Saturday, June 12, 2010


I'm moving all my endeavors -- personal, artistic, photographic, what have you -- to a NEW SITE, where it will live FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER.

Please move to and start following me at:

See you later, Internet!

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Yesterday I jumped out of a plane.

I am not a thrill-seeker. When my family took trips to Knott's Berry Farm, I would cry or whine for an ice cream cone in order to fully avoid at all costs anything that remotely resembled a roller coaster. One year at Disneyland I went on Splash Mountain and thought it the most traumatic experience of my life thusfar, vowing at the age of eight to never again willingly participate in anything that was intended to make you feel scared.

But then suddenly there was this opportunity to jump out of a plane and I just thought, "Shit. If I don't do this, I will kick myself for the rest of my life."

Recently I turned twenty-four. It was shaping up to be the worst birthday of my life. I felt overworked and overtired, and my co-teacher's dog was sick so she had to miss the first half of the day. Teaching alone, as it always does, reaffirmed every thought I had ever nurtured that told me that I was a lousy, good-for-nothing teacher incapable of doing anything remotely useful for children. I went to swing dancing class, and it was HOT in there, and I didn't dance all that well, and for the dollar bill I had pinned on my own chest (this is a New Orleans birthday tradition), not a single person pinned another one, which made me look red as a tomato and monetarily pathetic. I called Leah over and over again because we were supposed to have dinner at Bamboo, but she forgot, so I had to ride home hungry and alone. It had rained the day before, and so the termites were out, and they mercilessly smacked me in the face and splattered against my glasses for the whole bike ride home. And I cried and felt VERY sorry for myself.

And I walked into my house, where it was dark, and I wanted to fall into bed and cry my eyes out... then suddenly the lights flicked on, and there stood everyone I loved, shouting "SURPRISE!" The living room was magically clean! Fresh flowers were on every table! A big chocolate-rosewater-pistachio cake with waxy candles made to look like tools sat next to a big heap of presents, alongside the gauzy butterfly Leah pinned next to abundant crepe paper wreaths and balloons. It was the kind of surprise party they put in movies that you convince yourself will never, ever happen to you, no matter how special you are.

So I cried again, but this time because I was so happy. I guess for the last two years I have built up this assumption that you have to make your own happiness, and that's okay, because that's just the way the world works. I thought that disappointment was just part of the everyday equation, and whenever it hurt too much, you had to go out and get yourself a new book or listen to a song you liked a lot, because no one was ever, ever, ever going to fix it for you. And then, as fucking cheesy as I know it is, this small group of wonderful people went ahead and proved me just so very wrong. Just when I thought I had it all figured out -- I was twenty-four, after all -- I didn't have anything figured out at all. And I was not as alone as I had assumed that I was.

There weren't that many of us that decided we wanted to jump this year. It was much more popular at my school last year. This year it was just Andrea, Kelsey, Saskia, Coop, Amanda, and Mark's girlfriend Tiffany. And me. I wasn't scared until we were about 10,000 feet in the air, and even then, I didn't know why I was scared. It didn't make any kind of rational sense. I knew I was going to be OK. When I drive on the highway (or any fast street, really) these days, I internalize a million different visual fantasies of the graphic deaths that could possibly happen in the next few moments. It's very traumatic, and I hate driving. But I didn't do that when we were up in the plane. I couldn't think of a single bad thing that could happen to me (now I can think of a lot: your parachute doesn't deploy; you accidentally jump into the propeller of the plane; you come in for the landing and accidentally land on a moving truck; etc.). I just felt scared, and all alone, and I couldn't stop crying.

I read "Ron Clark's Essential 55" over spring break. This is a book of 55 rules that caused Ron Clark the kind of teacher-of-the-year-my-life-is-a-made-for-TV-movie success he enjoys on a daily basis. It goes against basically everything I believe about teaching. I believe that children should figure things out for themselves. I believe that rules should be flexible and loose. I believe in a lot of hugging, a lot of conflict-resolution, and a lot of talking it out without any kind of major conflict. But I read this book, and I decided to try it. I decided to go into my classroom and demand these very ridiculous things of my students. I demanded that they fold their napkins on their laps during lunch. I demanded that they make eye contact with anyone whenever they speak. I demanded that they serve detention for sucking their teeth or rolling their eyes. I went and I put these rules on the wall, and I went over them during social studies, and I started to enforce them. And then the WEIRDEST THING happened: they worked.

