I Love Kelle Hampton!

April 1, 2014

From her pigeon-toed, open-mouthed selfies to her Poppa, I cannot get enough of Kelle Hampton.

Christmas has passed, but her book Bloom, Finding Beauty in the Unexpected would make a terrific Easter gift. Especially if you gave up amazing writing for Lent. This book would be a perfect way to break that fast.

Speaking of her amazing writing, no one can pepper a sentence with “Dude” or replace the g in an -ing word with an apostrophe like Kelle Hampton can. It makes me feel like she’s sittin’ right here talkin’ to me.

Ha! As if I could be so lucky!

Very few people in this world are inspirational like Kelle Hampton. Her words and ideas can change the world. The whole fucking world. Oops, her dad hates it when she swears. Isn’t that adorbs?

When she was pregnant, she thought she was having a second perfect baby girl. The thing is, God chooses the most specialest people in the world and gives them babies with designer genes (GET IT?! It’s a pun! God, she’s funny too! All of that and FUNNY). You really ought to read her book to get the full amazing summary, but just let me tell you that when Kelle’s daughter Nella was born with Down syndrome, she loved her anyway.

I know, right?!

I mean, not right away. She’s not Jesus.

But once she cobbled together a blog about it and realized she could rock out Down syndrome like no one ever had before, she decided to embrace it like it was ugly tile. The popularity of her one viral post says it all. People know good writing. Look at the popularity of “Heaven is for Real.”

If you’ve never heard of Kelle Hampton, sister, you must not hesitate another moment. Slide your smooth slippery fingers over your Samsung keyboard and spell out The Small Things. It’s a place wherefore babies are slung on hips. Laundry is ignored in favor of popsicle pictures of exotic almond-eyes and bent pinkie sunsets. Tiny turtles tempt tots’ toes. Kelle always accentuates alliteration.

As a working woman with two young children, nothing thrills me more than a stay-at-home Mommy Blogger who declares spring break a “lazy week.” She positively promotes play instead of work, which I totally could never do, nor could anyone I know, but just knowing that she is rocking it out at home, taking pictures of her kids and posting them on the internet instead of working, makes me feel like absolutely anything is possible, even over-loaded run-on sentences.

Like me, Kelle Hampton idolizes Emerson, who went to the beach because he wanted to live deliberately. To suck the marrow out of life while buying as many craft supplies, home decor items, cute outfits, shoes, barrettes, Washi tape rolls, and camera doodads as possible. Her ability to zero in on exactly what Whitman meant by “Spartan-like” when he wrote Charlotte’s Web will make you rethink your own version of putting to rout all that is not life. Or something.

I’m sorry for going on and on. Something about this beautiful first day of April inspires me. It’s like my love of all things Kelle has turned me into a marrow sucking machine.

I never promote other bloggers, but to quote Kelle’s website motto, “4 Pay it Ward.”

 

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Posted in Pure side-splitting comedy | Tagged , | 40 Comments

Sent Mail

I hate email.

I wonder if teachers despised telephones when they first became ubiquitous. I once sent email sporadically to save paper for inter-office memoranda. Though the expression “Didn’t you get the memo?” is alive and well, the memo itself is dead and buried. Email wasn’t even a verb back then.

I admit, there were a few times in college (mostly grad school) where I sent a cleverly worded email instead of an assignment. Ten years later, what I know for sure is that I never fooled anyone.

Teachers know we’re lying. And I say “we” because I’m guilty. Email is second only to the text message for the nonconfrontational procrastinator’s exit strategy. I don’t even check my email the night before a major assignment is due. You would be stunned how many people’s grandmas pass away. If you’re a grandma, you might want to acquire a copy of your teenage grandchildren’s school syllabi and find out when the midterm is.

Because, lady, your days are numbered.

I wish I could avoid my email after progress reports go out. I will have at least 15-20 emails from parents who want meetings with me about why their children are in danger of failing. It used to be that I regularly communicated with the parents of my students. It was called a progress report. Today, the progress report is the prelude to the email. The same way that the “due date” for an assignment has become the day when students check in to see when the real due date is.

Because surely, when I wrote “due date,” what I meant was “turn it in whenever you feel like it.”

Communication is so easy these days; it takes a minute or two to fire off an email to your child’s teacher. What doesn’t register for parents is how many other parents are doing the same thing. I have nearly 200 students. Luckily, most of them are passing, or I would never be able to leave my desk.

I refuse to check email from home. There will probably come a time when I won’t be able to get away with that, but I already use my family time to grade papers and plan lessons. How much are we supposed to allow our work lives to encroach on our home lives?

