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Posts from October 2009

Friday Night, Alone

When I got home from work yesterday afternoon, there was no fourteen-year-old who greeted me by closing the door to her bedroom but then popping out a few minutes later to ask what’s to eat, nor was there a Maltese named Poops who jumped up and danced on his hind legs when he saw me. There was only the dining room table with its self-created collection of piles to greet me. It's his weekend with them both.

I unpacked the bag of groceries that I bought for my evening at home, trying to ignore the silence by turning on the radio. I put away the frozen pizza and the two bottles of beer. After I responded to some emails, I went into my daughter’s room, piled her clothes on a chair as I had done when I was her age instead of the floor mounds that she prefers, arranged her five pillows on her bed, lay down, and lifted up the remote for what would be hours of unending numbness. It’s not that my job is so hard that I need to unwind so intensely, perhaps it’s because I don’t watch tv other than those Friday nights (okay, the occasional Saturday night if I’ve been grading or on the computer for too long—I think I need a “life”) but it is time that enables me to detach from my mind. Perhaps this is how I meditate. Sometimes it gets hard to think and be aware.

So there I was, on a hot pink sheet for hours watching Say Yes to the Dress and House Hunters International. The thought of why it is always those two programs that I return to kept trying to break into my mindlessness. Is it because I like to see people so happy, so ready to step into another phase of their lives, that I want to become a voyeur? Is it that I wish that for myself and so I live vicariously through them? Maybe it’s a bit of both; maybe I’m anticipating more change. But it’s also that there is nothing else that I can settle my mind onto. I cannot watch the news or opinion shows because I’m tired of listening to people open and close their mouths repeatedly without saying anything. (I don’t ignore the news, I still read mine.) I know, I know, I’m sure some of my students say that about me [especially the ones who wrote “I hate this class” on my “What I Want to Do This Year” sign on the backboard before I ripped it off in a moment that combined hurt and bitchiness (no one was there to witness this act)]. And I can’t watch scripted programs because everything is so fake and contrived that I don’t see how I could ever have been compelled to watch so much falsity in writing and acting.

How bare can I make my life? Is that why I need to watch tv every once in a while? How much can my life, a life, revolve around one’s actions and thoughts and the people one encounters? Is that why we read and watch? Is that how we expand our circle if we need it to be larger than it is in reality? Or do we need to incorporate ideas and people and images that don’t always challenge us and demand attention from us on a personal level? Do I need the numbness because there are so many people I need to care about everyday that I need to just stop sometimes? In a week I have about 185 students, each is an individual who I need—want—to understand and reach, and who I care about. Maybe it is about the job. Maybe it’s more draining than I realized. I get up in front of my classes three times a day and on religious school days, four or six times a day. And each time I’m on stage; I need to sense the audience and project, and thrust my personality out so that it meshes with the instruction. Is that why I don’t watch dramas? Not because of the corny stories and plasticine acting, but because I have too many lives to care about that I cannot expand my heart anymore?

Is this about self-preservation? Do I need to return my thoughts and cares to myself instead of always extending them and sharing them? Do I need to come back to myself at the end of the week because if I didn’t there wouldn’t be anything to share the next week? When I walk, I think. When I read, I think. When I watch, I detach. Maybe it’s not as much of a time-waster as I thought.

Where’s the remote?

Random Thoughts on a Sunny Sunday

 • How is it that we are supposed to help a country, Iraq, if so many people there find that killing each other is better than learning to live with each other? Yes, it’s only a few who are terrorists. Yes, the terrorists might not even be from there. Yes, maybe the terrorists became terrorists after the US-invasion and occupation. But still, it’s hard to keep caring about people who keep blowing themselves up. Blowing each other up at weddings, while shopping, while looking for a job, while working, and worst of all, while mourning a loss at a funeral. Isn’t there a purpose to life other than another person’s death?

• Why do wealthy people register for gifts when they get married? Really? People need to buy gifts for Ivanka Trump and her new husband, who are both from real estate empire families. Can’t a person ever say enough? Why not a gift registry of organizations to donate to if they feel that they always deserve something? They should be ashamed of themselves.

• I wonder what happens in a teen’s mind that enables him to transition from writing essays that are merely lists in paragraph form to writing essays that analyze? Now I know why I’m happy to be teaching 12th graders and not just 9th graders: there are the occasional thoughts swirling around.

