Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The best-laid plans of mice and women ...

"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." ~ E. M. Forster, British writer (1879-1970)

Is that right, Mr. Forster? Is your sensibility here due to personal experience?

My personal experience: Life is what has happened to me while I've been waiting for other things to happen to me. Like being a size 6. Like having a career that pays enough to shop at Ann Taylor Loft. Or a career that allows for travel and exciting locales.

How is it, exactly, that I am living this particular life? Is it by accident, or some
Great Plan or just a sequence of decisions ? that has led to my being a middle-aged, overweight, middle school teacher. I mean, I hadn't planned on being a teacher. I hadn't planned on having an empty nest at the age of 45. I hadn't planned on marrying a man seven years my senior who doesn't believe in spending money on vacations (and is prematurely bald, bless his heart). And I sure in heck hadn't planned on having a six-month pregnancy belly when I am certainly nowhere near being pregnant.

I really, truly thought my life would be far different than it is. If you'd asked me twenty-five years ago where I'd be in 2010, I never would have guessed at the helm of a middle school classroom, teaching eleven and twelve year olds the difference between simple and compound sentences.

I had PLANNED on an exciting world in broadcast journalism (I was going to be the next Jessica Savitch). I had PLANNED on marrying a thick-haired attorney/doctor; I had PLANNED on postponing motherhood until the age of 35. I had PLANNED to vacation in Vail with my well-dressed preppy offspring.

Of course none of this happened. None.

Not complaining. Really. That would be rude and horrible and disrespectful to the life I am leading. I'm just contemplating how it is that I got here. Mostly, though, I'm wanting to figure out where I'm going next ~ and if I really have any say at all as to what happens to me in the next twenty-five years.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The air, crisp like a potato chip ...

"Just before the death of flowers,
And before they are buried in snow,
There comes a festival season
When nature is all aglow."
- Author Unknown

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Feeling restless. Again.

So I'm sitting here in my dining room noticing there's dried dog snot on the window, but instead of cleaning it I want to go on a shopping spree, or book a vacation, or just get into the car and drive around, looking for Sunday Open Houses. I LOVE walking through other people's homes. I get great ideas for decorating, or decluttering.
Perhaps I'll go get some frozen custard, or stop by Lowe's and look through wallpaper books. Going to a pumpkin patch sounds appealing, only I don't have a small child to go with me; I would feel a bit like a creepster wandering around without a kid.
Fostering a child would be enormously satisfying; however, my spousal unit won't go for it. "We've already raised three children," he says.
There's a "BARK/BAKE" sale at the local animal shelter, until 5 p.m., only I think it would be VERY difficult to see an adorable animal and not be able to adopt it. "We already have a dog and a cat," my husband says.
Restless I am. Like I said.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What does it mean to be a Midwesterner?

In the Midwest, husbands and wives go on Friday night dates to Home Depot or Sam’s Club, wearing jeans and college sweatshirts. Midwesterners tend to be frugal; we clip coupons. There exists a waste-not-want-not mentality. We cook our own meals ~ and, yes, Hamburger Helper and canned corn constitutes a meal, especially if there’s bagged salad to accompany it. We take leftovers to our cubicle jobs and classrooms. Many of us own silver thermoses and think nothing of taking one filled with Folger’s with us to work in the morning. Spending $3.50 on a Starbucks brew is a payday treat. We clean our own houses and buy clothing that does not require dry cleaning. Dining out at Red Lobster is considered a Big Deal. It must be someone’s birthday!

At the grocery, a Midwesterner can expect to stand in line without losing patience; there are magazines to read there and friendly people to consult. This is where networking happens, as in I Need a Good Podiatrist, or I'm Looking for New Childcare. Cashiers will remember you by name and that you like your groceries bagged in paper, not plastic. Apples, bananas, and iceberg lettuce are the most frequently purchased produce items. If a Midwesterner routinely buys star fruit and organic endive, he or she more than likely has East or West coast lineage ~ or, is from Old Money and lives in a mansion near the Country Club Plaaaaza.

To be from the Midwest is to live in a modest-sized house that is seasonally decorated. (Expect a lot of rubbery window decals and bulbs strung outside on the eaves.) We take our Four Seasons very seriously here. When fall rolls around high school football games take center stage, as do pumpkin patches. If you are a parent with wee ones, it is imperative that you take your children to at least one pumpkin patch and at least one corn maze. In the fall, local diners start serving pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins. At the cashier you’ll see a festive and meticulously maintained display of pumpkins, assorted gourds, and bowls filled with complementary candy corn and Sweet Tarts. Once Halloween is over it is time to start stockpiling Christmas wrapping paper, Scotch tape, and two-pound bags of shelled pecans.

