Let Me Tell You a Story

Screenshot 2014-09-23 09.29.46A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Second Stoop Storytelling show in Baltimore, MD. Just for kicks, I put my name in the bucket for a chance to tell a story of my own.

Two hours of great school-related stories zipped by, and before I knew it, the evening was almost over. Then Stoop Storytelling producer and co-host Laura Wexler reached into the bucket and pulled out one more strip of paper. “Our last reader will be…. Beth Landau.” Read More

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Breasts, Penises, Vaginas and Why It’s Time to Look Past Them

You may have heard about Katie Couric’s interview with transgender advocates Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera.

I stumbled upon it via a Facebook post and read about it first in Madeleine Davies’ “This is How (And How Not) to Talk About Trans Issues,” on Jezebel, and then in author Mey’s “Flawless Trans Women Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox Respond Flawlessly to Katie Couric’s Invasive Questions” on Autostraddle.

Ms. Couric’s interview was to be a straightforward conversation about the issues faced by transgendered people. Unfortunately, she routinely sidelined what could have been meaningful discourse by pressing for details about the physical aspects of transgender issues. Breasts, penises, vaginas–don’t let anyone tell you we grow out of our fascination with them. Read More

Do other creatures hurt?

I wrote a rant today in which I said terrible things: nasty comebacks to an ignorant, oft uttered comment and a whole hypothetical conversation, all designed to make people who’ve uttered such things feel small and ashamed and never say them again, not to me and not to anybody else.

Then, I read it to my husband, who laughed at the snarky bits and rubbed my knee when I cried because the whole of it is true, and I wondered if other creatures hurt when they release their venom, too, or if it is a relief to let it out. Or both.

“I’m going to read all my rants to you,” I said.

“Okay,” he replied.

And now, I don’t need to let it see the light of day.

 #friendship

2012 Election Haiku

by Beth Silverman Landau

#1:
Let’s not be silly.
Of course I care who you pick.
That’s why I don’t ask.

#2:
All these cross-aisle vows.
Is bipartisanism
Even possible?

#3:
Local businessman
Threatened lay-offs should Mitt lose.
Oh, ethics shmethics.

#4:
Cast your jaded vote.
Our responsibility
Supersedes our doubt. 

#5:
I am Beth Landau
And I approve these haiku.
(I had to do it.)

New Baptized

 

In August, I drove down Route I-83 toward Towson, Maryland to attend my first two-week residency for the Master’s of Fine Arts program in Creative Nonfiction at Goucher College. After months of applications, waiting, and planning, it was time to dive into the graduate level writing program I had craved for over a decade. I was terrified.

At the residency, I was surrounded by real writers. Published authors and columnists, writing professors, Pulitzer Prize winners… and me? Most of my classmates work in the writing industry in some way, many of them as journalists. I was one of only a handful of high school teachers, and I spent over a week of the residency feeling like a wanna-be. Another first-year student, one who would grow to be a trusted friend, called it impostor syndrome. She felt it, too.

Several first-year students mistook me for a second-year, which baffled me. They said that I was confident and looked like I knew what I was doing. Ha! I was astonished; the absolute opposite was true. 

I am more self-conscious than anyone will ever truly appreciate, and during the residency I escaped to my dorm room often, was outgoing and bubbly to hide my desire to run away, and participated in discussions simply to prove I belonged there. A confident second-year who knew what she was doing? Nothing could be further from the truth. I may be a fledgling writer, but clearly my ability to mask my true feelings and insecurities is spot on. 

Even though I was a wanna-be and an impostor, and even though I hid in my room, cried to my husband on the phone, and lost my appetite entirely, each day I got to sit and listen to writers (and some editors) talk about their craft and read their own writing. It was surreal and spoke to a part of me that had long been asleep.

And yes, I’m talking about my classmates, too, not just the faculty. They read about running and feral cats, first loves and failed loves, pacemaker batteries and mid-make-up meltdowns. They read letters to ex-coaches and snide restaurant reviews. They exposed their souls in little ways. 

It was these readings that helped me relax and finally let me dive into the program. At first, only faculty, graduates, and second-year students braved the podium at Alumni Hall. But then a first-year signed up and read her work, shaming the rest of us first-years. And after verbally agreeing to read, and silently vowing not to, I found myself signed up for an informal reading at the dorm lounge during the second week of the residency (thanks, AM). 

My old writing didn’t seem sophisticated enough compared to the work of my more accomplished classmates, so I wrote something new and committed myself to just getting up there and doing it. I agonized all day. I revised and revised my piece. I gave it to my amazing roommate, who offered spot on feedback and then let me read to her the “final” first draft – the one I eventually read in front of my classmates.

I was one of the first to arrive in the lounge for the reading, and I hoped that it would be ill-attended, since it was in the dorm, not Alumni Hall. Then, people began to trickle in, the couches filled up, and people began perching on wide windowsills and dragging over more chairs. The faculty was busy in a meeting elsewhere, but my classmates were there in full force, ready to hear more than a dozen of us bare our souls. I tried not to vomit. 

Luckily, the readings prior to mine pulled me in and time flew by, so before I could puke or run away, my name was called, and I rose to face the crowd for the first time.

I’m not going to share what I read. It turns out it didn’t matter what I read. It didn’t matter how my classmates reacted. The only thing that mattered was this: As I pushed myself out of the modular bucket seat, grabbed my Mac, and approached the piano that served as a podium, the program washed over me. 

Until this point, the Goucher CNF program had been an idea, a thing for which I hoped, prayed, and prepared, and in which I desperately sought a writing community, though I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant yet. Through the lectures and readings and late nights up writing, the program rushed by me, remote, a river I was watching from the shore with a fake smile pasted on my face. There seemed to be no landing, no entry point in sight.

