Archive for February, 2011

One thing, Tuesday

Here is one thing from today:

My ninth graders are painting the backdrops (newly made by Matt and students) with gesso, before designing the scenery.

One gangly kid ended up sitting underneath a backdrop balanced on six desks. I peeked at him and said, “V., having a little time-out time?”  He grinned, “Yeah, Miss.”

The girls painting painted the muslin right over his head, accidentally painting his hair as well. When he emerged from his nook, he looked like an old man: brown hair streaked white.

I found him an over-sized candy cane from my props pile, and told him to be an old man. He was so good at being an old man! He hunched over and started to hobble. I laughed out loud.

He hobbled out into the all, taking two other teachers by surprise. Sometimes, other teachers get a look at what’s coming out of my room, and I wonder if they wonder what in the heck I’m doing in there.

I was laughing too hard at V.’s perfect elderly self to say anything.

This is a new batch of kids, new semester. They’re still getting used to them. It tickled them that I laughed so easily, so genuinely, at V.’s antics. I like it when I can be myself when teaching.


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Monday night. I had fiddle lessons in Times Square. Report cards for the high school were due that morning, but there was a mistake in my merge, so I had to do some fix-ups when I got home.

Tuesday, I had a phone interview with two professors from Boston University, where I’m applying for a PhD.  Also due Monday: a thank-you letter and uploaded photos in response to a small grant I got for my students.

Also Tuesday: more papier mache mask-making with my students, for which I had to gather supplies.

So, I got home from fiddle lessons at a little before 8PM.  We were both exhausted, and I had tried to commit to an 8:30 PM bedtime.  I said, “I’ll fix up my report cards for ten minutes, then hop in the shower, and be in bed with a book on time.”

Earlier in the day, I had been reading links and journal articles in my PhD field. I had sort of fallen down a rabbit hole– the more I read, the more I got both excited and nervous. I didn’t know enough! I wasn’t prepared enough for the Tuesday interview! What was I doing??

As I sat with my laptop, trying to fix the darn Excel spreadsheet with my grade data, I started to feel overwhelmed. I wished that I had time to prepare for the interview: to print out my purpose statement, and my CV, and to chat with Matt about my goals and questions they might ask. I wished that I had time to just putter, and then go to bed early and get rest.

The Excel sheet wouldn’t work. Matt tried to help me. I got frustrated. I actually tossed my laptop to the other end of the couch and said, “I’m done. ” A beat later, I sniped at Matt to leave me alone, and to go to bed, and I figured out the spreadsheet myself.

I have colleagues and friends who, when applying to grad school or preparing for the GRE, “take a month off” to do it. I’ve always been jealous of that. How do you say to people, “I’m doing my PhD apps right now, I’m taking the month off?”  How do you afford to?

When I took the GREs, I was teaching full time. I had an after-school job at Crabtree&Evelyn in the mall. Most school days, I would teach, then teach after-school, and then drive straight to the mall for the 5PM-10PM shift.  I had exactly enough money to take the GRE once. No second chances if I didn’t do well.  I studied for the math with my roommates, but that was it: no courses, no books.  Part of me was proud that I could do without, part of me was jealous of the other people at the swank coffee shop who were poring over them.

Last time I applied for PhD programs, I was working three jobs, in addition to full-time grad school. Once again, I felt proud that I was writing my essays on the train and picturing my CV while walking to my different jobs.  But I was also jealous of my classmates who would say, “Oh, I can’t– I’m working on my apps for these two weeks.”

Monday night, all of this was rumbling up through my mind, as I was fiddling with this darn spreadsheet. I also felt bad for sniping at Matt, at the same time feeling bad about not being able to ask for help. The clock kept ticking.

I finished the sheet, told Matt again to go to bed, and went to the shower. I locked the door so Matt couldn’t offer to help me again.  I fleetingly thought of hurting myself, prayed briefly to God, “Be with me,” and started to cry.

I cried and cried in the shower. I told God I was weary, and overwhelmed. I asked God to be with me, and to help me let Matt help me. I admitted that I was jealous of peers who had more time, or money, or the [perceived] luxury of time just to sit and think.

I washed my face. I kept crying. My tears were hotter than the water, which I noted. I worried that I would be terrible in the interview, that I wouldn’t get it all done. I started to think about how I never have time to even practice my fiddle, let alone keep up with my languages. I started to think about how many journal articles I needed to forward on to board members, to edit, writers to respond to. I started to think about how I must be a bad teacher, to have such compromised time to give to my students.

I cried harder.

I washed my hair. I fluffed the suds through my fingers, which always feels pleasant. I thought about how many times I’ve felt overwhelmed before, and that I’ve always been able to get everything done. I prayed again, “Be with me.” I started to feel God again. [That is, although I know that I am always in the presence of God, I am not always aware of this.]  I tried to take deep breaths.

I was thankful for the hot water. We don’t always have exactly hot water. I was thankful for the DuBois wine glass that I had perched on the shower edge. I noticed how nice the turned handle was. I took some more deep breaths.

I reminded myself that my history of working really hard set me apart from lots of people, and maybe makes me better. I reminded myself that I have always, _always_ been able to see the arc of God’s guidance in my life, and that God was probably most certainly with me at this very moment.  I reminded myself that asking and getting help from others has been a wonderful gift in my life, and if I could trust anyone, it was Matt.

I rinsed off. I put my hair in a towel. I unlocked the door. I put on my red penguin robe.

I went outside. I asked Matt about a form on the table, and as I walked around the counter to recycle it, I saw a hand-made note he had made for me. A hand-drawn penguin, arms (wings?) spread wide, illustrated how much he loved me. I started crying again. I told Matt I needed some help getting everything finished.

In the end, Matt helped me upload the student photos for the thank-yous, and sat by me, cheerleading, while I turned out an awesome thank-you note. I think we looked at some cute animals on DailyPuppy or CuteOverload. I thanked him for helping me. I felt better.

We talked about how I would do in my interview: Matt noted that I do really well in interviews, and that I would be fine.

I went to bed praying, and trying to remember that I have always been okay. Thankfully, I slept well all night. I woke up, took the flour from off of the fridge (for flour-water papier mache), drank delicious coffee, and kept praying that simple prayer, “Thank you thank you thank be with me thank you.”

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