Monthly Archives: November 2013

I Did Nothing

After a grading bender on Saturday and Sunday, I managed to finish all my work before Thanksgiving Break even began.  So, when Monday morning rolled around and my husband prepared for work while I sat in my pajamas under my heated blanket like an elderly invalid, I quavered out this feeble question: “What should I do today?”

He replied, “Do nothing.  Do absolutely nothing.  Don’t clean. Don’t cook. Watch TV and read books all day.  Seriously, if that empty bowl of yogurt residue is not sitting on the table when I get home, I’m going to find it and throw it against the wall to watch it shatter into a billion yogurty pieces, a symbol of your broken serenity.”  (I might have made that last part up).

So I girded my loins and prepared for the daunting battle against my own sense of guilt.  You see, I don’t quite know how to do lazy.  I’m sure I’m not alone here.  When I try to relax, guilty, wormy thoughts squeeze through the cracks in my brain and whisper obligations to me (guilt worms can whisper, btw, and they look like this):


“Lazy cow,” they whisper, “there are so many things you should be doing right now.  Cleeeean something.  Wriiiite something.  Plaaaaan something, dummy!  Harvest someone’s organs!  Do something!  If you don’t, your humanity will be revoked, and you will become one of usssss! Blaaaaargaaaagarrr!”

It’s usually just easier to acquiesce to their demands, but on Monday, I decided to make a concerted effort to not put forth any effort.

I succeeded.

I watched movies.  I read books.  I stayed in my pajamas, curled up in my heated blanket burrito, drinking tea (dream big, people, dream big) and breathing.  Most of the time I feel like I’m holding my breath, swimming upstream against a steady deluge of work.  Monday I was finally able to take some slow, deep breaths into the brown paper bag of my first real day off in a long time.

Every now and then, another guilt worm would whisper in my ear, but I managed to stuff a sock in its terrifying maw long enough to enjoy my day.

In short,

Highlights of last week?  Listening to a teenage girl on the bus tell her friend, “White people and light-skin people look nasty, like they sick.  Look like somethin’ wrong with they skin.  Ugh.  I could never date outside my race.”

I get it.  I’m pale.  My skin is roughly the color of copier paper. Beetle-cleaned bones. Basmati.  But, come on, it’s not like I look like Lord Voldemort:

Hot.

My lily-white skin does react poorly to sunlight, though.  On my honeymoon, despite emptying the entire contents of a family-sized bottle of sunscreen onto my body, I still managed to get sun poisoning.  My whole face swelled up.  I looked approximately like this:

Hey you guys!

Also, when I was working at a daycare, a little boy asked me, “Why you draw all over yourself with markers?”  It took me a minute to realize he was pointing to the bright blue veins shining through my translucent skin.

I’m pale.  Still, I like my skin.  It keeps out pathogens and cat hair like most skin.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trying to chat that girl up and get her number, though; she might just vomit all over me, and then who knows what color I would be?

Highlight #2:  While having a discussion with my students about the purpose of higher education (whether it is simply to prepare them for careers, or whether it is also about shaping their character), one student raised his hand and said, “I think high school is when we shape our character and figure out who we’re going to be.  I think when we get to college, we should pretty much know that stuff already, so college should just be streamlined and focused on our careers.  We pretty much did all our growing up in high school.”

My response:

Did you think like that when you were a freshman?  I don’t remember thinking that, and a cursory/embarrassing visit to my old journal confirms that I pretty much felt like a fetus when I was 18 (and wrote like a fetus, too – a depressed, angsty, hormonal fetus).  Is this a common thought amongst college freshmen now?

If so,

I asked him, “Think about who you were when you were 13.  Were you pretty much the same as you are now, or different?” (Obviously he replied ‘Pretty different’) “OK then, imagine yourself when you are 23.  Does turning 18, legally becoming an adult, really put a stop to your ability or need to grow any more than becoming a teenager caused you to completely put away your childhood and suddenly become mature?”

Cue crickets and blank stares.

Anyway, I’m on break now, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  I hope you enjoy it with people you love (or at least tolerate).  Go find some leaves and roll in them for me.  All mine are covered in snow spat out by the encroaching winter demon who longs only to torment me with his jagged, icicle fingers.  Oh warm fingers and toes!  Would that I knew you still!  Pray you return swiftly and reattach yourselves to my icy stumps.

 

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As a Mother. . .

