"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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

the future

in the future, we won't travel by plane, or automobile, or even hovercraft, as the movies might suggest.

no, the real way of the future will be thru miniaturization. we will make machines that can shrink us down, to pocket size, and we will mail ourselves in envelopes, padded with bubble wrap (for protection as well as pass-time – we will prepare ourselves with plastic cocktail sabers and pop bubble wrap in transit). this will be the only way to travel.

upon arrival, we will slice thru our deflated receptacles, emerging into the lap or onto the palm of friends/family. hello!

this will also be the way of sending greetings by post. no more tacky recordable cards, no awkward scrawled messages. our grateful recipients will be able to hear our sentiments from our mouths, and our hearts.

and to return us to our original state, our friends and family will merely have to place us in a tub of warm water, where we will gradually grow to full size overnight.

this will be the way of the future.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

observations, february ed.

time passes slowly when you're paying attention to it and "a watched pot never boils." why is that? why are the laws of physics and time bendable only when they result in our disappointment?

to illustrate my point, some facts: there are 16 weeks left of school and 5 weeks before spring break. it is only february 2009, the second semester has just begun, but my students are already growing out of their 6th grade innocence, starting fights, using obscene language, defying authority, referencing (and imitating) sexual acts, and acting like obnoxious, entitled teenagers. each day i gratefully mark off another day from my calendar but i know very well that 16 weeks like this will feel infinitely punishing.

another fact: no matter how much ppl say that keeping busy helps to pass the time, it simply isn't true. i work 8 hours a day and go to night school, i exercise vigorously for 2 hours every other day, i write when i can and cook, and sometimes i even read, i eat, i shower, i brush my teeth, i watch tv, i talk to friends and go for lonely walks, i get stuck in traffic, i occasionally go shopping, i watch movies, i chew my carrots slowly, i go to sleep, but the only time that passes quickly is on the weekends.


other sad truths: now that i'm deprived of pleasant companionship, i'm eating more. when my boyfriend was home, i lost 7 pounds b/c i was eating normal portions again. the love and companionship was filling, so i could eat less and still feel full. now that he's gone and i'm alone again, i'm eating more, eating constantly. food is a convenient companion: an apple in my backpack, a box of crackers in my lunchbox, granola bars in the car's passenger seat. perhaps i'm eating to fill some void. maybe i'm eating to grow a thick layer of fat between me and my surroundings. i convinced myself once i was bulking up in an effort to intimidate my students (still not there yet). eating is a pass-time i use to fill in gaps between activities or stressful tasks. it is a practice engaged to fill up time between now and the summer. i expect to gain lots of weight before then.

i'm glad that this is not a leap year. that is one less day i have to worry about being in the classroom. i'm thankful for the little things.

EDIT: i just got back from the gym. i've already gained 2 pounds in the week he's been gone. 16x2... that's more than a third of myself i'm gaining before this is over...


Sunday, February 22, 2009

new wisdom

i would like to append to my last post, as a new realization occurred to me, just now, as i was finishing my soup:

it takes a brave person to admit failure and inadequacy and step out of the way for progress to occur.
but, it takes an even braver person to admit failure, change, adjust, and reflect on her inadequacies and be the progress that needs to occur.

i just hope i can be the latter.


admitting failure

i came to a significant realization this morning:

it takes courage to admit you are not suited to help someone. because we all desire to be wanted and needed in some way, it takes love and courage to realize you are unfit and inadequate to be what someone else wants you to be, and walk away. to do this, one must deal with being accused of selfishness, immaturity, callousness, and self-importance. but i think the act of coming to understand you are not the person someone else needs is actually an act of considerable humility and self-knowing.

i think i've spent most of my life looking for ways to help ppl, or to change the world and make it a better place, without realizing that i had been selfish about it. i was thrill-seeking, but replace "thrill" with "good vibes." i was an endorphins fiend. i like feeling good about myself, and i like doing things that make me feel good. activism, i suppose, was my drug of choice.

