J is for Jump in with Both Feet

Yesterday was a rainy, cold, stormy day. When the rain stopped, Hoot wanted to do the obvious thing.

This morning, Mocha and I walked Wise to school and on the way back, a person stopped us.

“There’s a chihuahua in a cage on the Greenline! Can you please go get him? I have to go to work. I just can’t.”

Obviously, I can.

But we can’t keep him. We have a full house. Almost two years ago, I found a dog running around the neighborhood and it took us almost two weeks to find him a home. I spent something like 20 hours on the phone calling all over the country. But that dog was a Jack Russell pit mix and a lot less appealing.

Thank goodness I found a rescue willing to take this little guy after only a couple of hours of searching. Hopefully the $200 we’re spending to get him ready to be fostered won’t cause our checking account to bounce during the coming lean summer months.

So, excuse the short post. I was suddenly much busier than I expected.

And if you ever decide you don’t want your dog, don’t be a jackass. Don’t dump him on a walking path. Society has provided you with options, not great ones I know, but even Good Samaritans don’t have unlimited credit.

I is for Illusions, Unshattered

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On our morning walk to school and daycare, Hoot pointed to one of the many tall trees on our street.

“Oh, there’s the tree I rided up on my balance bike last night! I went all the way up and then fell out and hit my head with my helmet on.”

He said it so cheerfully.

Wise said, “Hoot, you can’t ride a bike up a tree.”

“I did it, last night. And then I fell out and hit my head. Remember, Mama? You came and got me.”

“Was this a dream you had last night?” I asked.

“Yes,” Hoot said. “It was my dream. Remember?”

“Mama can’t remember a dream you had.” Wise rolled his eyes.

“But she was there!”

“But …. ” Wise starts to explain how dreams work.

“Were you hurt, Hoot?” I interrupted.

“No, because I had my helmet on and you came and got me.”

“Did you have fun going up the tree?” I asked.

“I will do it again after I go to sleep tonight.”

“That sounds nice,” I said. “I hope I’ll join you again.”

H is for Hiatus

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I worked for a crazy new start-up right out of college. Clients could call us up on the phone and ask us any question. This was the late 1990s; not many people had cell phones or fast internet access at home. Competing web search engines made browsing the internet anything but streamlined. I helped create a template for common search algorithms and before long, supervised a team of “virtual concierges.” My phone rang and my email pinged constantly. It felt like I was being harassed from all directions all day long.

At some point during my time in the job, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the noise and demands. Even as I became known around the company as a master organizer, one morning I misplaced my backpack, and with it my planner, address book, T-Pass, ids, and credit cards.

“Why can’t I have one stupid little card I could stick in a computer, or carry around with me like a PalmPilot?” I said to a friend. “It’d be even better if it was a phone, too.”

Of course I could lose that, too, but I thought that if all the data was stored in a central server, you could have a little printer at home or in your office to print a replacement. How different my life would be if I hadn’t preferred the more theoretical and sci-fi side of computer science to the applicable and marketable side? But I’ve never really made the choices to be rich.

After quitting that job, I spent months on a kibbutz in Israel. The evening after I arrived, I went with a new friend to the parsley fields. Stretched out, looking at the open sky, Mount Tabor in the background, the view didn’t speak to me nearly as much as did the silence. My heart was racing — I was on edge; my senses cued up for some ringing noise to send me into action. It took weeks for that to stop.

Farm in Israel

I’ve realized of late that I feel that way almost all the time now. Even sitting here typing at this very moment, I’m waiting for my phone to buzz with a text message. I click over to Facebook, looking for the red number on the globe notification. I also have GroupMe for work, several Slack pages for political stuff, three Google drives, and of course,  four email addresses to check at any time. All this communication and central data holding hasn’t been the stress reducer I expected and I don’t think it helps me do better work.

When my grad school friends began joining Friendster I wondered why I’d ever want to do such a thing. I figured I was already in touch with everyone I cared about. I still saw and talked to my closest friends from high school whenever I went to Illinois. I talked with my two best college friends at least monthly, and my best friend from childhood every couple of weeks if not more.

I don’t do that anymore, increasingly, since joining Facebook in 2007. I’ve valued finding out about the lives of other old friends, but I ultimately feel less connected than ever. I’ve moved too often — I have too many old friends in a sense.

I’m considering making my Facebook hiatus permanent, but I’ve started with a 99-day experiment. During these 99 days, instead of posting on Facebook, I’ll make one phone call or send one email to everyone I’ve missed.

G is for Gamboling

Walking to school with Wise is one of the best parts of my life. Although we still have stressful departures, getting shoes on and bags packed, we usually forget all that by the time we’re to the creek three houses down.

Today Wise, the inveterate talker, began with a discourse on the changing ten dollar bill. I told him I’d give him ten dollars if he pulled up all the weeds poking out over the sidewalk and through the cracks on our block. That’s no small job, but he’s excited. He bounced along, gamboling down the side walk, stream of consciousness in full force.

“Will you give me a single ten dollar bill, with Alexander Hamilton on it?”

“Do you think it’ll be a series 2016 bill? A brand new one?”

“So much of the money I get comes from 2004. Why’s there so much 2004 money around?”

“I’d like of the new $10 bills, with the woman on it. But that might take too long and I want the antique castle set from the flea market pretty soon.”

“Maybe I’ll earn another $10 bill and I can save that one.”

“I wonder if the knights in the castle set are wearing chain mail. I know it’d just be plastic but I hope they have chain mail.”

