Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 5: Ready, Set, Teach!

Today my official professional teaching certificate finally showed up.  I cheered, I danced around, and I declared that now I am a real life teacher.  Now the task of hunting down my first classroom begins.

I said I'd never be a teacher because I believed I lacked the gland that produces patience.  My mother taught preschool, and was of course beloved by her students; I had no trouble getting well-paying babysitting jobs, which I genuinely enjoyed; and I majored in English in college.  Being a teacher seemed the natural choice to everyone else, but I wasn't having it.  I was going to be a writer, and that was it, quit asking.

When I moved to Italy with my husband for his job, what was initially an eighteen month stay turned into five years, and what began as a beautiful stretch of time and opportunity to focus on my writing turned into me really needing to figure out a career for myself.  I started substitute teaching at the American school on the military base because it was the best paying part-time gig available to me.  Nobody expected me to fall in love with working with kids, especially me.  Suddenly a small reserve of patience revealed itself from somewhere (deep) inside and I ended up working with children with special needs - patience certainly required.  It was during my second year working as a Special Education Paraprofessional (Aide) that I realized a sneaky little teacher was hiding inside of me.  Office Max gets me giddy, I love organizing, I'm very hands-on and I love making charts, I've always had a knack for explaining things, I love school, and I enjoy being in control.  Who knew?  So the journey began of earning my professional teaching certificate through a distance learning program online.  Long story short, I started a 9 month program in December of 2006, had an almost issue with student teaching, then definite issues getting my exams taken are of, but today can finally call myself a teacher.  It's a little sad, and frankly embarrassing that it took so long, but whatever, it's done!

So now we're back to finding a classroom for next fall.  My chances of getting a job where I currently work are slim, as this area is teeming with much more experienced teachers, but I'm going to apply for a spot anyway and see what happens.  What I'd love even more would be to get picked up by the international school here.  Either way, I'll be crossing my fingers and hoping my good fortune will continue and put me in my own classroom soon.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 4: Pretty in Pink

(London, 2007)

I watched this little girl as she wandered between the people milling about at Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park.  She was at the Corner with a young boy, presumably her brother, kicking a soccer ball back and forth like kids do.  Innocent enough until you start to notice the boy always kicking the ball into clusters of people, and the girl eying bulging pockets and shoulder bags.  I wasn't watching her because I thought she was cute; I was keeping my eye on her because I recognized a particular look in her eyes.

We were living in Italy at the time and had become rather accustomed to the thieving ways of gypsies, and sadly, this included children.  In the larger cities of that beautiful country especially, packs of roaming children were reason for caution, as they learned quite young the art of distract and grab.  This little girl reminded me very much of a young boy I encountered in Rome in 2006, a tiny but scrappy looking child who, in the face of being caught with his hand in a Dutch tourist's backpack, spat in my face upon retreat.

The girl in the park watched the adults around her like the boy in Rome watched the tourist.  Her eyes held something older than herself, but it didn't strike me as wisdom or evidence of an old soul; her eyes looked weathered by contempt.  It sounds awful to say that about a child, but that's what I saw, and when she caught me watching her, she didn't shy away or wave hello.  She stared me down, she didn't crack a smile, and she kind of scared me a little.

I'd managed to snap a few shots of her, this being the first.  And even though the last shot I got captured the moment she discovered me, this one remains my favorite.  Maybe it's the inquisitive way she's looking at the hair-tie wrapped around her finger, momentarily fascinated by the purpling of her skin (didn't we all do that at some point?).  In all the time we walked from speaker to speaker, snapping photos and listening to various opinions as they were shouted out to the masses, I never once saw an adult with the children.  They were clearly on their own, and seemingly on the prowl, and it just made me sad.

But for a moment, she looked innocent.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 3: Hello Lover

This blog is still in its infancy and already my mind has been more on writing than it's been in a very long time.  I'm loving it.  It's like we're dating, or rather, back together again, me and Writing, and I find myself anxious to be together during the day.  So much that I'm typing this from work (shhh).  So here I sit in the back of the classroom on my lunch break, stealing some minutes with my ever-returning old flame.   