But when I rose that Tuesday night to read, to offer a little bit of my own soul instead of sitting back to observe, I was at once absorbed into the river. With each step toward the piano, I waded deeper and deeper until I could feel the pull of the current through the whole of my body. I was awash with the feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The program was here, and I was suddenly in it. I belonged. 

I floated through my just-over-four-minute reading. When I stopped and my classmates applauded, as I knew they would, as we do for everyone brave enough to read, I sailed back to my seat and collapsed, unmasked and new baptized 1

The rest of the residency flew by, and I joyously paddled along feeling like I’d found my people. I stopped trying to look like I knew what I was doing and ended up making friends and “study hall” buddies. 

I watched drunk writers argue about Nabokov in study hall and then listened to them continue their argument through the concrete walls of my dorm room. I laughed. I read. I wrote. People told me about their lives in minute detail. Multiple people exclaimed, “Oh, I DO like you!” Yeah, okay, that was off-putting, but I had masked myself so well, how could I expect people to know or like me?

On the last day, after getting people to planes, saying goodbye, and promising to keep in touch, I packed my car and headed back up Route I-83, home bound. It had been a long and exhausting two weeks, and I was happy and ready to return to my husband, my kids, my friends, and my life. 

But I am changed. Though my writing sometimes feels rudderless, it is nonetheless moving forward with a force larger than myself. My fellow Goucher Gophers and I stay in touch via email, Facebook, and Twitter. We exchange writing, commiserate, and encourage each other, finding the current again and again.

And on days when my Muse is being stubborn or, worse, singing to me when I cannot listen, I feel the river still, and it buoys me up and carries me along.

**********************************************************

1. A nod to Romeo in the balcony scene in Shakepeare’s “The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet.”

Matryoska on Zouch Magazine

I’d be honored if you’d check out my second poem to be published on Zouch Magazine:  http://zouchmagazine.com/matryoska/

If you like it, please share it!

Fury on Zouch Magazine

Self-made deadlines are funny, aren’t they? 

I’m always a bit behind my own deadlines. As I rang in 1990, for instance, my friend and I decided that 1990 would the year. The year things would happen. We’d figure it all out. We’d our acheive goals. We’d find love. True love. Yeah, man. It was going to happen.

1990 wasn’t the year. Not at all. Not for either of us. 

It turned out 1991 was the year. Nothing major happened, and I didn’t figure it all out.  I did, however, achieve a goal (straight As in college), and I found love. True love. January 2011 was the 20th anniversary of our first kiss. I gave my husband another one to mark the occasion. Two decades of love is something to celebrate.

So maybe when I celebrated my 40th birthday in September and silently noted that I’d missed my deadline, I should have told myself to cheer up, as my arbitrary deadlines are often a bit elastic.

A new poem of mine, Fury, went live on Zouch Magazine today. This is the first time that my work has been published with a byline (other than newsletters, other byline-free work, and my own blog), and though it didn’t happen before I turned 40, it happened, which is really the point, anyway.

Please check it out at Zouch Magazine (http://zouchmagazine.com/poetry-fury/), and if you like it, like it, share it, and get the word out that 40 isn’t the end, it’s a beginning for this girl.

WAITT (#5): Don’t make us run over your kids.

Welcome back to the series that reminds you that there are other people in the world, and they’re just as important as you.

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We return to the parking lot to discuss the value of holding on to your valuables. The living kind.

Hold onto your children.

Wait, I need to say that again more emphatically:  HOLD ONTO YOUR CHILDREN.

Unless you subscribe so vehemently to the theory of survival of the fittest that you are ready to sacrifice your own kids, you must maintain physical control of them until they have proven themselves to be savvy navigators of crowded parking lots. Failure to do this risks their lives and gives other people heart attacks. The drivers with whom you share the parking lot should not be paying closer attention to your progeny than you are. Unless you don’t give a crap, though I’m betting that’s not the case.

Oh, and walking two steps behind them is not the same thing. Especially if you’re busy looking at your phone or the receipt from the store you just visited.

More than once I’ve fought the urge to roll down my window or get out of my car and call, “Hey, you are the adult here. Teach those rugrats how to behave in the parking lot so they don’t get run down.”  I don’t do that because I can’t see any good coming from it, and I don’t think I get to be rude just because you’re being a bone head. 

Know, however, that your lack of control of or attention to your kids in a busy parking lot does make me look to see if you’re going to buckle those kids into car seats or if it’s a free-for-all straight down the line.

Your kids need you to hold onto them and teach them basic parking lot survival skills, and those of us driving in parking lots don’t need all the negative karma that does along with mowing down children. 

For instance, you know how we know that those white lights on the backs of cars indicate backing up? They don’t. Plus, they are small. People can’t see them in their rearview mirrors, particularly if there is no (taller) adult with them.  

And you know, little kids are also unpredictable and impulsive. If a child lets go of a balloon, he’s going after it without hesitation, car or no car. So, don’t forget that drivers can suffer from hedupyerasis, too. Why are you counting on everyone else in the world being on the ball when you can’t be bothered to guide your little darlings back to the car?

Listen, I don’t want to run down your kid. I don’t want to run down anyone. I’m going to need some help from you on that one, though. I realize it’s a pain in the rear to hold onto squirmy, impatient kids, particularly if you’re carrying whatever you just bought. I have two kids who are less than 2 years apart in age. It’s not always fun. When little ones do that “I don’t want to go where you’re leading me so I’m just going to go limp” thing, it’s terrible, but that doesn’t excuse you from protecting them. The first step is realizing, “Hey, we are not alone in this parking lot.”