I don't mean my students learned to read. I mean they learned all these things I had been trying to teach them all year. They started to be kind to each other. They started to be kind to me. They started hugging a lot more and fighting a lot less. They treated guests with respect. They made me cards and letters for the first time all year. I caught them saying nice things to each other when they thought no one was looking. And I thought, "What the fuck?" How was it that the one book I read all year that I couldn't identify with at all had done all the things I had been swimming upstream to teach my kids since I became a teacher? It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the reality that not every brain works exactly like mine. I just can't believe that not all children want just what I wanted when I was a kid. But I still am no closer to knowing what they do want, or need. All I know is that I love them. More and more every single day. So I guess I'm not so sad that my school year is a few weeks longer than everyone else's.

I sat perched out the window of this plane, tens of thousands of feet above the ground, and thought, "This is unnatural. This makes no sense." The world down there looked like a weathered computer chip. The clouds were underneath me. You couldn't distinguish a tree as a tree or a house as house. Everything was dots and circles and little peg-like squares. When I was young, when things scared me, I said my times tables. Once I learned them in third grade, they were the thing that I felt most proud of. I had had to practice and practice to nail them. I had had to say them while I was waiting in lines or when I was sitting at the kitchen table between dinner and clean-up time. I even had this record I played that said them over and over again and I would listen to it over and over again, because I just HAD to beat the 2 minute time limit -- just HAD to. And I was one of the last ones to get it, too, because in third grade, times tables did not come easily to me. I know I practiced them more than a normal kid, but when it came time to test, I flailed. I panicked. I couldn't do it. But when I FINALLY got there, I knew them. I did all my times tables through the twelves in one minute and twelve seconds -- the fastest in the class. And I had never felt so good or proud of anything. So after that, when I felt scared or uncomfortable, I'd start with the threes and say my times tables until the bad thing was over. For at least two break-ups, three funerals, and one impossible goodbye at the airport, I have held back my tears using the times tables method.

So it went: three times four is twelve, tilt back into the plane; three times five is fifteen, tilt out the window; three times six is eighteen, tilt into the plane; three times seven is twenty-one, and I fell out into the sky.

It didn't feel anything like falling. It felt like flying. There is no arguing with that. It felt like you were completely safe, because you had wings. I know a lot about wings, and I am pretty sure birds must feel that way every day.

But really, I couldn't describe it, so I won't try. The world never really came into focus. My tandem partner kept saying, "welcome to skydiving" under the shield of the parachute, and I thought to myself, "stop talking. I am starting something right now." But I don't know what it is.

I know less now than I knew last year. As I look back at my reflections from last year, I feel more disjointed, but happier than I was then. Then I was sure I had it figured out. Now I don't know.

But last year I wrote,
"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.

Well, Past Sophie, I gotta say -- you were right on that one. Ron Clark (I know! He's such a tool! But still...) calls this Rule Number 55: Be the best person you can be. So now I look in the mirror and say that every morning. Be the best person you can be. It sounds so simple, but it's hard. Be the best person you can be. Who exactly is that, Ron Clark?

But you know what? I know. I do.

You slide into it, and you look around at the world, which is suddenly full of Big Things like Trees and Houses and Water Towers, and you think, "I like this place. It was nice to be in the air for a little while, but I never realized how grateful I was until now to be on the ground."

Friday, April 2, 2010

The radio at night

I am listening to the radio at 2:30 in the morning. I used to do that when I delivered newspapers, back when I was in high school. Nothing about that job was glamorous, nor did it ever pay even close to enough. The only thing that was ever any good about it was that in the middle of the night there is relatively commercial-free radio, and the alternative rock station in Portland (holla 94.7) would apparently just play through their Awesome Music Archives, skipping over their Archives of Obligatory Songs That Sophie Doesn't Like, Including That One by Evanescence. Well, there were two good things. The other good thing was that you got to watch the sunrise.

