I dreamt a symphony of sleep paralysis last night, and in this dream, Tartini came to show me how to dance the waltz of virtuosity. Agile fingers tripped along the string of my being, their allegro moderato promenade striking carnal chords of hunger. While I rode this cresting wave — this swelling expectancy of ecstasy — the devil trilled the the bitterest pleasure in my ear, and I reached for you in the liminal space between the notes. The reverberations of sound held in abeyance resonated within my diamond core and shattered, pulling me out of myself and into the cosmic embrace.
I love dystopian fiction. Can’t get enough of it. I’ve been reading it since I discovered Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in high school. Admittedly, it was the only school-assigned book I read that year (sorry Mrs. Roos). What can I say? I had my priorities mixed up like most high school students, and I, oftentimes, continue to have my priorities mixed up as an adult. In my 36 years on this earth, I still have yet to really figure out what it means to be human. And now figuring out that crucial element seems to be a Herculean task.
Two weeks ago when my husband said, “Here’s the grocery list for the week. I put on extra because we have to be ready for coronavirus,” I laughed in. his. face. Like the good-natured man he is, he weathered my criticism, and I humored him as we picked up a much larger toilet paper package, extra bags of dried beans, some canned and frozen vegetables (an oddity since we always buy fresh), two extra packages of spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, and a huge bag of frozen chicken breasts. On top of our weekly essentials, it was a shopping trip that cost us upwards of our total monthly food budget. I scowled and derided his “hypochondriac over-anxious” reactions, but he calmly replied “If I turn out to be wrong, at least we won’t have to buy groceries for a while. We can’t really lose.”
One week ago, as my husband and I sat at the dining table after a late breakfast, the news alerts on our phones go off: “WHO declares COVID-19 (coronavirus) a pandemic”. Within a few hours, the university I attend and others in the San Antonio area extended Spring Break for a week and hinted at extended closures. My social media feed blew up with posts both expressing concerns about the impending crisis and spreading the idea of a “Democratic hoax” to which “liberal snowflakes” were overreacting. The stock market started hemorrhaging which cast uncertain economic forecasts on people who were already scared that the big bad “P” word had been used. That’s when my husband looked at me, and instead of saying “Told you so” and making me eat crow (which he totally could have), he asked, “Have you heard about Italy?”
Five days ago my sister-in-law who lives with me became ill: cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and slight fever. She sought out medical advice and tested negative for strep and flu, but the doctor told her she likely just had a cold and that she should self-quarantine to be on the “safe side” because it wasn’t likely she had COVID-19 and she didn’t qualify to be tested anyways. As she sat down with me and cried out of fear (she’s asthmatic and frequently uses a nebulizer by-the-by), everything became real for me. It was a sobering moment for my ego.
Now, everything is uncertain — the state of education and whether my job will even look the same in six month’s time, the health of the economy and whether another recession will wipe out finances again, the supply chain of stores and whether I currently have enough toilet paper to last me until things stabilize. Schools are closed and stores are shuttered and restaurants, bars, and nightclubs have had their “last call” for now. Things are quiet, and I’ve had time to reflect. I have been foolish in my personal fallacy which I have waived about with mortal bravado. I have been wrong for a long time about many things — most recently that about COVID-19 and the need to take it seriously.
Today, I’m eating the crow my husband was too kind to ask me to eat two weeks ago, and I acknowledge that we, as a human race, are truly entering a brave new world… and we are not ready.
Amidst the tempest-tossed
shore of forgotten eons,
cosmic evil slumbers.
One eye turned to the
unfathomable depths of depravity
which masquerade as his pleasant dreams.
turned towards humanity,
awaits the coming storm
whose gales will
strip away the light and
usher forth the
And try as I might,
that infernal part of me
harkens to the call.
1. I make lists of things I want to accomplish that go unchecked.
2. Thoughts about what I’ve done which I can’t seem to forgive myself for keep me up at night, and thoughts about what I should do to make myself into someone better haunt my days.
3. I track everything I put in my body and everything I sweat out of my pores, but this never equates to a body size I feel comfortable in.
4. I start “self-care” regimens, but they quickly devolve into self-loathing.
5. I want to be unique, to be special, but I find I’m not even a one-in-four kind of person.
6. I’m told that no one’s journey is the same and that my struggles are valid, but more and more it seems like people say those things as a general platitude, a way to make themselves feel better when they don’t really care to listen to the struggle of others.
7. I write poetry that exposes my optimistically raw hopefulness, but I never share it with anyone because I just can’t bear how the pessimistic views of the world will tear my optimism to shreds.
8. In regard to #7, I also can’t bear for someone to call me a hypocrite when I do share a struggle. Even though having hope and struggling emotionally and mentally are not mutually exclusive, it seems the world sees them as binary opposites.
9. I want to write, but I’m afraid of what will come out on the page.
10. When I do conquer that fear and write, I want to share it, but I can’t stop comparing myself to others and wishing I had even one ounce of others’ talents. (See #5)
11. I know I shouldn’t read the comments section, but I just can’t help myself. I always hope to find some redemption for humanity, but it seems to be slipping further and further away. And still… I hope. (See #7)
12. People tell me how smart I am, but all I feel are the inadequacies of shit decisions I’ve made in my life.
13. I want to be a part of a “sisterhood” so badly that I will give everything to the detriment of my own happiness to female friendships, and when those friendships inevitably fall apart, I always blame myself.
14. My mother was one of my only anchors to being able to feel connected to the world around me, and I’ve felt so alone these past 4 years even though I am far from lonely.
15. I don’t know who you are, but I love you anyways.
Teachers with tech tools are like nifflers with shiny things. We see them and we have to have them. Kept to a manageable minimum, tech tools are innocuous, but like our beastly counterpart, we keep stuffing them into our pouches until they’re spilling out and tripping up our best practices in the classroom.