• Helicopter parents are not the only helicopters around, this morning I observed a helicopter wife. Really? He can’t put his own food into the microwave and spread the butter on his own bagel? He can hold the door for you but he can’t carry his cup of coffee? Are thoughts like these a reason why I am unattached?

• There is a man out there with whom I will find comfort, but I don’t know if we will find each other.

• Being a three-quarter empty-nester is better than being a complete empty-nester, but my, how I miss being on-duty all of the time. I’m pleased that both of my daughters are independent, and that I am independent of them, but it’s still hard to have a few dishes that reflects my eating and snacking habits.

• It’s beautiful outside. It’s time to put a bra on and go pick up my daughter from her weekend. She will probably say “okay” and turn away when I ask her how her weekend was. But we will be together on this beautifully sunny afternoon for at least a little while and I will be relieved from the pressure of thinking about myself and the world we live in. Enjoy the day.

The Symbolism of a Downed Tree

Yesterday when I was driving home I found the way blocked by a tree that had fallen across the street that I take to get home. There was no way to get around the tree: it spread its trunk and branches from curb to curb. I drove into the parking lot next to it, thinking that I could get back to the street, but I couldn’t so I did an inelegant 3-point turn. When I got to the stop sign at the top of the street where I was planning to turn left, there were two cars in front of me, the first one seemed to be driven by a new driver because s/he was not moving even when there was time to go. So I turned to the right, thinking I’d make a u-turn at the next opening. Of course, there was a “no u-turn sign” there, and since I’m not into breaking obvious road laws, I took a left into the street and did another inelegant 3-point turn to get back to where I needed to be. I made my right. At the light where I needed to make my left turn to the street that would lead me to my street, I temporarily became disoriented by the dusk and the rain and turned into the left side of the street—as in the side where three lanes of cars were coming right at me with their white lights shining—right into my eyes. Luckily, at that moment my temporary road-rule amnesia left me and I did yet another inelegant 3-point turn. Everyone waited for me to turn around, that is except one asshole who was, I guess, aggravated by me and my unfamiliarity with the rules, who drove around me in the middle of my turn. No compassion from him. I bet HE (I am sure it’s a he, sorry guys) was going someplace really important that he couldn’t wait for someone who was obviously in distress or distraught to correct her error. Everyone else waited for me to finish my turn, thankfully, and then at the light, I made a U-turn to my street because there wasn’t a “no u-turn” sign there. I was also afraid what would happen if I needed to go down another street and make another 3-point turn. I needed to get off the road, I felt lucky to still be driving.

The rest of the drive home, all seventy seconds of it, were uneventful.

Those roadblocks and mistakes made me think that the drive home might be symbolic of the meeting I just had, and what it might mean for the future—and what it might represent for the past. I had come from meeting a woman in response to her Craig’s List ad (no, I’ve not so completely given up on men) to start up a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group and this woman, as we learned through our emails and our first meeting, is the Palestinian-American version of me. It wasn’t odd at all to hear how the trajectories of our lives were so similar, rather it felt right—the embodiment of people connecting as people and not being the representatives of any side or cause. We moved to Israel and the West Bank at around the same age. She married a Palestinian and I married an Israeli. We both suffered from their words. We both had to deal with “dealing with him” with the children and in bitter divorces. And we both came back to the states. We both worked on getting our careers on-track, for ourselves and our children. And we both want to do something about abuse and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we laughed and enjoyed telling the stories of our lives to each other.

I thought that the roadblocks on the way home represent the roadblocks that we may face to create whatever group or program we have yet to envision (we’re at the brainstorming phase). They could also represent the immense and intense roadblocks that Israelis and Palestinians have placed between themselves so that in Israel we never would have met. I lived in Israel for seventeen years and the two-hour conversation that I had yesterday was more than I had spoken with any Palestinian in all of that time, unless you add the time I spent ordering meals from Palestinian waiters.

In the three years I spent studying for my master’s degree in conflict studies I never met anyone with whom to have a dialogue. Most of the people were, from my perspective, so anti-Israeli that they couldn’t do the most basic thing the field demands of people--to see those on the other side as people, as individuals, and not as representatives of a side. So there we were, two women—mothers and ex-wives—meeting as women do, by sharing their stories and seeing how they can work together to make the world a better place. A more peaceful place for their children—for everyone’s children. 

