The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It Seems Like It Was a Lifetime Ago...

        Three years ago, I had a student in my third grade class who had what I (a layperson) would call an "episode."  She lost all control.  She went berserk.  And she broke a small part of me.

        It was within the first two months of school.  We didn't know each other terribly well; she was reluctant to trust the teachers at our school, but I thought it would happen at some point, given some time.

       All of a sudden, as we walked down the hall to P.E., she began lashing out at the other kids, swinging her fists at kids and kicking them.  She had no specific target; it seemed she just wanted to do some damage.

        Luckily, we were right at my friend's classroom and also fortunately, another teacher was walking by at that exact time.  My friend had the same plan period  I did, so her students had already been dropped off at the music class.  Since her room was empty, I took this out-of-control student into the empty classroom, and the other teacher walked my class down to gym.

          While we were in there, she screamed, she watched out of the corner of her eye as she pinched my arms and scratched them, trying to gauge my reaction.  She threw chairs across the room and knocked over desks. I was with her for the "ride" and she was my bucking bronco;  I had her in a bear hug from behind, trying to keep her from hurting herself and from destroying whatever was in her path.

         At one point, early on, I had my friend lock the classroom door because I knew if she got "loose" into the hall, and possibly other classrooms filled with students, other kids would be injured.  She was so hurt inside, she was bent on hurting others. 

photo by Loupiote

        The whole time, she was shrieking and I was crying. I don't even remember now exactly what I said to her, but I know I tried to convey to her that I cared about her, that she didn't really want to hurt me, that if she calmed down, we could talk about it...

         The custodian came in at one point and tried to talk to her.  (We have an exceptional custodian, who has a real rapport with the students.)  My friend was there. The counselor was there.  The principal-in-charge came (our principal was at a workshop), and when it was all over, was an incredibly calming influence.  The police were called, and tried to convince me to press charges.  Since I was not physically hurt in a permanent way, I refused.

         She had been in a foster home, and after that day was hospitalized and then went to a mental health facility/group home. I tried to get information so I could visit her, but since I was not a family member and was no longer her teacher, I was not given the needed details.

         That day she had grabbed a handful of my skirt during the ordeal, and tore a piece off.  (Again, while she watched me out of the corner of her eye. I will never forget that sliver of white, her brown eye glinting. She was like a wild horse, panicked about the prospect of being corralled.)  The skirt was gauzy, one of those "broom" skirts, so the fabric was thin.  Thankfully, the part missing was at the hem edge, so even though the bottom looked a little ragged, I could continue to teach the rest of the day.

         Colleagues who saw me that afternoon and the next day, commented on what an "interesting" day I had had.  Most of the building had heard her (she was that loud), and gossip traveled up and down the halls. They wanted to know how I was; I was not the one they should have been concerned with...  

         Just a few months ago, my friend said, "You know, I still have that piece from your skirt." A flood of emotions, stemming from that memory, came rushing in.  My friend saves all sorts of things, gluing them in her writing journal to channel her muse.

        I wonder what she thinks about when she looks at that scrap of fabric...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Talkin' 'Bout a Writer Who's Talkin' 'Bout Writing

        I am always fascinated when writers open up their heads and let us in.  Recently Mary Karr spoke to a group of drooling groupies. (I had a puddle at my feet just like everyone else.) Her book Lit is one of my recent favorites.

         It was incredibly interesting to hear her discuss her books and the writing process that works for her.  The experience was so exhilirating, I think I drove over the speed limit, driving down Lindbergh (which is like a highway) as if it was a highway; if a police officer had stopped me, I would have  giddily shrieked, "I just spent the evening with Mary Karr!  What an evening!" as I accepted the ticket.

photo of  Mary Karr by

      Janet Fitch's blog has a marvelous post about Jonathan Franzen.  Check it out.  I think you will find it illuminating... 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Colleagues Who Double as Friends...Or Is It Friends Who Just Happen to Be Colleagues?

          If you've never experienced it, teaching is a lonely profession...

          Parents who spend all day (every day) with their children...think about how they yearn for an adult to talk to.  They're pulled in a million directions at one time, there's rarely "time off" in their schedule because they can't put their kids on hold while they drink some coffee or prop their feet up and read a bit of the newspaper.  It's like a game of tag...and they're always it.

           Imagine they don't have one or two or even six or seven kids.  Instead, they have 24.  And they're trapped in a room all day with them.  (Which means they are grossly outnumbered.)

        When the last bell has rung and the last car rider and walker have trudged down the hall and out of the building, teachers need to debrief.  They need to vent, and laugh at what they can and rail against the things they can't change.

photo by Kevin Hutchinson
(Sometimes I feel like I'm headed towards a cliff...)

          When I desperately need to go home---my day officially ended two or three hours ago and the couch is calling me---I often first go upstairs to room 22.  My friend/colleague/cheap free therapist is hard at work (she burns even more midnight oil than I do), and I can de-stress before heading down the highway.  When I pull myself up that flight of stairs, usually that adds another hour to my day, but it's well worth it.

          What do you value most in your friend/colleague?  What do they bring to the table that sustains you the most?

His Muscle's Mightier Than Mine

          In this past Sunday's Parade magazine, there was a brief piece on Stephen Hawking. 

          To write a book, to speak to people, to communicate, he twitches one muscle in his right cheek; "the motion sends an infrared beam to a computer that translates his signals into words."

          We might complain about how hard it is to write, but do our struggles even come close to Hawking's?   He was told he would die in his twenties but here he is, at 68, still dazzling us. 

           Hawking is said to be the most brilliant physicist around...

          Who is the most brilliant person in the world (from your perspective) and why?  It might be a writer, a family member...What is it about this person that makes them shine so brightly?

photographic artwork by UngerFamily

Monday, September 13, 2010

Catfish---The Movie

         At some point when I was on the internet (probably trying to avoid having to grade papers) I happened upon a trailer for  the movie Catfish.

         The last half of it is reportedly scary and tense; it's being touted as the "best Hitchcock movie Alfred Hitchcock has never made."  That remark alone will probably lure me into the theater to see it.  (There's apparently a real "spoiler" in it, a la The Sixth Sense.)

         I loved Hitchcock.  He was the master of "show don't tell."  He gave the viewer credit for a modicum of intelligence.  You never saw anyone actually  get stabbed.  You saw the shadow of the maniac.  You saw the blood running down the drain in the shower.  But you never saw the knife connect with the flesh.  Hitchcock didn't knock moviegoer's on the head by telling them what transpired.  He showed them instead...

photo by DrJoanne

          Since I go to movies rarely, I'd love to hear from anyone who has seen the movie (I think it comes out this weekend?).  What is your opinion of the film?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Check Out the Contest

         Writers write.  When writers "stretch" their muscles, they dabble in genres and styles that they are unfamiliar with, or contend with constraints that help them hone their skills.

          Speaking of constraints, I could not restrain myself.  I had to enter Becky's writing contest last night.  She provides the photographic inspiration, you have to provide a 100-word story (or less than 100 words). It ends on the 18th, so if you have not written something, get busy.

         In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I am going to offer a contest.  I have narrowed it down to several photos.  I have not decided if it will be---like Becky's---a story that limits the word count, or whether it will be something different altogether.

photo by Kuya D
        If we don't develop some writerly habits, if we only "talk the talk" and don't walk the path of a writer, we'll never improve.  We'll never get published.  We'll be stuck in a rut forever.

         Look for the contest to begin after Becky's ends.  After all, I'm stealing her idea.  I don't want to steal her thunder as well...