Saturday, April 20, 2013

Something to write about

I’m staring at the blank page, and I want to write.

I don’t have anything to write about.

I applied for a new job next year. I had to write a resume and interview for the first time in 14 years. No big deal for a veteran teacher, right? I worked for entire days on my resume and portfolio. After the interview, I replayed it 100 times in my head, breaking down each answer I offered up to the hiring committee. After the 100th time, I knew every word that had come out of my mouth was drivel.

Then I got the job.

I don’t have anything to write about.

I’ll be teaching four different courses to sophomores and juniors. I taught sophomores during my student teaching semester 17 years ago. I’ve never taught the junior courses. I haven’t read any of the books in either curriculum for at least 17 years…some of them ever. I can teach the freshman curriculum blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. I can answer my students’ questions before they get them out of their mouths. Next year, kids will ask me questions to which I do not immediately know the answers.

And that is awesome.

I want to write, but I don’t have anything to write about.

I spent four days interviewing 12 different lawyers. See, what’s even more awesome about this new job is that it’s in a career and technical school unlike any other in Kentucky. I’ll be teaching English in the new Law and Justice Village. I’ll be working with a Social Studies teacher and a lawyer-turned-teacher. The Social Studies teacher and I are on the hiring committee to find the lawyer, so I’ve been interviewing lawyers. Lawyers approach interview questions differently than other prospective teachers. Almost to a person, they talked around the questions instead of answering them directly. I was beginning to think this might be a soft skill we’ll need to teach in our Village. To cure someone of this affliction, you put them in front of high school students, so we did. Have you ever tried to avoid a persistent 15 year old with a question? Hehehe.

I need something to write about.

I’m teaching Romeo and Juliet for the last time…at least for a while anyway. It’s always been my favorite unit. I’m keeping a list of the things the kids say. You know, like the kid who left my classroom the other day asking a girl if she would ope her lap to saint-seducing gold. She smacked him. A little Shakespeare goes a long way, but you have to know how to use it.

I’m writing about that later though. What to write about now?

I saw Lincoln last night. Spielberg, man… He can make a movie. I loved the narrow focus. I loved the way the movie pulled back the curtain to show us that the legend was a human being with the same problems and struggles as the rest of us mere mortals. I was struck by the moral courage demonstrated by not only Lincoln, but by the members of the House, and I was struck by the seeming absence of such men and women today.

I don’t have anything to write about.

Of course, moral courage necessitates an open mind and a willingness to hear the other side. I wonder if anyone else is dismayed by the extreme political polarization I see everywhere. Some days, my Facebook feed looks like one long fist-shaking screed. The sarcastic posters, pictures, and angry links never stop. In this week of national tragedy, you would expect it to lessen, but no. It’s worse. I don’t understand “in-your-face” messages on Facebook. You know who’s reading them? Your friends. 

“Ha ha, Person-I-enjoy-following-and-spending-time-with-in-real-life!! I just made you feel like an asshole for your point of view! Boo ya!”

Surely, there’s something I could write about.

I struggle constantly with what to put on Facebook myself. My teacher-self is always in conflict with my writer-self. Like this morning, I discovered an awesome poem on The Rumpus. They’re sharing a new poem every day for National Poetry Month. The best part of the series is the audio of the author reading his or her poem. This poem drops the f-bomb and contains graphic sexual imagery, and it is everything I love about poetry…smart and musical. The author’s reading is mesmerizing. My writer-self called my public school teacher-self a coward for not posting the link, but I did post it here. Somehow, the extra click to get to my blog is a doorway in my mind. You have entered the domain of writer-Kathy. Yes, I am aware there is no logic to that reasoning.

I really feel like writing.

My youngest son is graduating from high school next month. He’s been accepted to college and has signed his letter of intent to play football.

I let him go to Florida with his friends for Spring Break, and we both survived unscathed. Prom was also a success.

Where we are now compared to where we were two years ago is not just separated by time. It’s a whole different universe, and I’m still too close to it to write about it. I’ll simply say this. I’m proud of him.

Some days the muse is silent. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's Raining....or Attitude Adjustment

“It’s raining.”

These words are disheartening when you’re in Florida. When people come to the Sunshine State, they damn well expect sunshine. They are entitled.

“I planned this vacation. I spent money to come to this state, now give me my sunshine!”

Never mind that oranges and grapefruit and a hundred other agricultural products we expect to be readily available need rain to grow. Rationality plays no part in it.

“I want my sunshine! It can rain when I leave!”

In truth, it’s only rained one afternoon and evening…yesterday…and although it was supposed to rain all day today, I’m currently writing this on the deck in view of an angry sea under mostly sunny skies. But man, when it clouded over yesterday, and then the rain started, it felt like a personal insult.

Cue Matthew.