Help us not run down your kids. I’m begging you.

———————————————–

That’s all for now, folks. Next time I think we’ll move on to other settings. There’s just so much you can read about parking lots before you realize that you’re, well, reading about parking lots.

Until next time, remember:

We’re all in this together. Act that way.

WAITT (#4)

Welcome back to the series that reminds you that there are other people in the world, and they’re just as important as you.
—————————

Let’s move on to the parking lot pedestrian code of conduct today.

Watch where you are going because you are not the only person in the parking lot.

This seems so basic. I’m a little sad I even have to write it. However, so many people seem to be struck by hedupyerasis in parking lots that it seems to be necessary to remind people to be aware of their surroundings, particularly because they are often populated!

First of all, stay on the side of the lanes. You know those big things, just like the one you just parked? Those are cars. They go in the middle. You go on the side. Cars, middle. Pedestrians, side. Got it?

Second, walking out in front of moving vehicles seems to be an issue. I wouldn’t say anything about this, but it happens every time I am in a parking lot. It’s epidemic. Sometimes I suspect it’s aggressive. You know, “I’m gonna walk here and you’re gonna slow down,” even if the driver is going slowly. Other times I’m sure it’s a simple case of hedupyerasis.

So what’s a pedestrian to do? Simple. You can tell what to do it you pretend you are 6, you are going to cross the street, and your mommy is watching.

  1. Stop.
  2. Look left, first (the goal here is to look for the car that’ll hit you first; if they drive on the left where you live, look right first).
  3. If there are no cars, look right. If there are no cars coming, go.  

If at any point in this process there are cars nearby and headed your way, don’t go.

Drivers who are following the speed limit and observing all traffic laws should not have to jam on their brakes and come to a screeching halt because you don’t have the will to see if it’s safe and your turn yet.

In terms of self-preservation, consider how many people are on their phones, texting, or reaching around to hand kids juice boxes as they drive. Stepping in front of a moving car and thinking, “They’ll stop,” is a gamble. Also, remember that in parking lots, many people take painted lanes and signs to be optional, so look before you go, even if you have the right of way. Just be patient and follow lane crossing protocol and you’ll make it to the shop alive.

———————-

That’s it for now. Look for the next edition of WAITT in which I’ll continue to rant and hand out ridiculously common-sense-based advice for parking lot pedestrians. In the meantime, remember to be aware of others.

We’re all in this together. Act that way.

WAITT (#3): Parking Lots, Pt. 1: Drivers

Welcome back to the series that reminds you that there are other people in the world, and they’re just as important as you. 

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Today we take a short walk from the grocery store to the parking lot… any parking lot. Drivers seem to view parking lots as free-for-alls, but the rules don’t suddenly fall away because the pavement got wider, folks.
Signs, speed limits, and no parking zones apply to everyone.
You know those painted lines and signs all over parking lots? Guess what… they’re not philosophical artistic whimsy. They are intentionally painted and placed, and all of us are expected to pay attention to them. All of them.
The threat of being towed or cited keeps people from parking in fire lanes too often, but the general consensus is that other painted lines are optional.
For instance, the rows in parking lots are indicated by columns of painted rectangles. Those rows function like lanes. See, it’s easier to predict what traffic is going to do when there are lanes and drivers aren’t cutting across parking lots in squiggly lines and wide arcs of indeterminate angle. Pedestrians and other drivers know where to look if everyone drives in lanes. Those squiggly lines and wide arcs make it tough to judge. When multiple drivers decide to forge their own paths through traffic, things get dicy. Clearly, most people have cut across a row or traced their own loops through uncrowded parking lots, but do so very carefully, keeping in mind that drivers who are in actual lanes have the right-of-way because they’re following the rules and you’re not.

Speed limits are important, too. I know they seem impossibly slow, but consider how many opportunities there are for another car to back up or zip through a lane. How many drivers are simultaneously pulling in and out and driving up and down and turning here and there. Parking lot speed limits are low so that drivers have time to stop, which they have to do pretty regularly. There are also pedestrians to think about.

A friend of mine recently came out of a shop with her two young children. She balanced her  2 year old son on one hip and held her 5 year old daughter’s hand as they stopped and looked to see if it was safe to cross. It seemed to be. No one was in the lane that crossed in front of the shops, there was a stop sign (a real, bright red, city-posted stop sign) on the corner, and a 15 mile an hour speed limit. But as they stepped off the curb, a truck came zooming around the corner, blowing through the stop sign, rounding the bend, and gunning it. My friend reacted instinctively, jumping back and pulling her daughter with her… hard enough that she lifted her daughter off the ground. As her daughter’s feet cleared the street, the truck blasted through. Lest you think she exaggerated, let me explain two things.

