Monthly Archives: July 2006

Fear Itself

I am so afraid.

A brief list follows:

I am afraid of…
• Not transferring by September to the cool, progressive school in my neighborhood
• Stacks of hundreds of unread projects and essays that collect dust beneath my desk and drive my neat, spatially-obsessed boyfriend crazy
• Students who balk, disbelieve, doubt, or otherwise smirk at what we do in class
• The kids who never choose partners (and no one chooses them) during pair work
• Nasir, a dizzyingly intelligent, difficult, oppositional kid
• Sam, a stunningly disruptive, defiant kid with poor literacy
• The social ferocity of Lila, who prizes chatting above everything academic and takes EVERYTHING personally
• Planning a year of curriculum by myself
• The loneliness of working in a school where there is virtually no discourse about teaching
• The whines and moans of faculty re: students who are ‘lazy,’ ‘knuckleheaded,’ ‘pains in the ass,’ etc.
• Staying at work past sunset
• Forgetting what my boyfriend looks like
• Never having time to make food and subsisting on takeout Thai and pizza
• Never having time to run, swim, or take yoga
• Not having enough democracy in my classroom
• Designing projects the kids think are stupid
• Not assessing students well enough, thoroughly enough, fairly enough, quickly enough
• Falling behind, falling behind, falling behind
• Not being in close enough touch with over a hundred students’ parents
• The Homework Inbox
• Grading makeup work at the end of the marking period during the mad dash for a passing grade
• Perpetuating a system of oppressive education: grades, Regents, competitiveness, Old School teaching practices
• Not having time for fragile Ava, who always seems like she could stand to take a half hour talk to me about all the horrible things she’s going through
• Not seeing signs of self-harm in Ava
• Facing off with Lavender, the most dismissive 15-year-old in Bed Stuy
• Teaching Harrison and Steven, who have profound learning disabilities—they were taken out of my class last year to go to the resource room
• Teaching classes of 30 or more when the most I had last year was 26, and usually it was 15 or 18
• Maintaining my Master’s coursework while I teach (one more year!)
• Keeping up my habit of feeling like a failure every day

There. I said it. Now maybe it won’t be all up in my dreams every night.

My Last Great Epistolary Episode

Journal Entry
14 August 2004
Northampton, MA

Padding through the basement aisles of the Smith College Library in flip-flops. A centuries-old quiet and the comforting smell of paper. Sentences stay put in their catacombs. My grandmother took me to the library twice a week, twice a day when I was a kid. Her knit book bag had absurdly long straps, and it dragged on the floor when I carried it. When I was little, I didn’t mind her faraway quiet; I didn’t search out its pathology or origins, which were my origins.

I pulled a book of Martin Espada’s poetry off the shelf. A book I used to own and haven’t read in years, a book given to me by an intense, predatory labor historian when we were in college. He also gave me a book of French pinup photography. I lost both of them in a fire.

I remembered what Sean, my manager’s boyfriend when I waited tables in Louisville, told me on a long car ride that consisted largely of his lengthy, caustic lecturing: “When people don’t want to read ‘old stuff,’ like Shakespeare, as a matter of taste, it usually means they’re too self-centered to read a language that doesn’t sound exactly the way they talk.”

I pulled a book of Sharon Olds’ poetry. I thought ‘The Dead and the Living’ might provide some insight into recalcitrant old relatives who hold their cards too close.

I also got ‘Evidence of Things Unseen,’ because reading James Baldwin has lately become my closest approximation of going to church.

I checked my email and found I had a response from J, Michael’s friend. It was long and immediate and charming. I responded in kind and included my address, because he’d offered to send a postcard (from Turkey). Thrilled. Thrilled to find a new potential letter-writer.

Only when I got in the car did I admit that nearly all of my great correspondences have also been–unconsciously, secretly, or blatantly–courtships. That I found J’s Friendster picture alluring, despite the mustache and apparent propensity for dark sunglasses. That suddenly I had a feisty, coltish daydream rearing in a starting gate that contained months and years of exquisitely-texted letters, culminating in a grand, weighty love after the third or fourth year, when he finally came back from Istanbul.

On six sentences. I sent myself into orbit on six sentences. What the fuck is wrong with me?

What do I find so irresistible about far away and unavailable?

Have my parents and grandparents really been that unavailable? Weren’t they there all along? The important ones?

Have I been pining my whole life?

* * *

A few weeks ago, my mother called me at work. Eleven a.m. is the only time we can talk; with the time difference, she gets home from work when I’m going to bed.

“I’m worried you idealize me,” she said. Did she say ‘idealize?’ I don’t know if she would use a word like ‘idealize.’ I have trouble approximating her diction when I write, like when you can’t describe or picture the face of someone you see every day of your life.

“I’m worried you have this romantic view of me.”

“What do you mean?” I say in my nearly-silent phone voice as six people in cubicles around mine make appointments and book airline tickets and talk about spreadsheets.

“I don’t know if you ever dealt with the fact that my pot smoking meant I wasn’t really there for you a lot of the time.”

I’m quiet.

“No,” I say after a moment. “I processed it. I forgave you already.” Seven people send me emails, and they pop onto the screen. Hollis, whose desk is fewer than two yards from mine, writes, “Are you here today?” just wondering, tx!”

“I just don’t want you to blow up some day because you didn’t let yourself deal with it.”

I want to write everything, to eat everything, to be friends with everyone. If I were to unravel and go nuts one day, my lunacy might look like this: ravenous, covetous, with wide arms.