Matthew is Linda’s 25 year old son. He is autistic, and he has a deep and abiding love for umbrellas. It’s anybody’s guess as to why, and really, who cares? Some people love cars, some clothes. Me? I love collecting books. Matthew loves umbrellas. Last summer while he was away at camp, Linda cleaned and organized his collection. She stopped counting at 350 umbrellas.

Matthew loves WalMart and the Dollar Store because of their relatively cheap umbrellas. Similarly, gift shops and any kind of store aimed at getting tourists to spend money on objects stamped and screened with cheesy logos are Mecca for Matthew. Linda only allowed him to bring seven umbrellas with him from Kentucky because there were seven of us on the trip, but before yesterday’s clouds came rolling in, he had already acquired three more.

Watching him turn Linda’s “No more umbrellas, Matthew!” into an “Ok, we’ll go back and get that umbrella, Matthew” is a thing of beauty. The kid is funny.

Quick side story: Matthew also loves bookstores. We have that in common. Unlike me, though, Matthew is always looking for a couple of very specific books. We passed a Barnes and Noble going to the grocery last Sunday, and Matthew wanted to go in. Linda put him off until she learned that the same bookstore contained the only Starbucks for miles…or blocks….around, so we went in.

“Matthew? We’re going in Barnes and Noble, but we’re going fast, ok? Go fast.”

Matthew holds up one hand, and says in a Jack Black-esque voice, “Slow down!”

The kid is funny.

So anyway, just as my good mood threatens to go the way of the sunshine yesterday, Matthew starts opening sliding doors all over the house. He sticks his arm out tentatively, and then steps out for a moment. Not yet. Not yet. His pacing becomes more pronounced, and he leaves an air of expectancy in his wake. It’s like the night before Christmas. You know it’s coming, but it’s taking forever. Then finally, after hearing his bedroom’s sliding door open for the hundredth time….

“It’s raining!”

And it was! And somehow, I wasn’t pissed off about it anymore. How could you be in the face of such unadulterated joy?

“It’s raining!”

A couple of hours later, when we went to dinner, joined by Linda’s in-laws, who live down here, Matthew had umbrellas for everyone. He passed them out with such deliberate consideration that we didn’t dare trade. I got a red and blue striped umbrella with the Kansas Jayhawks’ logo on it. I carried it with pride.

Linda got one with horses printed all over it, and the adults broke into a chorus of “Horse with no Name.” Vicki, Matthew’s aunt, got one from Alaska with polar bears on it. Everyone else got a solid color, but each was still chosen with care. Uncle Charles’ umbrella matched his shirt. Sydney’s was pink.

Matthew saved his obvious favorite for himself, a black umbrella with the green Wicked logo on it. Linda picked it up when she was in New York. He held it up and simply said “wicked witch.” You could almost hear the unspoken “bitches” on the end of his statement.

We went outside and everyone opened their umbrellas to walk the three feet from the door to the cars. It was an awesome moment.

“It’s raining,” Matthew said, and four adult and four teenagers grinned and repeated it with him. “It’s raining!” The kids danced around with their umbrellas, but Matthew went directly to the car because after all, only a fool stands out in the rain when he doesn’t have to.

Later, when we returned from dinner, Matthew paced for another 15 minutes, clutching the recovered umbrellas and smiling. It had rained, and he had been there, umbrellas on the ready. All was right and good with the world.

This morning, the sun peeked through the clouds. Yay! But there is a 100% chance of rain later in the afternoon. I am fine with this. I get my sun early, and Matthew gets his rain late. One thing is certain. We will all stay dry.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I’m in Florida for a week with my good friend and partner-in-crime, Linda. Vacationing with friends can be a double-edged sword. You obviously enjoy spending time together or you wouldn’t be friends, but do you like each other enough to live together 24-7 for a whole week? This isn’t the first time Linda and I have vacationed together. Heck, it’s not even the second or third time. I’ve spent time on the shore of Lake Michigan with Linda. I’ve lived in a tiny cruise ship cabin on rough seas with Linda. I’ve paddled past glaciers in a canoe with Linda.

You think you know somebody. You think a week on the beach is going to be cake, but then after 12 years and multiple vacations, you find a fundamental crack in the foundation of your friendship. A philosophical difference upon which all else is a house of cards just waiting to crumble.

Religion? Nope…we are of a mind on that. Politics? Nope…we’re both generally on the same side of Center in those matters.

What could divide us after all these years?


No, Linda is not a zombie. She is quite articulate, doesn’t sound like she’s hocking a perpetual loogie, and I’ve never seen her take a bite out of anybody. Well…literally anyway. I’ve seen her chew people up and spit them out intellectually. I actually like that about her.

Linda is a Walking Dead aficionado. A Walking Deadhead. She lives and dies…metaphorically…every week with Rick and Darryl and the gang.

