Thursday, May 21, 2009

80 percent fun!

My students have graduated. Avery graduated, at least, and a handful of others who tearfully received their passing GEE test scores two weeks ago and will finally get that photograph to put on their fridge of cap, gown, smile, and the symbol of "COMPLETION."

Elsewhere in the universe, Ariana Rampy graduated from Whitman College, after a slew of majors, a trek across Europe, x amount of starring roles in Harper Joy theatrical productions, and x-squared amount of all-nighters. Aileen Hamilton, too, from University of Colorado (Denver?), with a degree like Ari's in art history, and a big white canvas in front of her to paint something wild and new and original. And then roughly a week and a half ago we "matriculated" the second-year Corps members, and put their accomplishments in numbers, quantifying everything that can't be quantified, and pushed forward against the tremendous current.

I feel like I should write a Baz-Luhrman-Sunscreen speech with some haste. One year after I jumped into the ocean, I find myself with an arsenal of advice. But then, whenever has that not been true?

There are just a few things I am absolutely sure about. Most of the important things are still kind of up in the air, but you've got to start somewhere, and I can think of just a handful of tiny shreds which are Absolute Truths -- things I would have liked to have known last year, or in 2004, or whenever it was I decided to be independent 4Realz. In no order: Send birthday cards; send valentines; subscribe to magazines; keep one bottle of nice wine in the house; keep fresh flowers around as much as possible; know the single place in the universe you love to read by yourself the most (your bed doesn't count); do something really self-centered every once in a while (mani-pedis and excessive amounts of dulce de leche come to mind... preferably in conjunction); read the newspaper; spend a lot of money on dinner sometimes; complain out loud about 20% of the amount you would LIKE to complain out loud; learn to Do It Yourself (knit, fix your car, make seitan from scratch, paint interiors or exteriors or on wooden surfaces, etc.).

Now. After this year, I THINK this next one is true. But you know, this is the kind of statement I make and then less than a year later look back at and laugh out loud at because I was so many different kinds of wrong. I guess that really, everything is so complicated that something like the following statement is probably PARTIALLY true, or must be true for some portion of someone's life. Maybe it is only true for Sophie Johnson in the year 2009. Maybe it's not even true then. But. I think that you are supposed to live the things you believe. At least, I think that when you do that, you like yourself a whole lot more, and that makes you generally a lot more pleasant to be around. It is a very difficult thing to do, and I never used to do it all. Except for that whole vegan thing. And even then... I have been a VERY sloppy vegan. I will say this: I am a whole lot calmer and more satisfied with being alive when I know I haven't been doing anything knowingly wrong, per se. I like riding my bike. I like eating good, local food. I like working my ass off and coming to school as prepared as humanly possible every day. I believe in it and it makes me feel good.

Surely this will not last. It is likely that in ten years I will buy a luxurious jacuzzi bath and seventeen thousand pounds of Godiva chocolates and hole myself up in selfish excess until I weigh a metric ton and my body is a gigantic prune.

Last weekened I got to volunteer at the Special Olympics. This was totally fantastic. Here is a list of things that are totally fantastic about the Special Olympics:
  1. Everyone wins a medal and gets their picture taken and gets to stand on the winners' stand, and that feels GOOD. I think. I've never won anything where you get a medal and get to stand on a stand, but it looks like fun. It looks like it is nice to be celebrated. Why don't we generally celebrate each other more often?
  2. Bocce ball. Who knew?
  3. The athletes train all year and are REALLY GOOD at what they do and it's just fun to watch really good athletes compete at sports.
  4. Free stuff abounds.
  5. People are happy to be there, very accepting and warm and open, and morale is pretty high for the whole day.

More and more this year I have started to wonder what makes us fear or reject difference. I wonder about it in myself, too... why was I so secretly unhappy when I got assigned to teach Special Ed? I know that I had opportunities to volunteer at the Special Olympics in Oregon throughout my life -- why didn't I leap at them? How is it remotely okay that we continue to live in a society in which we keep trying to shove everything that doesn't fit into our stupid little "normalcy" box into corners and away from light? And why can people still say "retard" like it's a generally acceptable insult? All obvious questions. Still, no answers.

For my birthday I had the greatest pies I've had since my mom introduced me to strawberry rhubarb and I asked seriously if it would ever be legal to marry a baked good. Leah made this mango kiwi thing which is absolutely one day going to be in a famous cookbook; Hannah did some savory vegan concoctions which seemed too good to be true; James made his first pie from scratch and it was alarmingly successful. This birthday I thought, "My. I am truly surrounded by multitalented, positive people, who are ridiculously unpretentious." I felt kind of humbled by that.

