“What color are they?”
“They’re light red.”
“No, more like a maribou red.”
“What color are they?”
“They’re light red.”
“No, more like a maribou red.”
Today, after some gnashing of teeth, I accepted that some of my students were very bad this week.
And then, I relaxed.
What happened when I went to class was remarkable.
They must have sensed the change, and relaxed themselves. For the first time in three days, they all took responsibility and acted with maturity and respect.
It’s a good lesson to be reminded of, always.
Excerpt from “Red Versus White,” a chapter in Sherman Alexie’s
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:
My grandmother’s greatest gift was tolerance. Now in the old days, Indians used to be forgiving of any kind of eccentricity. In fact, weird people were often celebrated. Epileptics were often shamans, because people just assumed God gave seizure visions to the lucky ones. Gay people were seen as magical too. I mean, like in many cultures, men were viewed as warriors, and women were viewed as caregivers. But gay people, being both male and female, were seen as both warriors and caregivers. Gay people could do anything. They were like Swiss army knives.
My grandmother had no use for all the gay-bashing and homophobia in the world, especially among other Indians.
“Geez,” she said. “Who cares if a man wants to marry another man. All I want to know is, who’s going to pick up all the dirty socks?”
So, those days.
Those ridiculous, trying-to-crush-your-spirit days.
This day started off as crabby-ass as my mood. It’s a rare thing, that I walk around in a funk quite like this. Bit of a carryover from yesterday. Last night, I was troubled by a bad afternoon class meeting threatened by a few immature, mean-spirited students, and a thorny family misunderstanding. Enough to think about – or attempt NOT to think about – before going to sleep and then waking at 5 a.m.
I’d hoped for a shift, after good sleep, good food, and a new day. But alas.
<Scene: Institution of Secondary Education, Anytown, Michigan>
It’s still dark out when I turn the Jeep into the school parking lot. A teen girl darts out into the headlights, talking on her cell phone, missing my front bumper by less than a foot.
Cheers to being fully awake at that pre-dawn hour.
After parking, I enter the school. Going up the two flights to the classroom, I stumble a little on the stairs, almost twisting my ankle. Recover. Carry on.
It’s a good morning to come, though, because we’ve reserved the library’s computer lab. The students will have quiet time to work on their final papers – QUIET, it’s 7 AM, for shit’s sake – so it’s all good. I take the nice hot cup of coffee I bought on the drive, and head downstairs to the media center.
Of course. I forgot. No food or drinks. I chug hot coffee, delicious, outside in the hallway. Dump half the unchugged contents into the trash bin. I join the students, and a nice, quiet work session begins.
Three minutes pass, and the cranky librarian comes over to check where the teacher is for this class. I’ve just said “good morning” to her as I entered the media center. And, spoke with her and introduced myself, two days ago when I reserved the space.
What is that? Total social cluelessness?
Or, just a compliment that she couldn’t find my 39-year-old face and style blended into a dozen-teenager crowd?
Once that’s cleared up, she simply wants to know which class this is. “Oh, I see now, the other teacher has it for second hour.” Yes. Indeed. And this is 1st hour. Any other questions? We have work to do now. Buzz off. Thank you very much.
For the record – I’m all for librarians. Call me old-fashioned, but back in my day they were keepers of the flame, the social mavens, arbiters of right and wrong, collectors of late fines. For better, or worse.
Public librarians are still great. Often fantastic, in fact. High school librarians (or Media Center Supervisors, ahem) I find to be difficult, overpaid, and underworked. 181 working days a year at over $100K, for sitting online most of the time, and occasionally saying “Gentlemen! Ladies! Where are your IDs? Where are you supposed to be?” Meanwhile, we lovely tramping college professors are cranking it our daily, all for an irregular, sometimes flirting with poverty level wage.
Why? Sometimes I do ask myself this question. It’s usually when I’m between semesters, and have no idea if I’ll still be employed in a couple weeks, or will have to go back out tramping again. For the love of it? Sometimes. Sometimes we write, raise children, take care of loved ones, or simply want more freedom and space than being a worker bee can offer. We all have our reasons. Don’t doubt them; there’s nothing like a looming rent or student loan payment to make you reconsider your priorities, and REALLY decide if you’ve been making the right choices. If someone’s still working as a tramping professor after more than a couple semesters, you can bet they’re a sad sucker for some timeless and ineffable things like beauty, creative expression, learning, and any number of other wonders.
So back to this particular underworked and overpaid media center maven …
She soon retreats back into her internet bubble, and a few more silent, happy minutes pass for my student writers. Soon enough, the aforementioned teacher shows up, a class hour early. Gripping his very own Tim Horton’s coffee. No polite hall trashcan dumpies for him. This not-so-lovely fellow strolls right into our reserved space, settles in at a table, and spreads his crap out in all directions. Huh? Uh .. what gives? Inquisitive eye contact seems to have no effect.
Soon, another teacher friend joins him, and it turns out they have the space reserved for second hour. Mr. English and Mrs. Story, I shit you not. Their “class prep” consists of giggling like teenagers, and gossiping about other teachers and staff. Oh, and disturbing the peaceful little writing bubble the students had been enjoying.
Bad librarian comes out – of ME, not the absent woman deeply cradled in her online stupor. These people are sitting mere inches from working writers, I mean, COME ON … nothing gets me riled up quite so much as that. Hearing another voice in your head while you’re trying to channel the important one is like having your skull hammered with a mallet. Not fun. Often painful. And most definitely, a pisser – even if it’s not 7:15 in the a.m.
I politely request that they keep it down; students are working. They look around, and realize with apparent surprise: “oh, yeah! I guess there’s a class working in here!”
Mission accomplished. And onward.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think weird is great. All the great people in history … Einstein, Michelangelo, Emily Dickinson … then you’re lookin’ at a bunch of weird people.”
~ Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
put this in your pipe and smoke it.
it’s a HARD one.
but easy to practice.
when “something” happens, shift from reactionary thinking:
“how does this affect ME? what do I need?”
to this instead:
“how does this affect THEM? what do THEY need?”
it does a body .. and a MIND … good.
Mary Ann’s Drive-Inn, New Boston
Big Boy, Belleville
Marwil Bookstore, Detroit
News, just this week. I hate what’s going on. I’m sick, sick, sick, over the families, lives, jobs, and communities that are being carved apart by closing after closing.
Might seem like small potatoes to some, but these are businesses and community centers that my family and friends, colleagues and I have enjoyed and patronized for decades. What’s left, more big box pharmacies and gas stations? Strip malls left abandoned after a couple years of trying to struggle into life.
Do I sound mad? I am. Really mad. Enough is enough. Buyouts, selloffs, retirements, and lack of local community support are rampant in almost every community I visit around here, and few seem to care until the businesses close. Buildings demolished, and some new non-descript money-making venture put back up in its place. And this is the best-case scenario: in many cases, the buildings just sit empty for years, gathering weeds.
Support your awesome local businesses.
Think this can’t start happening in your town? And soon?
So did we.