It’s raining and dreary outside, but I feel a warmth that I haven’t felt for a while.

Bomb Scare

The other day there was a bomb scare at my school. That means that the entire school body of about 2,200 13- to 18-year-olds and 300 staff members had to evacuate the building as soon as the rather overbearing voice of the principal came over the PA system at about ten in the morning. We were simply told to leave our rooms immediately—we were not told why (I, of course, thought that they were springing a new kind of a drill on us and left all of my things in the room and told the kids to leave their things on the desks—we were in the middle of going over a quiz)—there was no indication of a bomb scare on the PA announcement. The kids were told not to look at their cell phones. (Sounds dumb because it is a dumb thing to say.) In the announcement the teachers were told to read our emails in a tone that seemed to indicate we were amiss for not having read them already. This last comment bothered me, and I said outloud, “I couldn’t read the email because I was busy teaching.” When I checked, I didn’t see an email. It turned out later, in the rumor mill, that the email was being sent as we were leaving the building.

Rumor has it that the amount of time from when the bomb scare was made known until we were evacuated from the building was about twenty to twenty-five minutes, because the principal, who has a virtual presence most of the time, had to be located. Me, in my naïveté, noted (before I heard the rumor) that it was good that he was finally there when he was needed.

In a huddle around the principal about ten minutes after going onto the football field, we were told that there had been a bomb threat and not to tell the kids—only to tell them that the school was being checked and cleared. Okay, so a helicopter is flying over-head (I finally made the connection as to why I had been hearing a helicopter while I was still teaching and not that it was some kind of drill or Obama is in town), the school population is evacuated far from the building with everyone in one area (unlike in a normal fire drill when we are allowed to leave from various exits and could be much closer to the school), and we are not allowed to tell the kids the truth? And what about establishing trust with our students?

A student of mine, who had been in my classroom when we were evacuated, asked me if it was a bomb scare as he had heard. To a colleague’s dismay, I responded, “Well, that’s a good thing to hear.” I know, dumb thing to say, but I didn’t want to say, “No.” I wanted him to realize it was right without saying it. She repeated the party line about the building being checked and then we will be able to go back in. And then, another colleague read aloud from her iPhone the email announcement that had come from the county about a bomb scare—the email that was being sent to parents and anyone on the e-mailing list—while the student stood there. Why and how did they think it would be okay not to just tell the truth to these teens?

We spent an hour and a half in the football field (I got a nice tan—it was, gloriously, an amazingly warm fall day) when the announcement came that we will be able to start letting the students go home, and then we, the teachers, would be able to go home too.

Being the eternal optimist that I am, the truster in the powers that be, and not having a lesson to have learned from, I had left everything, except my student roster and emergency info packet, including the orange emergency teacher vest, in my classroom—which was now off-limits. I got a lift home, then found the spare key in the busy-body neighbor’s apartment. At around three another email announcement was sent that said that the school had been cleared and we could come and get our things. As luck would have it, my parents came in that day to visit, so they drove me back to school to get my pocketbook, cellphone, computer and car.

There was a lovely, relaxed atmosphere around the school. Perhaps it was relief. Perhaps it was the joy of getting most of the day off—for students and teachers. Perhaps it was seeing that nothing bad had happened. Perhaps, too, it was because the students had been so wonderful and calm, with no (observed) inappropriate behavior—we spied what we thought was a spitting contest and one very in love/lust couple who kept inching closer to each other. Besides that I saw a Frisbee game and a round of duck-duck-goose. What a great group of kids. There was no need to babysit them or stand guard over them.

I feel sorry for the obviously damaged person who sent the bomb scare, because his (her) life has irrevocably changed. Rumor also had it that the bomb scare was tied to a football game and an intense school rivalry. Sounds like some kind of patriotism gone bad.

In a totally unrelated event, the other day I found that an unknown student of mine—as in a student who sits in my classroom and who I spend my time trying to reach and teach—drew a large swastika and wrote the words "Heil Hitler" on the back of a handout that I gave out. I kept it for a day, thinking that I would try to discover who did it, but then I decided that I don’t want it or to have to think about and ripped it up and threw it out. I had confronted a few kids and they said that they didn’t do it, that they hadn’t even seen it.

