In Her Shell
Saturday, February 28, 2009
On NPR the other morning, Hil was quoted as saying, "The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful." Was this a purposeful understatement? Was she being sarcastic? Or is this just more politician double-speak, as in, "Don't you dare, you bastards, or you will be permanently uninvited to our birthday party and we will tell everyone how much you totally suck." Seriously, word choice. Since when does North Korea try to be helpful?

Then I wondered, can "unhelpful" ever be used without irony? If you are unhelping, aren't you hurting? Or undermining or destroying or distracting? I guess it's more diplomatic to say something was "unsuccessful," instead of "a failure," but "unhappy" is about the same as "sad." And when you are talking about something like a possible missile launch, the un- prefix doesn't seem like quite enough.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
  Wedding Porn
I went all day yesterday without saying anything about weddings. I made a promise to myself. Even though our wedding is likely a year and a half away, and we said we would "just enjoy being engaged for a while," Anthemsled recently realized that I already have more links bookmarked under a folder marked "Wedding Stuff" than he has bookmarked links total.

It had gotten so bad a couple of days ago that I was tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep because wedding-related questions or concerns would not go away. I experienced a similar phenomenon when we were looking for a house. Prior to that, I hadn't had such trouble sleeping since the early 90s, when I was playing too much Tetris and the little pieces kept falling behind my eyelids every time I closed my eyes.

A friend recently gave me a copy of something called Wedding Sites and Services for our area. It is filled with the kind of reception halls that I grew to loathe during my career as a bridesmaid. I had fun looking through it and reading silly things aloud, but then I got to an article titled, "Looking Gorgeous on your Wedding Day," by Irina Feygin, BA. It includes such tips as, "Prepare your lips by using lip balm for two weeks before the wedding, three times a day and overnight--including the morning of your wedding day, when you should keep re-applying it until the makeup artist applies lip color," and "To look your best for your wedding day, you have to start preparing your skin in advance." Another favorite: "Heavy makeup will make you look not like a bride, but like a Las Vegas showgirl. You don't want that to happen."

I started to feel sick. I can see through the bullshit, for the most part, but I can also see how it can become oppressive.

"Wedding Porn" is the heading on one website for pages and pages of wedding pictures--on this site, they are unique and/or themed. Life-affirming porn, that doesn't degrade anyone or create unrealistic, hurtful expectations. Even so, I'm staying away from the obsession. For a few days.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
  Reasons Why Twilight Is A Big Steaming Pile

I'm only 100 pages in, but so far:

-The heroine has been 'rescued' twice by the guy
-The guy has generally been a dick to her in every conversation they have, including laughing at almost everything she says, making her feel stupid, glaring at her viciously making her wonder what she did wrong, and sending her mixed signals by ignoring her, then summoning her to sit with him at lunch and telling her that he's really dangerous, and she shouldn't be hanging out with him
-The guy has physically overpowered her, over her protests, twice--once to carry her to the nurse's office and once to drag her by the back of her coat to his car

I can understand why so many of my students love this--the ones who went to the midnight showing of the movie when it opened and wore the t-shirt to school the next day are the really good girls, the ones who belong to all the school choruses. They care about school and are only friends with other girls. The bland main character of Twilight, who is smart but shy, mature beyond her years, and physically awkward, moves to a new town and is suddenly the object of every guy's affection. Of course, the only one she wants, against her better judgment, is the bad boy loner.

And of course he wants her too. But then we get into all that creepy, abusive relationship behavior that she can't resist, and the creepier Mormon overtones because they can't even dry-hump without him totally losing control, she's such a temptress and he's such a beast.

I'm reading it, finally, because of these students of mine who are so obsessed with it. They take out each successive sequel in between quizzes and class discussions, and devour them voraciously. I'm trying to remember how I would have romanticized these characters when I was their age, and trying not to get too twisted up about it, but it's still disturbing.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
  When They Were Bad
This weekend during a visit to the Clarion Content offices, Aaron tried to distinguish for us between neighborhoods that might actually be dangerous, and the ones people are just scared of. It got me thinking about the way ignorance and confidence have protected me in more than one unfamiliar city.

In 2003, with the Cantankerous Consumer, I blithely strolled through a prostitute- and drug-ridden area of Toronto, two nights in a row, to get to the gay bar we liked. In New Orleans, three years earlier, Dana, Jared and I walked back to The Funky Butt to hear some music, after passing it with a walking tour earlier in the day. In both instances, a local later shook his head at us with widened eyes, saying, "you shouldn't have done that." I guess the best bars are in the worst places.

On the first day of my last year of college, I was driving around the outskirts of Trenton when my old Volvo started belching black smoke, so I pulled off in a quiet neighborhood of decaying Victorians. Being pre-cell phone, I started walking, but the neighborhood being residential, I had to walk for a while. Finally I found an elementary school that hadn't opened yet for the year, where the janitor let me in and I used the phone in the faculty room to call my roommate and a tow truck. Back at the car, I started getting antsy and was heading back to call again when I saw the janitor, a wizened old black dude, walking down the street toward me. When we met he said, "I just had to come back to check on you, miss. This isn't a good neighborhood for you to be walking around. A young girl was killed here a little while ago, and you really favor her. You look so much like her, I had to come back to see if you were OK."

