Monday, January 28, 2013

An Introvert Infected with the Travel Bug

I am afflicted with the travel bug.

As you can imagine this makes it quite hard to lead an introverted life. Part of me hates people while the other loves peoples and cultures and languages.

When in Puerto Rico, my sister spoke Spanish for me because I could not. I would tell her to say something, listen to the response, and then make the appropriate response in English for her to translate.

"How come you can understand it but you can't speak it?" she asked.

"I hate speaking English to begin with," I answered.

A writer? Hate English?

Not English, but speaking. Though I speak a lot and at length, I dislike it. If I had another way to quickly convey thoughts, I would much prefer it. (I still haven't mastered quicker short-hand or texting skills than the speed at which my brain thinks.)

I have found many writers are like me. They need to travel. They need people. But they don't thrive surrounded by people. We are introverts forced to be extroverted for the sake of better writing.

We enjoy our English written, not spoken.

We enjoy our alcohol solitary, not social.

We enjoy our company reserved, not rambunctious.

That is not to say, we will not drink at a party or ever attend a party to start with. I use the word "enjoy"  purposefully. No, we will go to a party (sometimes of our own will) because we know that we have to get out of our stacks of books and glaring computer screen.

It's just that we do not get energy from it. We need down time. Alone time.

In Puerto Rico, during the second night of the festival, people were congregating in the hostel, laughing and drinking and socializing. My sister found me in our room down the hall on the bottom bunk. I was reading comics online and writing in my journal. I had to explain that I was having a perfectly good time and I was perfectly happy being just as I was.

"But you don't look happy," she said.

I shrugged. "But I am."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Does Race Have a Place in Education?

Post-Inauguaration Reflection

"Why didn't they like the blacks?" a child asked me on Martin Luther King's birthday.

On Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, I was the substitute teacher for an elementary school music class. Our topic of discussion, of course, was the civil rights movement and the freedom fighters.

To give them credit, the kids knew the lazy purpose for the Civil Rights Movement  and why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a nation. But, they did not know why those changes had to be made. In a country where the president can be black (now), it seems like race no longer matters. And I wish it didn't matter, but that doesn't mean we can forget the past. If we forget, we will never progress.

I told them if MLK never gave his I Have A Dream speech and the Civil Rights Movement never happened, then they wouldn't be able to go to school with each other. Not just Blacks, but Coloreds weren't allowed to go to school with the whites. (I made sure the children understood that all minorities were counted as Colored.)

The children sort of froze and the whispers faded. They looked around the table at each other.

As a substitute, I was in an odd position. I didn't want to overstep county curriculum--an invisible boundary I had not been taught. At the same time, I had the children's rapt attention. Their curious and confused faces studied their friends as if seeing race for the first time.

Then one Latino boy at the third table raised his hand and asked, "Why did they not like the blacks?"

So I started over. I explained in gentle terms about slavery and how people did not believe that people who were different could still be people. I told them about the different schools, voting, the water fountains, the million man march, and the arrests. (I left out the hoses, dogs, and beatings.)

"They went to jail?" The children exclaimed. They started to argue at their tables. How could someone go to jail for sitting in a restaurant?

I told them that going to jail didn't stop the Freedom Fighters either. They kept fighting for their rights but in peaceful ways even though everyone else "wasn't so nice."

Finally, I said, "I wouldn't be here. My mom is white and my dad is black. There was a time when you couldn't marry someone because of how they looked."

After the initial shock wore off, a girl with tangled curls raised her hand. "My mom is white and my dad's black too."

Another kid: "My cousin has a white daddy and black mommy."

"Me too," said a third.

"You all are lucky," I said. "You can have all kinds of friends. You can marry who you want and it's because these people didn't give up on what they believed was right."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thank You To A Boy I Knew

It's not uncommon for my dreams to be very vivid, but some nights ago smell crept into my dream.

I was at a hospital with a crowd of people I didn't know. I was having a particularly rough time and some lady set me up in stirrups, facing a see-through curtain. 

Past a long curtain, the same strange crowd of people lingered in a waiting room without chairs, watching me. Standing and stirring and watching my legs in stirrups. 

Some nurse lady was telling me to push.

We all know what's happening now, but it's not like you think. If I didn't push, it could kill me. The thing in me wasn't right. But I couldn't do it with so many people watching, so many strange people curiously staring at my crotch.

I jumped out of the chair and he was there. Someone I knew some time ago, someone that was important to me. We never dated. We were never together, but I trusted him more than any man I've known. He moved close to me and said, "You can do it."

His scent, rough and slightly sweet... I needed him and, though we hadn't spoken in what seemed like years, I was happy he was there.

Then, I ran down the hall and hid from everyone, including him. In the bathroom of a staff room, I gave birth to a perfectly healthy little one. The same guy found me just as I was lifting the baby and he saw me with an expression I haven't seen (but hope to) in real life.

A mixture of awe and overwhelming happiness.

And he said, he knew I could do it.

