Saturday, February 27, 2010

Imagine That

"Nothing happens unless first we dream."
~ Carl Sandburg


Oprah and I have a love/hate relationship, one-sided though it may be. But Friday, because it was my day off, I stopped channel surfing and watched her.

There she was, Oprah Winfrey, airing out her closet for the world to see--Oprah "my-dog-gets-acupuncture" Winfrey admitting that she went through a phase in which she bought fanciful, delicate little pocketbooks with the dream of being one of the ladies who lunch, pocketbook in her overly expressive hand. Except in her internationally televised closet clean out, she confessed that she doesn't have time to lunch. The dream was just that. A romantic notion. In the context of reality, it grew rather ridiculous.

There I sat on my couch, shocked. Thinking to myself: Oprah does this too? I mean, she's Oprah! Surely, if you were Oprah Winfrey, there would be no need for fantasy. Because you're Oprah. You're living the fantasy.

But Oprah, adult that she may be, dreams of lunching with ornate, miniature handbags.


My niece, "Mugs", used to lie down on her back on her bed or the couch or the living room floor, and say, "Don't bother me, I'm having imaginings." Her face would beam, eyes closed, as her mind drifted into the fantasies of her heart. She has never looked so beautiful or spirited or content as in her quiet, imagined moments.


If I could be one person in all of cinema, I'd be Meg Ryan's character, Kathleen Kelly, from You've Got Mail. She owns a bookstore in New York. She has gumption or moxie or whatever you want to call it, yet she's quirky and kind. And she dresses with a classic finesse. I often channel her while shopping for clothing. I think she is responsible for all my cardigans.

If I could be one person in all of literature, I'd be Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice. Not because she gets Mr. Darcy (frankly, he's a bit of an ass), but because she has just the right thing to say at just the right moment. She's a wit whereas I wake up at 2 in the morning with the perfect, saucy retort I wish would've come to me 12 hours ago when my cheeks flushed and my brain went quiet.


When I was little, my day was spent imagining. More sentences began with "Pretend that..." than I know how to count. I lived for make-believe. Dress up and tea parties and princesses and baby dolls. These are the magical times of my childhood, living that intangible pink something that isn't.

And then I grew up. And life got busy. And make-believe was for children. Magic was for children. Lying under the tree in the backyard, dreaming of my life stretched wide before me, it was all a thing of the past.

But is it really? Does it have to be?

I think Oprah and her pocketbooks, Mugs and her imaginings, me and my fictitious characters prove that our need for imagining never really goes away. We try to deny it or make the fantasies our reality as adults. As children perhaps the dream of it all is so intense that it is enough to get us by for a time.

But in the end, there's something beautiful about imagination. There is power in all that the human mind can create for us. There's a quote often attributed to Einstein about imagination being more valuable than knowledge--that imagination has the quality of being limitless, while knowledge has an ending point. I think imagination is the ultimate expression of intelligence. Anything of worth started first in the mind. I also believe that even if nothing comes of it, even if the wild fancies of the mind end where they began, there is value in allowing ourselves to imagine.

* image found here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm reading...

and so far I'm quite in love with Baker's style--the characters, the prose, the tragedies of Aberdeen. And Truly's voice as the narrator: simply splendid.

One of my favorite themes in the book thus far: beautiful or ugly, there is always a price to pay.

I'll have to let you know how it turns out.

I'm also working my way through...

I have to admit, I've read less of this than Aberdeen, but so far, I'm liking the premise. Clayton's prose leans more toward the straightforward unlike the dashing poetics of Baker (sometimes I have to stop and marinate in Baker's sentences again--they're that good), but circles of women make for good contemporary fiction fodder.

As for this one:

It fell victim to my busy-ness and, while Strachan's prose is lovely, the pacing suffers. Essentially, during the school year a book has to mercilessly grab me, making sleep, responsibility, and social life seem unnecessary. Otherwise, it goes back on the shelf, sometimes permanently.

