Sunday, August 30, 2009


I am sitting outside on a hot hurricane-season day in New Orleans at the Fair Grinds. This is all well and good, except that the heat makes the mosquito bite on my ankle itch like crazy. Only since I moved to New Orleans have I learned to correctly spell "mosquito." Previously, I had resigned "mosquito" to being one of those words I would always have to let Spell Check correct for me. But now I've got it. Next up: avocado.

You and I have not been in great correspondence.

The amount of time I spend at work, and thinking about work, and generally immersed in some kind of work-related work, has ballooned to the size of a bloated rhetorical time-whale. But I think I had always imagined that teachers were supposed to work this much, so I don't mind it really. I have the rest of my life to sit behind a blog, making my life sound a lot more eloquent than it actually is.

That is, if I ever leave this whole Teaching At A Charter School In New Orleans thing. The more I am here, the more important it feels to be here. I guess I assumed that the gap would appear less severe if I worked at a school with parents who were involved, and a staff that was supportive, and with kids who weren't twenty years old and didn't know how to read. And yes, the gap does appear, in some ways, less severe. But in other ways, it is just as troubling, if not more so, to see kids who are still so far beneath grade level, swimming against the current. But they're seven, so it's usually a little more cute than depressing, and that makes the whole of this entire situation all the more pressing.

I am not particularly good at teaching. I don't even know if I am particularly good at babysitting. But I'm trying to work as much as is healthy, in good faith that if I take care of myself and do the best I can the rest will fall into place.

When kids are seven they say cute shit.

Example: "Oh Ms. Johnson, B told me that if you go to someone's house and have crawfish over at their house then you is cousins. Is that true?"

Or: "Ms. Johnson, you put coconut oil in your hair? Because your hair feel like the inside of a coconut."


(After reading a book about a raccoon, Ms. J hands out pieces of lined paper)
Ms. Johnson: Okay class. On this paper, I would like you to write a question you have about the book. A question ends with a QUESTION MARK. If you don't know how to write a question, I want you to make your best effort. So you will be WRITING. Not DRAWING. WRITING. A question. About the book. The book about the raccoon.
B (with a raised hand): I'm going to draw a picture of a giraffe, okay?

I get to work at 6 a.m. and leave at 6 p.m. and go home and work from my comfy bed and at night I DREAM about children and on the weekend I browse websites about leveled readers. My life has become a pathetic Teach for America poster existence. I'm kind of really proud of it.

There was a breath of sheer, unsullied fun in there, though, when Sam came to visit last weekend and I put everything on hold to show one of my favorite people in the world one of my favorite cities in the world. So prepare yourself for A LIST. Because these sorts of events can really only be cataloged in effusive, effulgent lists. We:

Stayed up too late, woke up too early, ate vegan jambalaya, cooked brunch (buckwheat waffles, avocados [sp?], mushroom and onion tofu scramble), saw assorted wildlife (two alligators, enormous black grasshoppers, myriad banana spiders, wading birds, lizards with electric blue tails) at the Barrataria Swamp, ate fresh fruit Snowballs, had alligator po' boys (mine was French fries actually, but Sam picked up the slack and ate some real life alligator), biked to City Park, opined about swans and turtles, biked to the French Quarter at night, walked along the Mississippi River and viewed geckos and ibises (is that the true plural of ibis?) in the slick swampy black water, chatted up the gutter punks about ECE, made pancakes with red plums, rode bikes on the ferry to Algiers, had carrot cake with the Sunday crossword puzzle, biked Uptown, ate vegan burritos at Juan's, found a wallet, returned a wallet, biked to Audubon Park, saved a child from red fire ants, counted one hundred turtles, listened to snippets of conversations as they passed by on the bike path ("I hear you can do the same thing with a turkey baster"), had free Indian food at Hare Krishna, slathered ourselves in grapeseed oil to lose the mosquitoes (no "sp?"!), went onandonandon and on about comic books (and on and on and on), ate black beans and eggs at the Oak Street Cafe while they closed up and the piano jazz player was starting to get a little wacky and the girl behind the counter decided she liked us because our glasses matched and gave us a free Arnold Palmer and plates of free doughnuts.

Unless you are Sam Alden (and maybe even if you ARE Sam Alden), you should have read that last paragraph with complete envy, because that, my friends of the Internet, is the archetype of The Perfect Weekend.