Of course then, with the knowledge about how scared I should have been, I felt scared. The tow truck pulled up, so I hugged the janitor, and thanked him. Turns out I had friends who lived on that street, and one of them had her car stolen from outside the house shortly after. When she got it back, it had a pen jammed in the ignition and she had to replace it. There was a dog who hung around their house that they referred to as "Bloody Dog." Sometimes it's better not to know.
Friday, February 13, 2009
  Beginnings (A Shmushy Post)
This is my favorite time of vacation. The first night, when it's all in front of me and I haven't wasted any of it by watching shows on Hulu. I'm not thinking gloomily about how many days are left and I'm not one bit worried about the heavy bag of ungraded papers sitting by the front door.

Beginnings are always good. It would be pretty hard for me to move to a climate where I couldn't have the first days of a new season four times a year--when someone spots snow outside the window and the teachers are just as excited as the kids, the first day I can go outside without a jacket, or ride with the car windows down, and buds coming out all over. It's officially summer weeks before school lets out, but for me it really begins when I wave to my colleagues and walk out into that parking lot at the very end of June... and the best day, when the air turns crisp again and smoky from the first fireplace fires of the season.

It's the anticipation I've always been a sucker for. When I was a kid onstage, directors and my dad always told me I leaned forward too much. Even now I catch myself sitting on the very edge of chairs. Ramona Quimby got in trouble for taking one bite (the first, the best) out of all the apples in the basement, and I won't read a book unless it grabs me on the first page.

I like beginnings best, with one exception that I realized today. With Anthemsled I've surprised myself; as good as the beginning was, it has gotten better and better as time has gone on. Another first.
Monday, February 09, 2009
  The Ship That Doesn't Sink
We lost another student yesterday. No one is releasing any official information, but unofficially, it seems that she chose to ingest a lot of illegal stuff, all at once.

I knew this student only a little; she hung out in my study hall. A pretty mild-mannered kid; came in of her own accord during her lunch, just to read quietly and sit next to her friends.

My colleagues who taught her are hurting. It's always hard, but there is something particular about a student who doesn't show warning signs or give cries for help, who is high functioning and friendly and then, suddenly, is gone.

On the bottom of one of the last assignments that she handed in, she wrote a riddle.

What kind of ship never sinks?

And beneath, upside down: Friendship.

My teacher friend who collected this assignment is haunted by it. Was it a cry for help? A clue? Why didn't the ship hold her up? Why did she sink?

I said another way to see it is that the ship is still sailing--we in our arrogance assume that because we can't see the person and talk to her anymore, that she's gone. Sure we want her to be here, and whole, and well. The best is lost. Maybe it is a message, though: that friendship reaches across the veils we know so little about. It doesn't sink, ever.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
  What Was In The Basement (A Dramatic Scene)
Wonderturtle is sitting on the lid of the toilet, clipping her toenails. She hears Anthemsled come up the stairs.

Anthemsled: Huh.
Wonderturtle: What?
AS: I found our squeaky friends.
WT: Really? What were they?
AS: Bats.
WT: No shit.

(She comes out of the bathroom.)

WT: What did you do?
AS: I threw them outside; they are right there, you can see them if you come here.

(WT comes to the stair landing, where AS is standing looking out the window. She nobly says nothing about the fact that he is standing in his slippers on a damp spot that she just mopped.)

AS: Look straight down. They don't seem to be doing very well.
(She looks down to the space between their house and the next. In the snow are two bats, tangled together and feebly moving their limbs.)
WT: Maybe they're sick.
AS: They looked pretty exhausted and dehydrated. They were curled up together in a bucket that I was going to use.

(They watch the bats pathetically struggling in the snow.)

AS: I don't really want to watch their struggle for survival.
WT: Do we have a shovel?
AS: What? (He looked at her, horrified.)
WT: Well, if you feel bad, you could use it to scoop them up and put them under a bush or something, where it might be warmer.
AS: They probably don't like how bright it is.

(They look out the window again.)

WT: I'm glad you found them and not me. I probably would have screamed and left them there.

(AS says nothing, watches the bats. His face is hidden by the curtain, but he seems mournful.)

WT: Wherever we live, we are going to be where wildlife used to live. We're bound to have some interactions that are...
AS: Unpleasant.

(He keeps watching the bats.)

AS: Hey, one of them seems better! He's walking!

(WT looks out the window.)

WT: I see one...
AS: (excited) The other one just walked away down there! (Indicating the direction right below them, toward the outside wall of the house.)
AS: They're moving! Good for them!

(WT laughs. AS glares at her.)

AS: What?
WT: Hopefully not back into the basement.
AS: (disgusted, walking back down the stairs) I think they've learned their lesson.

(WT decides now is not the time to speculate aloud on the discerning powers of two freezing, possibly ill bats who are scrambling for warmth and darkness. She goes back upstairs.)

Monday, February 02, 2009
  Two Important Things
One: all evening I have been listening to the chattering, squeaking, shuffling sounds of some sort of rodent (I'm guessing) in the basement or possibly under the stairs. It's so loud that I can hear it while sitting in the living room with the basement door closed. It also sounds a little bit like steam escaping from a pipe, or the slow turn of a rusty old wheel, but the fact that it stops when I turn on the basement light or step on the basement stairs makes me suspect that it is sentient. Anyone with thoughts on what type of creature this might be or how to rid my basement of it, please comment.
Two: We got engaged! Holy crap, right?

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