Saturday, January 31, 2009

That lion ain't sleeping tonight...

1. Those signs right there, found in a local school cafeteria. I freaking love them.
2. Practicing Photoshop work and having the result be pretty much what I wanted.
3. Jason Mraz on SNL.
4. Meeting other photographers.
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Friday, January 30, 2009

I Don't Love Children

People who profess to mystify me. Children are like everything else--some are good and some, not so much. I wouldn't claim to love all people, because some of them are assholes. (Or maybe I'm the asshole and I just displace it onto certain others?) Unfortunately, kids can be the same way. There are a lot of kids out there that are silly and goofy and annoying, but they're not mean. There a few kids out there that do mean things with malicious intent. I really don't like those kids, because I really don't like those adults, and forgiving someone for wrongdoing, no matter how evil, just because he or she is under a certain age, does no one any favors.

That said, while I don't love all children, I do tend to love my students. And it sneaks up on me without me realizing it.

Dgirl is caught between wanting to be a kid and wanting to be a Cool Teenager. She's got the smirk and the attitude, but just stare her down for a minute and she'll crack in less than thirty seconds. She has an adorable, playful grin and she's definitely goofy, wanting attention and love and feeling bereft when she gets in trouble. She played with my hair, made fun of my clothes (Miss, you don't match!!!, as if the world would end without one hundred percent color coordination), and loved me and I loved her back.
I miss her.

Dboy is short, loud, brash, brutally honest and occasionally hilarious. He can't control himself--correction: most of the time he doesn't want to control his behavior. But he is pretty smart and loves to learn things and feel successful. He loves the power of controlling a class and entertaining his peers, and lashes out when he gets in trouble. But he has a quick smile and is willing to forgive and move on.
I miss him, too.

T is a trip. This child does.not.shut.up. He has a comment for everything and anything. He will talk whether you or anyone else is listening, and like so many other kids, will talk to himself out loud whenever he feels like it. He tells people to shut up and prides himself on his fashion sense; one of the first things he told me about himself was his love of shopping. His grades are atrocious and his teachers often want to strangle him because of the constant chatter. As this year wore on, his third at this school, he started working harder and we started noticing. When you give him A Look, he immediately blurts, "Sorry, sorry, I'm working, I want to learn." He can pay attention and he can share an interesting and interested opinion in discussion. He loves to giggle. He would trample somebody if it meant he could help with something. He can be *really* frustrating, but it's worth it because I got to see him improve and tell him I'm fighting for him.
I miss him.

Everything about Big J is big--his height, his attitude, and his intelligence. He thinks he's above everybody--because he kind of is. He picks things up almost instantly and can ace a quiz without completing the notes; he absorbes and processes just by reading. He can be extremely nasty, loud, crude, and rude--to his teachers and his peers. He has no qualms about calling names and calling out people on their crap. He doesn't care about detention or parent phone calls. I'm still not sure what exactly he does care about--but I'm pretty sure that eventually I grew on him. After a few months of attempted toughness on my part, he slowed the disruptions and rudeness toward me. I noticed that he would drop by my room after lunch and sort of linger around the doorway before I shooed him off to class. One day he came all the way inside and plopped down on a chair in the back of the room. "J," I said sternly, "you know I love you. But you have to go to class." "Whyyyyy?" he whined. "Bye," I replied.
I miss him.

R was a handful. That's the understatement of the year, hoo boy. He had a problem all the time. With other kids, with the work, with his seat, with the temperature, you name it, it was to blame for his lack of success. I quickly noticed that he rarely read anything and it made me wander just how much he *could* read. We never got to that though. He was extremely loud and expressive--his pout was extreme. (Not like it affected me; I'm a world-class pouter and have yet to be impressed by any student efforts.) On the occasion that he wanted to participate (as opposed to turning around and talking nonstop to other kids), he wouldn't stop at raising his hand--no ma'am. The hand would wave, then his whole arm would move, all the while his mouth moving. "Miss? Why aren't you calling on me? Look, she's ignoring me. Miss! Miss! I'm raising my hand! MISS!" I'm quite sure that I wasn't alone in often wanting to toss him out the window. Occasionally, though, the real person would peek through his bravado. One on one, if I didn't make too many sudden moves, he would be helpful and honest about what was happening. He immediately said things like "No." and "I don't want to." but if you left him he eventually would. (About tasks outside of class; he never completed a classwork task all year.) One day I was in my classroom with the knitting kids. He was walking by with another kid and stopped in his tracks. He charged in the room and demanded, "I want to do that." He professed not to care about his behavior tracking grades, but when the number was low, he would be all, "What?! What?! Why did you give me that? No! It should be higher!" And when I would talk to him about that, he'd scoff, "Psh, I don't care about that." I'd say, "Yes you do, I know you do. You don't have to say it, but I know it." He'd roll his eyes. When he earned a good behavior grade, and he saw a good number, his beam of joy was pretty freaking awesome to behold.
I miss him.

Quiet E remains an enigma. She never failed to do her classwork, and almost always had excellent homework. She and her sister were absent kind of a lot, and I don't think they ever talked to anyone about what was going on at home to make them miss school. She (both of them actually) is a voracious reader. She's not very emotive, so it was all the more gratifying when I could get her to smile or god forbid laugh. She understood most things very well very quickly and showed a good level of curiosity and analytical skills. Her quiz scores were quite high.
I miss her, but because I feel like I didn't reach her enough or at all. She was always a little standoffish and I didn't know what she needed. I liked her as a person, though, and I want to know how she fares.

Perfect C is just that--perfect. She is extremely smart, participates in all discussions, completes all of her classwork, gets the highest quiz grades, follows directions the first time, does well on her homework, reads high level books. She is Going Places.
And strangely, I don't miss her.
I realized that it's because she doesn't need me. She doesn't really need any teacher to inspire or encourage her. She's got enough internal motivation (and obviously an excellent role model in her family) to do extremely well on her own. I wish her well and I always praised her, and occasionally offered some extra information or a book that might interest or challenge her. But at this level I didn't have anything special enough to grab her attention or love, because she didn't really need it. She definitely needs more challenges and a faster pace, but that school, in that class (which as a whole, though they seem advanced, are merely at grade level), is not going to do it for her. She's the kind that will sign up for AP prep courses and rock them, once she's finally up against something she's not perfect at and she can get to work acquiring new skills and knowledge.

I often wonder what will happen to these kids and the rest, this year and beyond. I wonder if they learned anything in my class. I wonder if they hate me (Perfect C did by my last week) or if they miss me. I wonder if they talk about me. I wonder what their grades are like. I wonder how they did on their test this week, considering the huge disruptions to their classes earlier this month. I wonder if any of them loved me back.


