I got the last order of halibut tacos: ten for today

July 19, 2016
 
I’m having trouble. I stayed up too late and ruined my sleep. Those sleep-deprived days hit hardest, most difficult to bear. The world seems scary, like one giant acid trip gone wrong that I cannot come down from, no matter how much I talk myself through it. My feet feel as if I am walking in the bounce house.
 
Morning came too quickly, the doors opening and closing to my bedroom. Communal showers suck. I worked late into the night fixing my article for the new French client, only to awaken to stern reprimand from someone half my age, probably. I did not follow directions, too worried about meeting deadline and not the specifics. Certainly my fault but can we just treat each other kindly? Even editors?
 
Hard pressed to inhabit the Zen of it all, I fought all morning with myself. “This is the life of a writer. This is life. Don’t be afraid of rejection, judgment and criticism.” I had to keep myself from diving over the cliff of “I fucked up.” Forgiveness.
 
My nerves still sore, I taught class, guilty that I wasn’t fresh, alert and sharp, but that turned out to be a lie I told myself. The class discussion meandered through colonialism, prejudice, Black Lives Matter, censorship, profanity, the sub-prime mortgage debacle, the abc’s of finance, medicine, medico-legal ethics, euthanasia, and stories, lots of anecdotes, for a breezy four and a half hours. At least it seemed that way. Summer school. Beautiful students.
 
Rounding out nicely with a particularly grapefruit citrus-tinged IPA and halibut tacos ordered at my local hangout–family members all working (except for dad glued to the t.v.)–this day wanes okay, citing my own research on French proverbs (my maybe rejected assignment)–apres la pluie, le beau temps (Every cloud has a silver lining). I’m about to chomp down on my halibut tacos silver lining. Cheers and Bon appetit! 

Republished today in YogiTimes: Yoga and Compassion in Prison

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​Please enjoy my republished article in Yogi Times todaytoday. 

surviving darkness in light of a yoga life

I was a bookish girl from an early age, always about with one under my nose in my Long Island suburb. That early reading passion eventually turned to a career in teaching high school and college English. So it’s no wonder that the first encounter with yoga was through a pocket sized hand book with pictures of a woman in leotard and tights performing various poses. I imitated those pictures as best I could but remember…read more here.

Scribus Mundanus Me


 
Perhaps you have to be a teacher or know one to smile at this article a good friend sent me today, but I enjoyed seeing myself typecast as a certain type of teacher. Though I have taught my share of literature courses and may have been Libris Scholaris, especially in grad school as a Teacher’s Assistant, guest lecturer or contract lecturer at the university, but I am quintessentially Scribus Mundanus all the way these days, as I stare down a pile of ungraded essays beckoning me to my desk even at this late hour. 

John Minichillo on Timothey McSweeney’s blog writes “How to be a Better Teacher-Person Through Apathy: On the Heirarchy of English Professors, a Nonmenclature: Scholar-Type, Teacher-Type and Artist-Type” to illustrate and caricature teachers on this very week of the teacher. I have been all three, but teaching three composition courses this semester and some semesters four or more, I relate to this description:

The second type of English professor is the composition scholar, or teacher-type, Scribis mundanus. They use the word “text” with far less frequency and their obsession lies in “pedagogy,” a word never uttered outside of universities, but a catch-all title that means, broadly, “teaching.” While Libris scholares teach to make a living, so that they can study texts, Scribis mundani have always wanted to teach, and they have a way of resenting other professors who don’t engage in the frequent self-examination of their own teaching practices. They believe in a growth model for teachers, so that they are involved in teacher training and/or disseminating self-assessment tools, and they command their classrooms with a dynamic flair. They are forever pondering goals and outcomes, and will dole out experimental assignments, so that during any given semester the class content, approach, or grading methods of Scribis mundanus may have completely changed from previous semesters. The field of composition developed out of necessity and it’s the new kid on the block. At the beginning of the twentieth century students were interested in literature, and classes were introduced where these students would write “themes” each week, so that these primitive papers became what was graded in the course. Over time, English classes were separated into literature classes and writing classes, and composition was the methodology that grew up around paper writing, which became the subject, whole and entire, of composition classes.