Nontraditional students are polarizing.  Some professors love them.  After all, nontraditional students are older; thus, they are typically more mature and responsible.  They’ve got the crows feet to prove they’ve spent countless hours frowning at the mailbox, a true mark of adulthood.  They’ve got kids to feed; thus, they pay attention in class and do their work because they don’t want to fail and end up moving their spawn into a van down by the river. They managed to survive their twenties and now look at their binge-drinking, beat-boxing, clown-ass classmates with derision as they dream of warm milk and NCIS.  They live by the motto,

and they are.  And so am I.

On the other hand, some professors hate them.  After all, many nontraditional students balk at the mention of using computers.  Some seem downright resistant to stepping outside of their comfort zones to learn new technologies and use this fear as an excuse to not even try:  “I’m just not good with computers!” they cry as they try to force a handwritten essay into my hands.  Also, they’ve got kids to feed; thus, almost every time they speak in class, they do so ‘As a parent,’ a guaranteed way to elicit eye rolls and mutinous glares from their classmates.

I usually fall into the former camp.  I like nontraditional students.  I, too, am ‘too old for this shit.’  Also, I’d rather deal with the problem of trying to get a baby boomer to use a word processor than the problem of trying to get an 18-year-old to stop putting smiley faces in his/her paper and to stop using the letter ‘u’ in place of the word ‘you.’

I’d also rather hear a middle-aged soccer mom drone on about Makayla’s participation trophy than hear some scraggly, stoned kid with a soul patch try to claim, for the billionth time, that pot cures cancer.

However, I had one nontraditional student who still provokes damp armpit feelings of anxiety and loathing in me when I think about her.  I think she must have been in her forties, and she also walked with a cane.  That was all cool, of course.

What wasn’t cool was the way she would follow me.

I can’t prove it, but I think she must have lingered outside of our classroom, waiting for me to leave, because sometimes I’d be quietly minding my own business in a bathroom stall, spending some precious between-class moments trying to pee and regain some shred of sanity, and I’d hear it.  Shuffle, stump. Suffle, stump. Shuffle, stump.  She’d come stumping into the bathroom.  I’d hear her heavy breathing and the sound of her rubber-tipped cane striking the tile.  She’d spot my feet under the stall door and, before I could think to hide or try to escape, she would start talking to me THROUGH THE STALL DOOR, standing inches away from me, asking me question after question, as I hovered awkwardly over a toilet seat with my skirt hiked up.  You might think, “Maybe she just had a similar route to her next class and also needed to use the bathroom on the way.”

You would be wrong.  I know this because once I came out of the stall after trying to deflect her conversation through the door only to find that we were the only two in the bathroom and all the other stalls were empty.  She did not use the bathroom.  She hunted me as if she were an entire pack of Jurassic Park velociraptors.

Then she would devour my few precious moments of alone time.  Our conversations would go approximately like this.

Lady:  Oh, Hi professor!  That you in there?

Me: (In my mind)

Me: (Out loud) Uuuuh.  Yea.

Lady:  Oh, ok, I thought those were your shoes.  I’m really concerned about this research essay.  We never wrote any essays like this in my last English class, and I’m just not good with computers.

Me: (Silence, as I stand like some kind of panicked, slowly-leaking ostrich). . . ok.

Lady:  You said in class we’re supposed to find eight sources, right.

Me: . . . .yep.

Lady:  Does it say that on the essay assignment sheet too?

Me: . . . Uh, yep.

Lady:  Oh, ok.  Because that’s a lot of research.  What if I can’t find eight sources.

Me:  . . . Well as I said in class. . .

And so it would continue.  She would ask me things I already answered in class, and I would try to disengage while I urinated.  Usually I would drop strong hints that it would be more appropriate to discuss this via e-mail or during office hours, but she either didn’t get it or didn’t care, so we would share these daily converurinations with each other.

Thank the sweet baby Jesus in the manger she didn’t actually try to follow me into my next class.

In addition to stalking me, she also brought (AND CONSUMED) an entire 2-liter of cola to class every day.  This was disgusting enough on its own.  I mean, there are approximately 1.25 cups of sugar in a 2 liter bottle of cola.  Just imagine shotgunning an entire cup of sugar in less than an hour and then going back for a little more.  That’s basically what she was doing.  Who does that?

Then, she would spend the remainder of class loudly clearing mucus from her throat, and I would spend the rest of class trying not to stop teaching and yell,

I can still hear her in my nightmares – breathing and stumping and asking and clearing.  She is mingled in my memory with the pressing need to urinate and the smell of public restrooms.  Ugh.

Ah well.  This week I found out two of the classes I was planning to teach next semester have been canceled due to low enrollment.  Such is the life of an adjunct.

Boo.

