February 25, 2012

  • Teacher Data Reports

    from the NYTimes Teacher Data Reports

    The internet is abuzz today, and has been for several weeks as the release of the Teacher Data Reports became imminent. The NYTimes went ahead and released their reports last night – ahead of all the other news media – but in a week, the public will be awash with inaccurate numbers that don’t teach us much. If you’ve ever heard the line: “57%, no 34%, of all statistics are inaccurate,” well, now’s the time to believe it.

    I’m usually not one to get all up in arms about educational issues. I do have strong opinions, but the problems are usually so large, that it’s not worth trying to resolve the rhetoric. The release of the TDRs, however, has gotten me fuming mad. Let me extrapolate.

    First of all, I started digging into WHO wanted these reports in the first place, and there is an interesting void of information. Initially, it was the New York City Department of Education that rallied for them, and they had been involved in a court case with the United Teachers Federation (aka “The Union”) to allow the release of these numbers. The DOE is full of “reformers”who have not been in the classroom for years, and yet profess to know what makes a good school run. They have flip-flopped the educational systems of this city every time there has been an administration change – sometimes overhauling entire systems – only to yield similar results. Interestingly enough, now that the numbers are finally released, and the wide margin of error (more on that later) has been revealed, they are now DISTANCING themselves from the very reports they fought so hard to release. In an e-mail to DOE employees, Chancellor Walcott says, “the courts have said that we are legally obligated to release Teacher Data Reports,” in an attempt to distance the DOE from the ensuing debacle (Letter from Chancellor Walcott). That’s like giving a bully a big stick and then denying any involvement when someone comes in with a black eye.

    Now, let’s talk about these numbers. I think you’re really going to need a lesson in statistics if you really want to hope to understand what all of them mean. I’ve highlighted a random report above to show you what the report looks like. At face value, the public is going to want to look at the bolded numbers and think ‘high means good, low means bad.’ If only it were that simple. I’m glad that they at least thought to put the sample sizes in. The first pair of teachers look to be going phenomenally well compared to the third 4th grade teacher – until you look at their sample sizes. The first PAIR (just so we know, that means two) had 19 students that determined their Value-added rating, while the last teacher, solo, had up to 102 students giving her a negative Value-added rating. Given that mandated class size can get up to 34 students in NYC, I don’t see how it’s fair to compare such a vast range of students.

    Data aside, you should know how data is calculated in NYC. Tests. Standardized tests. Though they are constantly reforming tests, a lot of private universities have debunked NY State tests, and prefer that their applicants take nation-wide standardized ones. This is because NY State tests are ridiculously easy compared to state-wide standards. The cold hard fact remains, NYC public school students from predominantly poverty-high areas do not perform well in school and standardized tests. The bar has been lowered and lowered instead of addressing this fact because it’s easier to blame the system than it is to try and fix systemic inequality and poverty.

    My only experience with this has been at the high school level – offering French Regents exams. The day before the exam, several students informed me that they weren’t going to take the test. They didn’t feel ready, and this test was optional for their graduation. As a teacher, I understood and valued their opinion. As a NYC teacher, I fretted because those tests would show up as failures on my record. The day of the exam, a student overslept and missed the exam. Another failure on the part of the teacher. All totaled, only two of my students did not pass the exam, but my overall data for that exam showed a much lower return. It’s so bad, that on the morning of the exam, my colleagues are calling students to get them out of bed, or they are even telling students who aren’t likely to pass, not to even sign up for the exam. And did I mention passing is only a 65? Yes, you are given a green light if you score a 66 on a state exam – even though that may show that a student barely grasps the material. No matter, off to college you go. Keep in mind, that this is some of the stuff that goes behind these numbers.

    A teacher complained on the NYTimes TDRS:

    “This data is based on ONE test taken on ONE day when several variables, such as child poverty, quite possibly will affect student performance,” Lea Weinstein, a teacher at Middle School 45 in the Bronx, wrote in a response to her rating that she sent to The New York Times. “Yes, I administered this test that generated this data to my sixth-graders two years ago. I no longer teach sixth grade, and I no longer teach in the same school, or even the same subject. How is this data relevant today?”