I've been working on a new short story, and being that I work with kids, my days are often spattered with inspiration for this particular story, if only for character development.  In fact, it was recent observations about a couple of kids that inspired the story idea to begin with.  These observations coupled with my fascination with the human brain are working together to cultivate a dark little story fed daily by certain behaviors, sneaky little moves that only happen when the teacher isn't watching.  Luckily for the teacher who isn't watching, kids are fairly predictable and what's the saying?  I've got eyes in the back of my head; reflective surfaces also work quite well.  The psyche is a strange creature, and one with multiple personalities, I believe.  If you give any credit to Freud, we've all got a primitive, self-centered pleasure seeker constantly at odds with both a realistic impulse controller, the authority on the socially acceptable, and a model good guy, the moral compass and keeper of standards.  How can something we're all born with go in such radically different directions?  How can one child bully in his grade school years, then grow up to be a successful businessman and beloved father, while another does the same thing and ends up imprisoned for heinous acts of torture?  Fascinating.

Did I mention how anxious I am for the new season of Dexter (Showtime) to start already?  This show has a fascinating subject matter, and exists because of writers who have the ability to create a monster with whom the viewer actually roots for.  Sorry about your screwed up life, Mr. Serial Killer - why don't you go ahead and chop that guy up; it'll make you feel better.  Sounds sick, I'm aware, but the kind of writing that can actually cause a person of arguably sound mind and character to pull for the immoral monster in the middle is damn good, and certainly has my respect.

So is my central character another Dexter?  Not exactly, but he may run in similar circles.  We'll see how it evolves.

(Seriously, as much as I may momentarily agonize over not knowing what to write about, I feel fantastic when I'm done.  It's kind of like I just had a secret rendezvous and I'm still buzzing from the contact.)     

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day 2: Crying in the Dark

This was my husband's idea.  I feel it's important to blame him right off the bat in case this ends up being awful.

It's Sunday night and I've been staring at my laptop helplessly.  This is why I was afraid to commit, moments like this when nothing seems to be presenting itself to be explored.  Usually when I ask him a question the answer is something nonsensical, or at the very least, a non-answer.  Question: What do you want to eat tonight?  Answer: Food.  Question: What do you think we should name our first child?  Answer: Chair.  Question: What should I write about, or rather, as I've learned not to ask this question, I don't know what to write about.  Response: How wonderful I am.  But tonight he must've seen the anxiety on my face because he kept quiet for a minute when I expressed my inability to think of anything interesting to write about.  And then he asked me what my earliest childhood memory was, and when I told him he didn't believe me.  Apparently, the stretch of my memory is freakish, easily recalling the names (first AND last) of children with whom I attended preschool, and the word that knocked me out of the running for a trophy at the third grade spelling bee.  It was 'fact,' by the way.  I promise I'm not dumb, but I was so excited at the ridiculously easy word they handed me, I quickly called out an 's' instead of 'c' and well, fourth place was an embarrassment.  But that's not my earliest.

I'm crying, wailing and standing in my crib, waiting for my mother to rescue me from this torment called bedtime.  My room is dark but for a small night light across the room, and my eyes are fixated on the strip of light beneath my closed bedroom door.  I do not want to go to sleep.  I am not tired.  Then there is a shape in the doorway and she is my mother.  I don't remember the words, but I do recall her soft voice, and the way she pets my hair and lays me back down.  She makes sure I've got my blankie and then, she is gone.  I cry for a while longer, but this time I stay down, staring from behind the bars of my baby cage through bleary, tear filled eyes.

I'm not sure how old I was, but I was still sleeping in my crib, so you do the math.  And I do recall that I still had my pacifier, so it must've been before the washing machine incident, in which the mean old washing machine actually ate my pacifier.  At least this is what I believed growing up.

So that's it, my earliest.  Nothing too revelatory, but I'm a little proud of it, just the same. 


