Monday, March 29, 2010

Riding in cars with boys

Anyone with teenage boys knows that getting information out of them is like pulling teeth. One would think I was asking them to give up State secrets when I ask the simplest of questions.

How was your day? Fine.

Did you have a good practice? Yeah.

Who all was at so and so's house? I dunno. A lot of people.

What did you do? Chilled.

Sometimes, a shrug and a vague noise is all you get, so a multi-word answer, or even a multi-syllabic answer, is an achievement. The exceptions, of course, are when the teenage boy is inconvenienced, has created a problem he needs you to solve, or he wants something.

My solution? Eavesdropping. And the best place to eavesdrop is the car.

I know, I know. Eavesdropping is a morally gray area. Before you think ill of me, let me remind you that knowledge is power, and when responsible for the well-being a of a teenager, you need all the knowledge you can get. I wasn't really aware of how much I eavesdropped until my eldest got his driver's license. The sudden dearth of information had me trying to figure out why. I realized it was because I was no longer hauling all of his friends to school, to practice, to the movies, or wherever it was they wanted to go. Thankfully, I still have a year before my youngest starts driving.

When you put two or more boys in the car with you, you become invisible. If you keep your mouth shut and stay invisible, you find out all kinds of interesting things.

Kid 1: Did you know tomorrow is pretty girl's birthday?

Kid 2: (Chuckling) No. I don't have clearance for that kind of information. I'm lucky if I get a nod in the hall.

Kid 1: As long as you're dating pretty girl 2, you never will.

A long conversation ensued about who liked whom and who was in the right crowd to get an invitation to pretty girl's birthday party. It was an information gold mine.

Sometimes, I can't keep from laughing, and it either shuts them down or encourages them.

Kid 1: Mrs. Teacher went off the other day in class. I've never seen her like that before.

Kid 2: What happened?

Kid 1: She opened the window and there were ducks outside quacking.

Kid 2: She went off because ducks were quacking?

Kid 1: No. She went off because Goofball kid answered the ducks every time they quacked.

Kid 2: Huh?

Kid 1: Yeah. The duck went (quacking noise) and the kid went (quacking noise) and then the ducks got mad and then Mrs. Teacher just went off.

At this point, I couldn't help myself. The combination of the sound effects and the visual image of the teacher (who is my good friend) losing it over the ducks cracked me up. When Kid 1 realized he was entertaining me, he went into a five minute comedy routine on the antics of Goofball Kid in Mrs. Teacher's class. My son joined in, and I finally got a real answer to "How was your day?"

There are days when I can't wait for young son to get his license, those days when I've made 3 trips back and forth to school and driven all over the county to chauffeur him to this friend or that friend's house. Then I hear him talking about a friend's first date and first kiss (yes, I'm that invisible sometimes), and I mourn the day I won't be riding in cars with boys.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head

Hearts are heavy all over Kentucky. The mighty Cats have fallen, and taken the championship hopes of thousands, nay millions, with them. Only my friend Pam, a loyal Louisville fan, is happy. She probably had voodoo dolls lined up on the television, ensuring no UK player hit a 3 point shot, but she's the exception. Most Kentuckians are in despair. My youngest son is one of many despondent fans doing something ill-advised in an effort to release his impotent rage. His version of a fist shaken at the heavens was smarting off to his dad. Ah, Stupidity, thy name is teenage boy.

Bruce and I aren't even huge Kentucky fans. I say that softly because the powers that be might revoke our citizenship if they hear me. Sure, we're glad when they win, but neither of us are particularly broken up when they lose. But holy cow, the hype surrounding Calipari's one-and-done freshman class sucked my youngest in, and he's now as rabid as any fan in the state. Last night proved it only takes one miserable person to bring a whole house down. I have no doubt similar scenes of misery are playing out in my friends' and neighbors' houses.

Bruce and I have seen worse. We lived just outside of Pittsburgh in the mid-1990's, and our neighbors were die-hard Steeler fans. I've blogged about our time in the Steel City, and you can read about it here. I loved our friends there dearly, but oh my god, when the Steelers lost, firearms and sharp objects had to be hidden. I watched my next door neighbor mow down his wife's rose bushes in January, and I answered the phone when another neighbor called crying hysterically after her husband threw all the living room furniture off the deck.

I know what it's like to hurt after a loss. My husband is a coach by profession, and the Sword of Damocles hung over his head for our entire tenure in Pennsylvania. I was back in school then, so our family's livelihood hinged on a game won or lost by 18-22 year old boys. But you know, even with his job on the line, I never once felt the urge to do violence or spew vitriol after a loss. (Okay...maybe I've spewed some vitriol at the zebras, but really...does that even count?)