Lately, as it has gotten more and more difficult to get out of bed and I can't slow down fast enough to chew my own food, I've been remembering those days. Here is how my daily schedule looked that summer: 2:00 a.m.: Wake up, go to work . 5:30 a.m.: Get back from delivering papers. 8:00 a.m.: Wake up, go to second job at Target. 5:00 p.m. Get back home from folding ugly-ass sweaters. 6:00 p.m.: Go to third job helping people make and receive pizzas. 8:00 p.m.: Get home, go to bed watching Fresh Prince on Nick at Nite.

Remember when Nick at Nite played great old retro television? I wondered why they ever changed television around. In the world of Bewitched and I Dream of Genie, women were hot, blonde, and magical. They could also solve the world's problems in thirty minutes or less.

I could use a wiggly nose just about now.

Thoughts on New Orleans in spring: this is the most beautiful city on the planet right. I only wish I had time to enjoy it just for the sake of it. I can only laugh at the ridiculousness of the songbirds going nuts because the sun is shining blistering, and they are far too excited about the new flowers coming up all over the place.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ari left her comforter

It's a little cold outside and I have no interest or desire to get out of bed. I have never felt more like life has been speeding past me than I've felt in the last month. It's the sensation I imagine one gets when one is chasing something very difficult to catch like, say, a wild turkey, or a rabbit. Hunters have it rough.

But actually, I shot a rifle for the first time this weekend (and I'm pretty sure it will be the last time, too. It was way too much fun for me to ever feel comfortable touching one again). A week ago, I built my first four-layer cake (although I had help). And yesterday I watched a video of myself teaching and thought, "Wow. When did I lose sight of what was important?" So I guess that's a vague way of saying that I feel like I'm perched on top of something, getting ready to sort of slip and fall into a new, exciting chapter. The analogy I came up with here is that life right now feels like I have been sucking on one of those strawberry bon-bon candies for a really long time, and the center part is just about to explode, and I know it.

The gun was a result of peer pressure, by the way. I was at boyscout camp with high school students from Rabouin. An octogenarian in an NRA hat told me that he wasn't surprised that I didn't want to shoot a gun, because after all, I was a girl. And then, as you can imagine, I found myself learning about barrels and gun powder and copper shells and triggers and safeties, and I was doing something I never thought I would ever do. That weekend I also spent time sitting on the levee, just thinking for, like, hours. I realized that any time you feel compelled to sit and think for long periods of time, you probably should. There is probably a lot to think about.

The cake came out of a lovely week and a half with Sam and my sister, who each came and visited for their spring breaks. There are a lot of really extraordinary people in my life, which I too often take for granted.

The doubt came from watching myself yell at seven-year-olds like they were adults; came from the pressure of standing in front of twenty people every day and trying to entertain them enough to get them to learn something. I'm not actually good at it. I am way too high strung. But I'll be good at it someday, maybe, so I won't beat myself up over it too much.

Today I'm not going to yell. That's my Wednesday resolution. And that's as far into the future as I can possibly think right now. Happy Passover, on the other hand. I'm going to go make a matzoh sandwich.

(For those of you who remember, that's Derrick, [I used to call him Derrin, I think] who was probably my the student I felt most emotionally connected to last year. You can't imagine how far away from the sullen, moody teenager who refused to talk to any adult the person in this picture is. Seeing him stand there, shooting a bow and arrow, acting curious about the world around him, gave me such profound hope that I don't quite know how to describe it to you.)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

output, mostly.

