"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

it must be fall...

back to showering in the late afternoon with the lights off, taking early evening naps with the music on, eating dinner alone in my room, shirking work to daydream constantly, and being helplessly and incurably nostalgic.

even with it being endless summer here, i can still feel my vestigial fall depression. like an invisible cord tying me back to the heartland. oh my old kentucky home...

[at the beginning of college, i couldn't stop listening to this song.
somehow, it's come to be connected to my first fall away from home.
listen: "Sparks" by Coldplay]

during my evening nap, the way i was lying on my stomach, the way my face pressed against the matress, the way i curled my arm under my head, the way i could distantly smell home, made me think, "this is what i must have felt as a baby." i could remember, somehow, lying in my crib at home, remember the softness of yellow fabric against my cheek, could imagine my now 22-year-old body as a 22-month-old baby, and felt saddened by the thought of all those years in-between. i have an image in my head now of how the movies depict the passing of time thru environmental changes – the furniture moving, the paint on the walls fading and cracking, the movement of cars and pedestrians outside, the leaves changing color and falling, growing green and spruce again – while the person of focus stands in the middle of a room, still, looking straight ahead and head on, changing only a little. i find this interesting. i'd like to measure my life in the movements my furniture makes.


that reminded me of a moment maybe two years ago. i was having dinner with a group of friends in the dining hall at school, and we'd been there for an hour, at least, a usual "family dinner" kind of affair. we'd all finished eating, but were just sitting there, enjoying one another's company. for some reason, i had pulled away from the conversation for a moment just to reflect. the weather outside was nice, it was just beginning to get warm out, and the sun was beginning to set. i was watching people walking to classes or returning to the dorms for the night. i was watching my friend Newman throw back his hair as he tried to eat a piece of toast with jelly. for some reason, something about the gesture – the look of unfettered glee on his face, his booming laughter, his awkward fumbling and negotiation of all that mess and hair – made me think that this was probably exactly how my friend looked as a kid, that this was someone's baby boy, that this was someone who had a mother who probably loved him very much, and probably loved to fix him peanut butter and jelly when he was a boy, would cut off the crusts and cut the sandwich diagonally, because he liked the shape of triangles better than rectangles. and now this boy, grown up and away at college, was eating that same favorite snack he loved as a kid, but probably thinking that it just wasn't the same as the one his mom would make him growing up. and i dunno why, but this brief moment, this smallest and most mundane of events made life seem very precious, and suddenly cruel. it reminded me that we were all kids once, and now, through great luck and perseverance, were growing up quite quickly into adults. i thought about the remaining year i had in college, and how terrified i was. i looked around the table at all my friends, and i imagined (or remembered) all of us as kids, imagined us small, helpless, scared, alone. and the idea both tickled and depressed me.

anyway, just things i'm remembering now that i feel fall is in my heart.


UPDATE 10-22:

Monday, October 20, 2008

rhetorical questions

today, while watching the Daily Show, a number of things occurred to me. (pardon my inertia if these are really duh, but they were pretty a-ha to me about a minute ago.)

1) why is it that conservatives champion the "joe six packs," but refuse to pay them living wages? seems like one doesn't follow the other...

2) Trojan Brand Condoms is imploring Americans to "Join the movement to help America evolve. Use a condom every time." i thought that was interesting marketing, because the first thing that came to mind was "wow, i bet the creationists are going to have a problem with that." and then i remembered that creationists are probably also the same bunch teaching abstinence-only sex ed and not using birth control.

i thought the use of the word "evolve" was an interesting choice as well, considering the implications of "the smart choice," the non-ape-ish thing to do. but there's also the idea of "survival of the fittest" – thinning the gene pool and leaving only those best able to survive current conditions. and i thought that maybe in our current state of environmental, political, economic, financial, existential and spiritual duress, how maybe what we need is less "ignorant" people. and i thought of how maybe the "smart" thing to do would be less human reproduction. but then, isn't Trojan missing the demographic that needs birth control the most? hmm... ?

also, i found this segment from the Daily Show on undecided voters particularly on point:

"[McCain and Obama] are totally different! why can't you decide??!!"

my thoughts exactly, Sam Bee.

