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October 2009

Posts from September 2009

Losing My Touch

Somehow I have forgotten how to deal with the everyday arrogance of some men. It seems that I have been blissfully in control of all behaviors standing there in front of my classroom. Anytime I sense attitude from my, generally, male students I could turn to him to suggest another way of acting without in any way feeling that I am imposing upon his spirit and certainly without his feeling that he has altered mine. After all, he has been placed in my classroom to learn from me not just what to do with an apostrophe (oh, the horror since they are all but forgotten in this age of txtng) but how to be a decent, civilized man of the world who does not think he is heads above any and all women. And let me tell you, I have been fastidious in this. Just ask Harold, who I had last year. In response to the question, “What have you learned this year in or out of school?” he wrote that he “learned he can never win against a teacher.” His mother, I think, thanks me. I met both her and her husband, and I think she would have liked to send her husband to my classroom for some lessons too. (He was a meeting time-hog.)

Even the arrogance of the men who have demonstrated their arrogance in an email exchange or even a date, I have managed to quickly put behind me with an equal amount of bravado or arrogance since there was no reason to be coy since the very purpose of the endeavor was the culling itself, if necessary.

All of which brings me to the phlebotomist who did the initial poking and interview with me prior to donating blood. I sensed that man-to-woman condescension that I have not experienced for some time. It was a bit of a shock to have him attempt to demean me and ask me questions at the same time. In those instances I suddenly became cold and persnickety, forcing him to speak clearly. Did I do that because it tends to dull the tone? Or because I wanted to be sure that I am answering the question asked and not what I think he has said and to force him back to his job and not to think he can toy with me?

Thankfully another woman came in to finish the interview and yet another female phlebotomist drew the blood.

I’m glad my antennae are still working. I’m glad, too, that I have not needed them for some time. Maybe on the whole things are getting better in the world of male egocentricity. It’s certainly about time. But have no fear, I won’t trade in my antennae just yet. 

5770: Starting Off Quietly

On Saturday evening I went to a friend’s house for a mid-holiday Rosh HaShanah (New Year) dinner. Besides me, there were three couples and their two, two, and one children. I had thought before the evening that I would feel a stab of discomfort or loss at my unaccompanied presence. For a brief moment before it was time to go I even considered cancelling and staying wed to my couch. But I didn’t. It could be that my friend and her friends and family were all interested and interesting people so the conversation flowed easily and I didn’t get caught in any down-times in conversation that left me without a built-in conversation partner.

Have I overcome a hump? The “I’m alone” hump? Am I now resolutely in the “it’s okay to be alone” phase? Is this what it feels like to be a person who is not dependent on another or with others dependent on her—or wishing that someone would depend on me? Should I rejoice in this chance to focus on what I want to focus and not moan that one daughter is in California and the other spent the holiday with her father? Is this my chance to be stripped of imposed-upon roles so that I can whittle myself down to my own essence? It’s as if I can feel the layers of personhood that I was and still am, but now I can also clearly discern the self—my self. Enough time was given up to the regret phase that I am purified of it, and so this transcendence doesn’t feel like a trick of a mourning self, but the very real reflection of a person who respects herself and her life.

So this is what it’s like to be me. I talk read write critique listen laugh greet walk observe eat shop cook drive plan think inquire doubt. I don’t seem to do anything. But perhaps that is not essential to me. The doing is the living. This is my life. It doesn’t need highlights to be a highlight. Satisfied with who I am, does that mean that I am not looking for someone to redefine me? Does it mean, too, that I will not let someone else redefine me? I hope so. It’s taken a while to reach this configuration of self; a while and a journey. It seems that I do things. But I also contemplate them.

I have begun 5770. A new year. Stepping into a new year with the fullness of how the years past have wrought me and excited for how I will hone the future, moment by moment. 