#1 – An onlooker was so outraged at what had just almost happened that he briefly chased the truck, screaming at the driver, “You almost killed that kid! Slow the f*@& down!” before turning to my friend and asking, “Oh my god, lady! Are you okay?”
If we were in my home state of New Jersey, that wouldn’t mean a whole lot, as we tend to be a vocal lot, but out here in Central Pennsylvania, a bystander chasing a moving vehicle while hurling warnings and obscenities is almost unheard of.  The only other case I’ve witnessed around here involved me chasing down and leaping onto a moving car that had blown past flashing school bus lights as kindergartners piled on to the bus. That, though, is a story for another day. 
#2 – A few moments later, after my friend had staggered into the nearest shop, a Starbucks, and collapsed into a seat, her daughter looked up from her hot chocolate and said, “I’m really glad I didn’t die, Mommy.” Yeah. Even the 5 year old knew it had been a close one. It took a little while before my friend was able to get up and get the kids across the parking lot to their car without shaking.
What does this have to do with you? You need to understand that your tardiness or impatience does not entitle you to endanger others. Slow down. Stop at stop signs.
This brings us to another rule:
Yield to pedestrians.
As long as they are not jumping out of speeding vehicles from between parked cars, pedestrians have the right of way. (Don’t worry, pedestrian sins will be covered in Parking Lots – Part Two: Pedestrians.)
The goal here is to let people walk in and out of stores without being run over. It’s like I said before; it doesn’t matter that you’re in a hurry. We’re all in a hurry. Let the lady with the cart of groceries pass. That’s why there’s a stop sign in front of the crosswalk.
I used to get very annoyed, waiting for multiple cars to blow past the stop sign and crosswalk while my grocery-laden cart and I waited for a break in traffic. Then one day I realized – this cart weighs a ton. From then on, if it’s just me and my cart, I wait until it’s my turn (not until someone deems it my turn), and I go.
The pedestrian rule doesn’t just apply to cross-walks and hard-and-fast traffic laws, either. Be a decent person. If it’s raining and you’re in your car, warm and dry, be decent. Let the person standing out there getting soaked to the skin cross, even if you have the right of way. 
Give people space.

If there are two parking spots, don’t pick the one directly next to the person trying to get his kids and their belongings into his car. You can walk the extra few feet. If you can’t, you should have no trouble obtaining a handicapped parking tag so you can park in wide, designated parking spots
I suppose this rule applies even when there aren’t two parking spots. You shouldn’t be honking at a grandma who is struggling to figure out how to get her grandson out of his car seat, and she shouldn’t have to squeeze herself between the door and the car, her grandson howling, as you pull into that particular spot. In most cases, there is another spot for you somewhere. Find it or be patient (see parking rule 2 for more details).  
Wait your turn. 
If someone is obviously waiting for a parking spot, don’t zip in because you have faster access from the other side.
And if you are waiting for a spot and see someone get in her car, wait patiently. Do not rev your engine aggressively, honk, or call out the window, “C’mon, already!” That’s her space until she chooses to leave it. Besides, maybe she’s not leaving yet. Maybe she’s come out to find her purse, which she’s left in the back seat. Maybe she’s waiting for someone. Maybe she doesn’t like the way you revved your engine at her as she closed her door. Who knows? Chill out and wait your turn.

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You’ve heard my take on how to drive in a parking lot as if you share it with others, which you do. What’s your take? I know you’ve got opinions about these things, people. Comment and turn this rant into a dialogue. 

And I repeat: we’re all in this together. Act that way.

Merry Monday

Yes, I’m absolutely merry on a Monday. It’s unusual, but I’m going along with it.

The response to my last post, “I Don’t Say This Lightly,” featuring the work of a former student, and the  two previous posts (in the “We’re All In This Together”[WAITT] series) has been fabulous. I’m hearing from people all over the US and beyond, and I seem to have hit a nerve with the WAITT series. This is fine by me because I am enjoying writing the things I hold back in person. Usually. I’m from New Jersey, after all. Occasionally something slips through the filter.

Meanwhile, there are 34 days left to our school year (no, I’m not keeping track–several people told me this, unsolicited), I’m knee-deep in freshman research projects, cyber-summer school looms on the horizon, and my muse keeps whispering in my ear way too late at night. I shouldn’t complain about that one. It’s lovely not to have to seek her out. 

Much of my writing has been about my childhood, so expect a poem or two since that’s where those memories seem to settle. I’m working on the next installments of WAITT, too, though, so you won’t have to WAIT too long!  (Sorry – I had to do it. It’s my blog and I’ll pun if I want to.)

In the meantime, it’s nearly yoga time, so I’m off to stretch, breathe, and shuffle some prana.

Namaste.

We’re All In This Together (#2)

Welcome back to the blog that reminds you that there are other people in the world, and they’re just as important as you.

An increasing number of people operate as if they are, indeed, the only person in the world, and it seems to be more and more acceptable. But guess what? It’s not, and this big-mouth is going to break the code of silence surrounding acceptance of rude behavior. Ready?

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In the first installment of “We’re All in This Together,” I touched on basic rules of behavior in the grocery store, but there’s much more to public awareness in than basic cart maneuvers and line choice. Let’s revisit the grocery store, shall we?

Previously established rules:
  • Keep your cart to the right so others can pass by while you study canned peas, which are a bad idea, anyway.
  • Lines are there for a reason. Take turns.

Before I move on to etiquette once you reach the register belt and cashier, I need to make one more comment regarding line choice. 

The 10 items or less rule applies to everyone, including you. 

I’m not trying to be a jerk about this. If you think you have 10 things and it turns out you have 12, nobody except a real stickler is going to care. But if you know you have more than that, choose a different line. The rule does apply to you.

Furthermore, if you’re going to be a selfish clod and ignore the rule, own it. More than once I’ve seen adults turn to the people behind them and say things like, “Well, 10 of one thing is one thing, right?”

No. It’s not. And it’s not cute, either. It’s selfish and stupid, so please don’t attempt to win other customers’ support. Your comment only indicates that you are fully aware that you are over the maximum and don’t care.

It doesn’t matter if the other lines are really long. The 10 items or less lane is to help people with only a handful of items get out of the store more quickly. Your deciding that the rule doesn’t apply to you inconveniences others and announces, “I don’t deserve to be inconvenienced–you do.” I beg to differ, and if you attempt to pull me into the conversation, I will be quite clear on this.