I got hit by a car while I was riding my bike two weeks ago. The driver nubbed my back wheel and I lost control and smashed into a median. As far as bodily injuries go, I looked pretty bad-ass, but had nothing much to write home about, except for a mild concussion. Concussions, by the way, are funny. There are three days of my life that are just lost in my memory, and I have almost no recollection of what I did or what I was thinking. When I look back at that, it feels like I'm staring at someone's grainy photographs, of events I don't even really remember. I also got a cool bruise on my shin. Anyway, I bought a helmet, and naively assumed that anything broken could be fixed, bringing my bicycle in to the shop yesterday. No dice. I guess when you get hit by a car, you actually total your bike, and the guys at shop have to condescendingly say, "This thing is toast," as you present them with the life joy that is your bicycle. So I guess I'm in the market. Also, I'm bummed out.

Our zebra finches laid eggs, and the eggs hatched, and over Mardi Gras Break, the baby birds emerged from the nest and got very loud. This is what that looks like. (WATCH TO AT LEAST HALF WAY TO GET TO BABIES!)

I went camping last weekend, with the old crew from Rabouin. Lots of output from that. Camping is ultimately the most fulfilling activity I can think of. It's like a deep cleanse. You just can't do anything when you're camping! All you can do is look at trees, breathe, and crouch by a fire. This is heightened tenfold, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, when you go camping with high school kids who have never been camping before. It's just the fucking best. Here are some relics from that experience:

SubA: This really exists, in a place called Fountainbleau State Park. Seriously.


SubB: The boys built the fire, themselves, from wood we found around the site. And they were EXCITED. Observe.

SubC: From the sketchbook this weekend: An in-tents drawing; Mancel from below, with the clouds behind his head.



More later, with writing and insight, I promise.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Brand new pair of roller skates

Leah, my roommate, who is perhaps the most extraordinary adventurer, risk-taker, and action-doer I have met in my young life (and she doesn't read my blog, so I have no real impetus to write this about her, except that it is true), is good at doing things that make her happy. For the greater part of this year, I was convinced that the things that made me happy should be the things that made Leah happy, or that made teachers happy, or that made attractive boys happy, or that made my cats happy, or that made the writers of magazines happy. I had a very strict "supposed to" notion about the way to live my life. Leah goes dancing at bounce clubs in neon-colored outfits, and therefore I should go to bounce clubs in neon-colored outfits. Teachers like to sit over cocktails and bemoan the amount of work they have to do, and therefore I should accept every invitation to sip Manhattans in a dingy bar, and I should come prepared with a Best Of list for the week's misfortunes in the classroom. My cats eat salmon and chicken liver soaked in gravy while making growling noises, and therefore... you get the idea. So on and so forth.

But in the car the other day, I said I wasn't really all that happy. Leah said, "You should go out more." I thought about that. I've gone out quite a lot this year. "But going out doesn't really make me happy, I don't think," I said. And then Leah said something that should have been so obvious to me, but which I had not been able to wrap my mind around up to that point.

"Sophie, aren't you the one who is always telling me to be okay with the person I am? Aren't you always telling me to have confidence in doing the things that make me happy?"

I said, "I like to go to museums." Leah said, "Then you should go to museums."


I lay in bed for a while and thought about the combination that made me happiest, and which was most lacking from my life. I came up with this: exploring, slowly, alone. There's just so much premium placed on having fun in public; in enjoying yourself and letting others know that you are enjoying yourself, so you can create an image of Smiling Face Dancing In The Street. Well, there's no written rule that says you have to have a partner in crime.

On Thursday I took off running.

Or rather, I rode my bike. The rules for this day were that I had to stop any time anything interested me, and take my time to take it in. In general, I have decided I am a very slow-moving person. So I was going to let myself be a very slow moving person.

I did wipe out pretty hard around a corner on my bike. I am actually a really bad cyclist. I think I crash more than any person I have ever met (I average one major spill a month, which my roommates attest is pathetic). I am in a perpetual state of looking like a map of the world charted out in continent-sized bruises. Two things I can conclude from this: 1. I either definitely should or should not join the roller derby. Should, because I can fall with great ease; should not because I fall with great frequency. And 2. I absolutely, desperately need to drop all fussy funding issues I may have with my bank account and buy a freaking bike helmet. I just know that one day I'll be grateful.