another way to understand today's realization is the distinction between theory and practice. in theory, i believe every child is entitled to a quality education, but in practice, i am not the one best suited to provide that education. in theory, inner-city students with disabilities should be just as capable to meet educational standards as their peers in the suburbs. but in practice, they can only do so if they have a teacher committed to the tedious and wearing task of getting them there (and i don't have the patience or endurance to be that teacher they need). in theory, i am a capable and experimental teacher with ambitious ideas for transformative democratic education and student empowerment. in practice, i am a struggling, deeply unhappy special education teacher, disempowered and disillusioned because of my failure to effectively practice what i believe in theory, and my growing lack of passion for education.

i accept full responsibility for my own misery, knowing that if i had only known myself better and been more humble, i would not have taken on the task of teaching special ed in south central LA, thinking i could handle whatever challenges were thrown at me. some things are beyond yr range of ability. it's not even that i had delusions of grandeur, thinking i could change the whole system of education by teaching 60+ special ed students. i was just hoping to make a difference in the lives of a few. but now i am facing the reality that i might emerge from the experience 2 years later and regret the attempt at all, thinking both my students and i would have been better off if i'd never stepped foot into a special ed classroom. moreover, i feel i may be driven away from education forever. that makes me feel deeply sad and lost, since i thought teaching was the way i would make an impact on the world.

it occurs to me this morning that sometimes it is the more honest and necessary thing to step away from a situation, knowing you are beyond your means, that there is nothing for you to contribute. it is knowing that you want to be able to help others, but that you are not the one best able to do it, and stepping out of the way to let those who can do what you cannot.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

return to the single life

i miss this.

if you read this regularly and wondered where i'd disappeared to in the last 2 weeks, yr answer is this: i've been here all along, but away from my computer! what do you think about that?!

the truth is that i spend far more time on the internet when i am alone. i used to worry i have become technology-dependent, but i realize now that it's just a proxy for communicating with ppl i can't live without. hm, well, that and a convenient distraction. but i could quit if i wanted to, and i did!

2 weeks was the exact amount of time my boyfriend was in LA. we were making up for lost time. 6 months is a long time not to see someone who makes you obliviously and ridiculously happy. but now he's gone again, still in transit on his return to that lucky country of Turkey. and now things are quiet and lonely. it's back to cooking dinners for two and only eating half, saving leftovers in tupperware containers, not drinking wine and lighting candles, brushing my teeth all by myself, taking a week to finish a carton of orange juice, taking a week and a half to finish a loaf of bread, waiting in line at the grocery store all by myself, sorting receipts and grading papers, working out obsessively and yes, blogging, twittering, tumblring, and checking email because now i have the time.

there are infinite daily events in modern life that have the potential to be either extremely gratifying or intensely miserable. these ritual behaviors can be vastly improved by pleasant companionship, eased by a reassuring hand or the proximity of a familiar human touch. unfortunately, these are frequently things we take for granted, and these events comprise the majority of every day. and as with so many things, we notice and lament the lack more than we appreciate the presence, sometimes. it is bad enough to feel so alone, but then something as small as getting into a car and looking over to the passenger seat and realizing there's no one there to talk to or hold yr hand thru rush hour traffic, or to notice all the leftover pasta in the pan after you're already full, those are things that make you heartsick.

coming back to my apartment last night after dropping Ben off at the airport encapsulated the feeling that lingers this evening as i write this, that will probably persist in all its manifest forms for the next 4 months until i see him again or have another visitor: an empty apartment, only my clothes in a messy heap on the chair, pillows stacked on one side of the bed, one set of towels, one toothbrush in a cup.

i once wrote that returning to an empty apartment after weeks of constant companionship is perhaps the most depressing experience imaginable. but i was wrong. what saddens me most is returning to the way life is, rather than the way it could be.