“Mommy, can you play with me or are you working?” my oldest asked me last night. All I ever hear from mothers of older children is “Treasure this time! It goes by so fast!” I know. When I blinked, my spring break was over and my in-box was full.

Oprah once said that teachers should be available via cell phone until late in the evening to help students. Rhetorically, it’s a great strategy. If I say, “But I don’t want to be available to my students during my family time,” then I sound like I don’t care about my students. While she and the other millionaires are fixing education though, I wish they’d consider teachers people. Or replace us with robots and get it over with.

We see ourselves as the most successful students, and therefore experts at what students should do. After all, the student became the master! Others see us as failures. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

Those who can’t teach, blog.

 

Posted in Teaching, Work Related | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Dancing with the Stereotypes

Danica McKellar described her Maxim pictures as “little girl sexy.” It was March 19th on Access Hollywood while promoting her upcoming appearance on Dancing with the Stars.

My blood was already boiling because host Billy Bush called Emilia Clarke on Game of Thrones “Queen Khaleesi.” Khaleesi is not her name, it’s her title. Why do they let him talk?

But Danica is smart, as everyone inevitably points out. She knows how to do math. Barbie once told me “math is hard.” Rest assured, though, Danica is not so smart that men don’t want to fuck her.

Some photos popped up onscreen: McKellar posing on an unmade bed in underwear and knee-high stiletto boots, her pinkie nervously between her teeth as if to say, “I’m just a virgin. You’re not going to hurt a wittle sex kitty wike me, are ya big boy?”

What fun captioning those pictures.

“McKellar helps us solve for (se)X!”

“McKellar’s sexiness has no LIMIT!” (too much Calculus?)

Our society simultaneously condemns pedophilia and sexualizes children. Treats girls on the verge of legal adulthood or puberty as tantalizing treats (remember the countdown to the Olson twins’ 18th birthday? Brittney Spears in a Catholic school uniform? Salma Hayek as a stripper in Dogma wearing ponytails and sucking her thumb?). The responsibility is then placed squarely on the girl: Do not encourage bad behavior, because “boys will be boys” and “modest is hottest.” Even the prohibition of them is exploitative. Look, but don’t touch. Take a really, really good look. Here, we’ll give you some pictures.

You want to know what nauseates me? Someone is going to find my blog now from Googling “sexy little girl.” Do you feel sick? Me too. What are we doing about it?

I am glad that smarter women than I devote themselves full-time to this problem. I have a small suggestion:

Don’t describe little girls as sexy.

If you hear someone else do it, correct them, like so: “I’m sure you didn’t mean to say ‘little girl sexy.’ I think you meant ‘inexperienced, young, but enthusiastically-willing woman’ sexy.”

Lust for women is normal and healthy. The sickness is lust directed toward girls. Fetishizing them.

I’m not going full Jezebel.com on you, I promise. Words are my game. Denotations and connotations. I want to change the language. As George Carlin so hilariously said, if poor people no longer live in slums, but “the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing in the inner cities,” then fertile young women who like to wear boots to bed can eagerly consent to sex without being tricked or misled. Or portrayed as girls.

Men are allowed to desire young, sexually mature, consenting women, but there must be no ambiguity about her age in the images or in the language.

“Girls” are children. Women want sex, but the word “woman” has connotations beyond sexual objectification. Women can have power. Girls cannot. They can only have a version of it called “Grrrl Power” which is absolutely adorable.

It’s too late for Danica McKellar not to pose for Maxim Magazine as an underage girl being trafficked for prostitution. She can’t unsay her undoubtedly careless words describing the images. “Math is hawt” sells her books. Marketing’s point of view is the male gaze, whether it’s sexually objectifying the teacher or the school girl. To me, though, the message is “It’s okay to be good at math as long as you’re sexy, look good in your underwear, and objectify yourself.”

I watched women in my generation buy into the wholesale lie that feminism is not owning your sexuality, but selling it. In The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey’s character says the best trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. Well, the second best was convincing poor white people that helping rich white people get richer is going to benefit poor white people. And a close third is convincing tweens, teens, and twentysomethings that posting naked pictures of yourself on the internet is Female Empowerment.

It isn’t.

Here’s your English lesson from Mrs. Odie: the “Either-Or” Fallacy. It goes like this. My sexualized image is going to end up on the internet anyway, so I would rather put it there myself and own it. Which begs the question, “Is your sexualized image going to end up on the internet anyway?”

Sex sells, but it isn’t the only thing that sells. Tina Fey isn’t naked on the cover of Bossypants. It’s like women don’t even think to question the belief that a woman’s worth comes down to her fuckability.