    This leads me to my next complaint. The media. The fact that the NYTimes was asking teachers to submit a “response” to accompany their TDR is troublesome to me. I refuse to let them off the hook because they offered teachers a chance to “plead their innocence,” when they were really just keen on publishing the reports. The fact that they published them the very evening they asked teachers to give an accompanying report proves that. I’d like to see the percentages on their return rates – do they assume that all NYC teachers read the NYTimes? And other media publications will be soon to follow. This is good for the NYC DOE because they are using the media to take the real blame for wanting the reports published. (“After Championing Release, City Says It Did Not Want Teacher Data Public“)

    The future of the TDRs seem to rest in the reaction of the public. How are parents using this information? What does the general public think? How will teachers react? When Los Angeles (the only other city to release TDRs) released their reports, teacher Rigoberto Ruelas committed suicide, some claim, due to the low rating he received. He was already having issues with depression, but it’s telling that his death coincided with the publication of these reports. When I first heard that, I thought it was a little absurd, but now that I’m seeing my colleagues names in print for public scrutiny, I can feel how utterly uncomfortable the reality is.

    UFT Ad in the Daily News

September 21, 2011

  • my ministry

    via jesse coder


    sometimes i wonder why i’m so tired at the end of a day.  everyone works.  everyone has a job.  work is difficult.  but recently, it’s really been hitting home that teaching is really a ministry.  it was a ministry when i was working out in the suburbs, but i just didn’t notice it as much because the kids there had good support systems.  in the city, teachers really play that role.

    we have something called “advisory” in our school.  it’s a thirty-minute period where we meet with a small group of students to give all students an opportunity to work closely with an adult who is invested in their future.  we talk about their academic growth, future plans, and simply what irks them.  this week, i’ve been doing short lessons on helping students build their support network.  it’s been telling.

    the first day, we did an exercise called “my needs.”  it was a rote checklist of various abstract items that kids might need; a hug, attention, less stress, etc.  when we shared out, one of my students simply said, “i need a hug.”  when i asked her, “from whom,” she teared up and replied that she wanted a hug from her dad and sister who she hadn’t seen since she left her country two years prior.  even the boys got quiet as we tried to console her, and i gave her a big hug at the end of class, but i was a little dumbstruck.

    today, we did an exercise called “my wishes” where students had to write an abstract wish next to a list of people in their lives.  i was a little wary of where things went yesterday, but i encouraged them to be honest, and this is what i got. “i wish my mom would call me.”  when i asked about that one, the boy said his mother lived in Jamaica, and that he hadn’t spoken to her for 11 years.  i asked if it might be possible to call her, and he shared that she had “moved around a lot,” so they had no idea where she was.

    a bit later, another girl said, “i need attention from my mother.”  knowing that her mother had just had a baby last year, i offered that it was always hard the first year with a baby, but the girl simply teared up and just repeated, “i need attention.”

    all the students in my advisory are relatively good students, meaning they try their best, they go to class, but they’re nowhere near the national benchmarks of what might make them truly excellent students.  sometimes i lament the huge discrepancy i see in the education i received and what they are experiencing.  i push them in class, and throw my hands in the air when they just aren’t “into the lesson.”  but today, my eyes were opened just a little bit more.  seeing what these kids are carrying around with them just broke my heart…so if it means that i’m going to go a little easy on them, or let my heart get involved, so be it.  i’m ok with being tired.


July 31, 2011

  • reinventing myself

    it’s august eve.  r is out with his friend for some man time (encouraged by me) and i just finished some vacuuming and dusting (yay!).  i’ve been on summer holiday for just about one month now, and i’m finally getting used to it.  i was seriously having trouble learning how to live without a 9-3 teacher day, but by week 2, i quickly threw myself into my summer job – changing my name.

    for some, this is the penultimate ritual and rite of passage into marriage-dom.  i know some people who are content to switch over on day 1, and even some more fanciful folks that start practicing their new names on the second date!  for me, the clincher came at a bar some months before we were married.  we were with some friends, all duly equipped with smart phones, and somehow we got around to “googling” our names.  some aspired to be number 1; some aspired to have the most entries.  me, i just wanted to be able to see myself free of all other identities that were not me.  i’m not a gymnast, physicist or teenage doodler.  incidentally, the teen turned out to be the most enterprising of us all, nabbing the precious (yet now defunct) “www.minakim.com” domain.  someone googled “mina leazer” and in subdued fanfare, there i saw it…a white page of nothing but (future) me.  i can’t say i didn’t sit a bit more smugly amongst all the guys who were there vying for top this, most that…but with a little two word name, there i was, topping them all.

    ha, i hope my haughtiness is not starting to choke here, but that was when the panic of potentially changing my name started to quell.  i actually wanted to change my name precisely because a fair number of my friends HADN’T.  what i had considered a causal relationship was not so with my friends, who have even since had children.  they go through the awkward times of registering their babies at daycare and in halting sentences insisting that they are the mother and yes, they have different last names.  i know in Korean culture, the bride keeps her name, but surely most of my friends seemed more American than that.