-stef lee

p.s. whilst organizing and editing tags today, i discovered that "rhetoric" is pretty much a greatest hits of free rad!cal writings. who knew? not me.

p.p.s. scary what-if: Palin as President. just try opening the windows and doors in that office. creeepy!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


i realized that my blog has been somewhat of a downer lately (like, the last 4 months...), so, i thought i'd post something different for a change:

aaaaawww... furry faces!!


p.s. i like to think that new visitors might see the hot pink, the confetti, and the puppies and come to the conclusion that i am a 12 year old girl, not realizing that just below this are posts struggling with teaching, authority, identity, grad school, etc. it's a great moment for my online persona, don't you think?

Friday, October 17, 2008

moment of doubt #103

why are fridays always the worst days of the week? why can't i get thru a week without having one really shitty day? why do i feel grateful now that it was only one really shitty day this week and not every day? is that a sign i'm improving, or just getting used to it?

today, tears. my lunch and my conference turned into one long, uncontrollable bawl-fest. the tasty sandwich i made was ruined with the taste of salty tears and frustration.

within 15 minutes during my lunch break: behavior incident report/reflection, parent phone call (to tell a concerned mother that her son skipped detention with me 2 days in a row, he now needs to come after school on Monday for tutoring with me b/c he is failing my class), a meeting with the science coach that devolved into tears and an unintentional commitment to 2 additional observations in the next week. = STRESS.

what didn't happen (that i really needed most in order to forget about my massive fails and so i could go into 6th period with a clear head): phone call to boyfriend. music. baby carrots.

but, i guess it's a sign of my growing callousness* to the situation that i didn't think about quitting. i just lamented the fact that this isn't getting any easier, and i'm not sure it ever will. (*i use the word callousness not to mean that i am not caring, that is certainly far from the truth. i mean it in the way that i think of callouses or blisters from breaking in shoes: it hurts at first, but then you grow this thick skin around it so you can't feel it any more and you can deal with it, keep walking. functional non-feeling.)

anyway, to give you a glimpse into my life, below is the behavior incident report/reflection i wrote before breaking down into tears. i keep a log of every incident, and it is now becoming apparent that the notebook i am using may be too small. i write in it almost every day. this is ostensibly ridiculous.


friday oct 17

i spoke with my student marvin after school and let him know that i wanted to talk about something. i told him that all i want for my kids, what i think about most, is their happiness and their well-being. i want to know that my kids will be happy and live good lives. that's why i'm a teacher. i come to school every day and want to see that my kids are succeeding and doing well in school, because those are the ones i know will be safe and happy when they are older.

i told Marvin that i think he's smart. he can do the work when he really tries and works hard at it, and that makes me happy because it lets me know that he has a chance at a good life. but, he can throw that all away, he can lose that if he doesn't do his work. he and matthew are both really smart and can do the work, but sometimes when they sit together they start acting like fools. they both need to learn to be in a class together and not lose focus on their work.

i asked Marvin why he was suspended on monday. he said someone was trying to start fights with him so he "socked em." i told him he needs to get his anger in check because if he doesn't now, he's going to have more trouble later in life. i told him that people who can't learn to control their anger go to prison, i asked him if he knew what that was like. he said he didn't. i told him that prison is a lonely place, you sleep on concrete, you don't get enough food, and people usu. die in prison. i don't want that for any of my kids, and i don't want that for him. i told him that doing well in school is his ticket out of that life, that it's his chance to make something better for himself.

i almost started crying when i told him that i want all of my students to have the best life possible. i want to make sure that they have all the opportunities they can, that they have choices. they might not realize it now, and they might even hate being in class, but they need to understand that i'm doing this so that they can enjoy their lives later. but i need them to work hard at it, because i need their help, i can't do it alone.