Thanksgiving tables feature real roasted turkeys (Tofu turkey? Anathema.), homemade stuffing, real mashed potatoes, and a Jell-O/marshmallow concoction called Heavenly Hash. After the meal the men retreat to a family room with a big-screen TV (football’s on, you know!) and the women end up in the kitchen washing and drying 428 dishes and pans. But they’re happy because this is annual female bonding time and there’s a lot to talk about: Aunt Angie’s hemorrhoid surgery, Cousin Mike’s addiction to Internet porn.
Besides, once the dishes are done, the women are going to sit at the dining room table with the ad circulars and compile their Day After Thanksgiving shopping plan. This can take upwards of three hours. If there is snow on the ground, which is likely to happen, the kids go outside and construct elaborate snow forts and igloos whilst their mothers and aunts construct consumer buying strategies. When they come in hungry, it’s time for turkey sandwiches made on store-bought white bread with Miracle Whip. (Here in Missouri, mayonnaise is Miracle Whip.)

In the Midwest, parents use layaway programs to buy their children’s Christmas presents; they take off work to deliver homemade iced sugar cookies to classroom holiday parties; they attend Christmas concerts whereby children still sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night.” People still say "Merry Christmas!" when they part ways. Yeah, yeah, they know they should be PC and say "Happy Holidays!" instead, but there's a stubborn streak that snakes its way through the Midwest like the Missouri River.

There’s a lot of religion in the Midwest. Here in the Bible belt, Baptists attend services on Wednesday evenings in addition to Sabbath services; their children attend Sunday school beginning at 9 a.m. At home there will be a pot roast waiting, along with roasted potatoes and green bean casserole. Catholics move into Catholic neighborhoods and bury St. Anthony statues in their yards if they’re trying to sell their house. Statues of the Virgin Mary are sandwiched between low-maintenance Zone 5 bushes.

I have lived in the Midwest all my life and it is a place that I call home. It has made me the honest, hardworking, sensible, semi-judgmental Catholic woman that I am today. I have grilled thousands of cheese sandwiches in my lifetime; I have played hundreds of SCRABBLE games during blinding snowstorms; I have raised three children in public schools that did a darned good job of educating them; I have taught in public schools for more than a dozen years and I have done a darned good job of educating my students.

The Midwest is not a perfect place, but it is a good, decent place to work and raise a family. It is called the Heartland for a reason, you know!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I hope I get it ... I really want this job ...

Like the dancer desperate for a role in a chorus line ~ A Chorus Line! ~ I am sooooo needing a career change. I am desperate to leave teaching. It has worn me down. Again.

As my husband has always said, I am the abused wife of education. Romantic, this Mr. Education is. The job entices me but then it beats me up. I leave but miss the classroom. Miss the students. I go back. More abuse ensues.

The story of my (professional) life.
This book needs to end.

Good Morning America has launched a nationwide search for an advice guru.
I want to be that person.

I can do that.
That I can do!Italic

"Kathleen Stander, middle school communication arts teacher, has been rescued from her public school classroom to become GMA's advice guru."

My, what a community newspaper story that would be.

Look at all the people.
I really need this job, please God I need this job; I've got to get this job
A 5, 6, 7, 8 ... (queue the funky dance music)

I hope I get it
How many people does he ...
I really need this job; please God I need this job; I've got to get this job.
Strike ... strike .... strike ( Marvin Hamlisch is a genius.)

OK, girls, a 5, 6, 7, 8 (more dance music).

I'll come to New York. I really will. My children are raised. My marriage is strong.

I can do this job. I know I can.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This is just to say ...

(With apologies to William Carlos Williams~)

I have eaten
the doughnuts
that were in
the pink bakery box

and which
you were probably
going to
take to work

Forgive me
they were scrumptious
so frosted
and so delectable

Monday, October 11, 2010

Isn't this the truth?

Although I've been hyper-focused on babies for the last coupla years, I have given up on the Me-Now-Me-Now-Grandmother dream; I will be patient and wait for my children to reproduce. I will not harass them; I will not say Hurry Up, Please, I Am Getting Old. I will quit thinking of decorating a nursery in my empty-nest home; too many people told me that idea was weird. After some introspection, I realized they were right.

"A Little Tooth" by Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

Isn't this the truth?

Lately, I've been hyper-focused on babies.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lovin' me some poetry ...

Lately, because of my craaaaazy life (new teaching gig/teenager issues/sis's problems), I have been unable to finish any novel I begin. Instead, I turn to poetry. I can get in and get out and be entertained and enlightened in the short process.
Currently I am enjoying Good Poems, a collection featured on The Writer's Almanac, (an edifying web site if ever one existed) and edited by one Garrison Keillor, whom I would immediately track down and seduce should his wife leave him. Yeah, yeah, I know he's "old" and "not all that attractive," but day-um I love the way he thinks and writes. I've always maintained that the sexiest part of a man is his brain.
Sorry. My ADD is a-flame.

Thus, I present one of my favorite all-time poems. When I taught high school, "Courage" was in our literature anthology. The students had great fun snickering over the poet's last name, Sexton. Such is adolescence.

"Courage," by Anne Sexton

It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.