortable with sharing. We were asked to discuss when we realized we were part of a particular group (dominant or subordinate) and then also when we realized how being part of that group would affect the way we were perceived or treated in society.

My conversation was with a male colleague from my department. He talked about being male, and I talked about being female. I realized that the moment I learned that I was female (and that this was different from being male) was when I was about six years old and my youngest sibling was born. My father and I were up at the hospital walking around the maternity ward, looking at the babies in the nursery. A nurse held one baby up in front of a large window, a boy who was naked. Dad pointed out the baby’s genitalia and explained that it marked that child as a boy, and that this was different from a girl’s body. I knew I was a girl, and now I knew on an intellectual level what the biological difference between the binary bodies was. I didn’t really think much else about it.

Then my colleague told me the moment he realized that being male meant he would be treated differently came along in his teaching career (at a different school from ours), when he heard a female colleague lament that her students weren’t showing her much respect, and he realized that if he’d made the same remarks to his students, their reaction would have been completely compliant. He recognized his male privilege in that moment.

The moment I realized I would be treated differently by society for being female had come when I was in second grade. We had to line up in our classrooms every day according to height, and dear reader, I am and have always been short. (Think Queen Victoria short. Literally.) And this was a sore point; I was teased about it for some inane reason on a regular basis. Anyway, we were lining up to go across campus to have our class picture taken, and for once I was not the shortest person in my class! There was one other person shorter than I, by almost an inch: my friend and neighbor and carpool buddy, P.J. Eubanks. And I proudly stood in front of him and smiled, giddy not to be the last person in line for the first time.

And our teacher, a generally kind older woman with short graying hair and a wardrobe full of floral print knee-length dresses, sauntered right over to us, frowned slightly, and moved P.J. to stand in front of me. When I began to ask why she’d done this, she explained that he was a boy and that it might make him feel bad to be the shortest person in the class. So she needed me to stand at the end of the line, as usual, so he wouldn’t get his feelings hurt. She straightened my position at the end of the line, smiled, and walked back to the front of the room to lead the class out the door. P.J. turned and grinned and shrugged, and I walked sullenly behind him all the way to the gym, my feathers crumpled in the knowledge that this was how it was going to be.

At least for a while.

When I told my colleague this story, he was appropriately bemused. He didn’t seem to find it any more important than P.J. had.