Matthew - wouldn't do his work, Ms. Cue came to me after break and said that Marvin and Matt. were sitting on the stair banister and she told them to get down for their own safety. she said they looked at her and just crossed their arms, acting dumb or like they didn't hear or understand her. Matthew pretended he couldn't hear her (that he was deaf). when i told him to sit down, he defied my authority. i got super-pissed, and told him once, told him again. then i told him to "sit his ass down." he didn't. i told him to grab his things and come with me to the office. i took his folder, and marched him down to the dean. we sat with Dean Dixon, and Dixon talked to Matthew about how this behavior needs to change. he is down there 2-3 times a week. if he can't get this under control now, he's going to have a ton of trouble down the road. Dixon and i explained to matthew that we are here to try to HELP him and he is taking it for granted, seeing our concern as weakness and trying to get away with stuff. we told him that if he chooses to take it for granted now, he would only suffer more when ppl don't care to help him later. we told him if he wants to avoid being homeless, he needs to work hard now and ensure his future.

i asked Dixon what happens next with M, what is the next step? clearly suspension is not a good route, he enjoys being out of class. i wonder now if he acts out on purpose just to get out of class. i asked what kinds of interventions we can take to help Matthew and get this problem under control. Dixon said he had called home before and would call again (matthew's father is ill and dean dixon talked to him about being "a man" and helping his mom take care of the family, why would he want to cause them extra grief?) and Dixon asked if i wanted him suspended from class or school. i said i'd like to avoid suspension if possible, but would like to refer him to a program, possibly anger management and work habits, Boyz to Men was mentioned too. Dean Dixon said he would try those things. i also told him to call the mom for me and tell her that if this happens again, i would like her to come in and sit with him IN CLASS until he can self-manage his behavior.

Dean came back to my room with Matthew after a few minutes and i was back in the room. dixon asked to speak to me to the side. he said he called matthew's mother, and all he could hear was the TV turned up really loud, she couldn't really even hear or understand him and he felt he wasn't getting thru to her. but he informed her of what would happen if matthew misbehaved again and he said he would follow up with her.

when he turned around, matthew was not doing his work again. Dixon asked him to get to work. Matthew said i cussed at him, told him to sit his ass down. Dean Dixon said he should have heeded my advice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

maple leaves

"oh please God bring relief
even if it's only brief

she says that we were just make-believe

but I thought she said maple leaves...
... and when she talked about the fall

I thought she talked about the season

I never understood at all.

- Maple Leaves [mp3] by Jens Lekman.

that's me three years ago, enjoying a wallow in the leaves with friends.
this became an annual tradition for me and a few friends, oh i miss it so!
[photo credit Se4n.]

i got an email from my friend Sara tonight. she gave me an update on the goings-on back home, the activisms i've left behind, and she spoke of the leaves in the Fall and how spectacular they are. i can hardly believe it: one season spent away from home and i've already forgotten what it means to have an autumn, to feel the weather change and to trade in flip flops for boots, to bundle up and enjoy a walk with crisp leaves underfoot, the smell of summer leaving the leaves, the smell of air pressure changing and the way the woods get damper and colder and the smell of the rocks on the trails.

i miss all those things. i was just thinking about the last week of school last year. i remember one night walking out to my car, it must've been close to midnight, and the stars were out and the moon was brilliant and casting crisp light onto the treetops, and the wind was perfect, just chilly enough to justify wearing my jacket, my hands grateful for the large pockets. it was hushed and peaceful that night, unusually calm, i think finals were winding down and everyone had worn themselves out from studying or partying, or had moved home early. i remember pausing in the middle of the parking lot, craning my neck to stare at the sky, trying to remember what the immensity of that moment felt like. it was perfect. i wanted to live in that moment forever.

i miss the way weather affects my mood. in LA, i don't have good days just because of the way the sun is shining differently (because it never varies) and i don't get to appreciate the way the wind feels extra comforting one day over the rest. i miss those fall days when the weather is such a seductive companion, stealing you away from your work, abandoning work that always remains, always accumulates, to enjoy fleeting moments of sunshine and breeze.

her email made me homesick. i miss the feeling of fall. here, it gets cold enough to make me enjoy my bed's warmth, to make it harder to get up in the mornings, but when i get off from work, it's still 90 degrees out and smoggy. i want to live in a place where the seasons change.


p.s. i wrote this post with the hope that some of you could send me photos of the changing leaves. it would help me to remember home. send to free [dot] radical [dot] lee [at] gmail [dot] com. thx!