I pride myself so much in my ability to explore the beautiful world around me while I am alone. I have never had trouble going to the movies by myself, and I actually believe the art museum is always better that way... but sometimes, when you are so completely tangled up in your job that you can hardly breathe, you need someone to come in and pull you out of it and remind you that There Are Trees! and There Is Art! and Being Alive Is At All Times A Celebration And A Gift! So last weekend was like being handed a self-help manual to remember why we start Internet blogs to chronicle our fun levels in the first place. Because Everything is too breathtakingly wonderful to let pass by without stopping to take it in.

Yesterday was the four-year anniversary of the hurricane that brought so many of us here. I struggle to write about that because one year in New Orleans has taught me, without a shadow of a doubt, that no amount of books or trips to the Lower Ninth Ward will ever, in a million years, give me the perspective to understand the magnitude what happened here then.

I do know that the people who are here now -- the transplants, and those who stayed; those who know the intimate details of the Superdome, and those who came back; the visionaries and the misfits and the idealists and the anarchists -- are the best people, hand's down, that I have met in my twenty-three years. I am so grateful that this amazing city is a chapter in my tiny life.

And the sun has come out. We all, always, move forward.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Take a good long hard look at that face. What does it say to you? Does it say, "I am calm and happy and sane and I have plenty of time to work a flattening iron?" If it says that to you, then you have to go back to Kindergarten and relearn the part with the posters where they talked about feelings. Because that is NOT what that face says.

Now, it MIGHT say to you, "Ew. I am seeing a naked person who I didn't really want to see naked." It's a misleading face. As much as it MIGHT look like that is what is happening with Sophie Johnson at this instant in time, unfortunately, it is not.

Look, I'll just tell you. That face says, "Really? You REALLY think I can teach second graders? Are you truly going to trust me with that?"

In the past two weeks, I've figured out the following: I am a trouble-maker. It's not my fault. I genuinely want to be a good, mature, professionally dressed, trustworthy teacher. My brain and my mouth BETRAY ME. Today I asked the sweet, wonderful curriculum director at our school -- who has been teaching for like thirty years and who is quite possibly my favorite educator I have ever met -- whether she wanted me to make her a cookie shaped like a penis. I WAS JUST EXCITED! She said I could participate in this amazing program which teaches teachers how to implement art into their lesson plans, and I freaked out because of how cool it sounded, and all I could think to offer as compensation was the penis cookie thing. This poor woman had no idea what to say. But you see how this was a potentially damaging choice? I'm going to lose my job by accident for sure.

And also: what am I supposed to do with all those blank walls in that classroom that I am supposedly supposed to be half in charge of? I, too, defaulted to asking Carrie (probably my second favorite educator, and co-teacher). But Carrie can't do it all. I should make a joke here about Carrie "carrying" the entire load. I would do that if I weren't so PANICKED right now about being IN CHARGE OF YOUNG LIVES.

We get the students on Monday. I called all their parents last night. You can't tell just by looking how much those two statements weigh, so let me tell you: They weigh A LOT.

I can't talk about teaching right now. I love LHA, legitimately. I would go to bat for this school. I really love what I'm doing. This is the kind of job that I might never walk away from because it makes so much sense to me.

And while I could go on and on about that, and bore you until you turned into a potato, I'll keep it brief and get the most urgent updates out there. Let's do a top ten. The top ten most important things that have taken place since we last spoke:

10. There are mice at our tiny, very clean house. I am always so torn about this. I know that you are supposed to be mad about mice. I mean, I get that. But they're so cute! I don't mind sharing my food with them. And while I understand that mice potentially cause diseases, they also potentially ask for cookies. And that's just adorable.

9. It's my mom's birthday on Sunday! This is the second year where I won't be there for my mom's birthday, and it feels very strange. Holidays and birthdays are just something that families always share. The most noticeable thing about living across the country is that I have to suddenly send birthday presents and Mother's Day presents, and I have to make phone calls, instead of just climbing in bed with her and kissing her a ton. My mom is one of my all time favorite people, so her birth should be super-celebrated. You can send her an e-mail if you want. Her e-mail address is She's a great mom and a great teacher and she smells really good all the time and she just rode on one million roller coasters with my sister and my dad at Knott's Berry Farm because she (and I guess the rest of my fam) is a badass. Personally, I can't do roller coasters. They freak me the fuck out.