I am a teacher. I am in it to teach. I use the word pedagogy, yes. Reading “texts” and creating art are collateral benefits that go with and develop from the art of teaching. Becoming an expert on others’ writing and teaching others to write, I have improved my own writing. The reciprocity has quite satisfactorily evolved into paid self-enrichment. 

Mundanus? Sure, the comp grind, as it is referred to in the biz, has its mind-numbing moments, for example, that pile on my desk that promises endlessly winding, often pointless poor prose as well as the surprise satisfaction of a well-turned phrase. I’m happy merely to find the few that followed the assignment directions. But then I remember that my own writing, discipline and substance have developed over a life-time, several decades. What can I expect in mere weeks? 

Maybe the next professor down the comp chain will have better luck weeding out the disorganization in this semester’s crop of students’ harried developing minds and the bad habits cemented over the years. In three weeks, my tenancy with them will be up (except for those who choose to try again with me). And then it’s summer school!

 
Image Credit: http://www.edweek.org

Babies in College

 
 
Today a student handed me a note purportedly written by his mother, excusing him for leaving class early a couple of days ago. I teach college English. In the 20 plus years I have taught, this was a first.
 
In the last 2 years teaching at the same college I have taught for 16 years, my plans for at least one class per semester have been interrupted to remind students that they are in college. They don’t have to be in class like they had to in high school by state law, though it is probably a good idea, especially in my class. I do lots each class to justify my existence–that is, graded assignments and answers to eventual final exam questions–and missing a class is not recommended. 
 
However, students who must miss class are assumed to be adults responsible enough to find out what they missed and resourceful enough to recoup their losses. Big assumptions. They still ask me questions like, “Did we do anything while I was gone?”
 
Though less disturbing, I cannot count how many times students ask me permission to leave early, arrive late or miss class altogether. At first I believed they were simply not mentally out of high school, where their attendance was strictly required though their attention to the class while attending was not so strictly required. I can only assume so from the in depth, lengthy text messages I have received from my children while they were in class. Many students have confirmed the same, and judging by the persistent, nearly obsessive habit of texting or gazing into their phones–activity banned in my class–I believe the phone habit is a long-instilled layover from high school, or merely the product of living now.
 
Ironically, high school mandates attendance but not attention while college is just the reverse. Since I teach freshman, their education includes breaking the high school habits and convincing them that they truly are free now, free to succeed or fail–whether I give them permission or not.
 
I’ll admit that my jaw dropped and my face clearly had “wtf?” written all over it when I read the penciled note on a sticky note sized paper that asked to excuse her son for missing class the other day. Have I gotten much, much older recently or have my students gotten much younger? I am now convinced that the number of coddled college kids have increased and they have a tougher time growing up, thus the odd permission requests and absence notes. Or is it simply time for me to retire?
 

Credit: http://www.babiesonline.com

To the Thief Who Stole a Teacher’s Textbook

bae

I wish no ill will

if to steal will fulfill

a desire to learn–

a worthwhile return–

in literary taste

as is truly the case

in so fascinting a text

“What happens next?”

The suspense never ending

in essays mind bending

priced at a mere 100 bucks

which to you probably sucks

because you obviously can’t pay

so keep it and have a joyful day.

Oh, and the essay on morality

skip it lest it damper joviality

at having stolen a book

to resell to some schnook

who’ll think he struck gold

at this collection re-sold

replete with scribbles galore

like none sold at the book store

but good luck deciphering words

gifts as intended but to  fools, absurd.

 

The Measure of the Times

  

Rousseau walks on trumpet paths. Joni Mitchell, “The Jungle Line” in Hissing of Summer Lawns.

I always wondered what Joni meant in that line from the “Jungle Line.” At first I thought she meant Jean-Jaques Rousseau, the philosopher of Confessions and The Social Contract fame. In college I read the former and only remember the book as a journal of the man’s affairs, extra marital and political, and wondered why he ranked as an important philsopher since the content seemed trivial. I later revised my opinion after reading The Social Contract, the underpinning of early social justice and democratic government theories. 