Today, Friday
1. The cold crisp crunch of an apple right out of the fridge

2. Gulping fruit juice

3. A supportive boyfriend who wants to help

4. Hot water to defrost chilly fingers and toes

5. Feeling just a little bit sore, because it makes you feel your body a little bit more

1. When your photo turns out just like you want it to.

2. Putting money in the bank (my last paycheck finally arrived! last one for who knows how long...). (That gives me another month and a half of money to live on if I need it.)

3. The smell of a cake (from a box--don't judge) baking in the oven

4. Feeling productive and Getting Things Done

5. Sleeping twelve hours. (Does that count as Getting Something Done?)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Excellence in multi-tasking a Must

Right now I am doing all of the following:
Singing along to my iPod (on shuffle; Stone Temple Pilots playing at the moment)
Chatting with a former student
Searching craigslist
Emailing resumes
Writing this post

Since this is not an unusual occurrence for me, I was immediately interested when a friend posted this Atlantic Monthly article on facebook: The Autumn of the Multitaskers.
I clicked it open in a new tab but never got around to reading it.

The next day, I returned to facebook and once again opened it in a new tab. I read the first few paragraphs and then got distracted by something else.

Several hours later, I finally went back to the article to actually read the thing. Before I finished the first page, I checked my email and then my stat counter.

Is this irony or just an example of how spot-on the author is?

The real irony is the titular phrase, which is almost every single job posting. (Have I mentioned lately that I'm unemployed? Sending out dozens of resumes a day is a little exhausting and quickly loses appeal.) My resume, in its various incarnations over the years, has always featured a related phrase.

Because really, think about any job you've had. Multi-tasking truly is a must! In an office, you've got phones, faxes, mailings, computer stuff going on all at once. In a classroom, you've got to physically watch all of the children, move about the room, distribute materials, write on a board or overhead, keep track of participation or behavior points (if you're like me), and keep an eye on the clock to check your pacing. Phew!

I know I'm not alone in watching tv, being online, and eating all at the same time. I can't read while the tv is on, but I can't read without music. Same with homework/work stuff. I maintain that my surface brain (yes, that's the technical term :D) is distracted by the music so the deeper part of my brain can concentrate on the task, because I notice eventually that I have no idea what's playing or what I've been hearing.

The author says that this is a bad thing, that when two things are happening at once, the capability or success of both is compromised. Yikes! Is this why I have such a hard time remembering things? I can read almost an entire magazine like Smithsonian or National Geographic in one sitting (if there are no other options, like being on a long subway ride, and as long as I have music to listen to), but can't necessarily quote from the articles later. I wonder if it's because I have a shitty memory or if it's just information overload, and that many facts can't possibly stick into one little brain.

(Also, take that, Google is making us stupid!)

I jotted down a couple phrases that jumped out at me. First, that multitasking "eats up time in the name of saving time." Whoa, that's kind of mindblowing, isn't it? It's totally true. Especially on the computer, where it's so easy and we're so used to tabbing back and forth between programs and pages. For example, I'll take a few minutes and do some hard-core emailing of job listings to myself. Then I'll go check flickr or my email or read a blog or something, and then from there do more, leaving those listings languishing in my inbox instead of instantly applying for them.

Especially now that I have nothing to do, with many things to do on my list, nothing gets done. I guess I do need some structure, because with yesterday as proof, I can easily sleep half the day away and then do absolutely nothing for the next twelve hours. Scary. I knew it was 'wrong,' but I just couldn't be arsed to do anything about it. (Now, to give myself a little credit, last night as I was going to bed I created a mental list and when I got up twelve hours later, got right (ish) to work. Now, six hours later, more than half the tasks are accomplished. More, if I added things like "apply for more jobs" and "go to the bank." Which I'm almost tempted to do, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

Another idea from the article that made me think was the "array of subtly different personas that each [electronic life] encourages." That is so true! Here I am at the same time being three different people: Ms. on AIM with a former student, who asks about school and tries not to share too much personal stuff; the Job Applicant, with lots of professional experience and dearly wants to be hired; and J, who's shooting the shit on a blog, probably oversharing and blathering nonsensically. All of them are parts of me, but the different applications require different personalities. I think that's something we take for granted, especially in my generation. We grew up without the internet and so we do know what real life is like and the boundaries therein. The kids nowadays (with their loud music and always playing on my lawn) don't have as much concept of things like sitting in a car for hours with no tv, no ipod, no video games, and they want to share too much and too fast with other people online. The author of the article quotes a high-school student in a study saying, "I get bored if it’s not all going at once." I do worry about them. What kind of future citizens are we breeding by shoving technology down their throats, by not giving them boundaries, by not giving them critical feedback and structure, by not teaching them how to read or write?

Truly, are we "an audience whose brains are already half dormant from the stress of" doing so many things?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Moo Cards!

MOO makes business cards, minicards, sticker books, postcards, greeting cards and notecards. I have some MiniCards, which are half-size (1 inch by 2 3/4 inches) business cards with your photo on one side and your information on the other. They are really cute and come in handy for networking or meeting friends, especially if they're photographically-inclined. I'm about to order a new set, because I ran out of my first set (above) already.

If you have never bought from MOO before, you can get 20% off any 1 MOO product by using my unique friend referral-code: YWNEFN

It expires on Saturday!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Third Unemployed Monday

Grace for today:
1. Being free to stay up until 5am, just because.

2. Snuggling asleep in my bed until 2pm, because I can.

3. An invite to Ravelry. (Boy, do I feel out of my element there.)

4. A former student IMing me to say she misses me and wants to visit me.

5. A college friend sending a sweet card out of the blue.

One of the first things I noticed after being unemployed was my energy and fatigue level. Every single day since August, I was exhausted. Could not get enough sleep. It was almost impossible for me to get to bed 'on time' to get a full eight hours, and even when I did, or close, I still felt like a zombie.

This editorial in the NYTimes was so spot on.

How and why teachers drink is a topic that rarely receives the discussion it deserves.. For the average drinker, alcohol provides mental escape, but for teachers that escape is physical, too – after spending entire days surrounded by children or teenagers, we are retreating to the one place that will be – ideally – certifiably child-free.

These days, my colleagues and I like to occupy the darkest corner of our newly anointed after-school bar, hoping not to frighten off other customers, who usually filter in as we’re deep into our second round. At first I sought to institute a no-talking-about-school policy, figuring that alcohol would help us return to our normal selves. Then I realized that we no longer had normal selves. Unlike most other professions, this one drains you completely, refilling you with its own insular, infinite concerns. The intensity may ebb and flow, but it never disappears.

Drinking together allows us to reclaim an experience that is too often defined by politicians, bureaucrats and reformers who have not spent nearly enough time in the trenches.

One of the commenters was like, You must not have had any other job before, because my job is really intense too.