8. The first Crafternoons of the year was at our house. My goal was to make a shrinkable-plastic blue whale necklace like I saw at the art store in Portland. This proved to be reeeallly hard because the whale kept curling up in the oven, and it wouldn't lay flat again. Finally I settled for this imperfect version. I had to go with it because I ran out of Shrinky Dinks. I also made a similar one with a bicycle, and some Crest toothpaste earrings. We ordered pizza from Naked Pizza which has VEGAN CHEESE if you ask for it, and GLUTEN FREE CRUST if you ask for it, and you HAVE TO REMEMBER that this is NEW ORLEANS, so that's a pretty big fucking deal. I think I ate half of the vegan cheese pizza all by myself. Please don't think that's gross. It's only a little bit gross.

7. Speaking of making shit, living with Leah is the best thing that has ever happened to my diet. I mean, I've lived with vegans before, but never a vegan who likes to cook and bake the way Leah does. She's amazing. In the last three days I've eaten homemade vegan jambalaya, zucchini bread, and asparagus soup. I'm jealous of me too.

6. You HAVE to visit the NOMA. You HAVE to. Hannah took me to see the exhibit on the Art of Caring -- it's an exhibit of beautiful photography that has to do with: Family, Love, Caretaking, Health, Disaster, and Remembrance. It's incredible. It's like taking a journey. I don't know what's up with me and art lately, but it's been making me cry in a really good way. Art never used to quite do that for me, but now it does, and that freaking exhibit, man.... I cried like five or eight times. Openly. Children gawked.

5. Sam Alden is coming to visit! I know that's in the future... but it's a recent revelation! And an EXCITING one! We can go see the Art of Caring. Also, I don't know if I'm allowed to say this over the Internet, but he finished a really amazing art project he has been working on for seven months. How's that for ambiguous? I just want to let him tell you, that's all. This is like the gossip section of Sophie's Blog. It's basically Us Weekly up in here.

4. We furnished the house. This was such an expensive process, especially since Leah and I are both the kinds of people who are like, "Yes, that's good enough, let's buy that;" and not the, "Let's wait on that," or "Let's talk them down" kinds of people. We went to Target and bought a whole box of pots and pans for $100 that are light pink. Light pink. Also a waffle maker. But you know, it is this irrationality that makes us live together so well, and that makes our newly furnished house the belle of the Gayoso Street ball. ((Here is a short tour of our house. Notes on this: I say that this house is located at 917 Louisiana Ave. That's not true. I was confused. Also, the house is now furnished. Clearly, it was NOT furnished when this video was recorded. Now it is. So you can visit and you'll like it and think it is pretty inside.))***

3. My cat lost his collar. If you find it, please call. I'm pissed because I JUST BOUGHT IT FOR HIM and it had a BOW on it.

2. I got a new bike. It's a really cool 10-speed bike that you have to lean forward really far to ride on. You know that type of bike. A ROAD bike. It also has a men's frame, which I think is a ridiculous type of frame, because it forces you to kind of straddle the bike in a weird way when you want to get off, and I've had to buy bike shorts so that I don't flash my vadge every time I have to get off the bike. I named this bike Charley. Then I crashed this bike. It was a big, bad, nasty crash, and I whined about it a ton. I got reeeeally sick bruises and everyone at work was very concerned. I took Charley to get fixed (yes, this IS the bike equivalent of neutered), and I had the man give Charley a new seat, and that changed my life. Kind of utterly.

1. Radical Educators is a group that Hannah and Derrick started, and they probably wouldn't want me to blog about it because it has this kind of secretive air to it right now, but I am just so excited to be a part of it. We sit upstairs at the Fair Grinds on Sundays and discuss amazing new tactics to teaching, and support each other, and it sounds lame, but it's like THE BEST THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME IN MY TEACHING CAREER, seriously.

So that's the top ten, folks. And I have been blogging for a hundred hours, and my alarm is about to tell me that it's time to read my book. And tomorrow it will be time to go back to work. And one day it will be time for me to buy a house. Inevitably I will someday get a dog. And a hug from a friend.

*** Blogspot would NOT upload this video in less than one hour. WTF. So you don't get to see the video. I'm sorry. It's only two minutes long, so I think that's pretty fucked up.