    and yet, the “new” American woman asserts independence and rights to her name as well – or by using a complex slew of hyphenations and dual names.  i had some Latina friends whose names eternally confused me as their names were the mirror images of their husbands and children whose names reflected the union and priority of names.  needless to say, changing a name seems to port a certain weight in any culture.

    r and i are a bit more “traditional” or “Midwest” in that sense.  there was never really a question of whether or not i would change my name – only one of how i might feel when i did it.  surprisingly, there was no drastic change when it happened.  a couple of hours at the social security office, an interview with a jaded officer who barely looked at me, and there was my new identity on an 3″x8.5″ perforated paper.  i’ve since been tracing down all the minute locations where my name has inserted itself so i can update my identity – employer, health insurance, banks, driver’s license.  perhaps the weight of shedding an old name hasn’t quite hit me since the bureaucracy of it all has been so methodical…but little by little, i am realizing that i’ve got a new me to consider.

    so world, let me introduce you to mina leazer.  nice to meet you.

July 22, 2011

  • your way, my way

    © a fellow who said the picture might not be straight

    The other day, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since before I married.  Maybe it was the heat or just a lull in the conversation, but she asked me several times throughout the night, “How’s married life?”  At first, I replied with the traditional happy thoughts and good will that I’m used to saying, but by the third time, I was running out of answers, and for some reason, I said, “It’s good!  It saves time.”  The other person, being a bit tongue-in-cheek by nature, replied, “Oh great, that’s really what I look forward to when I get married.  Saving time.”

    That answer really irked me the past couple of weeks. I wished to say something meaningful and grandiose, but instead, I said the truth!  I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think I said that because time was one of our biggest (and still is) stressors before we got married.  R would leave work, ride to my place, and by the time we ate dinner, we had an hour before I had to go to sleep because of my teacher schedule.  We always bemoaned not being able to spend enough time together, and not being able to get our own business done.

    I’ve been reading Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages after years of avoiding it, and I was surprised to find out that my love language is quality time.  No wonder I replied what I did.  Not that we have all the time in the world, but I’ve been relishing sharing my life with Randall…err, in every way.  Tonight, he came home drenched in sweat and humidity.  It is a heat wave after all!  I was making Korean dduk bboki as per his request.  After we kissed, he told me about his crazy day, and I told him to wash his face!  Dinner was ready.

    We had dinner, shared some yummy cookies, and talked about our days.  I told him about my home improvement projects and my conversation with an irate mom who’s garden had been weeded of her prize plants!  He told me about work drama and some photography equipment he had purchased on e-bay.  After dinner, he went to his desk and worked on his computer, and I got on my laptop (which I’d spent way too much time on during the day) and started playing a game I found on an old blog I used to frequent in my single days.  R cracked up when he realized I was playing an escape-the-room RPG.  Yes, full geekdom come.  I cringed as he saw the screenshots I had taken to figure out some of the puzzles, and yet R exclaimed, “I admire your drive to solve anything at all costs.”  [Blush!]

    I caught up on some e-mails, Facebook, and looked at all the Google Doodles from past to present (did I tell you I’m on summer break?) while R caught up on photoblogs and shopped for some new tungsten lights.  It was glorious.  Hours of time to just “be” together AND get “alone” time.  I’m out in the living room since R has fallen asleep, and I’m just so thankful for marriage.  R named ours “Two weirdos living together.”  Originally, I had meant to come out here and write a post about our differences – namely because we’ve been sleeping with a fan on our nightstand, and I still fear fan death – but now I’m glad that our differences help us to run along side of each other and marvel.

    I once heard an analogy of meeting your mate like this.  You, as a single, should be running after God with all your heart.  And then as you run, you happen to glance over and see someone running parallel in the same direction.  A glance turns into a dance and then a negotiation.  So then marriage then becomes a slight intersection of two paths running towards the same goal.  I’m understanding this a bit more everyday.

    p.s. Next time, I’ll write about fan death and other things that have been the source of hilarity in our day-to-day.

April 26, 2011

  • airport antics

    Air travel is pretty fascinating.  Airports have this uncanny ability to “transform” your identity.  Just like when you move to another city, you can totally reinvent yourself at the airport, or should I say, the airport can totally reinvent you.