All right, we can move on now. I feel much better.  The overreaching code of conduct at the belt and cashier is that, keeping in mind that there are other people not just on the planet but also in the store with you, you should attempt to be expedient. Specifically…

If you are going to write a check, please don’t wait until the cashier and/or bagger are done.

Chances are you know the name of the store you’re in and that you’re going to need to sign the check. It’s okay to do these things before you know what your total is going to be. It is unlikely that someone will randomly run up to you, grab the semi-completed check out of your hand, and flee while planning how to empty your bank account. Most stores also require identification to take a personal check, so don’t wait until the last possible second to fish around in your bag for yours.

Put your mobile phone away.

Yes–away. The absence of your phone will help your physical ability to do what needs to be done and keep you focused on checking out. For instance, you will be better able to load your groceries from the cart and onto the belt with two hands.

This does not mean that you should attempt to hold the phone between your ear and your shoulder while you make the transfer, either. It takes a very coordinated person to do this, and chances are you’re going to move much more slowly than you would sans phone or you’re going to drop the phone. If that happens, you’ll have to stop unloading your groceries, fish around under your cart for your phone, and then stand there stupidly saying, “Hello?” If the phone isn’t dead, you’ll have to take a moment to giggle and tell the person on the other end, “I just dropped you! I know, right? I had to fish around under my cart, but you’re still on! Hope that didn’t hurt! Haha!”

The rest of us will be hoping that your phone is dead–for a variety of reasons, some more mean-spirited than others. If I am behind you, for example, I will be picturing myself doing aggressive things like picking up the phone and telling you I’ll hold it until you’re done checking out, kicking the phone under the candy display and out of your reach, stomping the phone to bits, or bashing my cart into yours while you’re lying on the floor. I will do none of these things, but you should be aware that those ideas, culled from a larger lot, came to me instantaneously and not all fellow shoppers will have this restraint.

Putting your phone away will also enable you to do things like, acknowledge the cashier and provide him or her with your frequent shopper card, help bag the groceries, and pay for your purchase. Cashiers say the same things over and over, “Do you have your Giant Rewards card? Is plastic okay? Did you find everything you were looking for? Do you wish to make a one dollar donation to the March of Dimes?” They should not have to repeat any of these things to you because you are on the phone discussing something that could likely wait five minutes.

As a side note, please be polite to the cashier, even if he or she is cranky. You don’t have to have an entire conversation. In fact, please do NOT (that could be its own rule). But it’s the right thing to do… and happy cashiers will move more quickly than ones who want to inconvenience you as much as possible because you’re on the phone or rude.

The Making of "We’re All In This Together"

The other night, I tweeted the following:

Attention shoppers: Please keep your cart to the right so others can pass by while you study canned peas, which are a bad idea, anyway.

Most of my tweets go unnoticed, but this one attracted immediate attention because it touches on a much larger issue–people increasingly fail to acknowledge that they are not alone in this universe! 

Matt Hunter, Editorial Director of Zouch Magazine, enjoyed the tweet and suggested that there was room for expansion there. I agreed, said I’d already begun, pointed him toward some of my earlier posts (Three [Simplified] Rules for Attending School Performances and the original Three Basic Rules for Attending School Performances), and began making lists.


It’s been super busy, and I haven’t had a whole lot of time to write (freshman research season, you know), but I thought I’d briefly revisit the “how to behave in a grocery store” idea to give you a taste of what’s coming and try to build some momentum. I think I’ll call this series “We’re All In This Together.”


So, here we go:


 
Attention shoppers: Please keep your cart to the right so others can pass by while you study canned peas, which are a bad idea, anyway.

If you made it to this suburban store, chances are you drove here and are familiar with the concept of staying on your own side of the road. The same applies when you’re pushing a shopping cart. When you park yourself in the middle of the aisle, other people (yes, other people) cannot pass by.

Most of us are not there window shopping; we’re there to find what we need and get out. We do not want to wait three minutes while you study the nutritional information on the side of canned vegetables or breakfast cereal, or while you calculate whether it’s financially sound to by the “family size” brownie mix. We want to keep moving, get what we need, and get on with our lives.

We all forget to pull our carts over sometimes. It happens. But when people are lined up on either side of you, it’s not because we want your autograph. You’re blocking the aisle–get out of the way.

Attention shoppers: Lines are there for a reason. Take turns.

It’s happened to all of us. You’re standing in a long line at the grocery store, when the light comes on in the aisle next to you. However, before you know what’s happened, three people who had not even been  on line race over and clog up the newly opened lane. 

I know that some people feel that an open lane is fair game, but I disagree. Think about what that says to the folks who have been standing there for ten minutes while their ice cream melts. Were they not on line already? Does it not count because they weren’t on that particular line? And more to the point, is your time so much more valuable? What are you rushing off to do that’s so much more important than what the rest of us have going? I doubt highly that you’re not (basically) cutting the line because you’ve got to pay for your frozen broccoli on your way to do an emergency heart transplant.


Even my kids know that when a new lane opens up, you do the decent thing: give the people who have been waiting longer than you if they’d like to scoot over to the new lane. They aren’t cheating or getting away with anything if they change lanes. They’ve done their time already. 

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There’s more to come, but I just looked at the time (I love that it flies when I’m writing) and realized that if I get offline now, I can get almost six whole hours of sleep before my alarm goes off and another day begins.
But check back. I love to vent about the condition I like to call “hedupyerasis,”  and now I’ve got people encouraging it. That’s all the invitation I need.