That commenter has obviously never been a teacher. I haven't had a ton of full-time jobs, but I've never ever experienced an intensity like teaching. Teachers are on All.The.Time. Keeping an eye on thirty people in one room is not easy. You cannot relax for a moment! You can't duck out for a break whenever you want. You can't chill out on the internet when there's a lull. There aren't any lulls, and there is always a huge pile of work to be done. You don't get to hang out by the copier mindlesslychatting, you can't run to the break room for sponsor snacks, you can't go out to lunch with your work friends. You are always on the clock. My brain felt completely fried at the end of each day.

I tended to isolate myself in my classroom to get more done and also to avoid gossipy nonsense, so it was rare that I got to socialize with adults at all, let alone my own co-workers. The stress would weigh on me without me noticing. Going out for a drink, on the rare occasions I was able to do, really was relaxing and fun. It took a weight off my shoulders to be with other young teachers in a social situation, talking and laughing and being our non-teacher selves. No matter if I had any alcohol or not, I felt lighter and happier and just better after going out with colleagues.

And then, two weeks ago, suddenly I wasn't a teacher any more, and instantly, all that stress and intensity and anxiety were gone. Vanished completely. Even last week, getting six or seven hours of sleep, I wasn't tired. And at night, I don't feel sleepy. It's the strangest thing. But oh, it feels wonderul. The zombie is gone!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I stole this interview meme. Forgive me, internet.

1. What’s your idea of a perfect date?

Errr...what does it say that this completely stumps me? Food and fun of some kind. Maybe some element of nature as well--stars, forest, sea.

2. What did you want to be when you grew up? Do you still want to be that?

For most of my growing-up life, I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. (I started gymnastics classes as a toddler.) I was wishy-washy and whiny, which as it turns out are not good ways to become excellent at any endeavor, let alone an athletic one requiring hours of painful practice. It wasn't a realistic goal or anything, it was just a shiny future dream that crashed when I realized, at around 13 or 14, that I was the same age as the elite gymnasts and I was most decidedly nowhere NEAR elite.

You know what, though? I still love gymnastics and feel a certain longing whenever I watch it.

I love to dance and tumble. A good running split leap feels like flying. (Or at least, I remember these things vividly, since I'm physically incapable of them anymore, in my old age.) So yes, a part of me does still want to be an Olympic gymnast.

3. If you had to pick up and leave tomorrow, what would you pack and where would you go?

As in just one place? To stay? Paris is my first instinct, because I love it. Although maybe the Greek Isles? I've never been, but I have a hunch that the sun, the sea and the colors would be extremely restorative for my tired and bitter soul.

[It's currently 3.45 in the morning. Please pardon the ridiculousness I've got going on here.]

4. If you could only eat three things for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Good caesar salad. Real bread with butter or Nutella. And....french fries? pickles? Cookie Crisp? Oh god, please don't make me do this.

5. What are your favorite song lyrics?

Well, I'm certainly singing Tori Amos in my head right now because of Jamelah's answer. And I do love that song. Or am I confused? I get Spark and Purple People mixed up in my head. (because I love them both and they're not on her regular albums.)

Speaking of Tori, this was a life-changing lyric for me:


When you gonna make up your mind?

When you gonna love you as much as I do?

I literally broke down when I heard this song and these lyrics for the first time, when I was a senior in high school. Something about self-esteem and family shit and independence and my place in the world and other introspective stuff.

Here's another one: "This Woman's Work" by Kate Bush (from the Felicity soundtrack)

I know you have a little life in you yet.

I know you have a lot of strength left.

I know you have a little life in you yet.

I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying, but I just can't let it show.

I should be hoping, but I can't stop thinking

Of all the things I should've said,

That I never said.

All the things we should've done,

Though we never did.

All the things I should've given,

But I didn't.

Oh, darling, make it go,

Make it go away.

Give me these moments back.

Give them back to me.

Driving on I-90 westward across Mercer Island, in early 2003. This song came on, one I'd heard many times since college. These plaintive, wistful lyrics hit me like a fist in the gut, and I doubled over in the driver's seat, sobbing. Out of nowhere. I think it was repressed grieving about the end of my AmeriCorps term. (Yes, you may roll your eyes.)
1. In terms of career-path stuff, if you could do or try anything other than what you’re doing now, what would it be? Possibly acting. Even though I'm kind of shy, introverted and have terrible self-esteem, I love performing. Growing up I was in a few plays--not ever as anything more than the chorus/background, though, which I guess tells all of us my talent rank. This was my backup dream after I figured out gymnastics wasn't happening. It was, sadly, equally unrealistic.

2. What’s your favorite thing about yourself? What’s your least favorite thing about yourself? Interestingly, my answer to both is the same--ideas. I have great ideas. Big, creative, fun, strange ideas. However, either they are shot down by cohorts, are impossible, or I can't get my shit together to actually follow through on them. See above re: failed dreams and incompetence.

3. Who gave you the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten, and what was it?
I don't remember any real advice, or at least I don't remember anyone telling me Grand Pearls of Wisdom that stuck out.

What's funny is the truth I've found this year in a tagline we endlessly mocked six years ago: "There's no shame in your humanness."

I've had to face a lot of my humanness as I've become, somewhat unwillingly, an adult. It's not a pretty picture.

4. Speaking of advice, if you could go back in time and tell your teenage self anything, what would it be? Work harder in school! Also try not to be such a freaking weirdo. Make some real friends and figure out how to ignore the stupid shit, because just as you suspect, it really doesn't matter.

5. You can go anywhere in the world you haven’t already been. Where do you go and why? There are so many places on my list that I don't even have a list, because it would be depressing. Right now I'll say Peru, because I want to see Macchu Picchu and rainforests and the Andes. Plus it wouldn't be far--relatively speaking--to get to Patagonia, which seems breathtaking. (Thank you, Amazing Race.)

1. Why have you chosen to be an anonymous blogger?

Fear, of course. Of being found-out, of being in trouble, of being mocked, of facing reality of, you know, real life.

2. What’s your dream job — the one you would love doing, even if you made no money doing it?

Travel photography! Duh.

3. What’s your favorite vacation destination?

I'm changing it up a bit for this one and will say Australia, because I adored what I saw and there's oh so much more to see. (You totally thought I was going to say Paris, didn't you? Yeah, so did I. I'm full of surprises. Except not really.)

4. Outside of the usual answers, like December or your birth month, what is your favorite month of the year, and why?

I might have said June, because school gets out, but do you remember June? It lasts FOR.E.VER. when you're waiting for school to get out. Plus, here in NY, it's hot and sticky and yuck blech.

So maybe I will go with August of my youth in Seattle. It's really warm but not humid or gross, the sun doesn't go down until like 10pm, there's Seafair for fun, and you can start thinking about back-to-school shopping for new clothes and school supplies.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Detroit?