May weather in New Orleans is hot, rainy, gray, muggy, aggressive, biodiverse. There are more cockroaches and mice in my room than ever before. Outside, trees are rotting and bugs and bees and birds I had not previously acknowledged the existence of are wandering around, flitting chaotically, finding shelter when the thunderstorms are all-encompassing. Life seems to be oozing. That is the only appropriate word. As I walked down the street a week ago I practically tripped over a butterfly the size and color of a jar of blueberry jam.

The summer schedule looks like this, folks: I'll be in New Orleans until June 17thish, then driving to Colorado, then into Portland on June 25, then back to the Big Easy on July 22.

Let's hope by then I have a job again.

Fun things recently have included: A lot of really amazing cooking; volunteering all day at the New Orleans Veggie Fest, where Leah sold her baked goods and I demo-ed vegan cheese from Scotland; people pinning dollah bills to my dress in the rain on May 17; riding 16 miles on my bike for no reason in one day; new restaurants (and old ones); going to the Free Palestine lecture at UNO and learning all about the atrocious ways of the world; making clocks from empty pizza boxes and selling them on Etsy; a deluge of Crafternoonz and Veganedsays with Hannah and Leah; breakfast with James over and over again and practically beating the Crossword every time; reading like fucking crazy; listening to that rain break glass outside; my students moving forward, meaning the world to me. To name a few.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


At our last (LAST?) PTP session of the year Monday, we were supposed to write reflections. That's rather unsurprising. Last Events usually involve some kind of reflection. I wonder what about us makes us want to look back so much, and forward so rarely, (oh, and what about that Present Tense everyone is always talking about?), but human beings LOVE nostalgia, that's for sure. I think we tend to look back at things in black and white instead of shades of gray -- "That hike was miserable;" "That relationship was perfect in every way;" and not, "That birthday party seemed a little long but I decorated a nice paper mache plate and felt very accomplished in that."

So we were supposed to answer any number of generic questions: "What are two things you are proud of?" "What are two things you would have changed about your first year teaching?" "What have you learned about yourself?" And then we were supposed to share.

So I picked to share on that last one. What have I learned about myself?

In Chicago, eons ago, my answer to this question was:
"I have learned how to be okay."

FALSE. I must have felt pretty good about myself in that moment. Oh, Sophie, you are going to be non-crazy, homeostatic, and OKAY for the rest of your life. Congratulations, 19-year-old self! You WON! You finished growing up.

Last summer, one time, Alex didn't call me back for like a day, and I decided that he had jumped off a cliff with another woman and that I would never hear from him ever again, and I threw up all over the floor in my dorm room while sobbing like I HAD CATEGORICALLY LOST MY MIND. I can't believe Marianne still wanted to live with me after that.

This was a complicated situation, of course. As always, as anyone, I was trying to control something in my life because everything else was a big whirlwind. More than usual, existence had become a proverbial dust storm of four-hour-sleep nights padded with COMPUTERLABCOMPUTERLABCOMPUTERLAB and nightmares about car wrecks and bad food and 120-degree dry heat and far-away-from-everything-that-meant-anything-to-me-ness. I very rarely got very deep under my own skin because there was too freaking much going on on the surface, but when I did, it was uuuugly.

Excuses, excuses. The point is, I was NUTS, and totally, completely, utterly, indescribably not okay. Oops.

Now I can look back at that like a nice little closed book of events. Water-logged, disheveled, but closed, and gone, and done with. And I look back at all that and say, "That was miserable." Of course, there must have been more to it than that.

I assume the reason we see everything in black and white and not shades of gray is because if we didn't, everything would be waaaay too overwhelming, and we don't have the capacity for that what with our 20% functional brain use. I'm still pretty embedded in My First Year Of New Orleans to Look Back yet, but that's what we were supposed to do on Monday.

So I wrote,

"I learned I didn't have as thick a skin as I thought."

To me, this was an enormous revelation. Let me just say, I used to think I was about the strongest, toughest human being in the whole world. I used to think that if you shot me with a bullet, it would bounce right off, because THAT'S HOW FUCKING THICK my outer layer was.

I used to say things like, "Whatever, I'm used to it;" and "I'm not a crier." In my mind, this was a huge selling point to my person.

Well our seminar leader started LAUGHING.

"Really? You thought you had a thick skin? You are the biggest softy I think I have ever met. And it was clear the moment you walked in here."

Flinch. Really? No Rambo suit? No bullet-proof vest? I was feeling peeved, but didn't mention it because I didn't want to get into an argument.

Soft, huh? Did I not get punched in the face and bleed all over the GEE tests in November? Did I not see someone get shot under stadium lights? Did I not get surplussed and unsurplussed and surplussed again? Did I not get peed on and shit on and menstruated on and otherwise bodily functioned on every day? And I'm still here, right? That's got to count for something.