How do I know these characters' names?

I’ve spent 72 hours in the company of people who HAVEN’T TALKED ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE!

Linda’s daughter and three of her friends are also in Florida with us. Linda’s daughter and the two boys are also rabid Deadheads. Friday night before we left Georgetown, they made me watch an episode. Saturday night after we got here, they made me watch an episode. Apparently, there has been an all-zombie, all-the-time, all-day, all-night, round-the-clock, 24-7 freaking zombie marathon on AMC. Every time the TV was turned on it was zombies. I’m having nightmares about zombies.

All of this, of course, was leading up to the season finale last night. Watching the finale was AN EVENT. It was planned more precisely than D-Day or the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Everything from grocery shopping for JUST THE RIGHT snacks to when dinner would be served centered around when The Walking freaking Dead came on.

Being the instigator I am…Linda used a different word…I couldn’t help but mock my Deadhead traveling companions.

(I suppose I should stop here and explain that I really do get it even though I don’t watch it. To be transported by characters into another world, to be invested in those characters, to live and die with them like they are real people in the world that you know and love or hate….that is a beautiful thing. That is story. That is why I’m a writer and an English teacher. Story is everything. It’s how we make sense of the world. It’s how we define the past and shape the future. Story is EVERYTHING. And when you find a good one that you connect with, well that’s just magic right there. I’ve been every bit as rabid about other stories as Linda and the kids are about The Dead, so yeah….I get it. Zombies just don’t resonate with me for some reason. My son loves it and tried to get Bruce and me to watch with him, but it was in the middle of the second or third season or whatever, and there was just too much backstory we didn’t have. And we couldn’t get past the ever-present loogie hocking noise. We kept looking at each other, wanting to burst into laughter at the most dramatic parts.)

So if I understand all this stuff about story and connection and characters and such…why was I mocking my friends? Because I’m an instigator…or that other word Linda used. Because it was funny to watch those kids turn on me like zombies snacking on newly dead flesh.

“See? It’s not really about zombies. It’s about the people…the survivors…and how they are moving on in a lawless world. How they react in the face of terrible decisions. Who tries to keep order and who tries to create a new order? Zombies are mindless shells that just shamble along looking for something to eat. Aren’t there a lot of people like that?”

“Why, yes there are. Where was this level of analysis when you were in my class two years ago?”

Boy suddenly remembers I was his teacher, backs off and starts apologizing for contradicting me. He just really loves the show and I’m not mad at him am I? Hehe…not until you started apologizing for good analysis. Second boy and Linda do not apologize. They barrel ahead guns a-blazing.

“Why do I find vampires interesting and not zombies?”

“Vampires are about immortality….parasitic relationships…they seduce to get what they want, but underneath the illusion of beauty, they are monsters. Unless they are sparkly vegetarians, and that’s just stupid.”

“Yeah…but how is that more interesting than zombies?”

“Do I have to explain that immortality and parasitic seduction are more interesting than shambling, flesh-eating mindlessness? Then I think we’re done here.”

When I reached the point where people were actually getting pissed off, I backed off. I committed a sin that I don’t have a lot of tolerance for in others. I believe in story and clearly there is story in The Walking Dead. Freedom to tell or connect to any story you want should probably be added to the first amendment. Oh wait. I think it’s already there. I have less patience for story intolerance than for religious intolerance, so I reined it in.

I sat through the whole finale. The reviews were mixed. The body count wasn’t high enough for some. The daughter admitted she just watches it for the blood and guts. I like that about her. Others were happy that there was a sense of resolution. I like that in a story myself, so I would have sided with that camp if I cared. Everyone was in agreement that the people still with the governor were idiots for not shooting him when they had the chance. I’m always in favor of shooting the bad guy. Bad guys who open fire on their own people in a fit of childish pique aren’t generally redeemable. Although, in one of the episodes I was forced to watch on Friday, I could see that the governor had issues…keeping your zombie daughter on a leash and feeding her brains qualifies as issues in my book anyway. (I can’t unsee the images I’ve been forced to see this week.)

And then they watched an hour long talk show rehashing the episode. I went to bed.

I’ve had nightmares….actual freaking nightmares about zombies for TWO nights because of this mess. Yesterday, we were watching a guy windsurf and Linda was narrating his story. She made him a zombie windsurfer. I argued that the salt water would be highly corrosive to dead flesh and that he wouldn’t have enough left to stay harnessed to his parachute. This is the vacation conversation to which I’ve been reduced!

Thank god the finale has come and gone. Maybe now we can get on with sun and sand sans The Walking Dead.

Addendum…when I read the blog draft out loud to the gang, the apologizing boy reminded me that something called “Hannibal” comes on later this week. Lord, help us all…..