Erm, that I've never been there? (That's what I get for shamelessly not playing by the rules of this meme.) The only thing I can think of is the Tigers. My ex-stepdad's friend was their trainer and sometimes we got amazing tickets (Kingdome!) when they came to play the Mariners, and he got us some signed swag (though I remain highly irritated that the trainer friend gave it to my brother, who was like nine and didn't know or give a crap about baseball).


The ever-plucky, good-grammarian Moose , yet another of my favorite bloggers, linked to a new project called Grace in Small Things. I really like the idea and will try to participate as a way to keep me more positive and grateful. A million times a day something bothers, irritates, or angers me, and occasionally I think to myself, hm, maybe all that negativity isn't so healthy? This might be a productive way to consciously track the path of my thoughts.

My list for today (still Sunday night since I haven't gone to bed yet):
1. No more Sunday night anxiety about going Back To School.
2. Freshly fried potatoes.

3. Sitting and reading for hours on end, just because.

4. Libraries and FREE BOOKS! (I'm going to visit the library again in the next day or two, even though I haven't finished all the ones I got last time--just because I can! woo!)

5. Frosting right out of the can. Yeah, I said it.


I spent several hours (what? i'm unemployed!) reading through Pundit Kitchen. Like 140 pages of it. What?

down down down...sad face

up up up, ooh, happy face!
tracking, saving, posting? blog whore face.

Miss Cellania linked to this hilarious song parody for the Grammar Nazis in all of us!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I checked everything off my list for today!
I grudgingly got up before 9am to bring the blankets to the laundromat and drop them off. I finished the writing assignment/test and sent it off, twelve hours before it was due. I even, thanks to the cajoling of the super-fit BF, worked out! It was short and low-key, but I still felt good about doing it. Showered, moved my car, and picked up the blankets. Then went into the city for a Sit 'n' Knit meetup.

While chatting to BF in the afternoon, I was absently picking things up off the floor. I looked in my purse, to find my cell phone. It wasn't there and I was like, hm, where is it? It took me another five seconds to realize that I WAS ON THE PHONE. god. what a dumbass!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

pride and prejudice

Read at your own risk. This stuff has been rattling around in my head for quite a while, and it turned into a giant rambling mass that i can't even think about going back to edit or organize or clarify any further. you should know by now, faithful readers, that i'm not the most articulate on the block. but you can't deny my passionate ideas. :) so yeah, this post: it's long, it covers all kinds of things, and it's probably all selfish drivel. here it is anyway.

So a post summarizing and linking to my 'being resigned' post sparked quite a debate among commenters over on gothamschools. i think that link was responsible for a tripling of page hits, which i can never complain about.

there are some nuances of the debate that i'm having trouble reconciling. i commented early in the thread, in response to another comment, but i chose not to respond to the further comments.

the debate started about me and my quality of teaching but grew into an interesting tangential discussion about responsibility of learning.

one thing that bothered me was that it didn't seem like any of the commenters had actually read my blog at all, but instead were going on an excerpt from one post and another person's summarization of me and my teaching career. i was unfamiliar with almost all the names of the commenters too, which sort of proved my point to myself. now, i suppose this is a pride issue for me (i can admit to a bit of comment whoredom, like most bloggers, i'm sure--comments and page hits are a boon to the ego).

but the bigger issue is it seemed irresponsible. who are these people to make judgments and comments when they really have no idea of what happened? i'm not trying to be all defensive, i'm just thinking of realistic reporting and knowledge. just because someone posts a blurb about some other event, you think you can pontificate and judge that event when you have done nothing to actually learn about it first hand? It smacks of laziness and quick judgments, and the fact that I was the subject of the judging is only the impetus, I swear. :) it's like those hundreds of people who make derogatory comments on an online news brief. when you've only got a few sentences to read, surely you realize on some level that you're not knowledgeable about the situation. And sure, everyone's entitled to his opinion, but jesus, at that point you really don't even deserve to have an opinion!

Understand I'm not knocking the commenters on that gothamschools post here. (And my earlier point about reading will be proven--I'm betting they'll never see this.) I wish they had taken some time to read and get some more background of the situation.

the events that took place that fateful day (which i have since christened Freedom Day, and put it in my online calendar to observe it annually) were the culmination of five months plus four YEARS. not only is that a lot of blog, it's real life that even the most dedicated reader can never fully understand, because only i lived it. i've written anecdotes, both good and bad, over the years. i've talked about lessons i taught or wanted to teach or funny/stupid/awesome/ridiculous things my kids have said/done/written. i've talked to real life friends and family about my experiences, but even they were never in the classroom with me. i could babble for months and never convey the complete truth. because really, what is truth in a classroom of thirty people and managed by more behind the scenes? each of us in that room has a different reality and perspective. and days i thought were great maybe were bad, maybe days i thought were shite were actually okay. maybe i was a stellar teacher, maybe i was the worst teacher of all time.

my instinct, and probably yours too, is to say that it's somewhere in the middle--that all teachers fluctuate in that middle zone. we've got off days just like everyone else, only our off days are either caused by or forced upon thirty other people (or up to a hundred for us secondary teacher) stuffed in the room with us. teachers don't get to hide in their cubicles or take extra long lunches on bad days, and most of us won't call in sick even when we're actually very ill.

one mention was the school, and that someone could be good at one school but bad at another. and that's a weird phenomenon, don't you think? i mean, sure, each person has her own style and moving to a new workplace is very stressful and awkward. but are the kids really so different? are the schools really so different from each other?

and i was able to clarify this today in an interview (related to schools). my school *was* supposed to be different. it had all these ideals, promises, posters, chants. in the grade i was teaching, those promises and posters had nothing to with the reality. and the fact that all of the staff had the same experience (to varying degrees, naturally)? and that i was the THIRD teacher in this grade to be forced out? what does that tell you about how different that school really was?

sure, i wouldn't have 'been resigned' (my term for unofficially fired) at a public school, not until the end of the year at least. i would have toughed it out, which was my plan (well, that was my plan trumping my 'give up and run away in defeat plan,' that i steadfastly refused to obey), but i wasn't given the opportunity to do so. and that's okay--it's certainly much better for me and my health and well-being.

which brings me to another point i meant to make a couple months ago and now is ever so much more relevant. DC Teacher Chic quit her teaching job suddenly, what, back in November maybe? I hadn't read her blog before, but i saw a linked post on another blog (maybe gothamschools?) and clicked over to read about it. she had written a lengthy post and there were over eighty comments there. in the post she described and summarized the main issues that had contributed to her decision. so many of them were all too familiar--illness, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, but also incompetent and unsupportive administration who didn't control or punish students that bullied and abused teachers. i was never assaulted by a student, thank god (i would have been out of there immediately if i had; i was shocked that she stayed), but i was threatened by and bullied by parents, and admin did nothing about it.

anyway, her post made it clear that she didn't take the decision lightly and that she didn't want it to happen this way, but that it was best for her. almost all of the commenters were very supportive and even congratulated her on getting out of a ridiculous situation. and so of course there was one very loud dissenting voice. the flame-thrower (because s/he kept writing and responding, which the nasty ones always do--why???) insisted that that was a selfish decision, because it left the kids in the lurch. who would be responsible for them now, who would teach them now, what would happen to them now?

those questions have rolled around my head for five years, people. it's why i've never given up. it's why i take as few days off as possible, coming in to teach when i can barely talk or am hacking up phlegm in the middle of my lesson (sorry for the graphic tmi), why i never let the seed of doubt grow into a reality. the fact was and is that in these big cities, kids need teachers, period, and further, they need teachers who don't suck. too many kids in my old school simply didn't have a teacher, or had a teacher who did suck.