Saturday, March 27, 2010

My name is Lindsey, and I hate glitter.

I abhor glitter.

I work at an elementary school and I hate glitter.  When I have kids of my own, I will not buy, nor will I knowingly allow bulk glitter into my house.  I understand that there will be artwork, and I'll likely want to display it and some of it will involve the execrable stuff.  (Like that?)  In these circumstances I can assure you measures will be taken to contain the shiny, ever-sticking-to-your-skin mess.  I understand that it will be a near impossibility to keep the stuff from my house entirely, but what are we without goals?

Today we had lunch at an Indian place called Namaste, and it was fantastic.  Over naan and chai we discussed trips, recent as well as those still in planning.  Dublin.  Istanbul.  Scotland.  Conversations about how the education standards differ from place to place, and whose husband just got back from a long work trip criss-crossed each other over the table.  A comment about a future get-together brought up a recent one, and Sara explained what she at one time told her son to say when attempting to make new friends:  Hi, my name is Nick and I like to play with cars.  What a novel idea to introduce yourself with a quick detail about who you are - we should all try it.  Who can remember all the people you meet at any given event, but who'd forget Phil who secretly enjoys apple-tinis, or Jan who can't stand the color orange?  I think Sara's onto something interesting, if not potentially entertaining.

Then conversation shifted to listing the things that we simply cannot stand, those personal, quirky details that make us odd and fascinating to those who love us.  This is where the opportunity to really get to know your friends and all their weirdness reveals itself.  I imagined myself introducing my friends to others.

This is Diane, and she can't stand cotton balls.  (It's the noise they make when you rub them together.)

This is Amy.  Never show up to her house with Jello.  You may make her ill.

This is Farrah - please don't touch her face.

And this is Melody - I'm not sure if we're close enough for me to share hers, but it's a good one.

I love these girls because they're all different, they all have opinions, and they make me feel embraced.  Being the type of person who's always been better at one-on-one socializing, this is the first time in my life that I've enjoyed an actual group of friends, and not just friends, but friends who get along and actually enjoy each other.  This is the first time I've known so many diverse women in one place, at one time, and have felt comfortable in a room of more than two people openly participating in conversation.  Does that make me sound like a complete and utter dork?  I'm sure it does, but the introverted, socially awkward kid does eventually grow up.  As I looked around the table this afternoon I experienced a wash of gratitude, gratitude for the opportunity I have to do the things I do, see the things I see, and know the people I know here.  These girls are an important part of that.  Regardless of the particular depth of each connection, we're all connected, nonetheless, and that's the kind of comfort no one can turn down.

Another topic of conversation, briefly, was my writing.  Was I blogging?  Sara demanded to know why there was no daily update, and despite my defensive arguing to justify the days passed since my last entry, Amy nailed me with an irrefutable truth.  When I said I couldn't just write without something behind it, and what could I possibly write about every day, Amy said this:  If you commit to write something every single day, you'll start looking for things worth writing about - every day.  You'll make yourself look past the mundane.  And she was right.

This on top of a recent pep-talk from both Sara and Farrah regarding my self-expressed need for a life coach, as well as daily, or at least weekly blogging was enough to make me seriously consider taking on the challenge of daily writing.  I know what the books say about the importance of daily writing, and I say I want to be better, so it's time to put my money where my mouth is and jump in.  Dare I start numbering to force myself to acknowledge it?  The daily blog?  (Is it sad that my heart rate just shot up at the thought of actually doing that?)

So it begins.  I do not promise it'll be pretty, and I can guarantee some days will be random and messy, but I'm going to do it.  I'm going to test this widely-accepted and already tried approach to a more fulfilling writing life for myself, because honestly, you can tell me something all day and I won't doubt what you say is true, but I won't genuinely adopt it as truth in my life until I've discovered it for myself.  I have to reinvent the wheel.  Maybe it'll become so overwhelmingly bad that I'll find out I was never meant to be a writer.  But maybe it'll work, and I'll start finding more time to write in my day, and I'll start becoming more efficient in my writing, and I'll finish something.  Then maybe I'll like it.  And try to get it published.