I suppose I keep my cool after a hard loss because I know Bruce had some degree of control over what happened. He wrote part of the game plan. He prepared his players, and I know how hard he worked all week to get them ready. So railing at the outcome would be akin to railing at him. Maybe fans get so upset because they don't have any control over the outcome. Part of the mystique of sports is the way we identify with our favorite team. That sense of identity is so strong in some cases, that when the team loses, it feels like a personal loss...a personal loss over which the fan had no control.

The rub for Kentucky fans is knowing the bulk of the team is NBA bound. There is no "wait for next year because these freshmen will get some experience and be unstoppable." Next year, the team is likely to be good again. Calipari is a great recruiter and a great coach, but it will be with different players.

Some lines from Shakespeare crossed my mind this morning as I looked out the window at the rain. My apologies to Will for the revisions.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
A few shall return, but most shall be drafted:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Wall, Cousins and Eric Bledsoe.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Life is a Journey, and I've hit a Milestone!

This has been a hellava week. I truly believe the universe seeks balance in all things. My colleagues in the science department call it entropy, and I'm a firm believer. I've had a rough couple of weeks in some aspects of my life and an amazing week in my writing life. I'm gonna focus on the amazing part here because, honestly, who wants to focus on the difficult parts?

I have a literary agent! WOO HOO!

Yes, my friends, I have risen out of the slush pile and secured an agent for Sapphire Sins. Robert Brown of Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency offered to represent my novel, and I accepted.

What does this mean?

I have someone on the inside who believes I've written a book that people will buy and read. He, in turn, will use his contacts to sell my book to a publisher. That's a big deal. I am one step closer in my quest for publication. I have a lot more to say about perseverance and process, but I'm saving that for another blog post.

Life is a journey, not a destination. I know it's a cliche, but that's because it's true. Tonight, I'm celebrating a milestone on that journey. I've lived long enough to experience some low moments, so I know to cherish the high moments when they come along. I'm blessed to have people around me with whom to celebrate those high moments.

My family happy-danced with me on Wednesday. Today, my colleagues brought me a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers, the world's largest, most decadent cupcakes from GiGi's, a singing card, and a bottle of wine. Then, they took me out after school and bought me dinner. Have I mentioned that I work with the best people in the world? My new agent warned me not to quit my day job. I wouldn't dream of it. I love going to work every day. I love teaching, and I love my fellow teachers. They inspire me on a daily basis.

I've spent the last couple of days trying to wrap my brain around my new state of affairs. Tomorrow, I'm getting down to work on my second job. I can't wait!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Screaming, Running Bimbos

Thanks to March Madness, I am at home on this beautiful Friday afternoon. You see, here in Kentucky, we worship at the alter of Basketball. In addition to the NCAA tourney, the Kentucky state basketball tournament is underway down the road in Lexington. Now, if you ask the powers that be in Frankfort, they will explain that we are out for something to do with KEA. Riiiiiiight. Go SC Cards! Go Cats!

I'm not complaining either way. I'm writing my first blog post of the year from my deck. Goodbye Old Man Winter. Hello Spring! (The golf umbrella is necessary to see my screen. YAY SUN!)

I started my day off with a long overdue cut and highlight from my friend and hair stylist, Sheri. When I sat down in her chair, I noticed the television.

"Are you watching reruns of Lost?"

"No. Something on Lifetime's movie network."

I didn't even know there was such a thing, but then, when I sit down to watch TV, it's usually with something specific in mind. Anyway, the movie playing caught my eye because four women were running and screaming through a jungle.

"Why are they in the jungle?"

"I dunno. I was watching something before this and I just didn't change the channel."

She offered to change to something else, but I wasn't there to watch TV. We usually gab the whole time she's doing my hair. A foil highlight is labor intensive and time-consuming and allows a lot of time to catch up. Sheri is fun to talk to because her irreverent sense of humor mirrors mine. I guess that's why our attention kept returning to the Lifetime movie.

"Oh hey, look. There's only three of them running and screaming now."

"I think the other one fell down, and they left her."

"Their hair looks really good for having run through the jungle for the last 20 minutes."

All three women had long, flowing, artfully-mussed locks. Two blondes and a brunette. The missing girl was also a brunette. By the end of the movie, only the blondes remained. I felt good about my decision to highlight my hair back to a golden blonde. My survival chances are increased if I ever run and scream through the jungle.

"Must be hard to run in a tight mini-skirt and no bra."

"Seriously. Why is this show on Lifetime and not Spike?"

All three women were busting out of their blouses. They obviously hadn't planned on a sprint through rough terrain when they dressed that morning. In fact, it looked like they had planned on hitting a club...or a street corner. They didn't stop screaming long enough to explain how they ended up in the jungle.