BUT. is it really a fair trade when a person's mental and physical health is on the line? who is more important, the kids with the potential futures or the teacher trying to help them achieve that future? the reality is that the two fates are intertwined--if the students are the cause of the teacher's distress, the teacher can't function properly, and that cycles back to affect the students. (as in, if too many students are acting up, and the teacher is trying to manage them but can't because detentions, timeouts, dean visits, parent calls, etc haven't worked, then the students can't learn as much because instruction time is wasted and everyone is frustrated (except for the kids acting up--they feel, rightly, that they 'won').

so is it a fair trade? NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. if a person is working in an office and has an allergic reaction to the wall glue or chair plastic or whatever, do we force them to keep working there, suffering? Please. i'm sure teams of lawyers have made millions fighting against that.
But here's some dude telling a teacher that was successful for something like five or eight years, no, you should keep teaching no matter what. your health and well-being and happiness are secondary.

come on, dude. that is fucked up. seriously. this is what we get for venerating the martyr teacher--the one who sacrifices everything--family, health, time alone to rest and recuperate--in books and movies. people that take this job and keep it do it because we know it's incredibly important, and we all work hard because we know we can never work hard enough, because the work will never be done, because these kids need so much and most of it we can't give them. and some people are willing and able to make those sacrifices and yes, they are inspirational heroes. Are they realistic role models for the legions of young teachers out there? No way! Look at the demographics of charter school teachers, just as an example--young people, the vast majority upper middle class, unmarried and without children. You know why? Because the teachers with families and outside responsibilities (you know, the real world, the one that is causing heartbreak for so many urban children, is a force the rest of us have to deal with too) can't deal with stressful twelve-hour workdays when they face another entire workday at home that night. I can't even imagine being a regular public school teacher with children, let alone a baby or two! I've been tired for five years, and i'm single and childless! Many days I could just barely get through the day on my own, and then usually I could go home and veg out. I can't imagine the stamina and patience that the parent teachers have.

Wait, this was a tangent, what was I trying to get at? Oh yes--priorities. Who really matters the most? Yes, the children matter. That's why I was there, that's why you're there, and that's why I never actually quit, even when my body and brain were begging me to. I would never ever make a decision for another teacher, and I will never ever judge someone for leaving the classroom. If it's not right for you, if it's unhealthy for you, and you make your decision, then I will support that. For two reasons: first, because an unhappy and unhealthy teacher is not a great teacher, and second, because quitting is not at all an easy decision. So if someone is able to make that decision, then it was probably coming anyway and had been thought over and was most likely the right thing to do for all parties.

This wouldn't be a problem if we had more qualified teachers. It's not my job to worry about the eighth-graders at my old school who NEVER HAD AN ENGLISH TEACHER. I can't save them. I can't actually 'save' any of my students, because any problems are so much bigger than my forty-five or ninety minutes with them a day. I always wanted to do my best, I always wanted to help them, and it breaks my heart that some of these kids can't get what they need--from their peers, the school, their parents, the community. I have to remember my place and my limitations (of time, money, patience, energy, knowledge, etc).

So. Was I a bad teacher? No. In fact, the number of times I despaired over being a bad or ineffective teacher tells you (and me, in my conscience) that I couldn't have actually been one. And I don't know if this makes sense to anyone else, but the fact that I worried about whether I was doing a good job meant that I was putting a lot of effort and heart into the job. Does that make sense in reality? I'm not sure. But I think a truly ineffective teacher wouldn't think about all the things that need to change and try new things and continue engaging students in thoughtful discussions or activities in and out of the classroom. My principal this year called me tenacious, way back in the fall when I was still crying all the time but I wasn't giving up on my standards or my job. I took it seriously and I worked my butt off. Did it work? Eh, I have no idea. But honestly, I felt that way all the time in past years--I always looked back and despaired, oh god, have my kids learned ANYTHING this year?! even when their evaluations listed the things they learned and explained how I was a hard teacher but explained things to them so they could learn it.

Those little things can motivate us again after a hard day or a difficult week or an impossible month. I think I got trapped in my negativity at times (which one of my supervisors correctly called me on and tried to encourage me to think about the part of the day that worked)(which when it was only a minute or two, out of twelve hours, was hard to take seriously) and other times I doggedly pushed forward, always thinking of new things to try, or possible strategies, games, lessons, talks with disruptive students. Is it fair to expect a teacher to be perfect every second of the day? I say no, but maybe that's because I'm highly imperfect. :) Teachers are human, we have needs, we have minds. You can't judge me (or DC Teacher Chic, or anyone else) because you haven't been in my shoes, you haven't been in my mind (lucky you). You may have read my blog (thank you!), but remember, even that's only snippets when I choose or remember to share.

Good god, I think I've been typing solidly for an hour or more. My elbows hurt. Is that a thing, blog elbow? Sorry this has been so very long and rambling--I went back earlier to add a 'warning' at the top. If you made it all the way through it, phew, that was rough, hope you weren't too confused/traumatized/enraged/disgusted/surprised/weirded out. Cheers. :)

I have shameful confession.

Oh dear. I am so embarrasssed. Please don't hold it against me.

...I taped American Idol last night.

I know! I'm sorry! I knew it was wrong even as I pushed that evil red button, but I just couldn't help myself.

You see, I had turned on the tv to watch some DVD episodes of Due South, and there was AI, just beginning the SF auditions. I got sucked in to that insane girl who wouldn't stop mugging for the camera and laughing like a hyena. I stood there transfixed, remote in hand, disbelieving sneer on my face.

Now, give me a little credit. The next day when I pressed 'play,' I only lasted two minutes before stopping and erasing the whole episode.

Whew, that was close.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I do solemnly swear.

(seen on a downtown Brooklyn produce stand)

The city has been abuzz with Obamaness and Inauguration Fever. Bars and restaurants celebrated with extra specials over the weekend and several public spaces served as gathering areas to watch the events. I personally would have been too timid and cold to join strangers in a square somewhere, so I watched at home. On the DVR.