Monday, October 13, 2008

if this feeling were a food, i could sustain myself on it for weeks

i don't know what i've done to deserve it, but these last few days have been unusually wonderful. so easily wonderful that i'm beginning to fear that something horrible is soon going to come and take its place.

friday at school was relatively stress-free and calm. my students took their tests and the scores were pretty good; they weren't dreadful. all but two of my students have B-'s in the class or above (the other two have an F and a D). and Ms. Lee's not such an easy grader either!

friday was so unprecedentedly easy to get thru, that i was dreading monday. i thought to myself, surely, surely all that's going to be forgotten on monday. they will come in from a weekend of going wild and run me down with their uncontrollable behavior. they will scream and yell. they will throw things. they will refuse to work. the good momentum will be lost, only friction will remain.

but, then came monday, and the class went smoothly. students were quiet and attentive, they got to work immediately, they were excited about seeing their test scores, they were excited to get homework (?!) and didn't want to leave class. i even got to talk about democracy! something must've happened over the weekend. were they drugged? brainwashed? confused? was i?

this was the confidence boost i needed. i was beginning to feel myself sink. this has bouyed my spirits tremendously. today, i planned an Edgar Allan Poe lesson for my homeroom and personal development classes, and went swimming after school (nothing has been more rewarding or therapeutic than an hour of lap-swimming every other day. i wonder if it's the lack of resistance that accompanies submersion in water, the feeling of weightlessness, the smoothness of movements and the regulation of breath?)

and, this weekend, i went thrifting and found 2 sweaters for the colder weather. i watched a movie. i cooked, i ate. i got paid. i cried, but mostly because i was happy.

and tonight, i heard from an old high school friend. she's getting married to her sweetheart and our mutual friend, and she asked me, just now, to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. i have never in my life been to a wedding, and the idea of being a bridesmaid in one of my oldest friend's wedding days... well, i am delighted, honored, thrilled, can't stop thinking about how happy i am.

i'm feeling good right now, even traffic can't phase me. and in a city like LA, that's saying a lot.

with immensity,

p.s. my twitter did a pretty good job of documenting the events as they were unfolding...




Friday, October 10, 2008

you ain't a beauty but hey you're alright

i think i change my mind too quickly about things. any little thing sets me off or rubs me the wrong way and i'm too quick to turn my back on it, i think.

i'm trying to learn to be more patient with people and circumstances, to realize that not everyone is crazy like me and thinks so much about what they say. even i have moments of semantic relapse, so i should be forgiving of others for theirs too.

i need to remember the ppl who need me, but try to remember my own needs as well.

[just a little note to self.]


in other news: i'm listening to music again. Morrisey's "everyday is like sunday" came on the radio earlier this week while i was driving to the grocery store, against the flow of traffic, and it was probably the most wonderful 4 minutes of driving i've ever experienced in this horrible town. driving with the windows down, singing in sync to lyrics you know ("come, come, nuclear bomb!"), what could be a simpler pleasure?

and i rediscovered my unadulterated love for Grizzly Bear. i'm listening to them as i write this, watching the Santa Ana winds lift the branches of the trees outside my window. it's getting dark out and finally, it's beginning to feel like the year is coming to a close. "colorado, colorado, col-oh-raaa-ah-ah-ah-doooh..." oh i could listen to this all day. bliss.

and surprise: as i was distracting myself from studying for my grad school midterms by reading The Fix's live-tweeting of Tuesday's debate, i rediscovered Bruce Springsteen. this video for "thunder road" (hot damn! i can't get enough of that opening harmonica. and possibly the greatest Boss line ever: "you ain't a beauty but hey you're alright." = epic.) made me hunt down 2 of The Boss's albums, and surprise!: Magic [2008] is pretty good!