Waking from a Nap

On Friday afternoon I took my usual afternoon nap so that I could make it past eight o’clock still a member of the adult community. I napped on a couch in my lovely living room, facing the large sliding glass doors that are always open except when I go to sleep or when I’m not at home. When I woke the sky was in shades of gray; I tried not to think, but just to feel the coolness and the calm. When I finally got up I put on, for the first time in a few seasons, my light, at-home sweater that I bought years ago at a street market in Tel Aviv with a friend. The September chill felt more comforting than the heat of the summer. While I lay there my mind was focused on the now. It was a lovely interlude from the preoccupations of a wake and expressive self. It was a lovely interlude from the intensity of the first week of school and having to deal with exman and his stringent demand to adhere to the letter of the custody agreement that we drew up three years ago.

In a phone conversation later my mother told me that I shouldn’t think about how I had a lawyer who let me negotiate from a point a weakness and not a point of strength, but that was after we once more picked apart how utterly petty and evil my ex-husband is. It’s not that he really wants my younger daughter there, no. He even said to me in one of the fourteen calls that he made to me in the course of two hours the other night, and which he recorded, that he thinks I want her to stay with me more than is written in the agreement because I want to get more money from him. This is a man who has not paid a penny of child support since we moved out of the house in June. This is a man who ignored this wonderful girl for years while he tried to infiltrate the mind of my older daughter, until she went across the country to get away from him. This is a man who uses and manipulates.

The mantra that a friend told me I should recite to myself is “you’re out of there,” and that is good. I cannot tell you how at peace and happy I am in my apartment. And even the new school year and teaching a grade that I never taught before and needing to create all new lesson plans and teaching four different classes at religious school are all exciting and invigorating. So I know what feeling good is like. But the ache I have for my daughter is intense. As a glass half-full person I tell myself that at least I didn’t have to fulfill the custody agreement when the girls were younger, when it was both of them, that now, at least, his negativity and emotional cruelty towards me and the world will have less of an impact on my daughter, my sweet, sweet daughter who is no longer such an impressionable child.

But it’s so unbelievably hard having to deal with someone who is so very poisonous.

When I told him that I don’t want to have to talk to him, that I want to do these movement-of-daughter discussions via email and to please give me his email address he refused, because he doesn’t want to get emails from me. And when, after his recitation of his time calculations that will enable me to somewhat change the agreement for one week to confirm to my daughter’s request, I told him to just tell me when he would be over and if he was bringing Poops, his response to me was “don’t dictate to me.” My reasoned response was, “I’m hanging up.” And I did. Nor did I answer another one of his insane calls. I turned the sound off my cellphone so I wouldn't even have to be aware of them.

I know there are people who act as intermediaries between formerly-married couples so they don’t have to talk to each other. But I’m too tired of spending money on that man. I will try to deal with him on my own, and I will continue to strengthen myself by standing up to him—for me and my daughter-s. My mantra when dealing with him needs to be “He’s just a bully” because that’s all he is.

I can’t believe how endless this is.

In our conversation the other night my mother reminded me that he had told me that he will hound me until he can spit on my grave. He can’t do that. I am determined to compartmentalize my interactions with him, in fact, the writing of this post is the lighting of the fire and the extinguishing of it for this episode.


Today I wrote eight pages of my novel, which I can proudly say has reached 90 pages and which I am very pleased with. And I took Poops for two half-hour walks. And I created three handouts for my students (one each on apostrophes, commas and an in-class reading log). So I no longer let him impact me, much.

One day it will be four years from now and younger daughter will be off to college. And the burden of marrying wrong will have lifted even more from me—and them. But I will not wish those years to fly past; I want to enjoy my daughter as she grows into the woman she will become. And I want to enjoy listening to her sister blossom with each and every phone call. I will taste the sweetness and let the bitterness fall to the bottom of my cup, unstirred and undisturbed.

A New School Year

To all of us heading back to school, whether as teachers or students (and perhaps parents of students, parents of teachers, and even friends of teachers and students), let’s take a moment to pause and remember why we go to school. It might be something that we have to do. It’s a job for teachers and considered a job by many students. But beneath that reality (cynical or not), we still get to spend hours a day learning, instructing, discussing, reading, thinking, growing, developing—is there a better way to spend our time?