In other words: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is winning the race.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How to deflate your ego in three simple steps

Anything that happened in the years prior to my birth, didn't actually exist for me. Scratch that. Before the year my consciousness acquired the capacity for long-term memory, there is a big, black nothing. To a certain extent, the concept of nineteen seventy-anything felt false. Oh, I knew it was out there. My siblings were born in the 70's. Some were born in the 60's. But for me, the early-to-mid-80's marked the beginning of time as I knew it.

And I guess that is how it goes when you're young. History is some vacuumous black hole of nonexistence. And then one day it isn't. Somewhere along the way, I pulled my ostrich-like youthful head out of the narcissism I'd buried it in, looked around, and realized there were people who remember exactly where they were the day Kennedy was shot. Just as I remember the moment my mother came rushing into my smart-enough-to-schedule-classes-on-Mon-Weds-Fri-only-college-era bedroom to wake me with her tears on the morning of September 11, 2001.

I sit at my desk grading student essays about emerging trends and I feel slapped in the face by how very little my students know about the world. I read of the dreadful (not their opinion, mine) re-emergence of acid wash jeans, facebooking, iPods. I read lines about how iPods made listening to music on-the-go a popular activity (anybody ever heard of a Walkman/Discman/Boom Box?) I read lines that parallel boot cut jeans with the 90's (wait, don't I still buy boot cut?). One student writes about how adults are finally catching on to the Facebook craze (because, apparently, the first members of FB weren't adults--apparently, teenagers set all trends?).

It is reiterated to me that 17 years ago, the age of most of my juniors, it was 1993. Their capacity for long-term memory kicked in somewhere around 1996. 1996! And their perception of 1996 was through the eyes of a three-year-old.

They're babies.

I suddenly feel very old. Very old and weathered. Yesterday, I swear, I was young and hip and semi-trendy. Yesterday, I was the youthful expert on cutting edge technology. I had great taste. I listened to the indie, the edgie, the youthful. But not today. Today I'm the tired old teacher-lady informing a student that it was an "8 track" not an "Atrax", and that 30 is, in fact, not quite middle aged. Today I am the boring, unhip woman who droned on about something-something-something "you'll be at the movies and there'll be a gaggle (yeah, old women use "gaggle") of young hoodlums (they use "hoodlums" too) seated behind you. And you'll think to yourself Phhht! Teenagers! I was never that annoying! I'm here to tell you--and remember this moment--you were."

* image found here

P.S. The best part about all of this, of course, is that they get to look back through photos of their adolescence in acid wash and wonder, What in the hill was I thinking? This comforts me at night.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

that which baffles also answers question

The Roommate and I have noticed a recent trend in our excursions around town any time prior to four p.m. The following scenario has become something of a motif in our Saturday lunching adventures.

It goes something like this: Cute girl--dressed nicely, lip-glossed with earrings dangling, hair clearly worked over. Cute girl who clearly went out of her way, wore her favorite jeans, meticulously thought out this day's apparel. Cute girl finds herself on a "daytime-friend-date" with what could potentially be an attractive male. However: basketball shorts, slip-on sandals and an appearance that manifests the boy is clearly unshowered and unkempt hides this possibility. Furthermore, the outside observer notices he is anything but interested whereas she keeps looking for clues indicating his interest.

This really happens. All the time in the city in which I live. The living, breathing catastrophe never loses its pity-inducing capacity.

And I'm left to wonder. How does this happen?

What gives? How does that guy actually think himself her better?

I mean, really. You can't take the time to present yourself? You're actually staring at other girls? You couldn't even bother to brush your teeth?

And, cute girl, what are you thinking? Do you see this guy? He is a mess. You are better than this. Better than this indifferent slob.

It would seem that all parties involved in this train wreck dynamic are lying to themselves and I can't quite avoid staring.

This repeated and repeated once again story of unrequited love and dishelved indifference baffles me. And simultaneously answers the ever-present question: why am I still single?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On Socks

Growing up, we had a basket that sat atop the dryer in the laundry room. It was filled with socks. Baby socks and daddy socks and fuzzy socks and ankle socks and slouchy socks and white(ish) socks and black socks. Socks and socks and socks.