I used to be a niffler, and to some extent, I still am. I love tech tools: the bells and whistles and lights shining in my eyes like Christmas lights or fireworks. I get wrapped up in the buzz of “What’s new? What’s hot? What’s now?”. But something happened to me about 4 years ago. I failed as a teacher. I failed as an instructional coach, and I failed as a human being. None of the tools I had collected saved me from that failure
Without going into the soul-bearing aspects of that failure, I came out on the other side understanding that if I were going to be recognized for anything it would need to be as a consummate educator dedicated to best practices and to the advocacy of equitable access for students. I came out on the other side understanding it’s not the tech tool that will get me there, no matter how “cutting edge” I stayed or how many tools I sprayed and prayed would stick. What would get me there is reflecting on my practice and understanding that in education we have to move beyond implementation to transformation.
The same analogy can be applied to almost any educational program, book, philosophy, and Golden Gate Bridge people try to sell you. We shove them into our pockets and down our students’ throats without first considering whether what we’re doing will help students, especially disenfranchised students and students of color. I think in education we’ve become so desperate for something, anything, to work that instead of acknowledging the issues and addressing the problems, we put little pink plastic band-aids on them. When those band-aids inevitably fail, we wonder why they didn’t cure the hurt, and we blame someone else and find another shiny thing to hold up the dam. Instead, what we really need to do is blame ourselves and take a good long look at the reflection staring back at us from the water escaping.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying… At some point, we need a Newt Scamander to watch out for us and occasionally shake us free of all that baggage and bring us back to our senses. It’s okay to enjoy tech tools. But it’s not okay to forget that it’s not about the tool. It’s about you and the young people sitting in your schools. Don’t sacrifice reflecting on and pushing for best practices for the sake of the next best thing.
Be a Newt Scamander for yourself so you can be a Dumbledore for your students.
Where do I even begin with what needs to be said? Fingers pressed to my forehead, I contemplate all the words I know are inside of me and try to figure out how to edit them before they make their way onto the page. Or once they do make it onto the page I hit the “delete” key until what is left is nothing like what needs to be said.
Here’s the thing: I want to be a writer. Here’s the problem: My internal editor says I’m crap. And I believe her.
From stream-of-consciousness to word association, I’ve tried all the ways to turn my brain off and turn the writing on, but it’s never just… easy. Listen – I know writing isn’t easy. It takes time to hone your craft. It takes getting told “no” ninety-nine times before you’re told “yes”. It takes finding honest readers who will tell you your writing is crap and then give you suggestions on how to fix it. However, it would be nice to even get words on the page, to begin with, to get to those stages. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking of all the things I need to do before bedtime rolls around and I have to get ready to go to work tomorrow. Therein lies part of my problem.
I make a living as an English teacher. I spend most of my day teaching others how to write and how to read. As glamorous as that might sound, I get little time to further teach myself how to write and how to read, not the least of which do any of that for fun. And before you start in about “weekends” and “holidays” and “summers”, let me just straight up tell you: All that “time off” I spend thinking about YOUR kids and how I’m going to be a better teacher for YOUR kids. Lest this digresses into a rant, I’ll move on.
Prior to, oh, ten minutes ago, when I edited myself to write “I make a living as an English teacher”, I would claim “I am a teacher”. It may not seem like it, but there is a big difference in the way these two sentences are worded. The first implies my occupation is a temporary one, a stop on the way to something more. While the second implies that my identity is formed by being a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but I think it’s high-time I am seen as something more by myself, by my students, by my administrators, and by society.
In a “take a left at the light, go down two blocks, cross the bridge, and take the first right at the mailbox shaped like a duck” way, that’s really what I’m trying to get at. My internal editor both keeps me from being a writer and keeps me locked into a job where I am finding less-and-less reasons to stay. This started out as musings on how we inhibit our ability to actualize what we want in life (e.g..: be a writer) and ended up something on the way to realizing what part of the problem may be (i.e.: the unhealthy and impossible tasks placed on being a teacher in the 21st-century).
It’s nothing profound, according to my internal editor, but at least it’s a start.
Low caste by birth –
right side of the tracks
but wrong side of the dollar.
It didn’t seem to bother
anyone else in my family,
but for me,
it was my scarlet letter.
Instead of an A for Adultery
(though I could have worn plenty of them
for all the desperate giving up of myself
to boys I let convince me it was
the only way I would be worth something),
I wore a shabby P:
P for precocious
P for promiscuous
P for plebian
Words were exquisite tools of torture
used to flay my insides
while leaving my outside unmarred.
And so I learned how to wield them
as finely as any assassin
with a rapier tongue.
It makes sense then,
that a childhood
full of portentous naiveté,
would lead to an adulthood spent
in self-flagellation and
pouring of salt in wounds
because as much as I still gave up of myself
to people I wanted to wholeheartedly love me,
(regardless of the various letters I wore
emblazoned and branded into my skin)
I could not stop my acid tongue from
dissolving those ties that bind:
charitable vitriol spewed and
consumed until any relationship
But we can’t change the past.
I can’t erase the crimson lines of
having experienced and seen too much
boil my marrow until I was hollow.
Admittedly, I invited that pain.
I believed in it.
I wallowed in it.
I relished the pristine torture,
the incineration of the gut,
that would set me aflame
with acrimonious retribution.
that I’ve been
excavated of all I thought I was,
I’ve finally realized
I can accept
your judgements and
not believe them.
I can accept your scorn
and not let it burn
another letter into my identity.
Low caste by choice –
right side of experience;
right side of acceptance.
I am the pariah
who no longer fears
the roll of the die.
And you should be afraid.
Featured Image: Unsplash – “Temps de Flors” by Biel Morro (CC0 Public Domain)