But at some point, after brooding for a few hours and feeling bad about myself, I let that go and decided to adopt it. Okay. I'm soft. I'm a crier. I melt easily. I'm delicate. I can't really stand up to anyone. I was starting to come to terms with all this already, honestly. It was time for a full-fledged embrace.

Still, "still standing." Still standing. Kinda. Limping, maybe, or hobbling around on that decrepit bike that's gone through more than I have. And now I'm about to turn 23 and I have this feeling that maaaaaaybe I'm finally learning how to be okay. But I won't be so presumptuous again, like in Chicago. At least I can sleep without "Gilmore Girls" now, and I can (sometimes) kill my own cockroach (although, anecdote: last night I cut a termite in half because I was mad at it for creeping over my papers, and the front half stayed alive and the back half died, and then I had to smash in its brain, and I cried because I felt bad for it, and then I felt pathetic, and then I ate a popsicle).

Instead of feeling full like I did leaving Chicago -- a false feeling, I now realize, and fleeting -- I feel half-empty. I feel like there is still a lot of space for a lot more STUFF. And one day (one can hope) I'll be able to look someone in the face and say all the things I really need to say.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

68 percent fun!

I used to update every day about how much fun I was. I don't know how I was measuring it. I felt like I was walking around with, like, a speedometer strapped to my belly or something, and I'd check it at the end of the day and report back to you. Now that I have distanced myself (at large, for better or worse) from the blogosphere, I wonder if it makes me more or less fun. You'd automatically think more, because being off the Internet means I'm out, probing the world and enjoying existence. But that's actually wrong; I've just started pouring myself into my job kinda HELLA.

Which feels at times a little meaningless because last Friday I got surplussed for next year. That basically just means I won't be at my school next year because they don't have the budget to pay for me anymore. Oh, the economy. Yes, it's a little crushing. Luckily, I don't have to think about it just now; I can think about tomorrow or the day after tomorrow and not worry about the fact that all these relationships I spent the whole year painstakingly building must be shelved in July and I'll have to start from scratch; a whole new series of failings and successes that I can't even imagine right now.

Still, I feel like I am pretty fun. This weekend I took my students SCUBA diving with Mr. D, which was extraordinary. Before you start to flip out (you are inevitably already flipping out), you should know that we did this in a pool, and not in the Atlantic Ocean. I thought that sounded kind of lame, too, until I DID IT, and it was AWESOME. You sink to the bottom of a pool and you can BREATHE UNDERWATER. Regardless of my notorious fear of fish, I think I would like to one day ACTUALLY SCUBA dive in a real life ocean. And see some real life sea creatures, and touch some real life kelp.

And then after that Leah and I rode bikes in the Cinco de Mayo parade, which was quintessentially New Orleans (Leah: "Only in New Orleans would it be so acceptable to dress up like Mexicans and hand out Doritos on the streets"). This was an EXHAUSTING but brilliant Saturday, all in all. My bike, which I have been practically abusing with the amount I am riding it, is now decorated in enormous red and white plastic dahlias; lilies; garlands. It's a good look for ole Kim. In the parade we strapped a gigantic paper mache boro head to my handlebars, which was rough for my balance, but awesome in every other respect. It was a fringe parade, and Antonio danced around like an ecstatic firefly, handing people fresh jalapenos, dancing with tourists and strangling trees with beads. There was a pinata; a hat dance; the taco truck; "Tequila!"; and plenty of almost-inappropriate jokes about swine flu.

This, among other things, brought me joy this weekend. I know that I am not a grown up yet solely because I keep feeling like I am a grown up. That feeling is familiar; I assume when I am ACTUALLY a grown up I will quit feeling like I am one and will start paying taxes and discussing A27 politics more than I do now.

James came over and killed the most offensive of the cockroaches (it is not an exaggeration to say that it was larger than a small bird), and the rest were offed unceremoniously with a can of Raid sprayed strategically in cracks and around trash cans. Satchmo is really bored of cockroaches now and has moved onto all things bigger and better. For example, three days ago he chased a small mouse into my bed. I thought this was adorable; James thought it was evidence that my house needed to be immediately vacated. Whatever; I caught it and took it outside and hoped Satchmo hadn't stored a pile of its dead relatives somewhere in my closet. I can't fault New Orleans for being a place where so many organisms desire to just LIVE. I saw a kind of flower today that was a color of hot pink I had previously thought was invented by Mattel solely for Barbie; I never imagined it would occur in nature.

I am really trying to stop being a crier. I cry when I watch those AT&T commercials where the girl and the boy get separated and the boy sends all those iPhone messages or whatever... no seriously, I tear up BAD. I'm trying to stop doing this. I want to be way more tough. Maybe if I was a little bit better at video games.

Sunday night and I'm ready. I'm wrapping my arms around May and welcoming the summer as it topples on us all at once.