It was Halloween night, my favorite night of the year.  Seriously.  Most years I start thinking about Halloween costumes in June.  I don’t know why I’ve always loved Halloween so much – perhaps it stems from the gluttonous orgy of sugar-gobbling glee that happened every year of my childhood.  My crazed, sweaty-palmed, fierce-eyed sprint from house-to-house was daunting, but I just knew that if I didn’t fill that damn pillowcase to the very top with 200,000 varieties of corn-syrupy happiness I would surely die.  In my final languishing moments I would have nothing to cling to but circus peanuts and necco wafers from the monstrous old lady across the street.

or these things – what kind of sadist would trick children into eating festively-wrapped garbage?  These people take the ‘trick’ part of trick-or-treat way too seriously.

I would fill my cheeks like a rabid squirrel shooting furtive glances toward my slumbering wardens – the parents I’d dragged around the neighborhood to the point of exhausted torpor (all part of the plan, of course).  I knew they would stop me if I alerted them to my subterfuge by rustling a wrapper too loudly.  Slowly, meticulously, as if defusing a bomb, I would peel off the wrappers and stack my candy into little piles so that I could cram sugar into my face-hole with enough double-fisted scarfing action to rival Augustus Gloop.  Then, I would lie back in buzzing fulfillment.  

Sometimes I would even dump out the entire sack and make snow angels on top of the pile like Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault of coins:

I think, really, though, the reason I loved and still love Halloween so much is that it is the one day every year where I can wear whatever I want without judgment, looks of repugnance, cries of alarm or general weeping and gnashing of teeth.  I know what you’re thinking – “Wait, wait, wait.  You’re not one of those girls who uses Halloween as an excuse to dress like a Slutty McSlutterson are you?”

In the words of Michelle Tanner –

No, no, no blog people.  I have never worn anything with the word ‘sexy’ in the title.  No Sexy Dumpster, Sexy File Cabinet, Sexy Spongebob Squarepants

This ACTUALLY exists. What’s next, a Sexy Gilbert Gottfried costume?

or whatever other objects girls have decided to bastardize into overly-sexualized abominations this year.  Here’s a run-down of my favorite costumes from the past:

Age 6 – Steve Urkel, complete with blackface (I know, I know, but he was my hero.  I knew all his catch-phrases, had the pull-string doll, the Urkel-O’s, everything!  Why my parents allowed me to dress in blackface is another story…).  He was my hero.

Age 9 – The year my mother was in a horrible car accident and subsequently confined to bed for a while, I decided to dress up like her – a car crash victim/patient – complete with gauze, fake casts, fake blood, a hospital gown and all the requisite limping and groaning.  I remember in my dull, demented little nine-year-old head thinking, “This will be the perfect way to cheer mom up!”  The look in her eyes. . .oh my.  I’m pretty sure I triggered some PTSD for her instead.  You’re welcome mom.

Age 11 – I was really into the OJ Trial.  I mean it.  I would rush home after school to watch coverage of it.  I knew all the players – Nicole Brown Simpson, Goldman, Shapiro, the juice himself!  The black glove!  Naturally that year I dressed as the corpse of Nicole Brown Simpson.  Tasteful.

Age 12 – All my friends wanted to dress in poodle skirts.  I wanted to be an immortal sociopath:

halloween

In sixth grade I wrote that I would be an actress in Florida (with it’s thriving cinema industry) when I grew up.  Before I found my outlet in community theater, I think Halloween was my outlet and still is.  Last year I was Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock:

I do it aaalll the different ways.  Different kind of sexy costume.

Anyway, I say all this to fully emphasize how much I did NOT want to grade essays on Halloween, but I did.

All day.

No costume.  No parties.  Not a single piece of candy was consumed.  Instead, I consumed paper after paper after paper – 40 rough drafts to be exact (and they were rough).

About halfway through I thought to myself “Why am I doing this?  I could just hand these back a couple of days later.  Why am I giving such detailed feedback?  I could just write ‘This is bad. Fix it’ and spend half as much time working.  Sure, maybe I’ll get a couple of bad course evaluations at the end of the year, but so what?  I know professors who put in way less effort, and they’ve still managed to keep their jobs year after year.  Why don’t I follow suit?”

That’s when I had an epiphany.  I was grading on my favorite holiday so that I could return the drafts quickly and allow my students a full week for revision before turning in their final draft.  I felt like that would allow them to turn in their best possible work.  I was providing so much feedback because the drafts were rough and needed a lot of help.  I was doing all of this because I actually wanted to help my students improve their work.  Because I believe they can.  Because I care.