Since celebrities and models can refuse to wear fur, they can refuse to pose as sexualized children. And going naked isn’t the only alternative.

It’s a start. From there, maybe we can figure out how to make women realize that being good at math will make us far more powerful than posing in underwear ever will. I want my daughters to value themselves and be valued for their humanity, not their youth. Their humanity is not temporary. Or for sale.

And it’s Queen Daenarys Targaryan OR Khaleesi, Billy Bush. Not both. Because she is not only the rightful heir of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros but also the Dothraki queen. A very powerful woman, indeed.

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And indeed there will be time.

It’s spring break, bitches.

Yesterday I saw a wonderful play written by a woman who worked with my father in television when I was a kid. I’ll call her Evelyn. I haven’t seen Evelyn in almost 30 years.

Embarrassed and through ugly tears, I told her what an inspiration she has always been to me as a writer. Her play was about a high school English teacher. I’m self-centered enough to feel like this is all a big personal kick in the ass from The Universe to yours truly.

Evelyn showed little girl and teenage me that a woman can be a writer. I saw men writing – my father, my stepfather, and the authors of the books I read. My grandma used to tell me with a sigh how she’d longed to be a writer. She was proud of her son through whom she could live her dream, but are our children’s successes ours?

I watched Evelyn during her show, up in the booth, reading glasses on, clearly taking notes. A writer writes. Always. People make excuses and live with regret.

But what about fear? Do I dare? I’ve had such a shit school year. I’ve felt like John Proctor, glibly complaining that “the crazy little children are jangling the keys to the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!” The teacher in Evelyn’s play had just quit her job. It made her fearless. I have no such luxury.

My lives as teacher and writer have become mutually exclusive. I feel like my thoughts and words are owned by my students and their parents now. My self-doubt is like a virus I can’t kick. Is the world being run by people with no sense of humor? Am I just not funny? More and more, I feel I have to push down who I am to do my job. I used to think that what made me unique as a teacher was myself. Sure, I know grammar (maybe I need to review what I know about contractions, eh, GOMI?). I can teach lessons. I can (eventually) grade papers. The difference between my class and someone else’s though is me. Wry, sardonic, sometimes manic, inflexible, sentimental, precise, didactic, often unintentionally pedantic, witty, disorganized, spontaneous, intelligent, forgetful me.

It is impossible to say what I mean!

And to draw out the T.S. Eliot reference:

“I am not Prince Hamlet,/nor was meant to be;/Am an attendant lord, one that will do/To swell a progress, start a scene or two,/Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,/Deferential, glad to be of use,/Politic, cautious, and meticulous;/Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;/At times indeed, almost ridiculous –/ Almost, at times, the Fool”

Forgive my self-indulgence. If my students were to find my blog, the best way to make sure they never read it is to put some actual literature in it, so there you go. I don’t want to be vague, but it’s necessary. It turns out that I am not politic, nor cautious, and certainly not meticulous. All students want is a grade. They don’t want an education, they want a grade. And frankly, that’s all their parents want too. They most decidedly do not want “me.”

One mother wailed, “I can’t believe you gave her such a low score!” (not “I can’t believe she wrote such a bad paper.”)

“She got a B,” I stared at her levelly. “A ‘B’ is a good grade.”

“Ha! Not anymore! It’s so competitive! She’ll never get into college with a B!”

Getting a B was a slap in her face (and it was generous, I assure you – try a little analysis after your quoted passages; it really helps the reader see how your evidence supports your thesis. Also, I recommend topic sentences and paragraph cohesion). She felt free to tell me my assignments are “busywork” and her daughter isn’t “learning anything” from me. If my mother talked to my teacher like that in front of me, I would have been over the moon. “You tell that bitch, Mom!” Ha! Then I’d ditch that a-hole’s class every time I felt like it and tell Mom, “Mrs. Odie was just giving us some bullshit busywork again.” Mom would, of course, excuse my absences.

I’ve spent so much time writing this blog entry. I keep editing and cutting. I can’t say what I want to say. I feel gagged. Shackled. Censored. I am tired. I’d say I became a teacher because I wanted to change the lives of young people, but that would be a lie. I became a teacher because in 1998, I was a college grad with an English degree and I needed a fucking job. In 1998 you needed a college degree and a pulse and you could be a teacher. So I became one.

Somewhere along the line I realized that I DO want to share my passion for critical reading and rhetorical writing with others. I learned to enjoy teenagers, for all their hyperbole (which is the absolute worst thing ever). My colleagues are my best friends. Through the years, I’ve had administrators I respected and others I didn’t. They come and go.

