Monday, June 27, 2022

Winter Village Dream/ June, 2022

"Do you like the snow?" I asked the child with me.


"I like magic snow!"


"Magic snow? What's that?" And as he described the scene to me, the images rolled out before my eyes.


"Magic snow is when it snows for piles and piles and then they sweep it up, shovel off the road and paths and put all that snow wherever they can, in the yards and off to the side." Now I saw more white falling down, this time in fluffy weightless wisps, and the boy said, "That's magic snow!" The second downfall, he meant, just when you can't imagine where you can put any more.


We kept walking down the lane, me pointing out the cabins and huts made of logs. As I cooed at one rustic house, someone said, "It is what it is" and I recognized the place.


We were there. My sister's house. She did not look at me much while I stayed with her, I did not know if I was welcome, but neither did she ask me to leave either. I pet her blond toddler, who then wandered off. She spent time in her bathroom, sitting on the tile floor, looking into a bright mirrored light for the anti-darkness exposure.


I tried to compliment the things she had, to ask questions and engage her, but when I inquired about the tracks next to the house, the train arrived and it was three burnt out and rusted school buses shackled together on the track, screeching and falling with the engine-less propulsion of a roller coaster, turning a gut-wrenching corner next the house, then falling at a sickening angle down the twist of track, revealing the gaping hole in the side of a bus where anyone inside would need to hang on for life to not fall out.



Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Therapeutic Crafting


Last night at the Board Meeting, I ran into a librarian I respect and love. 

"You can't retire!" I said as we bumped forearms, that familiar COVID gesture that I won't stop using because handshakes? Ick. 

"Oh, yes, I can!" she laughed.  Her hair is a chic cloud of silver.

"Do you have plans for next year?"

"I'm going to take a year and just make things!"

I laughed too, with joy and affirmation at her plan and called out that it sounded like a dream. And maybe limitless creation is my dream, now that I think of it, although I know I'm such a multi-tasker (cough, short-attention-spanned dabbler) that a year of free time would probably mean an avalanche of new opened and re-opened projects. 

But I did finish one this weekend, a quick craft that I found on TikTok, melting wax to stick three fingertips in, then closing the fingers together to form three joined wax cuplets that resemble a small flower blossom. 

I lit three scented candles, then waited for a pool of liquid to form. We have a candle drawer in the kitchen for birthdays and stinky onion moments, and a yellow birthday cake taper caught my eye. The scented candles were all white so I lit and dripped the thin yellow one over the Paddywax metal box to mix in a little color. The resulting mix was a pale green I loved, even more so for its little dash of complicating soot. 

The first dipping in the melted liquid was an intense sensation and the cups took a few long minutes to harden and turn opaque. I sped up the process by plunging the tips of my fingers in ice water, but no matter the temp, I wasn't able to adhere the cups together -- the wax was too thin -- but I managed to produce a few tiny individual blossoms. I pierced them with the tips of a branch left over from a flower arrangement and the result was ethereal, delicate and fragrant.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Truisms

 When presented with incomplete information, we leap to conclusions.

We are always presented with incomplete information.

 

Family is everything. Family is culture, nurture, nature, determinism, education, everything.

And we strike our own way.


I saw Baccaria in the hall yesterday and offered her one of my Starbusts. Yes, she did want one and she asked without preamble, "Ms. Fey, do you want to be Black?" 

We talk like that. We've known each other for the four years since she was a freshman. She is Melroy's cousin and she was selling pins with a photo of Child's gentle face before his funeral in December.    

"Well, um, when I was in college, my idol was that singer, she was Black and wore a gardenia in her hair, Billie Holiday! And I wanted to be her...but my friends..."

Baccaria laughed, as she does, not merrily, but a laugh nonetheless.

"Oh, Ms. Fey." And she sighed, as she does. 

I don't blame her. I don't understand her fully, but I know a bit about her. A tiny tiny bit. A surface scratch.

"Ms. Fey, you couldn't be Black. You're not strong enough." She was kind enough to soften the truism with "Ms. Fey, you're my favorite," but we both knew she was right.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

These Boys Will Break Your Heart, Again

I'm still reeling from the news of the shooting death of Child, a boy I've known for four years ever since he was fourteen in freshman English class. 

And thinking about Child, and feeling the pain, still growing, and the anger, perhaps misplaced, and the confusion, maybe from the newness of the grief, brings me back to the moment before Thanksgiving when I learned about Greg.

That is his real name, Greg, because he's not a child whose privacy and family I need to protect. And how I loved that his last name rhymed with mine when we partnered up. And how we did partner!