You might be thinking that when I had this realization, I was instantly filled with an overwhelming sense of joy and love!

You might be thinking that my grinchy heart grew three sizes that day.

You might be thinking that I was filled with enough peace and good will toward men to hoist Tiny Tim upon my once miserly shoulder and shower him with a glimpse into a life of wealth he’ll never have.

(Sidenote – I was so obsessed with the Mickey Mouse version of A Christmas Carol when I was five that I watched it over and over all year.  I’d play that tape, watch it, rewind it and watch it again.  Why?  To psychologically maim my parents, of course.  I even had this pair of purple Mickey Mouse underwear that I refused to take off, battling my parents with righteous indignation and preternatural, squirmy child-strength.  Who did they think they were?  King and Queen of the panties?  If I ever have children they will be tiny archfiends from hell, I just know it.  That will be my repayment.  They’ll be the type of children who smear poop on everything, refuse to eat anything but bowls of mayonnaise, shove legos in their ears, and pull over displays of wine bottles in the grocery store while flailing and screaming “I hate you!” at the top of their tiny lungs.  God help me.)

Anyway – back to my epiphany.  If you thought I was suddenly struck by the beauty of the universe and a newfound sense of philanthropy for my students and a desire to donate my bone marrow, you are incorrect.  This more closely resembles my reaction.

Why?  Because all these years I’ve been slaving away grading papers, planning, answering stupid e-mails, repeating shit I’ve already explained 3,235 times in class, trying to decipher incomprehensible sentences that shouldn’t have made it into a college classroom (Why, God? Why did they?), drawing a line through the phrase ‘in today’s society’ for the 3 millionth time, explaining to a student for the billionth time that it’s ‘based on’ not ‘based off of’ – all these years I’ve been doing that, glimmering before me like an elusive chimera was the notion that eventually I would get to the point of apathy.  Perhaps one day I could will apathy into reality.

That was my hope.

My students would succeed in crushing my spirit, and I would stop caring.  I know that sounds unpleasant, and it wasn’t something I fully realized that I hoped for until I realized I could never have it (so it goes).  The reason I wanted to stop caring is that my job would then require so much less from me, and I might actually have time for leisure.  Then I could actually rest.  Then I would no longer feel like a crusty, dried-up sponge moldering under the sink.

But I do care, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop caring, so I am doomed to grade papers on Halloween or Thanksgiving or my birthday until I die, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.

In a way I suppose I am glad to know that I do care about my students, little shits that they are.  God help me, I care about them.

I’ll just try to keep this in mind:

I find this reassuring.

So when Emotional Problems girl started sobbing in my class YET AGAIN, my initial reactions were still the same as the last time she pulled this shit.

First, I wanted to scream in her face:

Than I wanted to slap her.

I wanted to shout in her face – “For the love of God, where are your coping mechanisms? Where?  You’re an adult!  This is not a daycare.  Dealing with crybabies should not be one of my work responsibilities!  Are you going to ask me to wipe your nose and tie your shoes next?  I’ve seen single-cell organisms through a microscopes that could cope with life better than you!”

But don’t worry,

As I looked at her sobbing, I eventually found myself pitying her instead of hating her.  No matter how debilitating my anxiety can be at times, no matter how much stress I’ve been under, no matter how much I sometimes struggle to just get out of bed in the morning and do my life, I always manage to make myself do it.  I’ve never gotten to the point where sobbing in the middle of class/work seemed like my only option.  I’m sure she didn’t enjoy it any more than I did.

Anyway, this week was a weird week.  First a student made me feel incredibly old by writing, “I had never heard of the shootings at Columbine High School before.”

My reaction.

Then another student made me feel incredibly young by referring to herself as a ’90’s kid.’  (You were born in 1995!  Which part of those remaining five years of the 90’s did you enjoy?  The part where you were eating your own mucus or that part where you were sitting in your own excrement?  Do you even know who Jordan Catalano is?  Did you ever scrawl ‘Tupac Lives!’ on a bathroom stall at school?  Did you ever wear a hypercolor windbreaker and fanny pack at the same time? Do you even know what Pogs are?  No?  Then STFU.)

Then I heard a man on the bus tell someone on the other end to “suck my poo.”  Coupled with past evidence from the woman who screamed “snort the shit off my ass” into her phone at the bus stop, I am lead to believe that bus riders are gifted in crafting fecal insults.

In case you were wondering, I managed to salvage what was left of my Halloween with a glass of chianti and some Silence of the Lamb.  Don’t worry – I had my wine sans liver.