    Standing in the security line, you suddenly realize that that snow globe you bought for cousin Annelle is complete contraband.  You start to sweat bullets when you reach the desk and there’s a stark red “X” criss-crossing the silhouette of the precious gift you carefully selected out of a row of impossible scenarios – unicorns hopping over castles with rainbows to boot.  Yes, that rare gift with a mahogany base which you meticulously packed in bubble wrap and placed in your carryon so that it would not be subject to the brutish ways of the airport cargo division is now minutes from being plucked from your hand.  To add insult to injury, when you innocently stammer, “But I didn’t know…?!” everyone is staring at you as if you were on trial.  The man wearing blue latex gloves, which are two sizes too small for his hands, is reaching for your globe, and he is in the right as he plucks the item and gesticulates towards the trash.  The thing is, the assistant who comes to take it away doesn’t put it in the visible trash can, but rather takes it behind a frosted-glass partition, and as they disgustedly stare at you, the airport violator, you can’t help but wonder if the daughter of an airport security guard is going to fall asleep to the soft sounds of a toy box snow globe tonight.

    Nonetheless, snap to it!  You have no time to think.  You are now the SLOW one.  Because you were worrying about your stupid snow globe, you haven’t had time to take off your belt, your scarf, your shoes, and excuse me, ma’am, your jacket!  And why oh why did you put your laptop in its rightful zipped holder?  Now you have to spend precious seconds unzipping it to get your laptop out, but don’t be stupid and put your boarding pass in the tray because you need that!  Geez, four years of a college education, and you can’t even put things on a moving conveyor belt while walking and undressing at the same time?  What is the matter with you?!

    Well, I’ll tell you what is the matter.  You are a terrorist.  As you walk through the scanner, which may or may not be revealing your nether regions to a snickering crew behind an Oz-like curtain, the light buzzes red.  “Ma’am,” they say.  But that’s where the formalities stop.  They are asking you to walk into a glass containment room, where all the “non-terrorists” walk by, watch you, and think, ‘What’s wrong with you, you, you, un-American!’  Again, you have no idea why you’re in there.  You just wait while the airport guard tells you not to move and radios “We have a female continuous here.”  The secret code is never revealed when all of sudden, the door is opened, and they tell you that you’re ok, though nothing has changed.  They then proceed to swab your personal items with a secret cloth, which in the end might just be an alcohol wipe.  Your dignity has just been traded with a 2”x2” piece of disposable cloth.

    Never you mind.  You’ve made it to the boarding area.  Finally, a place where you can kick up your feet and relax on the chairs that are specifically designed to keep you from getting comfortable.  Countless weary travelers have tried to wedge their bodies under the strategically placed armrests that make it seem like laying down would be possible, but alas, as always the airport is a tease.  No matter, they are calling you to board the plane!

    Boarding is another one of those seemingly harmless airport procedures, but it is in fact, very classist, literally.  First they call all the “Premiere” members.  Then all the “Executive” members.  Then all the “Premiere Executive” members.  Now the “Executive Premiere” members.  ‘That’s fine,’  you tell yourself,  ‘those people all paid triple prices for their tickets.’  But then it starts to get ridiculous. 

    “Now boarding all passengers with first-class tickets.”

    “Now all those passengers traveling with small children.”

    “Will John Williams please come to the front desk?”

    “Paging Sam Scott.”

    “Now all Economy plus passengers.”

    As they stare out at the crowd, the stewards seem to make a conscious effort to not catch your gaze as they then call, “All passengers that are not you are invited to board.”  Talk about a buzz kill.

    As you finally board, you are lucky enough to manage to squeeze your carefully packed carryon (minus snow globe obviously) in the two-inch space that is left in your overhead cabin.  The rest of your stuff must inevitably get crammed on the vomit-stained floor at your feet.

    At least the seats have cushions, which conveniently turn into flotation devices if you ever find yourself in shark-infested waters.  If you actually look at the seat pocket card, the calm illustrations actually depict pretty horrific scenarios.  Fortunately, the stewardess’s serene Mona Lisaesque smile is there to comfort you.  During the final seat check, it’s that same smile which reassures you that sitting at a 40-degree angle is perfectly normal.  Just get that seat into its “upright” position lest you be punished again.

    Most of the flight is thankfully uneventful.  You’ve managed to buy the lie that Coke is a meal and that sleeping upright is a blessing.  It isn’t until they make the final landing announcements that you realize how much you’ve settled.  It’s the reminders to first-class passengers made throughout the aircraft that really tip you off. 

    “Will our first-class passengers please make sure your footrests and headrests are also tucked away at this time?”

    “Our stewards will be by shortly to buss your champagne glasses and freshly-ironed Wall Street Journals.”