Every month or so, my lovely mother would get the itch for Super Chore Saturday. So along with the usual dishes-mopping-vacuuming-variety-chores, the patio was to be cleaned off, the linens closet organized, and, the most dreaded chore of all: the sock basket's contents were to be sorted into mates.

It was a hellish job. Sure, you were the one who got to watch tv while doing your chore, but you were also the one stuck still doing your chore while everybody else had long finished and gotten on with their Saturday. And, worst of all, most of the socks just didn't have mates. The dryers and gym lockers of the world had swallowed up the mates whole. Even still, socks disappear into thin air. Today I throw those lonely socks away if the mate doesn't show up in the next round of laundry. But back then, my frugal father never allowed us to throw away a thing. He held out hope that one day the missing socks might return.

I seem to recall a single argyle knee sock (circa the decade prior to my birth) haunting the wonder years of my childhood.

You know where this is heading, I'm guessing. This sock story of mine. But then, maybe you don't fully understand. You see, I've been thinking how very like the mate-less sock basket the world views we singles to be. The well-meaning sock-matched people of the world want to empty that basket so they can go out and play. Nobody likes leftover socks. So they begin their matching attempts:

They'll put a blue sock with a black sock, and sometimes they pull it off in the right light: nobody sees the truth--the two aren't a perfect pair. And so the sock basket dwindles. Soon, the leftover socks start to look like some quirky modern art collection. The match-maker wonders, "When did I get so many strange socks?" And pretty soon they're desperate to just clean the basket out already. I mean, the sun is getting lower in the Saturday sky. They start mating a pink fuzzy house sock with a novelty pink Easter sock featuring a carrot. But while both socks might be pink, yes, who could stand to spend a day in such attire? But the match-maker wants that basket empty. They need to mate each sock. They get to the point of desperation. They think: well this fishnet thigh high is technically a sock, and that leg warmer from 1982 is sort of a sock, so surely this must work.

So the well-meaning people put the two together. And some poor fool spends an evening with a fishnet stocking on one ankle and a leg warmer on the other and it is every bit as awkward as you might imagine. And that same person returns the two to the mismatched sock basket atop the dryer later that evening. And in a couple of months, someone will try another desperate match. Meanwhile the other fishnet is hiding in the back of a drawer somewhere waiting to be discovered and reunited with its mate. And the other leg warmer? Well, with some socks, there just isn't any hope.

Monday, February 1, 2010


(for Melissa, who, at this very moment, is in a Kindergarten classroom student teaching)

I've forgotten what it is like, that first year of teaching, first year in "the big city" (that, I know, isn't all that big). I've forgotten what it is to rush that way, to create lesson plans the day before teaching them and make copies during the first five minutes of class while they read or write or just-do-something to give me a minute to finish preparing, to get my head on straight, to read what we're reading before they do.

Yeah, the first year (or more) in your own classroom is like that. Exhausting and panicked. Riddled with an unceasing sense of failure.

The first, second, even third year, you question whether or not you're really cut out for it.

And then you survive it. You get better. You know what is coming up next. No shooting from the hip, you've been here before. Once, twice, three times.

Last night I dreamed about moving classrooms--again. But this time I knew it wouldn't happen--somewhere in the conscious part of my brain I knew I was settled. Safe. This year, in my perfect classroom with the tables--not desks--like I wanted, the view of the western mountains and the city and the now-naked trees, it felt permanent. I threw a rug down in my office in mid-August. I brought a better chair from home. I put my college degree on the bookshelf. I brought boxes of my life from home into school--things I wanted to have here.

I'm turning 29 next month and have finally realized that this, here as I sit at my desk, this is my life. I've fully succumbed--given myself over to it. It was gradual, but I've eased into this place where I'm neither rookie nor novice. I started first period today and acknowledged it: I know exactly what I am doing.