“Did you know that sometimes scuba divers wear a kind of chain mail to protect themselves from sharks?”

“I saw a video of a scuba diver wearing chain mail getting attacked by a baby shark.”

[I don’t know how and when he saw that, but I googled “shark chain mail” and found this, which sounds like exactly what Wise described.]

“Did you know sharks aren’t that dangerous? More people get killed by cars. Lightning kills more people than sharks. Dogs kill more people than sharks.”

And so on. We found a crisscrossing of slug tracks across the sidewalk.

“Looks like they had a slug party here last night!”

And so on until we arrived at school. I could never have kept up with that conversation while driving a car.


F is for fierce fuzzy face

Mocha is an annoying, neurotic, and disgusting dog. Today he’s jumped on the counter to attempt a school lunch theft and eaten a stray cat’s feces out of our grass. He won’t understand the relationship of his behavior to his impending stomachache.

Then about two hours ago, while I was trying to make dinner, he began barking like maniac and the kids started yelling. Frustrated because this was my fifth distraction, I rushed to the living room.

“What is the matter now!”

Mocha was circling the kids, herding. When he saw me, he rushed to the corner of a room and pointed.

“Mocha knocked a wasp out of the sky!” Wise shouted. “I think he hurt the wasp!”

I went to the corner, and sure enough, there was a wasp missing half a wing flying in a haphazard circle about an inch from the ground. Mocha smacked it again with his paw, and barked at it.

The wasp is gone now and Mocha’s a proud dog.

E is for Emend

Emend is a good word, with a meaning ever so slightly different from the “A” version.

Twice on Friday my boys forced me to emend my course.

Wise discovered this broken angel statue on the walk to school. He launched into an elaborate consideration of how it came to rest in a muddy puddle on the grass next to the sidewalk. It must’ve been from the early Spanish settlers in the region. They brought it with them to put in a church. But instead they traded it with a Chickasaw man whose family held onto it for two hundred years until they were forced to take the Trail of Tears. Someone dropped it, and it was stuck in the ground near Lick Creek until the recent rain finally dug it up and planted it there.

That’s absolutely not the story. My historian-self fought with my writer-self over making Wise consider all the clues for where it really came from. I let his story stand. We can be archaeologists another time.

Later that day, Hoot and I were returning home from dropping Wise off at play rehearsal. We saw a man holding a sign that said “Homeless” and “Hungry” by the side of the road. Hoot wanted to give him money or food. I explained we didn’t have any with us.

He thought for a minute and then said, “We can go get our dinner! We can bring it back!”

I didn’t want to, because it would be out of our way. “No, we’ll just remember to bring some money and some snacks next time.”

Hoot, “Next time? Why not now? What we going to do now?”

I realized I didn’t have a good answer for that other than I just didn’t feel like it.

So home and back we went.

Hoot and the package for the homeless
(Don’t worry — I fixed his car seat straps before we actually drove off.)


D is for Divergent

I had drafted a different post for yesterday in my mind, with titles like “C is for Callous” and “C is for Cruel.” As I’ve seen my friends advance from the job market to assistant professorships to now tenure, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the origins of my decision to quit. It came rather fast.

I’m now a middle-school librarian, and in my quest to understand my students’ tastes, I’m reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent, about a world where people are divided into factions based on a central personality trait: Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, and Amity. (I liked it but haven’t rushed on to reading the second book, Insurgent.) Reading it has inspired me to be briefly essentialist about my personality. The process of trying to become an academic made me feel invisible, or worse, erased. I’m not Abnegation.

In 2008, my husband and I began a miserable trek through the job market. I hated that process with a passion. Jessica Langer did a wonderful job explaining what academia can do to a person in the article I link to here.

Without rehashing her entire narrative and argument, this is the portion that stuck out to me:

One of the most significant things I’ve noticed in my post-academic work with clients transitioning out of academia is the extent to which they have gotten into the habit of extraordinarily harsh and total self-criticism, to the extent that they are sometimes unable to recognize their own accomplishments as accomplishments.

Absolutely. Where does the criticism come from? I could write so much about that.

I could write a book about how no matter how old you are when you enter graduate school, there will be professors who treat you like you’re fifteen years old and foolish. I can tell you that no matter what you accomplished before you got there, none of that matters anymore. There will be very powerful professors who treat you like you’re nothing, and especially if you’re a woman, you will have to take it. For some, the hazing will only make you more determined to succeed in the field. For others, like me, it’ll make you wonder why on earth you’d want to join that party.

No matter what show I put on my last year in the field, I knew by then that I was bored, frustrated, and uninterested in what I was doing. At the same time, I thought maybe really those feelings were a mask. Maybe I just sucked at teaching, writing, researching, and being an intellectual and I couldn’t admit it. Maybe all my feelings were just an excuse, a projection to cover the reality that I was just a loser.

Never mind what else I had accomplished in my life. And obviously, experiences and my background mattered not at all.

Thus when I made the final cut this year and applied for the position I have now, I couldn’t believe the process. Getting my job wasn’t easy. The preparation beforehand and my interview experience were exhausting. The administrators and teachers weren’t about to give me a pass for simply having a PhD.

Yet it was exhilarating and affirming. By my last interview, I felt completely comfortable being myself, speaking the truth about my experiences in education and my vision for what learning should mean to an individual. I felt like I was heard. I relive this feeling every day now. We’re making material and measurable progress in the library, filling the shelves and working individually with students. Not only does that make my mood better, it actually means I can be my best self for my students and the school.