    Ok, we get it.  Money buys you some luxuries, but the final kick in the classist ass comes during your final walk through their lap of luxury.  You walk passed the latest issues of Vogue and W strewn on the floor atop velveteen blankets and silk pillows.  Here, you are firmly reminded that you are indeed a have-not and you should get used to your lot in life.

    But only for a bit.  Fortunately, the cargo service is an equal-opportunity affair.  As you stroll past your first-class buddy who is still waiting on his bag, you can’t help but let a smug grin creep onto your face as you head out and hail the next taxi and drive off in a land where the playing field is “level” again.


March 18, 2011

  • …from the other side…


    i’m sitting at r’s large desk (now mine), wearing r’s large grandpa sweater (now also mine), from an existential place called “the other side.”  he’s out with our friend s viewing a huge photography expo, eating dinner and watch an experimental film at the korean american film festival of ny.  i know this because he’s called me at every step of the way to ask if this is “ok.”  i smiled the first time he called because i felt like his mom…who sometimes i mistake myself for…not because i’m folding his boxers, but because my name is “mrs leazer,” a name that was once reserved for his actual mom.

    in a sentence, married life has been very good to us.  we are “over the moon,” if i am allowed to use a cliche.  if i’m not, then suffice it to say that everyday we have to pinch ourselves and wonder if we’re really allowed to be so deliriously happy.  honeymoon year?  i hope not.  because this all seems to “normal” to me.

    it’s actually been surprising how easily i’ve adjusted to being married.  particularly in day in age when people like to live together to test their compatibility, we feel particularly boastful of God’s omniscience in knowing that two people really can be meant for each other without taking matters into our own hands.  our friend e wrote us the sweetest card where, to loosely quote her, she mused: “i often wondered why you didn’t get married sooner.  you were like two puzzle pieces that fit together and didn’t make much sense on your own.”  we loved that line.

    things have really made sense, and just as we predicted, a lot of the pre-marriage stress we had has been greatly reduced by the simple fact that we can inhabit the same space.  no more trips on the G(host) train.  no more sucking the marrow out of the brief hour or two we had by the time R got to my place after work and ate dinner.  last night, we stayed up till midnight just talking about things that made us laugh. and made us sad.

    but i’ve slipped into this role of wife quite easily.  i always wondered how i’d conjure up the energy to cook everyday after work, but now i find myself rushing home to cook up a yummy meal – cookbook and all.  being married to r has actually made me more of a korean wife than i could have ever guessed i would be (see maangchi.com)  the other night, he seriously said i had cooked him the best meal i’ve ever cooked him, and i was quite incredulous because it was just chili and cornbread…oh yeah, with meringues for dessert (but that was just so i could test the mixer!).

    i think r is enjoying the adjustment period a lot more than i…not that i’m not…i just got used to him very quickly.  but every time he sees me from the kitchen, he whistles at me.  the other day, i was cutting my toenails in the bathroom, and he whistled.  i said, “i’m just cutting my toenails!” and he came over and said, “yeah, but it’s the mundane things that i enjoy with you.”  swoon.  i think that’s why i can get used to being married!

    i get a lot of stupid cynical comments from people i don’t know well who say things like, “you’re still married?” or “wait till the honeymoon year is over.”  aside from wanting to kick their butts, i just hope that they’ll get to experience how awesome two in one can be.  God really knew what He was doing when he made that…and i wonder how much more awesome it is with Him being THREE in one.  now there’s a party!

    i hope i haven’t come off too swoony or preachy, but the question people have asked me the most is “so how’s married life?”  when i only have a minute, i honestly tell them, “it’s GREAT!” but it goes so much deeper than that.  it feels right, good and all-around dreamy.  here’s to many many more years, r!  i you.


February 2, 2011

  • Irhal Ya Mubarak!

    Leave Mubarak!

    Undoubtedly you have, in some form or another, witnessed the chaos that is happening in Cairo. Revolution. Revolt. Violence. I have been watching it with a slightly different lens…the background.  While the graphic images of bloodied protesters blazoned the screens today in the latest clashes between pro and anti-Mubarak, I have been spying the backgrounds of all these shots in efforts to recognize the familiar blocks of my old home.  Ironically enough, Midan Tahrir, where a bulk of the protests have been happening, is where I used to go to university.  The Hardees, the tourist agency, the old building where I went looking for an Egyptian flag…they are all there like silent witnesses.  Midan Tahrir has often been called the fulcrum of Cairo – surrounded by the former grounds of the American University in Cairo, the Mogamma (aka the government building of labyrinthine bureaucracy), the National Democratic Party building, the Nile Hilton and the Egyptian Museum.