Everything changes. I’m finding my place in this Orwell-Huxley world as both a writer and a teacher. It has to be two different people. Not a writer who teaches or a teacher who writes. A false self and a real one. Or perhaps a splitting. In any event, I have found that in these 6 months I have been too much of the one to be the other.

And that’s got to change.

Evelyn’s influence will not be wasted on me. She deserves better.

Yet, even as I don’t want to be one of those veteran teachers who bitches about “kids today.” I don’t want to be so afraid of having my writing discovered and used against me that I’m too paralyzed to publish a word.

I grow old… I grow old.

I shall drink my Guinness cold.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Mrs. O’Die.

Posted in Essays/Commentary, Teaching, Work Related | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

Saturday Potpourri

Whenever I haven’t posted in a while, which is every other post lately, I put tremendous pressure on myself to write. I have about twelve drafts at this point from “Failure of a Working Mother” to “Fuck Kelle Hampton.” But I just have to post something, anything, because my anxiety goes through the roof every time I see “WordPress” on my toolbar.

On Valentine’s Day, my domain name expired, so I bought “mrsodie.com.” No more “2.” I may not be the first Mrs. Odie, but I am certainly the only.

I’m writing with a squirming toddler on my lap. She complains, “Mommy, I can’t see,” meaning the TV. So I just sat her next to me on the throne (my chair and a half from Z Gallery circa 1997). “I’m not comfortable!” she whines. I spent several minutes adjusting pillows and the ottoman and a blanket and arguing with her about how I need both arms to type. This is my writing career. Sabotage.

Work has been so stressful. I can’t be the mother I want to be, the teacher I want to be, or the writer I want to be. I feel like I’m just running in place. I’ve channeled my writing compulsion into emails and a syllabus with sometimes disastrous results. I need to retain a lawyer to follow me around telling me “Don’t answer that,” and “Say nothing.” It’s always been a problem of mine, this prolixity. I’m even doing it this very moment now. Strunk and White would slap my face. First Strunk, then White, then Strunk again. Rule of three.

My husband has been snoring on the couch since 8:00, so I guess I’m watching the remaining seven episodes of House of Cards, Season 2 by myself, If I can ever get these two kids, who napped until 4:30, to go the fuck to sleep. This is always the point where I say to myself, “Naw, save it as a draft. Publish later.” Notgonnadoit (Dana Carvey as President H.W. Bush).

I’m trying to hold it together, and not just live my life as “What happens between episodes of The Walking Dead.” Procrastination. We’re all infected.

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My Fantasy Speech at the Imaginary Parent Conference I have in my head

Parent conferences are a part of being a teacher. As a teacher, I am stern and strict. I have anxiety, and specific procedures for student movement in the classroom are essential for maintaining my sanity. If I have a panic attack in class, I am not an effective teacher. Great fodder for a surreptitious YouTube video, maybe, but not effective.

Once discipline is established, I feel comfortable and have a great time with my students. As soon as they become accustomed to my sense of humor, we have a lot of laughs. Sometimes, parents object to what they see as my authoritarian practices or misinterpret my tone, and they ask for meetings.

I like to imagine myself as confident and fearless as Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men.

Here is a transcript of my fantasy meeting with imaginary parents.

Sir, we live in a world with ignorance and that ignorance needs to be guarded against by teachers with rules. Who’s going to do it? You? You, [angry parent's openly embarrassed spouse]?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for last year’s English teacher and you curse my long list of classroom supplies. You have that luxury. You don’t know what I know. That the first time I call in a substitute, the students are going to take the caps off every glue stick on that cart. Those ballpoint pens? Spitball canons. My requirements, while grotesque (something we’ll study in our American Gothic unit) and incomprehensible to you, save minds.

You can’t handle the truth about public education because deep down in places you don’t talk about on the sidelines of soccer practice, you want me in that classroom. You need me in that classroom.

I use words like rigor, obedience, consequences. I use these words as the backbone of a classroom management program built to maximize class learning, minimize disruptions, and keep myself sane. You use them as accusation.

You may think I sound defensive, but I’m just astonished that I have to take the time to explain myself to a person who sees his children thrive in the environment I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said, “Thank you,” and gave me a Starbucks card.

I run my classroom the way I run my classroom. You want to come at me, roll the dice and take your chances. I eat lunch 100 feet away from 1800 adolescents trained to ignore me. So don’t think you can come in here, flash a sour face, and make me nervous.

Now, say “my taxes pay your salary,” and I will order a Code Red.