Call this the first day of the daily, and I owe a big, fat thanks to all my coaches.  Thanks for caring enough to ask, and in some cases, enough to make me feel obligated and pressured to follow through.  So here it goes.

My name is Lindsey, and I hate glitter.

Day 1        

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Me, the archaeologist

It's understandable that when faced with an overabundance of choices, one becomes easily overwhelmed.  Such is one of my problems when it comes time to sit down and write.  There are so many options, choosing one about which to write for any given session seems a daunting task unless it's one of those rare moments in which I'm utterly possessed by a story.  Those moments are the ones I crave like the perfect barbecue potato chip - rarely stumbled upon, and so that much more satisfying when it hits my tongue, or in the case of writing, my keyboard.  Those moments are why I write; it's like an archaeologist who digs and dusts clean bits of what turn out to be trash for years because one of these days, they're going to come across something amazing, something no one's even been looking for, something spectacular.  The possibility of that ultimate find (or story, or song, or moment) makes all the crap worth it.  So that's where I am right now, trying to wade through what many days looks like trash in search of something that resembles a promising path to get me closer to that paragon.  The time I should be spending writing something, if only for the sake of writing anything at all, I'm digging and searching for the piece that feels right.

Being the adoring fan of efficiency that I am, waste is death.  I will not run an errand if it's the only reason I'll be on that side of town.  I will not drive to the American base (where I work out for free) to go to the gym if I've no grocery shopping to do, bills to pay, or mail to check for.  There are 40 steps between where we park our cars and our front door and if it takes me ten minutes to get up them, I will hang as many grocery bags from my body as possible to make even that trip more efficient.  So sitting at my beautiful writing desk to do nothing but type out some directionless scene actually hurts a little.  If I'm going to write, I should be writing something that's worth the time away from the countless other things I could, and often feel I should be doing, like laundry or dishes or reading for the next book club or prepping something healthy for dinner.  If I'm going to write, I should, at the very least, be working on something that's building toward something bigger.  Like the novel I began my last semester in college.  In 2004.

The more seasoned writer will tell me that no time spent writing is wasted time, because we're always developing our craft, always learning from our own keystrokes.  A wiser person will tell me to stop making excuses and make it a daily obligation, because anyone who's ever read a book on writing has learned that to be a writer, you must write every day.  So despite my innate need to organize all things into the most efficient blocks I can, I'm trying.  And you're reading the latest and scariest try.  I'm blogging, and as I type I wonder who would want to read my ramblings?  But this isn't a new thing, I realize, and there is a culture of those who appreciate the thoughts and words of strangers, and I so appreciate that.  This is a space where I can share whatever I want, which takes some of the pressure off the obligation to write, and someone just might read it, which presses right back down. But some pressure is good.  You need some stress in your life, my dad has told me more than once, and the kind of stress that makes me give a little more time to what I release into the wild from the confines of my mind, to gallop triumphantly through someone else's imagination or collapse into a sad heap, is the kind I need.

Reading back over this, I'm not sure if I ever really wound back around to a solid point.  But either way, that's me, so if that entertains you, stay tuned.

Thank you for spending some of your time with me, because I can only imagine all the things you might do in a day, and you could've kept on walking, but you decided to stick around.  I sincerely hope I made it worth your time, and hope you'll stop in again.  As for me, I'm going to get back to my digging and wading through the options, venting about or celebrating them here from time to time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

On Not Writing - Mar. 6, 2010

I’ve watched six cars back up the hill so far.  The wind is waking up so light flurries of snow blow into my face as I wait the extra twenty-eight minutes required of those who miss their train at the Rutesheim S-Bahn station on a weekend.  Damn snow.  It was sunny and verging on warm – in direct sunlight – this week, a tease of spring everyone’s got to be jonesing for come March.  Yesterday – it was gorgeous, blue-sky kiss all day yesterday, and this morning I’m shoveling at least six inches of maddening fluff off my car.  Forget the three near-collisions from which I slid just shy on the way to the station, I am not missing today.