    It is incredibly heartbreaking to see these majestic buildings in the midst of such violent conflict and revolt.  I’m saddened that when people watch these images on TV, this is all they will ever know of Cairo.  Camels and horses have appeared on TV.  The protests in Giza have also shown the pyramids.  In a mystical city about which the world already has such ill misconceptions, images of tear gas, military trucks and Molotov cocktails have now been seared into a backdrop of a backwards city.

    But the city is not backwards.  The protests in Cairo are about the disenfranchised jumping on a bandwagon to gain a voice.  Oftentimes, I viewed Egypt as a place of complacency, stagnation and lack of change – where doctors must live on a salary of 100LE ($50) a month.  The police officers who stood guard were mere skinny Egyptian boys with malfunctioning guns who received little more than tuppence pay.  Mubarak has created a regime of complete complacency and absolute allegiance.  Being an educator, I liken this to the tenured teacher who is sitting around waiting for his pension to kick in.  Status quo prevails.  And now a fight has broken out in the back of the classroom, but it’s safer to sit at your desk and let the children duke it out.

    Egypt needs a compassionate leader, and these protests are incredibly heartbreaking because such a leader is not emerging.  Though citizens are sure in their upheaval of Mubarak, there are also a good number who have become numb to the status quo, and the country has become divided into the old guard and the new.  Granted, in any culture, the youth want action and change, but it is incredibly frustrating to view a country where people are equally fighting to maintain gross inequalities and continued suppression.

    This video was especially sad.  It is the Kasr el Nile Bridge which connects the island of Zamalek (where I used to live) to Midan Tahrir, the scene of all the major protests.  The protesters are trying to get to Tahrir Square and are being pushed back by the military.  It’s especially riveting to watch the water cannons spray a row of men who have lined up to pray.  Egyptians are dramatic by nature, but this is beyond drama.

    My hope is that Mubarak will have compassion on his people and step down.  My hope is that the people will not suffer.  My hope is that justice will prevail, but I do believe that we must appeal to a higher authority in the end.  God have mercy on Cairo.


    Incidentally, this is the same bridge where I had quite an experience in Cairo when I lived there: Parallel Lives

January 2, 2011

  • 1.2.11

    © john hill

    welcome to a new decade!  hoorah!  huzzah!  or however you say it in your own language.  we rang in the new year over lofty poetry and bubbly drinks, though i ended up reading miss nelson is missing instead.  to lighten up the mood, you know.  but then when i went home, an inescapable dread seemed to follow me.  i tried to place my finger on the uneasiness in my heart, but i had a hard time naming it.  2011 marks a monumental year for me.  it’s the year i get married.  two become one.  before it had been this far off notion, and now it seems to hit my brain with an unsettling thud.

    it’s hard to express this when everyone prances around you and says, “you’re going to be a beautiful winter bride!”  it’s not so much the ceremony that scares me, or even the marriage part.  it’s just the idea of one era ending to make way for another.

    it was like a sigh of relief when i met with another bride-to-be over fish tacos last summer.  she told me that she was thrilled to get married, but that the reality of never having female roommates to faff around with again made her incredibly sad.  she talked about mourning her singleness before moving on to embrace doubleness.  and this made complete sense to me.

    so, it’s not marrying R which scares me.  we relish any moments we can play “house” together and often comment that we can’t wait to start our new lives together, but it’s the embracing of marriage which scares me.  like any lover, Marriage comes with a lot of baggage, too.  if it were called “bamble bambu,” i’d be fine with it, i think.

    when i think of marriage, i think of 1950s movies with perfect wives, and hard-working husbands who wear hats.  i think of giving up what you want in order to be dutiful and submissive.  i think of holding up a construct which is both revered by society and incredibly fragile.  i think, ‘what if it breaks?’  i can already hear the waves of “oh no!  it’s nothing like that!”  friends have even told me that i’ll really enjoy being married…and i think that i will.  but right now feels like a process. 

    you know how people near death talk about that tunnel of white light they walk through to get to the other side?  i feel like it’s one of those moments.  the moment of passing from singlehood to doublehood.  it’s just that i like to smell the roses along the way, and this is me thinking it all through before i miss the moment.


    i have been observing married people a lot lately like a sort of specimen study.  i watch what they do.  what they say.  how they act.  i observe and make inferences about what their lives are like.  i’m always in awe of how sure they all seem.  i know it’s probably just an external thing, but i find it daring that they can say, “we’re moving to africa,” and it becomes true.  it’s like the silly things you used to say to one another when you were dating all of a sudden can become more serious when you are married.

    again, i’m sure this is just me having a false perception of married life, but this is the one thing that scares me.  getting married seems so…adult.  and i seem so…unadult.  you go to grad school to become a professional, but all you have to do is love someone to get married.  where is the instruction manual so i can get it right?

    i expect that i’ll break all my false perceptions of marriage once we get married, but as the big day draws ever nearer, i will take a pause from ordering printed napkins and champagne glasses to consider the truly momentous change that is coming.  even though it is mundane to the caterpillar that he must weave his cocoon to become a butterfly, pausing to behold the truly awesome change will never be less than spectacular.


