Sunday, June 21, 2009

Flux fun!

We are traveling.

This was my third "road trip," and this time it was from New Orleans to Castle Rock, Colorado. More than I ever, this trip has made me understand what I mean when I say that I want to go on a road trip.

It is not that the road trips I've taken haven't sufficed. In order to get here by today (which we did so we could help Aileen move, and more on that in a moment) we had to do the 21-hour trek in two days and one night. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I remember when Grant and his brother drove from Northfield, Minnesota to Walla Walla, Washington without ever stopping to sleep. There were moments of delusion, of course. But it was, at its heart, a road trip, which became readily apparent when Grant called and said, "You have to drive through Wyoming at night. You just... have to." Those are road trip words.

On this trip James has been pretty knocked over by the landscapes. "Isn't the sky HUGE in Texas? I mean... it is just... BIGGER here. It just is. Isn't it?" And he watched out the front window as if he was watching someone perform a magic trick, trying to get behind its secret. And then in New Mexico, "Wow, it's really beautiful." "Wow, the sky." "Oh my god, look at the landscape here. It's so beautiful." And it would be beautiful -- rocks or fields or tumbleweeds pushed up against live plants pushed up against antelopes. The sky certainly did things that skies will only do on road trips -- it unfolded and changed colors and blew blackbirds around like they were bits of chewed up paper. This is the part of a road trip you can enjoy from the comfort of your car window, finding general images to hang up along the inside of your mind and attach to words like "New Mexico countryside," or "Louisiana bayou."

This works for me, and it is the only version of the road trip I have ever known. But there was this one point in which we stopped in this little town in Texas (whose name I can't remember, so don't ask), where everything was rusting or falling apart; where the paint was peeling from the old signs and barns; where the backs were torn off of saloons and shops, and construction projects lay abandoned or in wait; and THERE I remembered the real reason why road trips appeal to me.

In Walla Walla, my freshman year of college, Alan and Mac and Cat and Kuzo and I piled into this red Subaru and started driving east, with the only requirement of the trip being that we had to stop in every single town we passed on the highway. And although we traveled for three days, we BARELY made it into Idaho. Still, the trip was immortalized, and we talked about it the way other people talk about scandalous frat parties, recounting every little restaurant we ate fried food in, and every time we met someone who told us a story about the history of the place we were standing in.

I love poking around those little towns looking for clues about what used to be there, or what remains there. I love rust. I love the photographs you find left on those walls, or the footprints cemented into the sidewalks. I can't quite explain in mere English words how much I love small-town public libraries (it's practically a sickness). This, then, is what I want to someday get out of my All-American Road Trip. I want to spend the whole summer on the road, stopping a downright obnoxious amount to explore the back roads.

The idea is not remotely unique. I know that people fantasize about taking that kind of trip all the time. But too often I think we get too preoccupied with The Next Thing, trying to find the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B, without stopping, talking, waiting, breathing, or exploring. So someday that's what I want. And I don't care what the cost of gas is.


Colorado is very high up. It's funny, because I think I can actually feel the altitude change, which people say that you can, but I have generally not believed. I am a sucker for the placebo effect. If you tell me I should be feeling something, I assume that I am feeling it. Oh, so THIS is what love is! Oh, I am terribly cold on a hot day, so I SURELY have a fever! And so on and so forth. Last time I was in Colorado I was like, "I am POSITIVE that I feel this altitude thing. Oh man. It is making me feel GROSS." But then I walked away and decided that it was all in my head; that someone had told me I might feel the altitude, and so I'd assumed I had. But THIS time, I don't know, I just have a more prominent headache/ light-headedness that I am relatively certain I am not making up. James just told me that the first time I have a beer up here I am going to feel it. Which I completely believe because I always feel it when I have a beer. I have an exceptionally low alcohol tolerance.

Colorado is very high up and it is very much like Oregon in a lot of ways. For one thing, there are some non-deciduous trees, which, let me tell you, is a little mind-blowing after living in what is essentially a tropical rainforest. Also, there is a wider selection of health food at the supermarket, and a lot more liberal bumper stickers and hipster glasses here and there, and people know what "vegan" means, and there are definitely MOUNTAINS. It's weird to be in a place that is not Portland after having not been in Portland for a long time and feel like I am in Portland. I recognize that that does not make a lot of sense. You may have to experience it for yourself.