I spent the whole afternoon doing nothing but exploring a city I wish I knew better. I saw rope swings, bedazzled bicycles, people taking apart Mardi Gras floats, and a girl roller skating. Instead of a camera, I brought a sketch book. I used to be very interested in sketchbooks, but that has taken the back seat in the past few years, as everything has gotten fasterfasterfaster, and I "haven't had time" to sit and draw. Lucky for me, I met Sam Alden, whose blog is testament to the fact that he sits for ten-hour periods (I'm not kidding) doing nothing but drawing. I bought a couple of line-free Moleskines (pretentious enough for you?), and dove back into it. I am a little horrified to find that I creepily seem to only have the ability to draw little girls. At the bottom of this entry I've posted some of the sketches of the girl roller skating.

Another big revelation of the weekend: it is the fourth time I've visited a single spot along the bayou to read (the weather could only be described as "hideously perfect" yesterday), and I realized it's my favorite space in the entire city. See the self-consciously-snapped photo at right. What is it about waterways? I spent four hours there. My leggings got very dusty.

I'm ashamed to say it (ashamed because I want to be content with winter), but I am really ready for spring. The magnolia trees are blooming now, coaxing the warm weather and soft rain. Mmm.

But now comes the hard part: The week starts again. Back to the routine, back to the late nights and early mornings; frozen lunches and sore legs; stolen jelly beans from the prize drawer. No time to read the paper (and the world should know that all I ever want to do is read the paper). It's a challenge. Good thing I've been reading fucking Spiritual Midwifery (seriously) for my book club (I do like book clubs. They are one of those social gatherings -- like Crafternoons, Wednesday Night Vegan Dinners, and Radical Educator Meetings -- that I find intensely valuable). Those crazy hippies help me sleep at night.


Friday, February 19, 2010

I see the girls in the club, they gettin' wild for me

It is time for a grand re-entrance.

So I'm blasting "Welcome Back" by Mase*, eating a fresh and hot bagel, and getting down to business. My cats are excited. Seriously. I just made a YouTube video about this very topic.

So anyway, you may be asking yourself, "Why did your blog disappear in the first place? What happened to you?" I ask myself this same question fairly regularly, World. Let me tell you the three reasons for my brief and unannounced hiatus:
  1. I thought that my blog was getting a little bit gossipy. I think that's what comes with finally making friends in a place, and knowing that there are people out there who regularly read what you write. Once I had a friend in college who admitted that he would open my LiveJournal and do a Cntrl + F for his name, so he could read anything I wrote about him without having to toil through lots of meaningless garbage. I became very aware of my (tiny) readership, I suppose is what I'm saying. Once I knew who was possibly reading my blog, I would try to mention those people more often than other people, so they would feel rewarded in their reading and would continue to follow my overly extensive ramblings in hopes that they might be mentioned again. And as someone who wants to someday be a journalist,˚ that made me feel dirty.
  2. I started wondering if "fun" was really what I most wanted to be. I like feeling like a fun person, don't get me wrong. But I started paying attention to the merits of getting enough sleep, feeling healthy, being empathetic and kind, listening to other people when they talk, and being honest with everyone around me. All of that is kind of woo woo, and doesn't make for the best blogging material. Since I all-out quit smoking, drinking, driving a car when I didn't have to, and eating any sort of animal products, I have found my emphasis less on "fun" and more on "sane." I guess, dear Blogosphere, that's OK. I am aiming now more for "joy" than "fun," I think. If this means that my blog is no longer meaningful to you, kindly locate your nearest New Age health spa and alert them of my presence. I just know they'll be super-interested in my quest for inner peace.
  3. Lesson plans are hard and take a really long time. Or, moreover, my workday is 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., every day. It sucks everything out of me! I come home, cook, eat, go running, read, and go to bed. I turned 35 before I meant to, I think. My life got a lot boringer, I guess, but I'm okay with that.
And following Mardi Gras '10 and Who Dat Saints fever, I'm worn down, exhausted, and anxious to start over. I want... adventure. I want to explore and poke at things I've never noticed before. I want to create, and to go on long journeys and to document all of that. Just because I am a teacher doesn't mean that I can't take a little time every once in a while to seek the kind of fresh, non-work-related joy I am desperately lacking these days. I have a few immediate adventures I'd like to have, and then I think I just want to spend a lot of time riding my bike around the city and stopping whenever anything is interesting to me. I will need to buy more wool socks, because I am always getting sick and feeling cold. But really, I live in the deep South. I should not be such a wuss. And after all, I live in the best city in the world∫, and I haven't yet gotten inside every possible corner of it! A sin.