As high school friends, as brass players in band, as carpooling to and from school, as Rocky Horror fans, as Forensics Team officers at our high school Center High in Kansas City. In the National Forensic League we were lowly officers, something like the office of "Publicity" which basically meant that we planned the end of the year hotel ballroom banquet and we got a day off school to attend a coveted "leadership conference" in a(nother) bland hotel ballroom, but we relished the title. We partnered as a terrible Duet Acting team at one of those NFL competitions (some mild riff on The Three Bears, perhaps), and as prom dates. We made the team of Fey and Day. Like it was meant to be.

I remember a hundred stories over the six years of junior high and high school, as we got closer, and even though I had a low level crush over those years and even though we hooked up a bit towards the end (isn't it always a sign of the end?) Greg was primarily a Friend, the dearest of Friends. I pray that is how he remembered me.

I hope he remembered us well, not just the two of us, but "us" as in all the friend and club groups we overlapped with and danced through, swapping partners and allegiances and not all his friends and girlfriends were mine too but that was okay. He had Spanish club; I had French. 

It's the laughing that I can't forget -- near hysterics in a booth at Winstead's on the Plaza, in his car, in the stands at football games for pep band, under the stage for pit band for the different three musicals, in the cemetery where we sneaked in at night with four other friends, at McDonald's where our dear friend Lori worked, at the Punk Dance with Diane, at the Royals baseball stadium, at the secret lake we found down State Line.

Once we left for college, he faded away after a few letters. Someone said he had a girlfriend. I wondered was it me? when I had time to think about him, but I was busy too, swept up in a new school to transfer to sophomore year, a new state, new friends, a rush of quick years and much change. 

So when I saw in the memorials on Facebook that so many other friends loved him too, felt as close and as grateful for his warmth and love, and also related the separation, I knew it wasn't just me. He married not long after college and so many of us didn't even know. 

I wondered if it was a religious thing -- had he converted? Did our drinking and making out in his brother's attic scare him off? But no, the pics of his apparently happy years were relaxed and comforting -- travels with his wife and daughter, beer steins in Germany, sunny summer lakeside tables, the piazza in Venice. 

I'm at peace. A bit surprised that I'm not more sad, because we really were close.

We were sitting on the front step of Uncle Phil and Aunt Ruth's house, a concrete step where we never sat, but that was okay. I didn't see it coming when the topic turned to Prom and I said Tonya and I were going to hang out and watch movies so when he asked, "Do you want to go?" I heard it as a general inquiry and sang out, "Yes! Of course I want to go!" and the turn of his face and his expression as he said, "No, I meant with me," was one I'll never forget.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Oy Vey, These Boys Break Your Heart

 Oh, Child. 

I got the news this morning. Four children shot in at a gas station. 

(I need to change his name. I am changing his name. When the "17 year old male" in the headline is a boy you knew, that you taught, that you greeted in the hallways at school, that your friend told "be safe" on the last day of break before Thanksgiving, when you know his sister, when his friends are still here in school with you, the headline "17 year old boy killed in shooting" is not a headline, is not a news item, is not an abstraction. It's real as hell. I have changed his name to Child.) 

He was in our freshman class. "I just think how could we have done more for him?" said his teacher, my colleague, and it's not a rhetorical question this time. I have been thinking about this all the time, I have been thinking about this particular child.

And what happened in the class we all had together. The two white women and the woman of color. The black and brown boys and girls. The white girl who is also one of those four children.

I need trauma informed teaching skills. I need "a culture of dignity" skills because I am PISSED right now, I've moved on from stunned and I need to maintain the dignity of that white woman in the room and not shame and blame. Because I need to keep remembering effectiveness and longevity

I need perspective right now and I don't have it.

I'm PISSED.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Summer School 2021: A Rock, an Apple, a Box, and a Stick

 


There was an earthquake. And a tornado. Literally. Not to worry, the natural disasters were outside classtime -- most of the kids I asked said they were sleeping during the afternoon when the 3.something quake hit and I WAS TOO, lol, napping or maybe rising or sinking into my siesta when I felt something like a heavy bookcase falling over downstairs. Or maybe a loaded truck hitting a bump on the street outside. 

"Nora..." I thought as I sank back into sleep. The song we used to sing was "Crash, bang, crash-bang-boom, something's going on in Nora's room."

The only sign of the tremor were two little chotchkes knocked over on the windowsill that sits over the kitchen sink -- the chotchkes didn't break, they didn't even fall far -- the faucet caught them, I righted the little ceramic Russian girl and the waving cat and they went on with their business.