I Sat on the Deck Railing

Here’s another poem in the series I’m writing about my childhood home. Actually, it seems to be developing into a series about my childhood, though everything is linked to that awesome blue split-level.

It’s still hugely cathartic. This one turned a sad little weight into a victory for me. It’s still in progress, but here is goes:

I Sat on the Deck Railing

I sat on the deck railing before school that spring morning.
The air felt like it was not there, just
Scents of new grass and possibility,
Sun on my skin.

Lingering on my way to school, noticing my breath, I
Shocked myself with an urge to walk past Wilson School and
Into the day. No rule-breaker at 10, I
Let that drift through my mind like a cloud.

The cool darkness of my school’s
Cavernous foyer, vast and formal,
Engulfed me.
Steep stone staircases lined each wall,
Another wider, shallow one straight ahead.
Old-school school.
It was not beautiful to me then, while
Spring beckoned through wide wooden doors, and I
Grieved that I could not grasp that perfect morning.

Yet here it is in my head at 40,
Tactile snippets from my backyard, my slow trek,
The plunge from the sensuous morning into the cinder-block
Reality of school.

Where is everyone else?
At home my three brothers,
My mother must have scrambled about.
Gangs of kids surely lined the sidewalks en route to school.
Voices undoubtedly echoed riotously off foyer walls, but
They are gone.

Three decades later, I stop grieving and find
I’ve won. I’ve kept only the gist,
The perfection of that spring morning:
Weightless air, scents of a world reborn,
Serenity of a solitary moment in my old backyard.

Our Kitchen

I’ve been working on a series of poems about memories tied to the house I grew up in. Although I haven’t lived there since I was eighteen, I still inhabit that blue split-level in my dreams. The series is my way of reclaiming it. That and Google Earth. I took a virtual walk from my old house to my school the other day. It made me miss it even more.

The series is pretty choppy right now, but the writing is cathartic. The more I write, the more I remember, and the closer I feel to my childhood home.
I thought this poem was ready enough to share. Here goes:

Our Kitchen

I miss our kitchen
With its back staircase and hideous patriotic linoleum.
I miss the double wall oven
And the window over the sink,
The one my mother leaned out to scold me when
I banged the porch swing too hard.
I miss the bottom cabinets and
The possibility of a delicious
Something way in the back that my
Brothers hadn’t found yet.

I miss the yellow wall phone with its
Long tangled cord, dangling
That phone two stories
Over the bannister in the hall,
The cord twisting and lengthening.
I miss the table where I spilled
Grape juice on my stuffed mouse’s nose.
Choked down salmon croquettes.
We sat in fixed seats each night.
Was that on purpose?

Mostly, I miss the closet by the table,
Half way up the wall,
Wide and deep with
White louvre doors.
Partially shelved.
The coffee urn for company was there.
A fondue pot I recall using once.
Shadowy, yellowed boxes.
The odors of grease and coffee grinds.
The best Hide and Seek spot.

Brothers, did you know?
I could hide in there for hours,
Fold my legs, duck my head,
Pull a battered box beside me and
Make myself so small. I could
Watch you peer in and not see me.
The ruckus of the house was only slightly muffled there,
And long after you gave up, slammed outside to
Find friends and other mischief,
It was safe and dark behind the coffee urn.

Joyful Detour

I wrote a lot of poetry when I was young. I’d scribble something in a spiral notebook during homeroom, and then I’d tweak it for the rest of the school day. Cross out lines here in history. Substitute a word there in math. By the three o’clock bell, I’d have a tidy little poem. There was something about picking out just the right words to capture some little truth that felt right to me.

In jr. high I won some contest (I have no idea what it was… my evil English teacher submitted one of my poems without my say so), and I submitted a few to my school’s literary magazine. The feedback I received was positive (and I’m including the incident when someone plagiarized one of my poems–it’s got to be a form of flattery, no?), and I was feeling pretty good about poetry. That all changed when I became a writing major in college.

In college I learned, with time and diligent practice, just how much my poetry sucked. I could get three poems going in a week on my own, but when it came to specific assignments in specific poetic forms, I couldn’t find my voice.

My poetry wasn’t as horrifying as my one attempt at children’s literature (apparently, a four year old protagonist who resigns himself to a serious lack of attention from his long-suffering but cold mother is “too dark” for children’s lit), but it wasn’t pretty, either. The language was stilted. The poems would meet the assignment requirements without capturing anything poignant or real. Disheartened, I walked away from poetry.

For the last couple of years, however, my interest in poetry seems to have crept back in. I credit our school’s participation in the Poetry Out Loud competition somewhat. To get my students excited about reciting poetry, I’ve shown them footage from previous competitions and other examples of spoken word poetry, and had them write their own poems, assignments I always attempt myself… it seems fair.

While the exposure to poetry has hooked only a handful of students (and by that I mean that they still maintain an interest in poetry outside the classroom), it’s most certainly sunk its hooks in me. I moved from just reading and watching spoken word performances to writing my own again, even memorizing a couple of them, and it feels just like it did years ago: real. It’s like my poetic pilot light’s been re-lit.

Of course, I still suspect that while my poetry resonates with me, it isn’t necessarily good in any objective sense, so I’ve kept my poems mostly to myself.  Imagine my shock, then, when the poem I hesitantly posted last month (“It’s Painful to Watch You Sometimes“) got more hits and more praise than anything else I’ve posted. The same happened with “There is Risk Here.” I look at my blog stats and just giggle. Apparently the little bits of truth I try to encapsulate in my poems resonate a bit with others, too.  It’s been an unexpected and joyful detour in my writing journey.