October 31, 2010

  • On losing and finding…

    This past week was a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  It started on Friday night of the week prior.  After an exhausting week of school, I came home early and crashed.  When I woke up again around 7pm, my ring was gone.  I was only mildly alarmed until I searched all the usual spots in my room and realized, it was REALLY missing!

    I stood in my room, closed my eyes and scrolled through my memories like microfiche, and then, there it was.  I was in the women’s bathroom at school.  I had taken my ring off to really wash my hands.  They had turned the hot water on, so I was able to really scrub.  Then someone with blond hair came out of the stall.  I wanted to get out of the way (only one sink), so I grabbed two paper towels, dried my hands, and quickly left the bathroom.  And then there was the image – not in my memory, but still as clear as day, my ring, forgotten on top of the soap dispenser.

    At that point, I called our assistant principal who happened to be at school.  He was kind enough to go into the women’s room and check the exact spot I had explained to him.  No ring.  He checked under the sink.  No ring.  On the floor.  No ring.  In the drain.  No ring.  No RING!!!  This is when my head started to sweat, and my stomach did somersaults.  I literally told my AP that I was “freaking out.”  He suggested some options, but really, we had to wait till Monday morning to check our building’s main offices since everyone had gone home.

    Next was the difficult phone call.  Randall.  I was hesitant to tell him, but my need for emotional support was greater.  He asked me the standard questions, “Did you check your…?” and then assured me that it was just a thing, and that we should pray and wait till Monday like my AP had said.  Then came the sad realization that the ring was missing, and yet there was also an overwhelming wave of denial that said, “The ring is right here!”  That second voice started to overpower my life.  When reason and intelligence said, “The ring is missing,” that second voice always chimed in and caused me to search maniacally – even in places where the ring had no possibility being.

    R came over that night, and we searched the apartment a bit, but we mainly sat saddened and stunned.  I pressed him, and when I did, I could see he was sad, frustrated and angry, but he made sure that I never felt any of this directed at me.  Me, I mainly beat myself up for ever taking it off of my finger, and I lamented that one moment when I had.


    After a sleepless night filled with dreams where people found the ring and didn’t, we made the commute back to my school.  We headed straight for the bathroom and spent twenty minutes probing the drain with paper towels.  I felt bad that the first introduction Randall had to my school was of the women’s faculty bathroom complete with an old-style urinal (it used to be a men’s room).  After a fruitless search, we had chai and samosas in the back seat of my car, and R decided it would be a good idea to head to the beach.

    The beach was good.  We hiked dunes, sat on the shore, and acted silly.  It made me think of my favorite e.e. cummings poem, maggie and milly and molly and may, especially for its last stanza:

    For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
    it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

    We headed home, feeling refreshed, and I was reminded of the beautiful love that the ring represented.  I cherished the fact that I had R to play, love and grow with, and simply being with him seemed to erase all need for my ring.

    The next day continued in the same way except we had to start breaking the news to friends that we had lost the ring.  This was actually an interesting thing for me, though, because we started to discover that an alarming number of people had incredibly dramatic lost ring stories.  It was actually like this secret society into which we were inducted.  Membership included comprehensive empathy and worldwide recognition of immense sadness of losing such a small precious thing.


    Monday morning, I awoke earlier than usual with immense optimism.  The turmoil of Saturday had turned to peace on Sunday and burgeoning hopefulness on Monday.  When I arrived at school, a coworker had already gone around to the various offices to ask if anyone had turned in a ring.  Nothing.  Crestfallen but not crushed, I assured myself that it was because it was too early.  I had placed a sign in the bathroom with a description of the ring and my phone number, so I was sure that someone who had seen the ring would contact me.  As the day wore to a close and my phone stayed silent, my hope began escaping.

    It started to seem absurd to me that people could walk around not knowing anything.  ‘How could they not know how sad I was?  How could they not know anything about my ring?!’ I snapped at my students last period, and they backed away knowing not knowing exactly why I was snippy.  My day ended with a sense of helplessness, and after spending an hour in the camera room watching security archives, I became convinced that I was going crazy.  There was no one in the bathroom with me.  No evil person had followed me in and taken my ring.