I once searched for a Rousseau painting with trumpet paths when I realized she referenced the painter not the philosopher/author. I had never seen nor recalled seeing a Rousseau painting and the internet was not at my disposal then. The Hissing of Summer Lawns album came out in 1975. I checked books and found Rousseau’s work, which I found pleasing, colorful and fun. The man appeared to have a sense of humor, squeezed joy from days. Unfortunately, I broke the limited art world I knew then at the ripe old age of 16 as serious and unserious art, Rousseau deemed too childlike to be serious.

Today I read the following:

With a kind of perverse timing, the child’s paradigm emerged in art at just the moment when Newton’s mechanical view of reality was most triumphant. The Chinese yin and yang symbol is a graphic representation of this relationship between opposing principles. The rival viewpoint makes its first tentative appearance at the height of the power of its complementary obverse.

How very appropriate that just before Einstein’s discovery, a naïve artist like Rousseau, whose paintings could be the settings for fairy tales and who routinely distorted forms, would be hailed as one whose view of the world was a valuable contribution! It is an amusing exercise for anyone to specualate upon the reception Rousseau’s work would have received at the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Then the Humanists were proclaiming that man was the measure of all things. For a long time, children were not to be trusted to measure anything. Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics

At the tender young age of 55, I understand Rousseau with his child-vision. The world he paints for his audience is important to see, again and again, not just as counterbalance to the cynical, practical world of the adult in politics, technology, science and economics, for instance. But to remember the special conception of space and time that children hold. They experience lengthened time and unconfined space compared to their parents’ lived time-space. Children know the science of happiness instinctively.

Earlier in class, before I read the above Shlain excerpt, I reminded students about child time vs. adult time, temporal elasticity, and technology’s time effects. Hopefully, my stories illustrated time’s illusion, for example experiencing child time as a dragged-along, unwilling captive of Mom’s department store shopping as a 7 year old or an 18 year old sitting in a two-hour lecture course at 7:20 a.m. (mine) as opposed to sleeping or playing/partying with friends for the equivalent time. Time slows or speeds accordingly even as time ticks unceasingly in even increments.

I was not much younger than my students now when I first heard Joni’s lyric and then went searching for Rousseau. And it was only a matter of hours between narrating child-like time visions in the classroom and reading Shlain’s commentary on Rousseau’s yin to Newton’s yang or vice versa, the innocent artist and sophisticated astronomer, ending with the situationally ironic children as the measure of nothing.

I love that the world and mine are round.

  
credit: wikiart.org

Just Be

  

Credit: Angela Jimenez for The New York Times
 

A friend sent me this article in today’s New York Times, knowing it would be of interest to me as a female college instructor. The author, Carol Hay, in Girlfriend, Mother, Professor? presents the gender role expectations and student-teacher dynamics unique to women professors as described in her title. 

I too have found students of various gender identities attempting to posit me as mother (I’m older) to fit their particular emotional or academic agenda. I have had the distinct impression many students male and female assume that a sob story will likely work an extension or accepted excuse out of me, an avowed mother and presumed female who is therefore, presumably, an emotionally pliant nurturer. And like the author, I both bristle at that cultural expectation framing my student-teacher relationships and reinforce it by presenting as female and exercising compassion. 

To preemptively strike such a situation arising in the first place, I warn students at the outset that requests, pleas and beggings for extensions and other variances from the syllabus terms require creative stories real or imagined to appeal to my imagination more than manipulative ones meant to appeal only to my emotions. I tell them I do not really want to know the reason for their transgressions or requests for amnesty. I just want to hear a good story in exchange for my lenience–a bargained for exchange. 

That first-day-of-class advisory is meant to foster creativity in an English calss as well as set the professional distance between student and teacher. Some get intimidated and fear approaching me at all after that speech, which is not the desired effect, while most do not even detect the signal–do not ask me to sympathize. Your excuses, absences and late work are just that–excuses, absences and late work (excluding verified medical causes). Most do what they do, regardless of syllabi, rules, words and grades. If a harried student is in dire need, he or she will resort to what comes naturally, whether that be groveling, begging, lying, demanding or manipulating.