The focus and bulk of my writing is still prose (mostly creative nonfiction with a little short fiction thrown in) but it feels good to be friends with poetry again. So while it feels right, I’m going to keep this poetry thing going for a while. I hope my readers like it. I know I do, and this time I’m not letting anyone talk me out of it.

Why I Love the Local News

Some months ago, I posted this picture to FB with the caption, “I love the local paper.”

 A couple of nights ago, I came to the same conclusion about the local news.

To understand my fascination with what passes for news around here, you must first understand that as a NJ native (go ahead, make your Jersey Shore jokes… I’ll wait) news has always meant some politics, lots of crime and violence, and a few feelgood stories of charitable donations or volunteerism to help offset the crime and violence.

The overall message of both print and televised news was, “There’s lots of bad stuff going on out there, but don’t worry – Mrs. Applebee’s 3rd grade class all wrote letters to soldiers in Afghanistan.”

Out here in South Central PA, the overall message of both print and televised news seems to be, “We’ve got to fill up that paper or newscast somehow.”

The above clipping is case in point, as is the following synopsis of the first 10 minutes of a local 30 minute newscast (as witnessed and interpreted by my family):

Top Story: It’s Windy

Synopsis:
It’s windy.

Sound byte w/accompanying video, looped:
“The wind blew this branch almost 2 yards today.”

Family commentary:
“This is news?” 

Story 2: Wind Causes Barn Fire

Synopsis:
Firefighters responded to a barn fire believed to have been caused by the wind. Maybe an underlying electrical issue had something to do with it, but let’s go ahead and blame it on the wind anyway.

Sound byte w/accompanying video:
Firefighter: “The wind was blowin’ so hard we had to start in the back so the house didn’t catch, too.”

Newscaster: “Arson is not suspected.”
(Inferred: “Unless you count the g-d wind. Bastard.”)

Family commentary:
“I think I just saw that branch roll by in the background.”

Story 3: Wind Blamed in Another Fire

Synopsis:
Something about the g-d wind being blamed for another fire that obviously had an underlying cause. 

Sound byte w/accompanying video:
Serious newscast-type information totally eclipsed by convulsive laughter in my living room.

Family commentary:
Various versions of, “There goes that freaking branch!”

Story 4: Protesters Take to the Streets in Lancaster.

Synopsis:
People who cannot be bothered to show up for school board meetings or governmental forums risked their lives and the well-being of shoddily constructed and nonsensical signs, selflessly braving the nefarious winds and taking to the streets to protest the philosophical theft of a nutritionally-void, obesity-causing, supposedly Lancaster-created treat.

Sound byte: w/accompanying video:
 “Despite the high winds, citizens of Lancaster have gathered together to protest Maine adopting the whoopie pie as their official snack.”

Protesters chanting: “WhooPIE, WhooPIE…”

Protester 1, face obscured by wind-blown hair: “We’re a peaceful people, but the whoopie pie is OURS.”

Protester 2, cramming whoopie pie in her mouth for emphasis: “Mwhuh uh fwuhmmy bwumph!”

Family commentary:
“Thanks for that visual, lady.” “The whoopie pie is OURS!” “I think I see the tree branch!”

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Lest anyone think I’m knocking South Central PA, remember that I’ve chosen to raise my family here. When we moved here from Georgia thirteen years ago, it was quite a shock that we hadn’t moved “back north” but to what’s semi-lovingly called Pennsyltucky.

There are no real bakeries here, the Olive Garden is routinely voted “Best Italian Food in York County,” and people here are, as a whole, so unused to attending live theater that they do not know when to clap. Anyone who questions the status quo is coldly informed, “It’s the York County way.” Did I mention that they have no real bakeries here?

However, we stayed because our jobs are here, we’ve made good friends, and the schools are good. It’s not terribly crowded, the cost of living is reasonable, and we’ve come to find that we absolutely love living in suburbia less than three minutes from rolling hills, apple orchards, and produce stands. All in all, it’s a good trade off for the non-news we find so amusing.

The local news here will probably always crack up this Jersey girl, but it’s hard even for me to argue that cringing and asking, “What’s this world coming to?” beats giggling and asking, “Is this really news?” 

NOTE: Please feel free to post comments with links to other non-news from your area. Share your local color!

Summer Goals Update

Summer is just whizzing by, so I thought I ought to examine my Summer Goals 2008 list and see how I’m doing.

Let’s see:
1. Begin and finish a MAJOR landscaping project.

We’ve actually exceeded my expectations for this project and made huge progress. I’m even attempting to reseed sections of my lawn in the middle of the summer heat.

A common misperception is that lawn planting is a spring or fall thing because the seed prefers the cool weather. I did my research, though, and found that it’s not the heat (it’s the humidity… no, no, no), it’s keeping the seeds wet enough when it’s very hot (okay, since it has to do with evaporation, maybe it IS a humidity thing!). So we’re diligently watering, watering, watering… I have high hopes. Yay us!

2. Begin and finish one grad class.

Okay, I’m in the middle of the class and it’s going well. The only thing is, I have to teach myself to chill out… repeat after me: every grade does not have to be an A, every grade does not have to be and A, every grade does not have to be an A.

To clarify, my grade is currently 100%. My problem is that I’m spending too much time on assignments, and it’s just not necessary. My fear, though, is that I won’t get an A on something.

That’s a lie. I don’t want an A on everything – I want 100%. Impossible expectations, anyone? So my amended goal here is to chill out and deal with it if I happen not to ace an assignment.