You just wonder.

And then I think about the boy, Derrion Albert, who was beaten to death in Chicago less than two weeks ago. And you wonder how is it that so many kids seem to get the messages they are given about bullying and respecting each other, but there are still those who go as untouched by the onslaught of positive messages. Yes, maybe their home lives are not positive. Maybe they don’t feel that the messages touch them. Perhaps they never felt that anyone cares about them.

And a student was talked to by my co-teacher the other day because he thought that because he is a senior in high school he is allowed to be rude to his teacher—me.

And my daughter’s friend, who was nominated as a homecoming princess—as a joke, what of her? Her "crime" from what I can see is that she is chubby, or rather not skinny.

And you just keep wondering.

What of the children who hear the message, but get derailed by those who don’t?
I’m thinking that I will do a short lesson on hate and respect and self-respect. But will the kid who drew swastika hear me? And will the kid who is so full of disdain for me and “the system” hear me? I guess it doesn’t matter—because I will not let them defeat me—or let them think that they can defeat those of us who care about more than the negativity that swills through them.

Are we giving them mixed messages? When we deny them information, are we respecting? Are they, some of them at least, responding to the mixed messages they receive by responding to the negative messages?

Lots of wondering to do.

Yes, That's Me at JWIBLOG.ORG

For two days (today and yesterday) I am the featured woman at Jewish Women International's blog during October's Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please go over and check out my pieces (excerpts from my book, Get Your Words Off Me) as well as those testimonies by other women--women who have also suffered and survived domestic abuse.

October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For that there is a pink ribbon. We need to curl the purple Domestic Abuse Awareness ribbon next to it, to indicate another way that women are being struck down--some surviving, and some, sadly, not. 

On Being 48

For a long time I would be content at looking at my face and noting that I don’t look my age and then getting on with my day without mulling over the passage of time and its impact on my physical appearance. And since people would always tell me that as well, I succumbed to that illusion for quite a while. But lately I have been noticing how my skin is different than it used to be. I have a few brown spots on my hands, certainly not like anything those my Aunt Helen had that used to make me fear “old,” rather they make me realize that change has come. The skin of my hands looks like ripples on a lake on a fall morning rather than that same lake on a placid summer afternoon.

I look used.

Now that I’m not living in a little room with no shades and therefore changing quickly in the bathroom, I have a bit more time to contemplate the bigger developments that have occurred. While I was never thin, I was never flabby; since my pregnancies I have held my stomach in (supposedly strengthening the stomach muscles) which seemed to work well for quite a long time. But now there’s more stomach and there’s sag. When I put on a sweater for the first time in a long time the other day I noticed that I’m starting to look like those women who have lost their waists—I have become barrelish—and I don’t like it.

I bought a book recommended by a friend, Strong Women Stay Young, and I will start doing the exercises, so I have no intention of going silently into the night but it has certainly been an awakening, this whole body change thing.

Unlike quite a few friends, I have not yet been touched by menopause; on that account I am still young. But I wouldn’t mind the cessation in monthly action, I mean really, I’m not going to discover a need for a baby at 48 so the whole enterprise can just stop. And it’s not as if I need to make sure that I’m not pregnant, because, you know, I know how the baby-making enterprise happens and there’s no fear of a scare or need for a stick to pee on.

And my thighs, my my, I didn’t know that they could get softer than they had been. They have become real has-beens. Yes, all of me looks used.

Other than the body stuff, the word “retirement” has entered my mindset, as in this thought: I have to work at least another twenty years before I can retire. What’s more, the illusions of my twenties and thirties, and even my earlier forties have been exchanged for a look into the interior mirror. Not that that’s bad because as part of the process I have decided that realistic hopefulness is better for me than vague expectations. Maybe I will finally become the woman of action that I never became with those hopes of being discovered merely because of my being here or at least being supported by an accommodating man.

I’m not quite sure why I’m supposed to pretend that this process has not been noticed and try to make it go away, what could possibly be wrong with continuing a process? Maybe it is fall and the beauty of aging leaves captivates me. The budding leaves of spring and the fullness of summer leaves are surely things of beauty, but who would forfeit the confetti of autumn?