The crowds were unbelievable. I'm not jealous of the thousands and thousands of people jostling in and around the capital, but obviously it was worth it to see history live and in person.

Speaking of history, that's what I was teaching for the last four months. The first week back from break, we were examining the Constitution. I made sure to have the students locate the Presidential Oath--"These are the words that you will hear Barack Obama speak, words that were written over two hundred years ago." Though these kids were pretty obsessed with Mr Obama, they didn't seem too interested in the connection between past and present, the living document the Framers created that still directs everything the country does. Will they remember that class? Will they remember me? The information and questions that I tried to impress upon them? Did they learn anything at all? I know from experience that teachers who disappeared were instantly deleted from the school consciousness, never to be spoken of again.

It's a new start for the country. I choked up at the swearing in, and marveled over the fact that yes, we did it! President Obama (I can still hardly believe it!) is not a superhero and he cannot single-handedly fix the US. Even my kids, back in November, understood that the problems are too big and the pressure to rectify them all immediately is impractical. But we can all have hope and get to work together. The chance for something different, something new, that's what's inspiring us young people.

What an interesting time for me to be at a personal crossroads as well. I've scheduled several interviews this week, for various ventures, and I'm continuing the search for more opportunities. It's overwhelming at times--so many listings! So many things I might maybe be qualified for! So much competition in this ridiculous job market! Yesterday I found an absolutely perfect job for me, and I crafted a special cover letter trying to convey just that. It's frustrating that I have to keep looking, mostly for things that aren't meaningful for me. While I like making money, I'm much more concerned with finding something interesting and that makes me happier than I've been. And for some silly reason, I can't force a hiring manager to stop interviewing others and hire me on the spot!

For all of us, life goes on. Many things remain the same, with hints of exciting changes on the horizon.

Monday, January 19, 2009

snow walk

It is SO COLD in our apartment today. The heat and hot water were off from two nights ago until late afternoon today. My poor hands are like icicles. I wore gloves most of yesterday--INDOORS.

I ventured outside into the colder cold for lunch. It was a meeting of the minds, the original bunch of NYC teacher bloggers: Ms Frizzle, Ms M, wockerjabby, Nancy, and X! Nancy and her hubby brought their adorable little one too.

After the fun, I walked home (it wasn't too terribly far and it's free!), enjoying the snowflakes falling everywhere, and taking plenty of pictures with my nifty fifty.
The heat was on for less than an hour before being gone again. GOD, I hate being cold in my own apartment. Thankfully, the radiators have been hissing mightily for a few minutes, so maybe my hands will warm up to normal temperature sometime soon.

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Etsy Shop Open!

Thank you for the ever-so-awesome commenters who have been encouraging me with photography. I just set up an Etsy shop with a handful of beautiful 8x10 photos. There are a LOT more to come, so please peruse the pics and check back often!

UPDATE: All new photos up!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Mania!

Okay, friends, you like to read, right? (If not, don't tell me, it will make me too sad.) I have lots of books that I don't need anymore. You have books that you want. Win-win situation!

These books are PAY AS YOU WISH. If you live in NYC, I can meet you somewhere to exchange. If you live somewhere else, I'll let you know what the shipping cost would be.

First up: non-teacher books!

Saving Fish from Drowning

Criss Cross

The Virgin Blue

Let's Go: Amsterdam

Continental Drifter

Angela's Ashes

Grosse Pointe Girl

Rules for Saying Goodbye


Now, onto the teacher books! There's something for everyone here!

The Essential 55

Setting Limits in the Classroom

Made in America

Reading Without Nonsense

Remedial Reading Techniques

Writing About Reading

Nonfiction Craft Lessons
Teaching Elementary Social Studies
Subjects Matter
Teaching Special Students
Writing in the Content Areas
Getting Excited about Data
100 Best Websites for Educators
Voices in Literature: Bronze

Literacy's Beginnings
Thinking Through Genre
Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?
Literacy: Helping Children Construct Meaning
Elementary and Middle School Mathematics
Project WILD: K-12 Curriculum and Activity Guide
Child Development

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

Friends, I am walking through that door. I *have* walked through the door. Well, technically I was pushed out the door.
Instead of one of the pills leading through the metaphorical door, these two pills helped me survive on the bad side, the 'closed-mind' side.
The blue pill is an anti-depressant. After weeks of increased crying at school, I caved and started Zoloft. It definitely helped the crying and I think it also helped me stay a little bit more patient and react less in difficult situations.
The yellow pill is Ambien. I was completely unable to sleep through the night on my own--during the week. On the weekends, I slept perfectly well.
It really, REALLY bothered me that I needed a drug to make it through the day and a drug to make it through the night, just for this job. I know that the year started off extra stressfully (is that a word?), with the moving and the new job and the new life. I knew this job wasn't healthy, but I'm not a quitter. I refused to give up. I figured I could grit my teeth and just get through it. My definition of an okay day was a day that wasn't terrible. Working so many hours and putting up with crap from students and crap from my supervisors, my standards kept lowering--but I was surviving, after all!
I dreamed of quitting starting halfway through September. The fantasy of throwing up my hands and walking out the door looked better and better as the weeks wore on, but I just kept gritting and surviving day to day. I desperately wanted to quit, but I worried about what that meant--about me as a person, about me as a teacher, about my classes, about my students who would be abandoned. I hated the thought of making that tough decision. I didn't want to face any of that, so I kept my head down and getting through.
But my principal made the decision for me. I know that it was the right decision, and I know that I feel so much lighter and happier and oh my god, the relief!
I no longer need to choose either of these pills, because I have been freed!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Unemployment Day Four: Productivity?

I actually completed everything on my list today!

First I slept in. (That wasn't on my list.) I set my alarm for 10ish, to prevent super sluggishness. It only sort of worked, as I let the radio alarm stay on for another hour.

I lugged BF's laundry down the street a bit later. I had volunteered to do it for him since he does nice things for me and doesn't have much time on the weekends, and I've now got nothing but time. It was actually a good thing because a)it forced me to get dressed and leave the apartment and b)it forced me to start reading a library book, which apparently I find hard to do at home, what with the internet, DVR, and PS2 to tempt me.

Made some phone calls about job stuff and car stuff. I am not active in the DOE, which is probably a blessing. It might be too easy to fall back on subbing. The money would be nice, but I'll figure something out. (I hope.) One part of my car will get fixed tomorrow, and another part later in the week, so that's good too.

Last night I finally picked up the knitting project that I abandoned last month and made some good progress on it. It is a little gray purse; I'm knitting a red strap for it and I'll have to resew the sides since the first time I folded it unevenly. I'm thinking about trying to make some kind of flower or star design on the front, in red, to make the gray less boring.