Somehow I suspect most students act the same with men–need dictating the method and expectation. I doubt gender has more to do with role expectations than personality of the professor. Each brings his or her own strengths or weaknesses, experience and exuberance to the classroom and students react accordingly. Men perceived as gentler than sarcastic and caustic me are going to attract the nurturer-seeking students more than I will probably.

Honestly, this year teaching English at the local college marks my 16th year of just doing me. While students of all stripes and colors have passed through my classroom doors these many years, exercising displays of need, desire, hunger, apathy, enthusiasm, curiosity, ernestness and dozens of other dispositions in their dance of student and teacher otherwise known as jumping through the hoops of yet another required course, I may have experienced and certainly understand Hay’s dilemma (women professors get this typecasting, not men) but so what? 

We do ourselves, mindfully as educators, and point out human behaviors and relationships as part of education. The English or any classroom includes discussions and critical analyses of people, relationships and culture, including gender roles and expectations. Sometimes I call my students out on their assumptions. “Are you assuming I will react emotionally because of my presumed gender?” 

Be the teacher; be myself. I consider it my job. I teach English–and life.

Are All Writer’s Introverts?

  
I googled that question today after teaching two classes, writing a few blog posts, counseling a student, and editing an article. Facing the prospects of a shift at a retail job to finish off the day’s work schedule, I am on the verge of collapsing into the couch and burying my head deep under the pillows.

People exhaust me. I am clearly an introvert, and I have never taken a test to prove it. I know it. However, whenever I confess to this most trendy of trends…”You know you’re an introvert if…” being an introvert, people are amazed. “But you’re a teacher and seem so social.” Both are true. I am a pleasant person, courteous at least, in the company of others and am certainly a teacher. I love teaching. But neither of those facts make me less of an introvert.

I hate to be the living cliché, but I believe most writers are introverts, living inside of texts, which are quieter and less demanding. People require attention, not only of the mind but of all the senses. They must be heard, seen, sensed, smelled and sometimes…touched. It’s all too much by the end of the day.

While I am among the masses, however, I do not feel sapped of energy. It’s when I hit the quiet of the late afternoon, sitting in the sun’s windowed reflection under the ticking of the clock punctuating my solitude among the table and chairs, tablecloth and armoire of my kitchen/dining area that the absolute exhaustion–a bone weariness of the mind and spirit–overwhelms me.

 

An aphid burrowing into the cells 

homing the pulp of me, crawling 

the synapses ablaze with centipedal

feet by the hundreds across attention

span and heat of the moment glee of

questions answered and asked, again

ticking off to-do’s of the do-nothings

but ply, ply, ply; it’s my trade, my cue,

my plight, but in the end, husked,

devoured, twisted, torn and teeth-

marked, me, hollow, me, cocooned

in respite of the dark, silent sap of

the dead thickening thinned linings

undressed, undermined and stripped

swollen, aching in whispering dawn.

 
credit: laurensapala.com

Back to School

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I cannot recall the last time I sharpened pencils, yet I smell them.

Crayons disappeared from the house five years ago when the kids stopped using them, schools dumping color-in-the-lines after fifth grade. But I can almost feel their waxy paraffin between my thumb and forefinger, leaving that oily residue that stays way long.

Like a return to the new, the school year starts in the season of dying.

The dissonance, I sense it like spasmodic leg quaking that tremulates chairs while calming nerves.

“It’s show time!” I mimic the movie star’s manic Joker’s smile as I fly out the door. No chorus line.

Yet not the performance but the insistence that erodes: “Wake up!!” I want to jolt them in stentorian holler as my head spins and spits pea soup—in a virtual world they recognize.

In real time, I merely cajole, advise, admonish and filibuster, all for their awakening to themselves, their process and their world, adrift in someone else’s expectation.

 

credit: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/0OwImLxeoFI/maxresdefault.jpg

“The Coddling of the American Mind” in the Atlantic

  
I have taught college students to write, read and think for over 15 years now. Before that, I did the same for high school students. My job–teaching–particularly skills for college, and more importantly, life, impresses me as one of mind crafting. I teach students how to think, using the medium of the word. Others teach the same through other media, such as art, music, math or computers, to name a few.