So what's this all mean? Honestly, I have no clue. Perhaps, I should not leave people behind for something that was neither my fault or his. Perhaps, it's telling me to move on. Perhaps, it's just telling me that whatever hardship, whatever impossibility, whatever fear I may have, that it will all turn out okay. No matter how many people are watching. I just have to do it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Meaning of Sorry

I wish that someone would have told me that saying "I'm sorry" meant more than "I did not mean to do that" or "I was wrong" or "I feel bad for you."

I wish someone had told me that saying I was sorry could also mean that I never meant to hurt their feelings.

As a child, I was stubborn. On principle, I wouldn't apologize if I felt I didn't mean it. Otherwise, the person would think they were right, or that I was weak, or that I regretted my actions.

At age 22, I've only just realized that the timeless "sorry" can mean so much more to someone. And that regret is not failure, or something of which to be ashamed.

If you still worry, phrase it in a way like: "I never meant to hurt your feelings. I'm sorry."

Sorry makes the difference between leaving a fight with a salvageable relationship and leaving a fight on non-speaking terms. Then again, there are sometimes that "sorry" doesn't cut it. No matter how soon it's said.

Until this revelation, I walked with the mindset that I would never regret something because, at one time, I had meant it. And from these mistakes or actions, I was made into my present person, developmentally or literally.

I've grown older now and my prefrontal cortex is almost finished maturing. There are only a few things I truly regret in my life--things that I wish I handled differently--but I do regret them deeply.

Let me make it clear: I do not believe I would still have grown without them. I just feel that my development, my feelings on the matter, and my impressions were not--and are not--worth the harm it caused for another person.

When I was a teen, my sister teased me. I don't think she meant to be mean, but that didn't stop her words from hurting. My sister was skilled in the way of cutting people with words whereas I was graced with muscle. Most times, I didn't let her get under my skin because, when I did fight with her, I tended to lose my temper.

My sister had been having some problems with her throat and, as far as I knew, she was going to get a simple surgery to remove a growth. One day, she and I were arguing by our respective bedroom doors. I couldn't stand hearing her anymore.

In an effort to get her to leave me alone, I shouted, "I hope you do have cancer. Maybe then you'll stop talking to me."

What I didn't know was that there was a chance it could have been cancer. (It wasn't.) Still, even if I didn't know, it was one of the most mean spirited things I could have said.

That is one of those moments I regret. I wished I had never learned that lesson.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tips for Substitutes 2

So, you're new to the whole subbing thing and you've got a few shifts lined up. You just don't know what to bring. You don't want to show up with a whole bunch of stuff, but you don't want to be unprepared.

What To Bring:

Writing Utensil - Most classrooms will have multiple utensils to write with in case you forget yours, but it's always nice to have your own. Don't lend out your stuff to students. You probably won't see it again.

The Work Number - Some offices will provide this for you while others will not. Have your number ready in a planner or on your phone so you can copy it down to the check-in sheet quickly.

ID - Always bring a state registered picture ID. Some need you to present it to get into the school, others to get a badge to work in the classroom, and still others to scan in the computer. If you're working on a base, like Fort Meade, get there early to enter through the visitor way and have your license and registration ready to be presented.

Notebook Paper - Whether this be lined, scrap, or sticky-note, you should always bring paper. Some schools and some teachers have passes which are hard to find. In a pinch, you can write the pass on your own paper. Or you may need it for attendance. Or a note at the end of the day for the teacher (though I suggest writing the note on the instruction papers left for you so you can take notes throughout the day).

Hobby - But you're watching children? Why bring something to distract you? There can actually be a lot of downtime for subs. Kids have specials or teachers have planning periods. Also, during your lunch break you don't want to be bored. I bring a notebook to write in, pages of my manuscript to edit, or something to read.

Snacks - Most schools have a break room with vending machines. Sometimes these are out of service or you have a long time until you get a break and you need something quick to keep you going. In a pinch, you can also always buy lunch in the cafeteria.

All these things should fit in one medium-sized bag. Make sure there is some space because young children like to draw pictures for substitutes or give you small presents to take home.

Tips for Substitutes 1

Friday, January 4, 2013

Bad Luck Superstitions

So that you may avoid bad luck in the New Year, I have added my superstitions that my sisters and I follow with rigor.

Interestingly enough, we have very few of these. We don't believe in black cat bad luck, toads and warts, open umbrellas, Friday the 13th, or 666.

Split the Pole
If you are walking with a friend and you are riding in the same car, then you must not split the pole. This counts as a light pole or (especially) a pole dividing a doorway. You must walk the same path as your friend. If you do not, then you will surely have car trouble and the Bible won't save you. If you split the pole by accident, one person (not the driver) must go back around it and take the proper path.

Break a Mirror
That's seven years, man.

Spill the Salt
If you knock over the salt shaker, you must throw a pinch over your left shoulder or face bad luck.

Talking Down
If you talk bad about someone, you will be afflicted by the same problem. Acne, obesity, mental illness. It will get you or your children. Karma.