The tornado warning, on the other hand, was at bedtime and we bored of the basement ten minutes after we descended, twenty minutes before the warning was over. Such is life. Hurry up and wait. Boredom levied by crisis.

Our genuine excitement was of another kind, of the family kind that I used to write about with detail and fervor and only a twinge of wondering how posterity would look at our little foursome's capers. Now the girls are older teens, one technically an adult, so I must be more circumscript for us all. So...

I'll focus on the classroom. 

The room itself was double-sized this time, two rooms that could be separated by an accordioning divider but that we left wide and open, to give us all room to play and wander and get away if needed. And my roster had HALF the kids of the last summer school stint, only ten or so in one class of juniors and the same in a class of freshmxn. 

No kids taking the classes for "enrichment" this time...they were all here for Credit Recovery, that is, students who had Incompletes or Audits or Failures or Drops or whatever the many reasons for not passing Freshmxn English or the junior class American Literature and Composition and U.S. History, which we pronounce as "Alcush." 

Add double pay to the double prep and the double room and the halved roster AND halve the time too...two hours for each class. No problem for me. I got this.

"Focus on the skills," said my boss. My sophomore-teaching colleague advised, "I'd like them to come into my class being able to write a solid paragraph."

And so that's what we did. Punctuation, capitalization and number-writing rules. Letter-writing format and tone. The parts of speech, (well, the ones I deemed most important, that is, the verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives and conjunctions. I hate adverbs. I can tell you more about that later. And prepositions? We can skip those this time around. And interjections? HEY, they're my favorites, but WOW, that's all I needed to say.)

Skills and more skills: Facts vs Opinions, General vs. Specific, Claims Vs. Evidence. Clauses and phrases, complete sentences vs. run-ons and fragments. (And with a few students who used fragments with beauty, style and purpose, I was able to point and identify their good work and encourage them to keep on truckin'.)

And building paragraphs and using a chain of cause and effect when building a logical story or argument, which as the Famous Book says, everything is, right? 

(Note to self: Ask dear colleague Christine to teach me more about "avoiding commentary in the warrant" as some of her students have said...)

So I am content with my work with their writing skills in the limited time we had. Reading, writing and argument from EACH and EVERY child every day is my goal and I know I didn't make it but we will keep pushing.

Here were some of the highlights...and the lowlights that came at the very end because pride goeth before a fall. 

THE DE-TRACKED CLASSROOM OF SUMMER SCHOOL IS ALREADY DIFFERENTIATED. 

MY LIBERATION IS TIED UP WITH MY STUDENTS' LIBERATION. I thanked them at the end for their patience with me and asked them to consider how the kids I teach later, the little ones who are children now but will be freshmxn and juniors soon, will benefit from this training ground. THE STUDENTS before me were my teachers and I hope I have the grace and wisdom to keep reflecting on what they told me.

"Give a fish a man, and he'll eat for a week" said the witty ones, the ones who chose the front row, the so-called "smart" ones, no less or more intelligent than any other children in the room. But oh, they were my little colleagues, so much like me, nerdy, word-players, rule-followers. It was the back of the room kids...and the middle of the room kids who had much to teach me.

The Stick.  I chose the film Minari to use as the primary text of the course with both my freshmxn and juniors. Subtitles are a beautiful thing...it ensures that every line of poetry of the script is right in front of the kids and me. "Minari is a gift that keeps on giving," I said over and over to any teacher friend who asked about summer school. An amazing and endlessly rich text that offered more and more depth the more we watched and re-watched. The kids ate it up...and laughed at the pee jokes and gasped at the surprises and argued over the mom's desires for a better life and brought up their own families' experiences that were similar to that of the Yi family...

...and I DIDN'T HAVE TO DO A THING. All I had to do was play and pause periodically. I MAY NEVER DO A FILM "STUDY GUIDE" AGAIN! What is the friggin' point of making the kids stop and write answers to simple comprehension questions? To assess their understanding? Um...can we do that orally?

The kids DID write about the film in Canvas discussions and in Claim-Context-Evidence-Warrant paragraphs, just not WHILE we were watching. I don't want them to take their eyes off the screen. I don't want them to be distracted by "Work" they "Should" be doing instead of being swept up in the experience. It was a beautiful thing.

But the stick...in Minari, recurring images of sticks creates a motif illuminating themes of yearning and resilience. The father consults a dowser to find water on his farm. He uses another stick for discipline...with surprisingly hilarious results. 

The Stick, along with the Box and the Rock, are the classic toys, the original toys, right?

Note: ...I'm a gonna publish this and I'm a gonna go lay down.

 To be continued