    That night we prayed harder than we had before.  I started praying that God would bend the time-space continuum and make the ring miraculously appear.  And after that, we ripped up my room.  It was like a drug bust. Baseboard heat covers came off, backs of dressers were pried off, flashlights…and lots of dust bunnies.  One motivator was this picture:

    It had been taken during our school field trip to York College.  I was overjoyed when I saw the ring on my hand because that told me I had worn the ring out of my school, but then it also unsettled me because it meant that the ring left my school.  I called the lost and found at the college, but no one had turned in such a thing.  This was even more distressing because now I was toying with the possibility that the ring had come off my hand, which seemed unlikely since it was such a perfect fit.  By the next morning, my head literally hurt from all the thinking I was making it do.  I couldn’t keep anything straight anymore, and my memory kept bending and deceiving me.

    By Tuesday night, I had made the decision that I would make one more effort before conceding to the ring’s loss.  I used a program on my Mac which couldn’t have made making a poster easier.  (See above.)  There was actually a template for a lost dog poster, so I replaced the picture of the dog with my ring, and then made plans to hang them strategically at York and at my school.  While one or two people made disheartening remarks about the incapacity of people to return things of value, my picture poster really pulled at people’s heartstrings.  At this point, the school safety officers, the custodians, my coworkers, and even some of the other school’s teachers were rooting for me. 

    And then it was noon.  My school aide walked in with my secretary.  The school aide had been absent for two days, so she had just seen my posters.  “I have your ring.”  This sentence totally did not register.  So she said it again.  Again, I stood dumbstruck and in unbelief.  She then went on to describe how it had been left on the soap dish Friday late afternoon, and she took it home planning to bring it back on Monday, but then she had gotten sick.  In an effort not to lose it, she had put it in her jewelry box, but promised to bring it the next day.

    Wow.  I’m not sure I heard much else at that point, but I was overjoyed.  She apologized profusely for forgetting it, but I assured her that she was my hero for finding it.  I hugged her and hugged her again until my students started asking what was going on, claiming they needed hugs as well.  As for me, knowing that the ring was found left me entirely speechless.

    And the next day, just as I had prayed, there was the ring on my finger.  Out of the time and space continuum, balanced on the weight of many people’s prayers…and this time, I’m never taking it off.


August 27, 2010

  • Danny & Annie

    Danny & Annie from StoryCorps on Vimeo.


    I haven’t been able to get enough of this animated StoryCorps narration.  Going along with the theme of my page as of late, it’s about love.  But like a good wine, my ruminations on it grow richer with time.  Visually, I love that the characters are so ordinary…or maybe they are extraordinary in their ordinariness.  Sometimes I look at the way they animated Danny’s nose, and I’m appalled.  It looks disgusting, and yet paired with his gruff voice, it just fits.  He’s got a way with his sayings that could melt any heart, though they certainly melted Annie’s.  “You represent a dirty four letter word, and that word is love.”  The next minute, she is pledging to marry him.

    It’s been a tough week.  I’ve been to the hospital twice already.  Our good friend M suffered from a stroke earlier in the week and thankfully is slightly marred, but in good spirits.  He said something when we went to visit him last night along the lines of this video.  We can be planning our lives, but we never know what will happen from one day to the next, so we need to live our life to the fullest.  It was great because there was such a great bunch of people visiting his room last night, and I really felt like even despite the dour circumstances, his friends reflected what a light he was.  We had a couple of good lines constantly running last night.

    My roommate also had a scheduled surgery, and E and I have been starting the process of caretaking since we picked her up.  It’s actually kind of sweet.  It’s not so much that I like that N is not feeling well, but I am enjoying this bonding time where we are cutting things out of our schedules so we can exclusively dedicate time to taking care of N.  She told me yesterday that she felt so bad about this, but I told her that I know she’d do the same…and that is such a comfort.

    I was reading a friend’s blog today, and she mentioned something about sadness and joy living juxtaposed with one another.  It’s not that one cancels the other out, but that the two simply coexist.  I’ve come to learn that in my post-college years.  It’s a truth that is somewhat of a rite of passage into “adulthood.”  Age has nothing to do with it.  It’s the realization that life will inevitably turn every which way, but my staying point is that I am taking my relationships with me through that.

    Danny and Annie love each other as much as they possibly can in this life because that is what they’ve got.  The body of believers loves each other as much as it can on this side of life and the next.  Life is not so easy, but somehow, with people to live it with, it becomes just a bit more bearable.