that's all from me for now. it's friday. go out, enjoy yr freedom from work and celebrate a lack of commitments and obligations! i'm gonna crank my music and burn thru these 6th grade unit tests.

love and stuff,

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


this came in the mail today:

look at that crazy mise en abyme! i was even wearing the same shirt i wore when i went into the DMV (i had to put on the headband and make the face to achieve the effect tho). psh, i so carazy!

i was sad to let go of my KY license. i was holding onto it as a vestige of home, a concrete way of saying "i don't belong here." since i don't have a sweet southern accent to throw around (except for the occasional "y'all", i guess), it was my last living proof for calling KY home.

now i'm just another Angelino. :-(


Monday, October 06, 2008

writing personas

i got a wonderful email from my friend Kathee today. i don't get a lot of friendly correspondence lately. i can't even remember the last time i got an actual letter in the mail (i think it was in 7th grade when i still had a pen pal... oh blissful youth!) all i get now are bills, paperwork and forms to be signed and mailed back with checks attached. even my email is being overrun by work-related things: grad school assignments, work-related meetings or conferences, reminders about bill payments and obligations. i like that technology enables me to be so easily and rapidly connected to ppl, but i hate the immediacy and omipresence it gives to my work, too. no one just sits down to write a friendly letter any more, to ask "how are you?" and share a story. i wonder if email will soon become the same?

i have self-identified three writing voices, and sometimes they overlap and/or take over each other:
1) my academic self – the tone and word choice i use when writing an academic paper. this has recently been subsumed under 2) my personal reflective/critical-reflective voice – the perspective i often assume when i'm actually writing, when i'm trying to be creative, when i'm thinking of language in a careful way, when i often have something to say and i'm being deliberate. that is, my "blog" persona. and then there's 3) casual/conversational – when i write the way i would probably speak if you were sitting with me face-to-face, if we were sipping cups of coffee (i'll be drinking tea) and we've been friends since childhood, or had just reunited after our returns from long adventures and were just sitting down together again to share our experiences. these voices, i've noticed, have come to blur and bleed together over time, which is a good sign, i think. lessening of the Cartesian dualism, onward toward symmetry. i'd like to think of my blog as an endless conversation (tho regrettably one-directional and monologic) between old friends about recent adventures.

which is what brings me to today's post. as i was writing a response to Kathee's wonderful email, i could see myself steadily switching my voice toward writing a blog post, too. it's not that the email i sent her wasn't meant as personal correspondence, but it generated an honesty that i thought deserved a wider audience.

and so, i give you updates on my life in L.A.:

I've been having a hard time adjusting to being a teacher, but I think about you from time to time and wonder how you'd handle similar situations and it makes me feel sane again. I'm a pretty shitty middle school teacher because I let the kids run amok and I get frustrated when I have to explain the most meta- things (over the summer, it was context clues. This fall, it's place values and times tables. I've been trying to shy away from the "it's this way because that's the way it is, so memorize it," but with math basics, it sometimes takes too much mental energy to explain everything. And the kids just get more confused when I try to tell them that multiplication is just like addition, but faster. So, onward...)

I know it's bad to have favorites too, but I definitely do. I hope it doesn't show in the classroom, but I can imagine it does. There are kids who are so cute and smart that even when they do something wrong, I just laugh and smile, and then another kid will continuously get something wrong and I'll get upset. It's hard not to, but I know it's HORRIBLE practice. I try to be fair, and I try to be consistent, but I'm not very good at remembering.

L.A. is sunny and warm. It got cold last night and I was worried that maybe it was finally going to start getting colder and I didn't have enough sweaters to wear to school yet, but sure enough, it was back up to 85 in the afternoon when I left work, and I felt silly for wearing my only sweater in that morning. It's weird to live in a place where the weather never really changes. It's actually extremely aggravating, because I can't feel time passing any more, and I want so desperately to feel the seasons change, so I can understand bodily that I will be going home soon.

