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.


Sam said...

Well, I do not believe you and I think that you are a wonderful teacher unable to admit it.

And I am extremely envious of my past self. What an extraordinary guy he is.

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brahim Vatos. L said...

it's fun ... cool