People, the ones who didn’t miss their train, the ones who are, in fact, early for their train are starting to blow in with the snow, stomping the weather from their pant legs and nodding frosty hellos.  My fingers are numb and my nose is threatening a drip.


I’ve forgotten my iPod, probably sitting next to my pack of tissues and cell phone by the front door.  I’m annoyed, cold, and late, but maybe this would be one those unplanned writing opportunities I just read about in Writer’s Digest.  The article said that one must marry her life to writing.  There’s something I need to do, recommit.  Ask me what fills me up and turns me on, what can keep me burning into the wee hours of the morning without concern for the coming day’s responsibilities, and I’ll tell you without hesitation, writing.  But ask me when the last time that actually happened, and I’ll quickly change the subject.  

The train is finally here.

Writing, that which defined me from a tender age, that presence forever in my life to engage me or taunt me.  It is truly a relationship in and of itself, and there are days…

When we first moved abroad and settled into arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world, where I consciously decided to not work outside the house, to focus on my writing and soak up this amazing opportunity, I got blocked.  For five years.  We got to travel and taste places in the world we never even thought about, but I couldn’t write about it.  I was drenched, I was soaking in so much, but couldn’t muster a line that felt like it actually came from somewhere meaningful.  Now looking back I’ll admit there were moments, brief as they were, that warmed what had gone cold, but moments weren’t what I craved, what I expected from myself given such insanely optimal circumstances.  And it wasn’t as if I didn’t want to write.  I did.  I was just dry, somehow, in the writing zone of my brain and I’ve never been good with self-imposed requirements.  Daily journaling lasted only as long as it didn’t feel like an obligation.  Give me a deadline or an assignment as a person outside my head and I’m all over it, forever the eager to please student.  Just don’t be me giving it.

An announcement has just come over the speakers on the train, something other than the pre-recorded stop announcements, and after confirming with a group of boys standing to exit, it seems this morning’s unexpected snowfall has made a stretch of tracks unsafe, so we’re to get off the train and hop aboard replacement buses.  This will be my first bus experience living in Germany.  I consider for a moment crossing over to catch the train right back to my station and scrap the day, blaming it on bad weather and certain and unfamiliar circumstances, but decide to be brave.  I will follow the herd.  Moo.

Back on the train in Zuffenhausen, I’m wondering just how late I’ll be to this month’s writers’ meeting.  Another announcement I don’t quite get.  I understand “Entschuldigung,” which can’t be good. They’re asking to be pardoned.  But back to my writing pad and thoughts of not writing…I feel stuck, but not exactly stuck because it feels more like I’m free-floating, unable to grab onto anything at all. Not an idea; not a line.

I once wrote a letter to Writing, expressing my longing for its return and disgust for its absence in the same breath.  What had I done wrong?  Couldn't we talk about this?  Why couldn’t I come up with anything worth jotting down?  I couldn’t make myself sit and write mindlessly without concern for the finished piece like you’re supposed to if you’re feeling stuck.  I wished a didn’t care, and so that day I decided to let go of it, hoping that whole “set it free and it will return” thing had something to it.  To be honest, I felt rejected, abandoned, but by what?  My writing self, I supposed, that spark inside that lit me up when I got going.  I remember turning off my laptop and walking away, feeling relief, but only slight.  If I wasn’t struggling to write, what was I doing?  A writer friend I’d met through an on-line writers’ workshop had told me not to feel pressured to produce while at the start of this incredible time in my life, to let it soak in and percolate a while.  And so I’ve been brewing ever since.  That was nearly six years ago.

When will this God-forsaken pot of coffee be done?  Something has got to happen beyond flashes of passion to work on my novel, or anything, that last about as long as any flash might.

I can see the Hauptbahnhof ahead.  I have no idea what time it is, but I know I’m more than fashionably late.  And I don’t even have a damned thing to share.