We went back to our gabbing until Sheri asked, "Why is the prettiest girl always the most hysterical in these situations?"

I looked back at the television, and sure enough, the blondest, bustiest bimbo was blubbering inside some kind of concrete bunker. The less blonde, less busty bimbo tried unsuccessfully to calm her down. The calm one sat with her back to a wall. The blubbering girl stood in front of an open window.

"Whoever is chasing them is about to grab the hysterical one."

And right on cue, a wild-eyed man reached through the window and grabbed the sobbing girl. He led her at gunpoint back to his lair where he tied her up, waved his gun, and ranted a lot. His ranting lasted long enough for the more sensible girl's boyfriend (at least I think he was) to charge in and save the day.

Sheri and I continued to narrate the movie in the tradition of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I can recap the whole thing in one sentence. A good guy and a bad guy square off with several expendable, running, screaming bimbos as window dressing. On a network whose demographic is women.

Come on Lifetime. You can do better. Women like romantic heroes, but a romantic hero doesn't exist without a heroine. A bimbo is NOT a heroine. A heroine is just as likely to rescue her man as she is to be rescued by him. If the executives at Lifetime need some examples of strong, capable women, I can recommend several good romance novels.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In which I confess to an attraction to weirdness

I have a confession to make. I love Johnny Depp. He is one of those actors that will get me into the movie theater regardless of my interest in the movie. And here's the thing...the weirder he is, the more I love him.

I saw Alice in Wonderland with my friend Amanda tonight. I read the book a long time ago, and I've seen various versions of the story on film. Until today, I never viewed the Mad Hatter as a romantic hero. Even typing those words cracks me up a little. I mean seriously. Look at him. He has yellow eyes ringed by large red circles, bright red clown hair, and broken and bloody fingers. His accent shifts throughout the movie from a thick Scottish brogue to a light English accent. He moves with an odd, shuffling gait.

My favorite moment in the movie is the scene in which the Hatter walks through a dead forest with Alice on his shoulder. He recites "Jabberwocky," and it is wonderfully, deliciously creepy. His voice is mesmerizing. He knows exactly which words to emphasize, when to fall into that vacant stare.

As I watch, I'm thinking maybe I'm weird too. What else could explain my attraction to the Mad Hatter? But when I sheepishly admit it to Amanda, she totally gets it, shares it even. So this is my theory. Johnny Depp just exudes sex appeal, and no amount of makeup or weirdness can hide it. In fact, his appeal is enhanced by the weirdness. There is a chemistry between Alice and the Hatter that I'm quite sure Lewis Carroll never intended. When the Hatter asks Alice to stay in Wonderland, there is a heat in his yellow eyes that has nothing to do with friendship.

The movie had other fun qualities. I've seen mixed reviews, but I really liked it. Alan Rickman's hookah smoking caterpillar is a hoot. Imagine a really mellow Snape. Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen is also great. She's been criminally insane in the last three movies in which I've seen her, and each performance is different. The actress who plays Alice is believable and likable as well.

In spite of these other good performances, Johnny steals the show. Nobody does crazy better. He's certifiable in this movie, and I love it. Maybe that makes me a little nuts too, but as Lewis Carroll says, all the best people are.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Expectation is the Root of all Heartache

I have a new favorite app for my iPhone...Shakespeare quotes. You can do one a day, or you can shake the phone and get a new one anytime you feel like it. Some days, I limit myself to one. Other days, I just keep shaking.

I took a class in college devoted entirely to the works of Shakespeare, and I enjoyed it. I think maybe I was too young then to really appreciate the man's genius. Forget the lyrical combination of words and the plots we've been rehashing for 400 years. Shakespeare had the soundbite mastered before it was even invented.

I'm amazed at how often a single line taken out of context makes me stop and ponder. Take the title of this blog post.

Expectation is the root of all heartache.

Of course it is. The very definition of heartache is when reality fails to live up to one's expectations. We don't often think of heartache that way, but there it is...

Does that mean if I lower my expectations, I can avoid heartache? Probably. Should I lower my expectations to avoid heartache? Probably not.

Heartache beats expectation out of some people. They experience something so painful they're unwilling to expect very much out of love, work, family, friends, or anything else that gives life meaning. Expectation is risky.

However, if expectation is the root of all heartache, then it's also the root of all joy, right? Heartache happens when reality doesn't live up to expectation. Sometimes, reality meets or even exceeds expectation. So, while expectation is risky, it's also absolutely necessary for happiness. How can reality exceed our expectations if we don't have any?

Deep thoughts on a Saturday, courtesy of a shake of my iPhone.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh, that I were a glove upon that hand...