Posted in Pure side-splitting comedy, Teaching | 12 Comments

My End of Vacation Panic Attack

In my professional life, I’ve been chastised by colleagues and higher-ups for taking things too personally. For example, I get to the end of a set of essays and complain to a fellow teacher, “I’m insulted that they think I’m this stupid. Did they think I wouldn’t read their essays, or did they think I wouldn’t notice that every single one of them used the same 3 examples from the two novels they were comparing?” And only two of the three were examples that made any sense.

Oh, look, it’s THAT quote again! What are the odds that 97 students will pick that one passage to quote in their papers in order to support the thesis they each forgot to include? What really chaps my hide is that these students signed a piece of paper wherein they promised they would NOT collaborate on any assignment unless I specified it as a group project. Yet it is so obvious that they are collaborating, even a student in my class would notice it.

Why won’t they try? Why is it so unthinkable for a student to sit down alone with his computer, and write an essay to the best of his ability? Isn’t there a nobility in it? Whether she gets a D a C or a B, isn’t there a pride of accomplishment? I did it! I could have done better, but now with my teacher’s detailed comments on my essay, I know where I can improve. (Oh, God, call the Self Esteem Police! Where’s my son’s A just for trying?! Oh, wait, he didn’t try. He live- chatted with classmates who all shared the same quotes and said, “Use these in your essay. Same some stuff about how John Proctor never quit trying so he got his dream.”)

And what did they think would happen when I got to paper 40 or so, and I thought, “Why does this quote appear in every essay I have read? It isn’t even the most obvious one to choose, and it certainly doesn’t answer the prompt.” I can only imagine it’s one of these possibilities: 1) they didn’t wonder, 2) they didn’t care, 3) they think I’m an idiot.

I’m exhausted by this job. I feel like no one values thinking deeply. They want me to tell them which box to check and then they want the immediate gratification of seeing their grades posted online. And if the grade they get’s not the grade they want, they demand an explanation of why, and they want that grade changed to the one they DO want.

As I sit here on my Saturday, marking essays and feeling like I’m grading the same essay over and over, I am defeated. Didn’t I teach this? I have the lesson plans. I know I talked about concrete detail, commentary, topic sentences, say/mean/matter. I’m all excited to go back to work after the vacation (which doesn’t count as a vacation when it includes entertaining a 2, 4, and 42 year-old 14 hours a day in addition to weaning and spending hours on the phone begging MediCal to cover your mother’s nursing home care — they say no, but only eventually). My worry is that my enthusiasm will be dashed on day one as I realize that I can’t just by force of will make them want to learn. I’m doing the work on my end though. I’m trying a bunch of new stuff and keeping my fingers crossed.

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Pressure, Pushing Down on Me

The pressure to write something pithy and brilliant after such a long absence is keeping me paralyzed. Instead, I’ll publish something short and maybe not my best work, but it will be a start. I told myself from the beginning that the only way I’m ever going to be successful as a writer is to write. 

My semester ended a week ago, and it was disappointing. I feel like I failed in nearly every way I could fail. I take that back. I didn’t lose my keys. I’m relieved that our district changed the calendar so our first semester finishes before winter recess. I have 17 days total to put between my first and second semesters as a buffer. We all need a fresh start.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get my mother situated in a skilled nursing facility. Through some manipulation, some misunderstanding, and some tarrying, my mom hasn’t been getting the care she’s supposed to be getting and my sister and I are trying to amend the mistakes we and others made. It’s high drama, suitable to a Holly Hunter or a Laura Linney independent film. Painfully tragic and almost impossible to enjoy, yet ultimately life affirming. I’m still waiting on the life affirming. 

May the Medi-Cal Gods be with us tomorrow, Amen.

Posted in I forgot to call this something | 2 Comments

The Glib Martyr

I was looking forward to my vacation too dearly. Too sweetly. My mom fell and broke her ankle and needed surgery.

Now, my mom and I, we’re like Shirley McClaine and Meryl Streep in “Postcards from the Edge” only without money, showtunes or humor. I only wish my mom had a Silent Stan by her side and our biggest issue was her fading stardom. She has another hero, my sister Beezy, but poor B has her own limitations.

I’d take my mom into my house, but, well, see above “Postcards from the Edge” reference. The real issue is that my house is tiny and hard to access, and Mom was a cantankerous cripple even before the accident, but I imagine we’ll have to really step up and do our fair share too. Waiting until your late thirties/early forties to have children means having to change diapers on your kids AND your mom.

 

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One week from today, I’ll be on vacation

And I’ll tell you everything. I’ll tell you about how I’ve struggled to be a teacher, a mom, a wife, a writer, and a cast-iron bitch. Well, that last one comes pretty naturally. Ask anyone. 

Hang in there. I haven’t given up. 

Posted in I forgot to call this something | 2 Comments