We helped Aileen move today, which I was awfully bitchy about. I am not all that good at practical tasks such as moving. James, who has worked concrete before, can withstand enormous amounts of discomfort without ever whining about it. Here are examples:
  1. James played a game of basketball at the JCC (which I happened to also be at) and this guy started to give him shit. Then there was like a little bit of a fight or something, and the guy elbowed James in the face. Then James started bleeding all over the fucking place. Then we looked at his mouth and realized THAT HE HAD BITTEN ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIS BOTTOM LIP. And there was very little whining.
  2. James went camping in the woods. He got a tick in his leg. I will note that I had also gotten a tick in my stomach, but James had pulled it out pretty readily, so I didn't have to suffer all that much. James' tick got stuck in there, and then he got Lyme disease. And there was very little whining.
  3. James was teaching fourth grade, because that is his job. He took his students to the park to play with them, and his head got caught on the lip of the monkey bars (or something) and it got gashed open and he was bleeding all over his shirt and soaked an entire shirt in blood and he had to get nine staples put in his head. And there was very little whining.
Well. I am not like that. I whined like crazy. OOOh menstrual cramps. OOOOh heavy kitchen stuff. OOOOOOOh altitude. I am just not cut out for any kind of job that might be of any actual use to anyone in life.

And so we stay here until Tuesday, then off to Portland. Wow. Portland. My heart gets dizzy when I think about going to Portland, the way you feel when you know you're going to see your long-distance boyfriend who you're still totally in love with. Maybe you and I could visit when I get there?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

90 percent fun.

So I got this e-mail today from Alex which said, "Why was the other day your funnest day ever?" And I realized that I had hastily posted a 100 percent fun blog post. I think part of me wanted to know if my blog would explode if it ever were to reach 100 percent. It didn't. Now we know! It was for science.

I mean, at the moment, I desperately felt 100 percent fun. But 100 percent fun is not achievable by merely a feeling. Here are few things that I might list as activities that could raise one from being a medium percentage of fun (say, 63 percent) to 100 percent fun in one fell swoop:
  • If you rounded up all the giraffes plus a few other African Savannah animals (choose between hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and zebra), brought them all into your back yard, and taught them all the words to "Parents Are People" for a big African Animal Sing-Along, that would be 100% fun.
  • If you rented out the biggest water park in the world and filled all the pools with different kinds of fizzy soda, then had a gigantic soda pool party, complete with a clown, that would be 100% fun.
  • If you painted big smiley faces (approximately 25 feet in diameter each) all over the state penitentiary, then threw scented water balloons at the convicts on the yard to make them giggle, that would be 100% fun.
I didn't do any of those things, even a little bit. But I did have a bit of an end-of-the-movie climactic moment on Friday, and it felt AWESOME.

First, let me tell you that I have spent the last two weeks interviewing for jobs and sending off 30 or 40 resumes and cover letters. It's actually pretty demoralizing, as I'm sure huge unemployed chunks of America have come to realize in the last few months. I'd go through these big long interview processes, sometimes for jobs I didn't even want, only to hear principals tell me that they didn't have a job in my highly qualified area at the time. By Friday, I was weary. I had thrown a big dinner at my house for 2009 Corps Members and felt unqualified to tell them anything -- I mean, certainly they didn't want to end up like me, one of the last two '08 CMs without a school placement for next year. Cooking had ended up being stressful and not fun because I had to intersperse prepping the meal with working sessions at Tulane for Induction. I made portabello grillades, cheeze grits, herbed biscuits, French toast, Bloody Marys, and sweet tea, but I couldn't help but feel like my guests weren't fully satisfied with the meal... you know how these things go. It just wasn't perfect. And then finally on Friday, I kind of lost it a little bit, right in front of a TFA staff member. She said, "Aren't you EXCITED about your interview at Langston Hughes?" I was NOT excited. I was tired. I was done interviewing. I kind of just wanted a massage and an iced tea. So I got a little teary -- and in professional dress no less -- to the extent that I think I made that poor woman feel kind of bad. It's not her fault that I can't find myself a freaking job.

I worked all Friday. I was tired and hungry and hot and not on bike (as I prefer to be) for the entire day. Then I drove two other Corps Members (first years with the same placement as I have) to Langston Hughes for our interview. It was supposed to start at 4:30; it was so crowded and busy that I didn't get in there until 6.

But when I walked into the room and sat down for the interview, something about it felt different than the other interviews I had done. It felt like it fit. I felt safe and in control; the process felt conversational and real. When I got back to Tulane, two more awesome things happened: 1. TFA gave us Mexican food, which is exactly the kind of food I was craving in that moment; and 2. Hordes of people came up and started praising Avery.