Thursday, February 05, 2009


teaching special ed in south central LA is an extremely trying task. (as i type this, i'm thinking, 'that is the understatement of the century!' there are no words in the english language – any language – to describe the anguish and frustration that accompany my job. in fact, those emotions are perhaps better expressed and communicated by the animal kingdom, where the guttural and primitive sounds of pain and distress found in feral animals are more appropriate for my sense of life-threatening anxiety.)

anyway, the point is that my job is difficult. and as with most things potentially stressful or dangerous, one must find ways to adapt, methods and strategies by which to adjust to your surroundings. in the name of survival, you do what you can to change your surroundings, and when your surroundings don't change, you change yourself. adaptation. evolution. selection. you pick and choose what to process, what to act on, you filter your thoughts, you let some things roll off so you can keep rolling on.

my recent environment-induced adaptations have included: reclusiveness, watching TV, eating a lot of ice cream, superstitions, a nagging urge to start smoking, and increased emotional numbing.

the last is the most troubling b/c it is at once the most necessary and the most regrettable. i think that the trouble with the school environment is that it tends to bleach everyone of their humanity. in order to get thru my day, i have to be able to tune out the 1,000+ insults and slurs i hear my students tossing around. i tried at the beginning to reprimand and deliver a lecture for every "stupid" "retarded" "faggot" "homo" "nigger" etc. i heard, but that soon became a herculean task. it would hurt every time i heard such hateful words used, so i had to deaden my sensitivity to such things. if i stopped class every time i heard someone call me or another student a bitch, we would never get through all the standards we need to by May.

adaptation, selection, you pick and choose your battles because there's no time or energy for everything.

it feels strange, but not surprising, to open a science book and see that a student wrote "Fuck you Ms. Lee. You are a chinese bitch" on the plate tectonics vocabulary and not really care, shrug my shoulders, get a black marker pen and cross it out so that the next student doesn't get more excited by the graffiti than the part about the San Andreas fault. if i let it get to me, i wouldn't be ready for the next group of students coming in for their math lesson, and i have to be ready to teach them how to solve a one-step linear algebraic equation.

what bothers me most, however, is that this callousness, this thick skin i grow to get through my day, also prevents me from feeling the gratitude and relief i should feel when, while picking up trash left on the floor, i come across a desk with pencil markings on the tabletop. the graffiti reads, "Ms. Lee is a nice teacher. you should respect her." or the one on the other desk, which says, in big block letters with swirly lines around it, "Ms. Lee: good teacher 4 lyfe." these things should cause me to smile and feel lucky, but i shrug, move the desk back into its row, and wish my kids would stop marking up the furniture.

later, i think back on the day i had: a student accused me of racism, saying, "chinese ppl hate black ppl." another one climbed up on a table and tried to jump out an open window, all for a little attention and the laughs of his peers. 2 students were sent to the dean's office, and i caught another one for ditching class. it's February and i still can't get this class to sit still or be attentive long enough to teach them to multiply decimals and fractions.

if i hadn't grown these emotional callouses, i shudder to think about the emotions i'd be feeling right now.

instead, what i feel: relief that the day is done, and a slight smile in remembering that a certain someone is coming back to visit me today. i'm hoping that some time away will help me remember what it's like to laugh again, and be a kid myself. hopefully this recovers my humanity. hopefully i'm not completely dead yet.

hopefully there is still time to save this vestigial sense of feeling.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

strange powers

i think my sense of smell is my super power. hyperosmia it's not, but i think it bears mentioning.

perhaps this explains my over-sentimentality, my strong nostalgia and sensitivity to the passage of time. smell is linked, neurologically, to memory. it is also, as far as i am aware, the only sense that doesn't dull with the passage of time. my eyes will eventually deteriorate until i'm blind, and i will deafen in my old age from listening to too much loud music, and even my sense of touch and taste will deaden. but smell, well, i hope smell lasts forever. even if i can't see, i could still find my way around a life full of memories, just by following my nose. existential whiskers, that's all i need.