I sent out another batch of resumes, for both part-time and full-time officey and photographey things. I got my first official rejection too, from a photography place in NJ. I have sent a total of fourteen or so since last Monday, which I think is not too shabby for two business days of unemployment. Also, why is it so difficult to track down and apply to temp agencies in this town? Sheesh.

Interestingly, I have not been reading a lot of blogs, or catching up on flickr, or taking a ton of pictures, or playing any videogames...or cleaning my apartment, or snacking ceaselessly. I imagine that soon enough I will get to those things; maybe the newness of my nonsituation is affecting what I'm doing and how I'm thinking about it. I have, however, been making excellent strawberry-banana smoothies. Turns out the secret to them, like so much of life, is more ice cream!

Tomorrow I have to go into the city in the afternoon, which is good because I don't know how long I can keep up this relentless pace of domesticity. And by that I mean that I will probably get very bored very quickly. Next week is a looming maw of emptiness.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Unemployment, Day Three

Isn't this a thrilling series of posts, friends? Aren't you glad I'm updating you on the minutiae of my non-life on a daily basis? I know you are. :)

Anyway, so today was very exciting. (That was sarcasm, by the way.) Once again I slept until the afternoon; I am so thrilled to not answer to a before-dawn alarm clock for awhile.

For once I started cleaning and tidying the apartment. In case you were wondering, I am what they call "messy." A clutter-er. In some cases I am fastidiously organized, but those tend to be either at work (remember the book room?) or in silly places like a bookshelf. Anyway, so the bathroom is a little cleaner, the Christmas tree has been taken down, and my piles of clutter have been removed or cleaned or thrown away.

No doubt the highlight of my day was venturing down the street to tape a plastic bag into the hole that used to be my rear triangle window.

Just kidding! The real highlight was hanging out with my friend Ms. M. We started at the diner down the block and caught up on life and travel plans. Later, I introduced her to the wonders of Katamari Damacy. I think she was underwhelmed. But don't worry, Ms M, you might start enjoying it more when you play it again later; it's quite addictive.

And gosh darnit, I just found those Flat Stanley photos! I knew it! They were hiding in the National Geographic I was reading last week. (The issue about gold--it was fascinating!) I'll put them somewhere safe for next weekend.

A few minutes ago I booked a train ticket! See what I mean with the excitingness? No, this is pretty cool actually--later this week I'm going upstate to see my teammate for the first time in over six years!

I'm still trolling craigslist and idealist for job listings, but I haven't yet sent any applications today. I also haven't watched any movies or started my library books. Shame on me!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Unemployment, Day Two

First, I slept in until 12.30. BRILLIANT. I can't wait to do more of that. I haven't spent nearly enough time in bed this year.

When I went to move my car, I discovered it was broken into AGAIN. This time the thieves took the two bags of clothes I was going to donate. They also neatly piled the contents of the glove box on the passenger seat. I suppose they were looking for money or valuable electronics? This was really not the kind of experience to make my week any better, but I guess it could be worse. I think my insurance should cover it (again) and obviously now I have time to sit around a repair shop.

Just now I sent out applications for six jobs, some photography related and some just office related.

My original goals for the day were to watch some Netflix movies and start reading the books I got at the neighborhood library. Neither of those got accomplished, so I will have to work hard to catch up tomorrow!

Last night a student from my second year of teaching added me on Facebook. She and all her smart peers are now in high school! Way to make me feel old.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Unemployment: Day One

Thank you for the wonderful and supportive comments. I can't tell you how much I appreciated them. It's amazing to me that anyone still reads this silly thing and it's also amazing that I've made some real friends because of it. So thank you again, one and all.

My first day of freedom was pretty much like a weekend day except the BF had to get up and go to work (sucka!). I was actually fairly productive. I had to get up around nine to move my car. I also had to take the multitudes of school crap out of the car. It took almost half an hour of circling my brownstone neighborhood to find a freaking parking spot, and it was an iffy one. Stupid Brooklyn!

I took out the trash and organized the school crap. I'd been holding on to all my old EL@ posters and charts (a year's worth that I saved and reused), but finally tossed them. I made a couple phone calls. In the afternoon I walked to the school to return a few things. I was nervous about potential awkwardness but successfully avoided running into anyone. I stopped at the grocery store. I made a pile of books to sell or give away (pictures of those coming very soon! it'll be like a garage sale, but on a blog).

Last night I got a phone call from a parent who wanted to schedule a meeting. I had no idea what to say, so I just stammered that I wouldn't be available. Just now I got an IM from a student saying they missed me today and what happened. I was worried about that and I still don't know what to do. I wrote her 'no comment, but i miss you all and i hope you learned something from me this year.'

Awkward and a little heartbreaking. Which pretty much sums up the entire situation.

It's still surreal and hasn't fully sunk in yet. There are thoughts rambling around my brain that I want to organize and process and write out. Perhaps I will do that tomorrow. After all, what else have I got to do?

Here's a random snippet. On Monday I made new sticker charts for my (now ex) students and included a space for them to make two goals for the week, one academic and one personal. We were going to evaluate them and our progress at the end of the week. (I guess they're on their own now. :()I shared mine as an example of small, specific and measurable goals. First was to be done with work by 6pm, and second was to make sure there were no dishes in the sink by the time I went to bed. I tend to be a little lazy and procrastinate with dishes, especially if there are only a couple. But I am proud to say that I have succeeded with this goal! It helped that I had made the goal and told it to others, because at the end of the night, when I wanted to leave a dirty glass or spoon sitting in the sink, I thought to myself that I didn't want to fail at the goal and have to say I couldn't do something so easy. And that pushed me to just wash the damn dish already. So at least there was a tiny success this week among the professional mess.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I am no longer a teacher-blogger.

From now on, I am a mere blogger.

I don't have a job anymore. I'm not a teacher anymore.

Today I was made to sign a resignation so I wouldn't be fired. To add insult to injury, it didn't happen until after I had taught the whole day.

I knew something bad was coming, but I didn't want to think it was real, and I didn't think it would happen so soon. This week has been really awful in my classroom (and across the entire grade, actually). I haven't been a happy person at this job, and I haven't been a very effective teacher. So it's actually kind of a big relief.

I was pretty shaken by how fast it all happened; within an hour I finished teaching my last class, signed the letter, surrendered my laptop, and was packing up my belongings.

Thankfully my amazing friend L was around. She reminded me this is a good thing, and helped me clean out my stuff and take it to my car, then we went to a bar for drinks.

The first thing to know is that I am ridiculously excited to sleep in tomorrow.

The financial situation is going to stress me out. I have no idea what I'll do. I don't want to teach anymore, though; I had figured that out for good a few months ago. (Though a possibility of subbing might be a good back up plan, for paycheck reasons.) Tonight I looked through job listings and found some interesting bits. Did I mention that I emailed two applications to non-profit jobs on Monday? Neither has responded, which is a little sad, but it was probably still good practice.