Since writing starts with the word, that is where I start my classes each semester. I compare grammar to life. It starts with the word, which has an essence and a function, depending on its relationship to other words. I try to illustrate this by pointing to a student and defining the student as presumably human, male or female, but also in context of a classroom, a student, peer, son or daughter, just as a noun is a noun until it is placed next to another noun and then functions like an adjective.

It has always been a hit–until recently. In the last couple of years, I hesitate to use the example because once I get past presuming a student is human, I get tangled up in words trying to be respectful of gender identification. I now find myself saying the person appears as this gender or that but may actually identify some other way…and then it gets complicated for me. I start thinking that maybe it is wrong to even presume a student represents as human, now with people going bionic by choice, according to an article I read this morning.

I am the last person to be the most sensitive in any situation. I am not a clod or a jerk (at least I don’t think so), but I can be absorbed in my own world, the material I am teaching and not notice the effect of my natural expressions. I sometimes use profanity to make a point. I reference all kinds of beliefs and politics and history, my class encompassing words and ideas. The constant running through my classes, lately, however, is my fear of others’ sensibilities. I am wary of the trap of my own words.

A true gift, the recognition of these fears in the Atlantic article entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which is a thorough investigation of the temperament and tendencies of the American college student as well as some reasonable suggestions to change the trends toward litigation and censorship based on what the author identifies as distorted thinking often bordering on psychological disorders, including adapting sensitivities on behalf of other groups and identities.

The authors define and exemplify micro aggressions, catastrophizing and trigger warnings, topics, words and imagery taught in classrooms or presented in the world that trigger traumatic experiences personal, racial or historical. For example, students object to the mention of rape and rape cases in a law school class for the emotional triggers to some students’ traumatic experiences. This is merely one type of behavior that crowds the classroom’s content and censors speech.

However, as the authors assert, shielding students from offense runs counter to the exposure students should be getting to new ideas in school, including ones that offend. Schools are not bubbles but training grounds for the world beyond school, as world inhabitants, of which there is much that offends.

Attempts to shield students from words, ideas, and people that might cause them emotional discomfort are bad for the students. They are bad for the workplace, which will be mired in unending litigation if student expectations of safety are carried forward. And they are bad for American democracy, which is already paralyzed by worsening partisanship. When the ideas, values, and speech of the other side are seen not just as wrong but as willfully aggressive toward innocent victims, it is hard to imagine the kind of mutual respect, negotiation, and compromise that are needed to make politics a positive-sum game.

The article is a fair treatment of the causes and effects of this educational and social phenomenon, including a recommended list of twelve distortions (reproduced below) to identify and teach in the classroom based on cognitive therapy practices that help individuals focus on a reading of reality that is not merely emotional. I know my falll class opener may start with this article for discussion.

 Common Cognitive Distortions
A partial list from Robert L. Leahy, Stephen J. F. Holland, and Lata K. McGinn’s Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders (2012).
1. Mind reading. You assume that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.”
2. Fortune-telling. You predict the future negatively: things will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I’ll fail that exam,” or “I won’t get the job.”
3. Catastrophizing.You believe that what has happened or will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. “It would be terrible if I failed.”
4. Labeling. You assign global negative traits to yourself and others. “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.”
5. Discounting positives. You claim that the positive things you or others do are trivial. “That’s what wives are supposed to do—so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”
6. Negative filtering. You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. “Look at all of the people who don’t like me.”
7. Overgeneralizing. You perceive a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me. I seem to fail at a lot of things.”
8. Dichotomous thinking. You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.”
9. Blaming. You focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings, and you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.”
10. What if? You keep asking a series of questions about “what if” something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. “Yeah, but what if I get anxious?,” or “What if I can’t catch my breath?”
11. Emotional reasoning. You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out.”
12. Inability to disconfirm. You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought I’m unlovable, you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently, your thought cannot be refuted. “That’s not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors.”