May this year be a joyous one filled with learning and sharing experiences.

May this year be one filled with the joy of epiphanies and conquests.

May this year fill your life with joy.

The Symbolism of the Garbage

The other morning when I threw the garbage out in the little enclosed area that contains the garbage bins, there were two empty boxes. The boxes were for two different kinds of nerf weaponry. Both of them seemed to be of machine guns. From the picture they both looked big, they both were supposed to simulate the real thing, although the brown and orange colors were probably a give-away. The weapon in the bigger box included an ammunition belt that could be slung over the shoulder.

A few days before there was another empty box in the garbage area that caught my attention. It was for a beer pong table. I didn’t know that there was such a thing. I had heard of beer pong (and do not laugh and say I’m lying when I say I have never played the game) but I didn’t know that there was equipment to purchase.

Unlike my very annoying and nosy downstairs neighbor, I don’t know all of the people who live in my new neighborhood. But I have my suspicions as to who goes with which box. There are two quite buff and attractive young twenty-something men (one is a slightly smaller version of the romance novel cover guy, Fabio; my daughter looked shocked at me when I told her he was handsome) who I suspect have called dibs on the beer pong table. And either they, too, can claim ownership to the guns, or the two red-headed brothers who my daughter might babysit for if she is ever here long enough, what with visiting my parents, going to camp, going to the beach with a friend, having sleepovers with other hair-straightening friends, oh, and being at her father’s house, she hasn’t had the time. But I could be wrong, the hunks might also own the machine guns.

While I am not in the habit of checking out people’s garbage, I was startled/annoyed/upset by those boxes. I even did a double-take, reading that the beer pong table was in accordance with an organization (I think it was the Beer Pong Federation). Seriously, official equipment for a drinking game? And the guns. I just stared (putting my head at a sideways angle) at the picture of the cute boy who could just as easily be in an ad for milk holding this huge gun imitating some macho gunslinger movie hero. What? It’s not enough to feel masculine with a little revolver, they need body-size machine guns? 

For weeks now I have been reading about the health care debate and how it’s so heated. I even went to a town hall meeting the other night and was witness to the screeching and shouting and rudeness (post to come; note, on top of an official sign I wrote “Healthcare Not Warfare” on my proudly-raised sign). Is it no wonder that our society is so loud and unhearing when our foundation seems to be non-existent? I know it’s a leap, but seriously, guns as toys and mindless drinking games are not new, but they seem to have become so cornerstone or so emblematic that it’s no wonder that there is no problem with throwing money at the military but none to drop in a bucket for the sick.

Is it silly or simplistic for me to tie those boxes into the healthcare reform debate or even the health of the country? No. As the English teacher I will resume being next week, they are symbols—standing for themselves and something else. Guns. Well, the worth of a life is surely one thing. So, too, is the ability to think that your life and beliefs are more important than someone else’s. And drinking. Becoming numb—casting off thoughts or doubts or concerns or questions for blankness. Every time I hear people (even the wonderfully gentlemanly director of the writing program class I took this summer) talk about getting drunk to celebrate something it makes me wonder why people want to deaden their minds? Is that why people can believe untruths so easily, because not only are they not used to thinking for themselves, but even thinking itself is disparaged? I can imagine that the thoughts one has might be so painful that haze is better, but at some point, the haze must be cleared.

This debate is surely about more than healthcare. It is about the mental health of our nation as a collective whole. Behind the chants “Yes We Can” and “No You Won’t” there is a pushing and a pulling to and against what it means to be an American, about what America stands for.

What I perceive as garbage (I would have preferred the boxes and their contents in the garbage) is someone else’s gift that was saved for and anticipated. Maybe the most that can be hoped for is that one person can’t deny another person her gift. Yes, that seems right. And perhaps the person carrying the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag should look at how her pronouncements would deny someone else what she sorely wants—and needs.