I'm making friends. Mostly with people in my grad classes. Beyond work, that's the only way I meet people. My colleagues at school are pretty great, our science department is young, hip and friendly, the math department doesn't know I exist, and the special ed department is the crowd that really means business. But they're all great people, and I'm pretty happy with where I work. Whether intentionally or not, I've managed to successfully distance myself from most of the TFA crowd. I don't think we really get along. I kept hoping I'd find at least one really cool person who shares my views on education and activism, empowerment and the need for education reform, but I've yet to find those kinds of people. It's been really difficult for me to be so removed from that kind of community. I hadn't realized how much of a comfort it can be. It's funny, now that I think about it, because I guess at Miami I really came to depend on that intimate and distinct crowd of people who I knew I could have an intelligent conversation with, and we more or less had similar views and critical perspectives, or would at least be knowledgable enough to challenge each other. There were so few liberals and progressives on the Miami campus, that we could really build a sense of community and connection thru political interests and delight in being politically different. I don't know if it's because most people in CA are liberal-minded, or if because there's more diversity they take it for granted, but everything here seems so dull and uninspired. There's no fire, no energy, which surprised me for a while but then it made sense. I don't even think I'm going to vote this election because my vote won't swing anything. I can't find anyone to talk about politics with because they all feel indifferent. If I'm not talking to someone about work or state standards, the conversations turn to traffic, neighborhoods, or getting drinks (we can't even talk about the weather because it never changes!)

Anyway, I've made a few good friends in my grad classes, people who keep it real and let me vent to them about our work and our grad program. It's nice, but I desperately miss Western. I find myself missing it most at meal times, or when I have moments outside to walk around and I long for a bike ride and think of you and Will and Susan, and how we had some good bike rides last year and wonder if we'll ever be together to ride around Southern Ohio again. It makes me sad, I think I underappreciated that space when I was actually there. I imagine coming back sometimes, but I know it's different now, and the ways in which it's changed sound awful. It makes me sad to know there's no returning to that place.

... Sometimes I really wish I had gone straight to grad school instead of teaching, I imagine it will be hard to go back to being a critical student of spectacularization after even two years of the "real world." It's such a crushing place...


Sunday, October 05, 2008

smalltown L.A.

i had a wonderful dream last night that the place where i lived was different. instead of L.A. like it is, it was an L.A. that had a smalltown attitude. i lived in a small apartment in a row of tiny light blue houses surrounded by tall yellow grasses. my house had big windows that seemed to always face the sun, and the houses across the street had kids that would play in the street and we'd all play hide and seek. there were ice cream parlours within walking distance and i would go and get gelato and all the ice cream boys behind the counter knew my name and would give me an extra scoop for being such a good customer.

on weekends, all the kids i teach at school would come out and meet me in the cornfield, and we'd watch the big trucks driving by, carrying stacks of legos in their cargo beds, and we'd watch them drive toward the city and stack the bricks up. we watched them build a LegoLand amid towers of steel and glass. i would run back to my little blue apartment to grab my camera, and i never had to lock the door. and because all the apartments looked the same, i could never remember which one was mine, but my neighbors never minded that sometimes i walked into their living room. (tho one of my neighbors was a rich african-american woman, and she was a little cross with me when i made her late for a ritzy dinner part she was going to. my parents were also staying somewhere nearby and my dad told me they had to go b/c my mom was sick, she was really tired all the time).

before i woke up, my apartment grew into a two story house, it acquired a basement where my current roommate had moved out. but even that was ok, because i had someone coming home from overseas who would fill that space with me. i was walking thru tall grass, following my friend Kathee home from school, and we were making plans to drink tea and eat cookies before our midterm exams. the sun was shining and setting all the grass aglow, and Kathee's hair looked so pretty in the sunlight.

Miami was just a few blocks away. i grabbed my bag and a sweater and was walking on uneven sidewalk pavement, tickling my feet on the little grasses growing between the cracks, walking thru this landscape i had reimagined to fit my dreams.

longing for grass,