So 2009 will turn out to be completely different than 2008. I haven't the slightest idea how it will turn out.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Three Words

Something must change
Big disaster today
Days are numbered
More vacation please
I miss Guatemala
New career needed
New direction wanted
Future so uncertain

(inspired by a flickr group challenge)

Monday, January 05, 2009

Lake Atitlan

Tropical paradise

When I arrived at Panajachel, the first thing I did was go kayaking on Lake Atitlan! No fancy boat or safety instructions, just here's a ratty lifesaver and a battered kayak, be back in an hour and don't go too far. It was beautiful. The sun was warm, the water was cool. It felt nice to give my lower body a rest after all the walking and climbing I'd done at Tikal.
Later that day, I zipped across a series of cables strung over the forest of a nature reserve just outside the town. That was an insane adrenaline rush, and the view of the treetops and lake in the distance were amazing!
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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ruins at Tikal

Tikal is a Maya city buried deep in the Peten jungle. The structures were built between the 4th century BC and the 10th century AD.

One of the pathways leading through the forest on the long walk to the Grand Plaza.
Temple I, or the Temple of the Jaguar
Waiting on other tourists, looking out from the North Acropolis in the Grand Plaza
At the top of Temple IV, which is 72m (230 feet) tall, one of the tallest of all Maya buildings. Of course during the Mayan time, all the trees were cut down. Now that the jungle has taken over, the details of the city are lost, except for the tall temples visible above the treetops. You really feel like you're on top of the world.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

How My Camera Saved Me

Or, It's a Miracle I Didn't Break an Ankle

“Una mas photo?” I said hopefully to the guard who’d approached me in the Grand Plaza.
“Si, si, no problemo,” he replied and wandered away mumbling into his walkie-talkie.

I quickly changed lenses and, using the tripod and remote, took several two-second shots of the Jaguar Temple I. The imposing silhouette against the dusk sky was strikingly beautiful.

The stars were beginning to come out, so when I saw a particularly bright one sparkling over the Central Acropolis, I took a few more photos.
If only I’d followed the rules.

It was definitely darkening, but the road back into the forest was quite visible and I confidently set off, telling myself it was no big deal. I’ve walked in dark forests without flashlights before, after all, and thought myself pretty brave. However, I conveniently forgot to remember several important, salient bits of information: I knew that other path very well in daylight, and there was only the one road, no way to get lost.

In the jungle around Tikal, there most certainly is more than one road and I most certainly did not know any of them well. I’d entered the park a grand total of two times that day, both using different paths. I really should have known better.

The forest got darker. The ribbon of road got fainter in front of me. My heart began to pound as I tried to will away the first uneasy pangs of misgiving.

I’d thought it was a straight shot from the Grand Plaza, but I hadn’t been positive. At first, I could make out the signs pointing to the exit or a temple, but soon enough it got too dark.
The forest was alive around me, creatures singing and calling, hissing and howling. I told myself that no animals here would just attack me, that I had nothing to worry about in the growing darkness. It would be fine. Just keep moving. The packed dirt road was uneven, full of ruts, puddles, and shallow tree roots. Walking had taken concentration in broad daylight, and now I just blithely tripped along, pretending nothing was wrong.

Then I hit a T, running into some ruins and the road seeming to go in different directions. I had a “flash” of genius to use my camera to show me the scene. Unfortunately, the camera wouldn’t auto-focus in the pitch black, and there were no signs to be seen anyway. As a bonus, I was blinded for a few moments each time the flash fired. Each time it took longer for the road to reappear, and each time it was slightly dimmer. Each time the dark forest got darker.

There was both panic and disbelief somewhere in the far recesses of my mind, and for the most part I made sure to ignore them. I began to consider the idea of laying down and hunkering down at some ruins for the night, and waiting for moonlight, or god forbid, dawn.

At this point I had backtracked –or tried to- several times and really wasn’t sure where I was. I took a flash picture of my Tikal map to see if I could get my bearings that way. I examined the photo carefully on the LCD screen, zooming in and around to try to orient myself. No go, since there was no point to orient to. Then I hit upon a truly ingenious idea: using the AF assist lamp as a two-second flashlight. Unfortunately, there were still no damn signs and it was still really fucking dark when it went off.

So I continued on, turning around a couple more times when coming across a Salida arrow. I figured that my best plan now, since apparently that Salida was eluding me, would be to find my way back to the Grand Plaza, because a)there might be a guard around, b)it would be lighter since there was minimal tree cover, and c)it would be a good place to ‘camp out’ in that I’d hopefully be discovered quickly. Oh, and I could look at the stars. After a glimpse of the night sky back in Antigua, I felt desperate to find a place with no light to really see all the stars. Be careful what you wish for.

Then I came across signs for Uaxactun, 23 kilometers away, and in the other direction, signs for comedores and restaurants. I carefully turned and headed toward what I desperately hoped might possibly be the exit. I saw lights. People! Rescue! Salvation!

"Hola!" I called, trying to sound calm.
“Hola,” came the reply, not sounding surprised or worried.
“Soy perdido.” I am lost, I said. “Salida?”
“Salida,” he confirmed. Yes, this was the exit. “Mas persona?” Any more people?
“No, perdido.” No, lost.
“Perdida,” he corrected me.
“Si, perdida. Y stupida.”

I caught up to him and couldn’t explain much of anything with my non-Spanish. I think he probably knew what had happened though: another thoughtless gringa stayed too long in the forest and got caught by the night.

We were indeed on the exit road. The trees cleared and the sky was open and chock full of stars. I gawked upward as I tripped along the uneven path. A faint stripe of the Milky Way was visible. Stars were everywhere and there was no ambient light to distract from them. I hadn’t seen a sky like that in years; it was incredible. What is it about the clear night sky that is so endlessly compelling and somehow mysterious?

The guard pointed out my hotel and I thanked him gratefully as I walked toward the lighted pathway. I couldn’t help but shake my head and laugh at myself—I got lost in the Tikal jungle at night. I was close to sleeping under the stars sheltered by two thousand year old ruins. Stupida, indeed.

That’s what I get for thinking that I don’t really have to follow rules, and when when a forest “closes” at a certain hour, it’s for a good reason! Also, I was stupid to not keep a flashlight with me at all times, just in case something like this occurred. Thankfully my camera stepped in bravely to help. Most of all, I hadn’t panicked (too much); my denial was a powerful saving grace.

I have never felt so grateful to return to a tiny, undecorated hotel room.

Life in Antigua

Friday, January 02, 2009


Tropical flower plant that looks like a bird, at some church ruins

Pretty house in the sunshine

Church ruins with volcano in the background


Cathedral in central square and volcano