So. I want to do these things, in general:
  • Stop and smell more flowers, talk to more people, explore more holes in walls, eat more bread and drink more foreign coffee. Keep my iPod off and my eyes open.
  • Go to every bookstore in New Orleans. The fact that I haven't done this yet seems like a gregarious injustice to me.
  • Walk for miles and miles and miles, alone.
  • Build a swing in an unlikely place.
I'll chronicle these four small goals as the year unfolds into spring (it's doing this now!), and I take some space from my wonderful school and the most amazing seven-year-olds there are in the whole entire world≈, and I'll find my own corner of this tiny, incredible city.

Since you and I last spoke: Ari has departed the Crescent City for the Emerald City (two nicknames which don't really fit, don't you think?), which was a sad thing, but not an ending in my mind. She is one of the strongest, most beautiful hearts I have ever known. Having her here allowed me to see the cracks in the cement in a new way, and it let me be OK with the version of myself who didn't drink or go out late or fake it at big parties. But now she's opening up a whole new life for herself, and I feel weirdly proud of her, and excited for all the things she is going to do. But you should ask her about it. We have a new roommate, too: his name is Allie and he makes moldings for movie sets seven days a week, which he describes as "long, tiring, interesting, absurdly funny, dusty, unromantic, and demoralizing." He's extraordinary. Sam was here for Mardi Gras, and I can't believe how fast the holiday passed. We took in Muses, Krewe de'Tat, and Endymion. We also made a King Cake, so I felt I had met the bare minimum, at least, of my Mardi Gras requirements, which is impressive because I have a bad cold (turns out you get sick a lot when you work with little kids. Who knew?). Lots of good visits. My parents, too, came to New Orleans recently. I felt like a grown up. And then, two weeks later, my little sister turned twenty-one. I visited her in Colorado to see what it looked like to turn twenty-one (because heaven knows I didn't do it correctly -- I just bemoaned my ungraceful departure from childhood and watched a lot of Disney Channel in a state of miserable denial), and to celebrate her existence. I can't believe she's an adult. I guess she always sort of was, but now there's an official number to put on it. My sister is the most extraordinary person I know. How did we get so big so fast? I don't feel like I have changed much. Then again, I could write two separate biographies for the person I was just a year ago and the person I am now. Life is a paradox like that, I guess.

I am looking forward to the adventures.

* I recently sang this at a karaoke/ sushi bar in Metarie and was told that I really wasn't cut out to be a rapper. I have to admit that this was a bit discouraging. I would be lying if I told you I hadn't considered a possible future that included a primary income of six figures due to rap stardom.

˚ Don't ask me what I mean by "journalist." She is definitely a dying breed these days, as Gawker continually, pathetically, and aptly points out. But it's been my stubborn dream since I was about three years old, so I'm not giving up now just because the "newspaper" is "going extinct." Pish posh.

∫ One of them. Portland is pretty staggeringly wonderful, with its insanely black coffee and never-ending bookstores and my mom's bird feeders all choked with sparrows and waxwings and HUMMINGBIRDS. And lately I've missed Chicago a lot too, for all its sprawling neighborhoods, and the rambling El Trains and the magnificent limestone rocks on the big Lake Michigan.

≈ That my students are the greatest living human beings on the planet, I am absolutely certain. Every moment I spend with them I become a better person. I can't describe the brilliance each and every one of them brings to my life, but to cite a total cliche, just imagine you have stared your entire life at black-and-white, grainy photographs, and then someone suddenly puts a bright, color, high-definition, flat-screen television in front of you, playing clips of flowers blossoming as created by high-tech speed-capture cameras. It's kind of like that.