I know I told you Avery made 5 years of growth in reading this year (WOOOOO!). Well, that's actually a pretty significantly significant gain for him. I spoke at Induction this year about his progress, and then the whole Corps watched a video of Avery reading with me -- a book on a 2nd grade level, with tough words like "birthday." He nailed the reading. Then he talked about how he'd graduated and how he was getting a job, and he was incredible. I guess he was more incredible than I had even realized, because I've never had more people approach me in my life than I had approach me on Friday night. I called him and said, "Hey guess what? You just changed the lives of more than 250 people." And Avery said, "That's nice. Can we go to Wal Mart?"

So I was feeling pretty good. I felt proud. The year, for all its disasters and missteps, had been a success, if just for Avery's reading progress. Also I was eating a burrito.

AND THEN Langston Hughes called me (not the poet; the charter school), and like a cheesy teen movie script, offered me a job teaching second grade.

So I was dancing on clouds, essentially, and came home feeling 100% fun. Also I had on a really hot dress so I felt both fun AND pretty.

I have been taking advantage of the calm, and have decided that there does not necessarily have to be a storm to follow it. We leave on Wednesday for Colorado. James is moving to Greece, which has not really cemented itself in my mind yet, but has been a reality since I met him, so maybe that has taken some of the edge off. Marianne is moving to San Francisco in a few weeks. Caitlin and Avery (non-student Avery) have less than a month left in the Big Easy, before they trek up the east coast in their own directions. And as I make my way back to New Orleans in late July, I'll be moving to a new house across town, with Ariana and Leah in Mid-City, with lots of bikes and looottts of cooking supplies. A lot of things are changing. My own personal history has taught me that change is uncomfortable but generally positive. I had a teacher in high school who told me that being liberal just means being able to embrace change. Well, I have listed myself as "Very Liberal" on Facebook; so bring it on.

Yesterday I woke up at 7 a.m. and cleaned the house, scrubbing the corners and meditating on the address which has been the first place I've really made my own home out of, from scratch, and without anyone else's help. I rode my bike to Octavia Books to buy my dad a Fathers' Day present, and passed a car wreck on the way. I stopped and kicked my bike to the side of the road. "What can I do to help?" Silence. It was a kind of a major wreck. "Have you called someone to help you? Would you like me to call?" Silence. Angry silence. As if I was intruding on something that did not belong to me. Finally, "No, it's fine. We're fine." And I said, "I promise it's going to be okay." But of course that probably meant nothing to them in that moment.

I bought fresh gingerbread and iced tea at the Laurel Street Bakery, where there was no air conditioning, and sat outside doing the crossword and rubbing ice on my legs. I lingered and watched people walking their dogs, trying to remember the names for the bright pink flowers.

Then I rode my bike to see Caitlin for what I think I know in my heart might be the last time. We had Cuban food at a CBD fancy restaurant, and I ordered a Mojito (the best one I've ever consumed). Then we bought beers and got tipsy-to-drunk on the Riverwalk. This guy passed by and pointed at Caitlin and shouted, "Girl, you so fine you make MEDICINE sick!" We didn't get it. Then he said, "That's real talk." Still didn't get it. But that's New Orleans.

Spent the next several hours drinking more and playing cards. And I rode my bike home across town in the dark without my glasses. I felt weirdly safe and protected in maybe a sort of false way. I felt lucky. I felt very, very alive.

So maybe these things do not make me 100% fun, but I'll settle at 90. I am enjoying my life, and exploring everything. I am saying "yes" a lot. I am looking forward, for a change.

See you in Oregon!

Friday, June 12, 2009

100 percent fun!

I would be surprised if I found out I wasn't the happiest person in the world right now.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

61 percent fun.

Still no Snowball. Isn't there ANYONE out there who will go and get a Snowball with me? A lonely Snowball just doesn't sound that good.

Monday, June 1, 2009

81 percent fun!

Alexis is in town. It's a casual visit; she's here with her new boyfriend, who is named Sam (hereafter referred to as "SamJam"). He is a very "cool" person. The kind of cool that you write about in "Nylon" magazine (or maybe "Nylon: Guys" magazine)... he plays music and sings in a growly loud voice; he makes paintings on heavy white paper with ink and watercolors; he has very shiny hair. Yesterday we went to the swamp and it was 95 degrees. It was too hot to be walking. I get this overwhelming feeling of guilt when I suggest activities which do not thrill the entire group. But the sky was VERY blue, and we ultimately saw three alligators, which is not an all-time high, but is not the shabbiest possibility, either.

