Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Dept. Of Nance Is Fifteen!

...And they said it wouldn't last.

Actually, no one really said that. Maybe I did a few times, and a few times I almost did quit writing here. But here I am, Fifteen and hanging on.

By the way, I'd never go back to actually being Fifteen. It wasn't terrible, mind you: I was editor of the high school paper, had lots of friends, did well in school, and from what I remember, pretty much enjoyed my life that year. But Memory being what it is--soft and blurry and unreliable--tends to shield us from some Crummy Stuff. Fifteen is hard.

I taught sophomores for the bulk of my 30+ year career, and I know of what I speak. I loved teaching sophomores. They weren't as crazed as freshmen, not as caught up in romance or jobs as juniors, and not as lazy and stressed as seniors. (Yes, seniors are lazy and stressed at the same time. Trust me.)

In honor of my Fifteenth Anniversary here, I'm going to share some of the questions I get most often about my Teaching Career.

1. Do you miss Teaching?

The actual Teaching, yes. I really do. I especially miss sharing the wonderful American Literature poetry, novels, and plays I got to introduce and read along with my sophomores. I loved watching them grab onto the nuances inherent in them, the colour symbolism in The Great Gatsby, the importance of the motifs in The Catcher in the Rye, the huge humanity in the works of Walt Whitman, the subtleties in Arthur Miller's stage directions for The Crucible. I appreciated their dogged determination as they plodded through grammar and the real triumph on their faces when they suddenly grasped the formulas of complex and compound sentences and could identify them in real writing, like President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. It was The Best.

2. Why don't you substitute teach or volunteer at a school?

First of all, subbing on the high school level in my district (and surrounding districts) is NOT teaching. It's the worst parts of being a Teacher: taking attendance, crowd control, discipline, boring worksheets or idiot lesson plans. It's like the first day over and over again. Volunteering at a school? Same thing. Not Teaching. I don't want to run copies for someone or make endless cutouts for someone or sit and grade papers. All of that is stuff I hated about my job--the Not Teaching Stuff.

3. Do you miss the kids?

Yes, I really do. I miss being around teenagers. My job kept me informed about What Was Cool, What The New Slang Was, and all the current important business in the world of The Youth. I also miss being around people who are just fun a great deal of the time. And who don't talk about problems, health, or politics. They were always refreshing and always interesting. True, they were often too focused on themselves, but once they got out of their own bubbles, they were fascinating to me. I taught in a huge high school with an enrollment of 2000 with a significant minority population and more than 60% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch. Many led lives I could not imagine. Many drove me batshit crazy. Many made me cry with empathy. The majority gave me great joy.

4. Why don't you...?

People are always tossing suggestions at me for other career moves. Why don't I teach at a (fill in the blank) program? Why don't I write a book about my career? Why don't I look into this or that? First of all, perhaps you did not get the Memo. I AM RETIRED. And I love how people act like writing a book is just a simple nothing. It's a lot of work, and in case you have not noticed, I have enough trouble showing up here on a semi-regular basis. I AM RETIRED. Besides, my career was not special in that it would make a wonderful book for anyone but me, and I have the Memories.

5. Do you remember your students?

Oh, yes. I remember a great deal of them. Some I remember by name. Some I remember by face. Some I remember only in a little scene or snippet. Some I remember in a combination of those. Several have become treasured and cherished friends. Still others are friends of my sons, so I see them or hear of them regularly. There are so many that I still think of from time to time. So very many. What is so wonderful is that they come into my life now and then. Most recently, we bought a car, and the saleswoman was my former student. She is still delightful and caring. That made it so much easier; I knew I could trust her. She showed me pictures of her family, and I was happy for her Happiness.

I told many Teaching stories here at the Dept. of Nance while I was in The Thick Of It.  If you're interested, you can click the tags Classroom, Teaching, or School.

Thank you for reading here at the Dept. Thank you, especially, if you are a Commenter. Life for all of us is a question of Priorities and Demands. That you would take Precious Time to read--and comment!--means that you have prioritized me and my writing and thoughts. That means so very much to me.

I look forward to Sixteen.

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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Don't Ever Let Anyone Tell You That Old Gas Stations Or Spelling Cannot Be Romantic

Scene opens on Rick and Nance driving home. It is blistering hot, and they are tired. Nance, perhaps unwisely, tries to lighten things up when they stop at a traffic light and, on the near corner, is the gas station you see above.

Nance:  (very serious) Rick. You must never, ever stop at that gas station.

Rick:  (tiredly) What? Oh god. That place. It's terrible. The pumps are all--

Nance:  I'm not talking about that.

Rick:  (looks at the gas station for several moments; the light changes; they drive on) Well, what then?

Nance: It's just not safe. There are (adds a meaningful pause, then says the rest in a stentorian voice) Icy Conditions. Even now, at the height of the Dog Days Of Summer, there could be sleety puddles or--

Rick:  (a little exasperated)  Geeze, Nance! And here I am, looking for misspelled words or an out-of-place apostrophe!

Nance:  I could not love you any more than I do right at this minute. You know me so well.

Rick:  (big sigh)  Yes, I do.

End Scene.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

In Which I Reflect Upon Small Moments Of Pure Joy

Last week I was driving to pick up my mother (previously referred to here on the blog as St. Patsy) for one of her doctor's appointments. My mother has a team of doctors who serve as her Wellness Superheroes. At 90 she is in remarkable physical health, despite her inordinate fondness for ice cream.

On this particular day I was stopped at the traffic light and, being first in my lane at the intersection, noticed movement in the first car headed the opposite direction across the road. A great deal of movement, actually, and so I took a moment to get a better look.

