27 January 2010

School Bag

My colleagues in the English Department and I have a shared journal that we started last fall: it's a standard sized composition notebook, and we can choose to pass or play. If we play, we have 24 hours to share something: a poem, a story, a rant, an observation. Some people have pasted in pictures, or taped in typed things. Lots of folks just hand write something, off the cuff. It's allowing us a little snapshot into each other's writing styles and thought processes that I'm enjoying immensely.

If you're one of my colleagues, and you'd rather be suprised when the journal comes to you, stop reading now.

This is my entry for today.

Every semester I search for the perfect bag: big enough to hold 125 syllabi, or 75 student essays, and a couple of books, a handful of dried up dry-erase markers, and a tepid Coca-Cola. I want one that makes all this feel less heavy, literally and figuratively, than it is.

At the end of my 12th year of teaching, I still haven't quite found it.

I've come close; a green Hanna Andersen bag with technicolor flowers; a dark green messenger bag from old navy; a leather man-purse on clearance from Target. Each is flawed, somehow: lacks that essential pocket, or tips too easily, or is too hard to get into.

Over break, I found a vintage soft-sided suitcase at St. Vincent de Paul for $2. It's a carry-on type, like a super-sized camera bag, a softer response to the rigid train case. It has a front zipper pocket, and a decently long shoulder strap. The zippers are industrial strength, and there is no velcro. It's that particular, distinctive shade of Harvest Gold.

On the inside of the shoulder strap, in permanent ink, is the name "Mary Mitzel" and "Hope, N. D." in the script of someone who once had decent penmanship until age shook her hand. Just the fact that there's a town in North Dakota named Hope makes me happy: and I imagined Mary Mitzel packing this bag for a week or two away, folding slips and stockings and denture cleaner, than zipping the industrial zipper closed and locking her door behind her.

I know she's probably dead, or nearly so, because St. Vincent's tends to get entire estates, or what's leftover from estate sales. Or maybe she's gone into a nursing home recently, and won't be traveling anymore. I hope wherever she is, Mary Mitzel has fond memories of this gold bag, as I pack it with syllabi and pens and class lists for my first day teaching in a new decade.

In my 5:30 class, students ask if it's a bowling bag. "No!" I tell them. "It's a vintage piece of luggage. And it belonged to Mary Mitzel of Hope, ND." I'm kinda proud of myself, in that irritating way people who buy old stuff and call it vintage are.

From the back row, one of my students can't help himself, and blurts out "I totally knew her! She was a bitch."

Perhaps not surprisingly, this makes me like this bag even more.

25 January 2010

Quilts of our lives, part III

This is a quilt we use every single day, and it's also one I didn't make. Our dear friend Jeni made it, as a housewarming gift. When Jeni and Tami came to visit our house for the first time, in June 2002, they brought this beautiful Bulls-eye Quilt with them. And since we had decided that very week to get married the following Wednesday, it quickly turned into an engagement/wedding gift. As I recall, she made this from the cut-outs of another bulls-eye quilt, for her sister's wedding. I love this quilt, because I had just a few months earlier talked Jeni through the process of this pattern, which is a fun technique that looks a lot harder than it is. I adore the fabrics she chose for this quilt, and I wouldn't have thought to put these together. I love the corner circles, the double borders, and the blue and red flowered background (which you can peek in the first photo...).
It's the only quilt in our TV room, and I or Shaun use it every day for sure from fall to spring, and I use it most days in the summer, too.
It is so much more than just a blanket: everytime I use it, or fold it up before we go to bed, or hang it out on the line on wash day, I think of my Jeni, and miss her (as she lives in the Minneapolis), and I'm so thankful that she is in my life.

23 January 2010

"To whom much is given, much will be required."

When I first heard of the Haitian earthquake, and all the devastation, all I could think of was in Star Wars when the planet Alderaan is destroyed, and Obi-Wan Kenobi shudders, feeling a giant cosmic sob of grief. It is the only reaction that makes sense to me. But then, on the second day of class, I made the mistake of bringing Haiti up to my students, some of whom had a very strong reaction.

"Why do we have to be everyone's big brother? We don't belong there." But, but, I said, there are so many hurt, someone has to help them. "There are homeless people downtown, and we're not helping them." Really? I said. You want us to help our own homeless while the bodies rot in Haiti? "Yeah, well, it doesn't always have to be us. Besides, Haiti used to have a functional democracy, and the people let it fall back into corruption and chaos. This is what they deserve."

That question, "Why do we have to be everyone's big brother," rings in my head. It implies that somehow, Americans should be separate from responsibility to anyone else. I didn't think of it at the time, of course, but I should've pointed out that we as 5% of the population consume 25% of the world's resources. That we throw out 200,000 tons of edible food EVERY DAY. That daily, Americans use 6x more water than over half of the world's population.

The depth of suffering on that little island exhausts me. So does the bureaucracy that keeps people from getting the help available. But even more devastating, to me, is the idea that my students expressed: that somehow these people don't deserve help, and that Americans need to focus more on taking care of our (already spoiled) selves than those suffering the most. I don't know what to say in the face of that idea, because it is such a cold and foreign thought to me.

I hope somehow all who can be saved are saved, and those who cannot suffer as little as possible. I hope people get safe, and fed, and learn to bear their grief. And I hope my students can learn to be more compassionate, and never suffer such devastation as this.

21 January 2010

V and Steve

I blame Gene Simmons for V's expression. These two make each other laugh almost constantly when they're together, which means good times for everyone. I'm just lucky they both held still long enough for me to take this photo.

I hope to be fully back in blogland action by this weekend. Stay warm, people, and write me comments! Ask questions, make complaints, whatever you like: comments make me want to write for you.

20 January 2010

Recent conversation

We were in the waiting room of V's therapy center, and V's back was to me, when I noticed her hair was kind of messy. It had been Shaun's turn to take her to school that morning, so I made a gentle inquiry.

Mama: "V, did Daddy brush your hair today?"

V: "Yes. Why do you want to know??"

Mama: "Well, it looks kind of messy."

V (sighing): "Everybody's a critic."

So there you go.

04 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Insert thoughtful, year-reflecting post here. Or perhaps a rousing summary of holiday festivities. Either way.

Winter screws with me so much because we have two options: sunshine and bitter cold, or bleak greyness and milder cold. When I want to take outdoor photos, the light's better in the bitter cold. But then I'm out in the bitter cold.I'd rather sit on the couch with this little sprout, in the early morning light.
And take pictures of the outdoors through the window.

Today was my semi-annual holy-crap-break's-almost-over-and-I've-done-nothing-whatsoever-that-I-meant-to-do-over-break freakout. So I'm going to take an official blog break (instead of my usual unintended/unofficial/I'm just lazy break). Classes resume on the 11th, and I should be back shortly thereafter. Please don't despair, dear readers. Hope your New Year is bright and not too cold.