Reading Shakespeare with high school freshmen is a trip. It's one of my favorite units to teach. If you think a 21st century teenager can't connect with a 16th century play, you are mistaken. The plot of Romeo and Juliet will always hook them. You just have to get them to buy into the language.

One of my introductory activities is to give students a list of 25 words Shakespeare uses to talk about love. They have 20 minutes to write a love poem using at least six of the words. I then shuffle the papers for anonymity and read their poems out loud. I'm always impressed by what they come up with on the fly. I'm especially surprised at the efforts of the boys. There are lots of would-be Romeos out there. I decided to share a couple of them. I've italicized the Shakespearean words or phrases.

What is Love?

Love is a vast shore hidden in the fog.
It is a mountain you cannot climb,
a creek you cannot cross.
It is a concealed weapon,
a banished villain.
You cannot weigh it,
or compare it.
So how can you believe in it?
How can you trust it?
When it can vanish like powder
right out of thin air.


When people talk about love, it sets me on fire.
"Oh I love him." No, you're just a liar.
When you get dumped, you'll be seeing stars.
You heart is covered with scars.
You think he's sweet, but wait until the date,
and you'll see he's cheap.
During the first kiss, you'll be so nervous
you will probably miss...
and then you'll be pissed.
They say wealth can't buy love
Then why doesn't anyone listen?
They're just so dumb.
A kiss on the cheek will leave you weak.
He will get what he wants, and then he will leave.
Don't make a mistake.
Take your time and wait.
Love is NOT required.
~~ Billy Joe

Neither of these boys will likely be a poet laureate, but they both had something to say. With a few borrowed words, and several of their own, I think they said it quite well.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Small Acts of Kindness

My freshmen are getting ready to read Romeo and Juliet and "fickle" was one of our vocabulary words today. Fickle is a good description of my fortunes this week.

Monday was god-awful for reasons I won't go into in a public forum. Suffice it to say, I didn't just have a Monday. I had a thermo-nuclear, mutually assured destruction kind of Monday. The upside? When you have a Monday that bad, then the rest of the week has to be better, right?

Not necessarily.

When you're carrying around some bad mojo, it leaks out onto everything in your life. I had a big presentation at school on Wednesday. One of my classes produced digital stories from a personal piece of writing, and we premiered them in the auditorium in front of parents and half the school. It was a big deal, especially for the kids. I was at school until late on Tuesday helping my last minute kids frantically finish...and I was at school very early Wednesday morning helping my last minute kids frantically finish...and I spent my planning period Wednesday morning helping my last minute kids frantically finish. The last person finished her project about an hour before the presentation was supposed to start.

When I went to set up in the auditorium, every technical thing that could have gone wrong did. My school laptop chose that moment to lock up tighter than Fort Knox. The back-up laptop I borrowed from another teacher was so old, it wouldn't run the software. My sound person was unexpectedly out of the building.

I was as close as I've ever been to a go-to-pieces at school. I normally don't flip out over technical difficulties. I'm usually the calm person in a crisis situation. But that's the thing about bad mojo. It's already lurking in dark corners, and when a crisis occurs, it leaps out like a slasher movie villain to carve you up. For one bad moment on Wednesday, I didn't think I would be able to pull it together.

A wonderful thing happened. Several of my colleagues stopped everything they were doing and saved my bacon. My friend, Thomas, gave me his personal laptop and produced a rabbit out of a hat and fixed my sound. Jesse produced a portable hard drive and pulled my students' work off the server so I could put it on Thomas' computer. Brian came and babysat my third hour class so I could set up in the auditorium, and Amanda worked with me in the computer lab pushing those last few students to finish. My principal made sure Thomas' and Jesse's classes had someone covering them while they helped me.

My friends picked me up when I wasn't sure I could do it myself. Their kindness changed my whole week. My Monday crisis spilled over into Thursday, but I managed it without falling apart. In spite of the spillover, I was blown away by my 5th hour class on Thursday. We're having a "pennies for patients" competition to see which 5th hour class can raise the most money for kids with cancer. My class of 18 kids brought in over $50 of their own money in two days. They broke into their piggy banks, gave up birthday money, money they earned babysitting and mowing lawns, and I couldn't be more proud of them.

Today was a good day. My students wrote love poems using Shakespearean language and it was great fun. I laughed in every single class today. Then, at the end of the day, a student popped into my room with a whole derby pie.

"We had a party in my 6th hour class, and I brought pie, so I had my mom make an extra one for you."

Seriously. I'm sitting at my desk, eating it with a fork right out of the pie tin as I write this.

My Monday problem isn't fixed, but I can face it. Small acts of kindness can be huge. The tipping point from nervous breakdown to determination came when my friends stepped up and reminded me that no problem is unmanageable. I know it's true. My week started with mutually assured destruction and ended with generous teenagers and derby pie.