3. Take up swimming (as in laps)

I’ve tried. Really. Honestly. Unfortunately, I really prefer sitting on my (expanding) bum and reading. I haven’t given up, but I’m thinking that swimming across the bay with AM is never going to happen.

4. Learn Spanish

I’ve actually made some progress with this. Now, instead of being able to only discuss what prescription insurance will and won’t cover, I can also ask, “Is that your chair?” This is important. At school we often have situations where unclaimed chairs appear randomly near Spanish speaking kids. I’ll be indispensable!

Yeah, alright, that’s crap. I’ve actually picked up more Spanish reading Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses” and “The Crossing.” There are entire conversations in Spanish, most of which he does not translate.

I’m wondering if finding a jr. high level novel in Spanish and making a once-a-week lunch date with some Latino kids in my school wouldn’t help me more than walking around my kitchen talking to my iPod.

5. Clean out all of the closets and cabinets in my house

ROFL – I haven’t cleaned out a single closet or cabinet. Not one. Not a SINGLE one. Must get moving on this. Ugh – just disgraceful..

6. Simplify and incorporate technology into all of my curriculum units.

The simplification part is coming along. I have come to the conclusion, along with my ever-loving husband, that I just cannot keep doing what I’m doing in regards to grading load. So focus number 1 for me this summer has been re-thinking what I do and why I do it. I’ve made great strides. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but I think I’m on to something….

I suppose we’ll see whether or not I’m right once the school year is in full swing. Check back with me in November. That’s usually when I hit the wall..

7. Re-arrange my classroom.

I’ve been shoving filing cabinets and bookcases and desks all over the joint, but I’m still unsure how I’ll end up.

Actually, a lot of my choice has been taken away. I’ve just learned that my classes are going to be BIG this year, so I’ve got to figure out how to get another 3 student desks in my room and still have room to teach and “walk the rows.” Wish me luck – I’ll need it..

8. Learn how to relax again.

Though you cannot tell from the above updates, I’ve actually been doing a great deal of relaxing. I spend a huge amount of time in my pajamas, and yesterday I never even left my property. When I veg, I veg, and it’s wonderful.

A big breakthrough in this area is that (trumpet fanfair) my kids have finally decided to sleep in this summer! Whereas in prior years they’d be up at 7:00 every day, sometimes they’ll stay in bed past 9:00.

I know this sounds early to some of you, but to my parent friends out there, I’ve gotta tell you – this is as big as the first time they manage to get to the toilet before they throw up. Big time improvement.

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So it seems that I’m making progress on my lists… all except for the closet and cabinet thing. That’s okay – we’re looking at a house in a better (and much coveted by us) neighborhood tomorrow. Although it’s doubtful that we’re going anywhere (you know about the housing market, right?), it’s likely that it’ll get me thinking about how much cleaning out I’d have to do if it all fell into place.

 

Summer goals 2008 or Wishful Thinking

It’s the beginning of my summer vacation, and as usual I can’t relax. It’ll take a few days (or even weeks), but right now, I’m still on overdrive… and what do I do when I’m on overdrive? I make lists. Right now, it makes most sense to list the things I’d like to do now that I’ve got all this time on my hands.

Summer Goals 2008:

Begin and finish a MAJOR landscaping project.

-Beginning? Absolutely. Finishing? No way… it’s not even physically possible as some things, like planting sections of the lawn, can’t be done until autumn. However, I think it’s safe to say that whatever we end up with at the end of the summer will be better than the untamed mess we’ve got now.

.

Begin and finish one grad class.

-This one’s not a problem at all. I actually really like taking classes. I know, I know… one more sign that I’m a total dork. Bug off – I don’t care.

.

Take up swimming (as in laps)

– Well, I splashed my way across the pool a couple of times on day one, resplendent in my brand new goggles, while an octogenarian looked on with an expression of amusement and worry. On day two I kicked my way across several times, this time clutching a kick-board. On both days I followed this up by collapsing on the grass and panting unattractively.

The plan is to try to get to the pool earlier in the day (earlier = less crowded) and just stick with it. I’ve got my husband and AM cheering on my efforts. Perhaps, though, they underestimate how uncoordinated, afraid of drowning, and self-conscious I am. But I promise to try.

.

Learn Spanish

– You’d think that someone who spent literally years working in a pharmacy in Perth Amboy and who took multiple Spanish classes (beginning in HS and ending with Conversational Spanish in college) would not have to set this as a summer goal. Unfortunately, the most complex string of sentences I can muster at this point is, “Lo siento. Su seguro medico no paga para este. Va esperar?” And I can’t think of too many instances, outside of pharmacies, when this will come in handy, so it’s back to lessons for me.

I’ve purchased an audio book and downloaded it onto my iPod, so I’ll spend the next few months conjugating verbs. “Hablo. Yo hablo. Habla. El habla. Hablamos. Nosotros hablamos.” Fun, fun, fun.

.

Clean out all of the closets and cabinets in my house.

-Disclaimer: I have this on my summer goal list every year and it’s never happened. The same two closets get cleaned out and then I give up and give in to the clutter. To shake things up, I’ll start with different closets this year. Beyond that – no promises.

.

Simplify and incorporate technology into all of my curriculum units.

– Ugh – it’s way too close to the end of school to think about this one! The simplification part WILL happen, and the incorporation of technology is most likely happen to some degree.

.

Re-arrange my classroom.

-I actually enjoy doing this. Of course, if you have read my blog about couches, you know that arranging rooms isn’t my thing. I think I’ll try to get a bigger, stronger person to help me move the filing cabinets this year.

.

Learn how to relax again.

-I’ll master this in August… right before it’s time to head back.

.

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Bye. Oh – adios!

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