The driver of the car was its sole occupant. He was giving himself completely to Car Dancing: his hands hit the wheel in rhythm; his body bounced up and down; his head nodded and shook back and forth. He was grinning as if he were the happiest guy in the world. I started smiling, too, just looking at him.

For a moment I reached for my phone. "I should video this," I thought, "and put it on the blog." Then I put my hand back on the steering wheel.

I wanted to let this simple moment of Pure Joy be just that, Simple. Not everything needs to be recorded, photographed, captured, or put on display for everyone else to see. Sometimes, just Living In That Moment is the very best thing you can do, like the Happy Car Dancing Man. I felt like I'd be ruining the moment for both of us.

I drove by and felt very lucky to have seen him. He really brightened my day.

Today I drove St. Patsy to another doctor's appointment. I saw a hawk dive for its prey and a dog head sticking out of a passing pickup truck. My mother and I snarked back at my GPS, just for the hell of it. I thought again of the Car Dancing Guy, and how happy he was. It made me smile all over again.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Why My Neighbor Calls Me Wonder Woman

Many months ago, after the battle of the Blue Jays versus the Robins was waged and the Robins won the territory of my back yard, a mama Robin set up housekeeping in the elbow of the downspout just under my roof. The nest was a tidy affair for a Robin, and it was about eight feet from my back door which opens onto my patio. She also lives above my herb garden. Here it is:

My neighbor right next door, Gretchen, and I started watching immediately for babies. We talked over her fence and texted any observations. I made sure to quietly and soothingly speak to the Robin every time I went out the back door, congratulating her on her stalwart and persistent attendance to her duties as a Mother. I called her Mama. I complimented her on her babies. She clutched (so far), astonishingly, three times. 

All was well with the most recent round of babies until about two weeks ago or so when I went to take out the garbage. I looked up as I always do and was shocked to see a naked, potbellied baby bird hanging over the side of the nest. It moved weakly and seemed stuck somehow. Its mother was out gathering food. I watched a few more minutes, trying to see how it was stuck. It was facing me; it seemed to be literally hanging by its neck. I went inside to think about what to do. I decided that if in fifteen minutes, the mother had not somehow saved her baby, I would do it for her.

Of course, I didn't wait fifteen whole minutes. I checked outside sooner and found the poor thing still hanging there. I grabbed latex gloves and the 8-foot step ladder. As I climbed up, the mother appeared on the wire and began chirping in distress. I had to go to the step nearest the very top and lean over. The baby struggled as I touched it; its wings were very strong. I carefully held it and dislodged it from the stiff straw and sticks then flipped it gently back into the nest. 

My relationship with Mama was severely compromised. Her trust was shattered. To her, I had not saved her baby, but had tried to raid the nest and steal it. I felt terrible.

A few days later when I was out tending my herbs, not only did Mama scold me from the wire above, but her husband hopped around, flapping his wings and yelling, only six feet away from me. I was The Enemy for sure.

This past Sunday when we returned from our weekend at the lake, Gretchen called me. "Lots of drama with the Robins," she said. "We were barbecuing and all of a sudden we heard a lot of flapping and banging. One of the babies was hanging upside down from the nest. It couldn't fly away or something. It just kept hanging there. We went in, and later, I guess it finally made it back in the nest. It's there now and it looks fine."

The robin, big enough to fledge, was still there on Monday and Tuesday, just standing at the nest, looking around. We both wondered why it hadn't left the nest. Wednesday morning, before I made my coffee at 7:30, I looked out, and this was happening (video courtesy of Gretchen):

I saw Gretchen on her back porch. I opened my dining room window and she immediately told me that this was the same thing she saw on Friday. "I honestly think she's stuck on something. Wait there a minute." She went inside and got a high-powered camera lens. "Nance, she's definitely stuck. Her leg looks red and raw."

"Okay," I said. "I'll get the ladder and get right on it."

I grabbed another pair of gloves, slipped on my gardening shoes, and went out in my jammies (an old white v-neck tee of Rick's and a pair of boxers, both XL). I grabbed the ladder, positioned it in my herb garden so that it wouldn't hurt anything, and climbed on up. This time, I swear that every single Robin in the neighborhood was there. At least ten of them perched on wires and roofs and branches, all with admonitions and, possibly, advice.

As soon as I could get a better look, I saw the poor Robin's one leg was vastly swollen at the joint. It wasn't rubbed red or raw, though. As I looked more closely, my heart ached. The baby was held fast in place by fishing line that was used as nesting material. It had become embedded in its leg and its leg had merely grown around it. It would never be able to leave the nest--unless I helped it.

I told Gretchen I needed scissors and why. She came out of her house with four pair of varying sizes and shapes. (Bless her heart; I just love her.) I chose the pair I felt would be best for the job and carefully cut the line in two places. As soon as I did, the bird fluttered madly and landed--free--on my patio rug. I felt I had to decamp as quickly as possible before more relatives arrived; I was getting creeped out.

Gretchen and I rejoiced, but she had to rush in and return to work. I put the ladder away and went in to Officially start my day. In a minute or two, my phone dinged with a text message. It was from Gretchen, a GIF of Wonder Woman running. "This is you coming out to save that bird today! Make sure Rick recognizes and rewards you for your heroic acts!" 

Yesterday, I got my ladder and gloves out again to get all the fishing line out of that nest. Gretchen told me she's seen the baby Robin several times, and I have, too. It's flying just fine. If Mama Robin goes for a fourth clutch, they'll all be safe. But, if something should happen, Wonder Woman will be On It.

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