Anyway, having Alexis here adds a nice symmetry to the year. Because it was about a year ago that we piled six suitcases, eight large boxes, a record player, a typewriter, a tube of college-dorm-era wall posters, a doomed cooler of camping foods, an REI tent, two lacrosse sticks, and two sleeping bags into DARYL -- the stick-shift green Volvo wagon who would, at her fateful end, flip upside down over the hill in Nebraska on that very trip. After spending a solid week assembling data which told me that Avery grew 5 years in reading in one year, and that my five Life Skills students had more than 50 percent average growth in objective mastery for their class; and that Derren had over 90% IEP mastery in a year and can now finally move into the 11th grade with all the appropriate Carnegie units in place, I wish there was a bar graph or Microsoft Excel Document I could use to measure the amount that Alexis and I have grown in the past year.

She and SamJam will help me clean out my classroom today. The bulk of this work has been done, and a neat little box of binders and graphic organizers and flash cards and fake money is sitting in the trunk of my car waiting for whatever job I end up getting next year. But there are still trash bags to move out and shelves to push around and a big old floor to sweep... it's just not done yet. It may never get done.

My goal for today is to get a Snow Ball. I feel like I've been sitting around for ages waiting for an excuse to get a Snow Ball, and the truth is that the main excuse to get a Snow Ball is being alive and having a functional tongue. Plus, there's a lot to celebrate. Today we're going to get one of those, and then we're going to go to City Park and eat on the lawn and explore the NOMA. SamJam is all about the art museum. Thank goodness, because he HATES Mario Party -- a huge blight on his otherwise clean record.

On Friday I went to a party with James where there were a lot of second year Corps Members. They all looked entirely excited, exhausted, and terrified. I think it was a goodbye party. James said that he said lots of casual goodbyes there, but to try to really know what "goodbye" meant in that moment was much too overwhelming. I think that was what it was like to leave Whitman. Life has so far been a series of events culminating in endings which feel like standing on the edge of a cliff, and the whole world lies there, ready. I guess Teach for America is just another one.

Lately I have been verrrrrryyyy reflective. That's pretty masturbatory, as far as blog entries go. I am supposed to focus on concrete facts and scientific evidence about what's going on in New Orleans. Well.

There was a potluck at Nady's house last week. Alex used to talk about walking into adults' houses and wanting that for himself, and I didn't ever really understand it. Then I walked into Nady's house and suddenly that particular longing became clear. The house was small and tidy, with minimal clutter, considering all the kitschy featurettes it included. There were little craft birds hiding all over the place, and a wooden table Nady tiled herself, and a big couch with a pretty old sheet on it (because they have dogs), and a compact music studio with a keyboard and a mixing board and amplifiers and all the other equipment you would need for that sort of thing. And in the back she and her boyfriend planted herbs and vegetables and marigolds; he resurrected the fallen fence and she watered the new green plants. I wanted it BAD. James bought me an orchid and I know I'm going to accidentally kill it -- just like I killed the star flowers and the herb garden from my big fall plans.

I know there is a mouse in my bookshelf. I thought the mice were in the kitchen, because they ate through a loaf of my bread and then they pooped in my frying pan. Well, maybe they WERE in the kitchen, but then they moved to where they felt it was safer -- the bookshelf in my room where I keep my bird seed and cat food. Here are two pieces of evidence which lend themselves to the idea that there are mice in my bookshelf: 1. My cat sits and stares at the bookshelf for like hours on end and can't be distracted by anything, not even fake mice, not even eggnog. 2. I just saw a mouse. It was adorable. It was just standing there on my books. I thought, "I want to catch that mouse." But I should have known that Satchmo is infinitely more agile and quick than I could ever hope to be and he has been trying to catch these mice for the last six days. So there was no way I was going to catch this guy. He bolted into some crevice in the wall and now he is gone. Leah gave me some humane mouse traps and I put one on the shelf where I saw that mouse, and I suppose it's just a matter of time before I catch him and put him outside. I look forward to this event with all my heart.

Furthermore, there are all manners of wildlife outside my window where I put the bird feeder. I had a colony of sparrows yesterday (you think I am exaggerating, but there were at least two dozen of them, and they all wore hats which said "Sparrow Colony"); there were twin male cardinals (read: RED) two days ago; and today I have morning doves which are cooing in this low, calming whistling way that makes me kind of want to date them (?) (.).

I am in a bit of a musical rut right now. Are there new albums out there I'm not paying attention to?