Sunday, December 28, 2014

Feeling Out of Place

It was during our first week in Rome last week that I was able to pinpoint what it is about living in Utah that makes me uncomfortable: I feel out of place. It's not all the time, and it's generally overwhelming, but that's how I tend to feel; sometimes I'm just more aware of it than other times.

There are so many assumptions that the people here make about others' religious beliefs; comments are made - including one made one of my schools - in reference to an LDS practice that I don't understand, for example, at a staff meeting one colleague likened something to testimony meetings - I don't know what that is. Another colleague joked about "telling his [someone else's] bishop." I've heard of testimony meetings, and I understand that LDS bishops are different that or bishops of other religious denominations, but it's these types of assumptions that everyone understands the intricacies of Mormonism, because of the assumptions that everyone is part of one particular group, that make me continually feel like an outsider.

I realized last week that I feel more at home here in Rome than I do in Salt Lake. This was the first time I was able to verbalize, at least internally, the cause of my discomfort, and I'm beginning to have some (very small) inkling what it's like to be in a (sexual, religious, social, gendered, racial, etc.) minority. Unacknowledged assumptions are made and it's frustrating, especially when nothing unkind is meant.

Now, that said, I realize I'm still part of the majority. I'm a white middle class heterosexual married woman who belongs to the world's largest religious sect (or one of the very top sects) in the largest religious denomination so in that case I have little to complain about. I just realized how much more comfortable it is to be part of the majority, or of a more equally distributed minority. There's nothing to do about it; we won't be leaving Salt Lake or even Utah anytime soon.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Requiring a Doctor's Note for Illness

This evening I read this article about a Canadian doctor who "wrote a fantastic response to employers who require doctor's notes for sick days." In essence, this doctor argues that by requiring employees to visit the doctor to acquire a medical note validating the employee's illness, an "unnecessary burden is placed on the healthcare system and exposes seriously ill patients...to viruses that could cause detrimental consequences to their [the patients'] health." The doctor goes on to say that if this practice continues, the company that requires this action will be billed directly by the doctor's office.

For about three months, I worked as a preschool teacher in an eastern Pennsylvania daycare that required all employees who took a sick day to bring in a doctor's note, otherwise we were in breach of contract and would face consequences, the specifics of which I no longer remember. Yes, we had to sign a contract upon being hired. The contract noted that, among other things, if we broke our contract (by leaving before three months, or by not bringing in a doctor's note after calling out sick, etc.) we had to pay the daycare $500. After the three months were up, one would sign another contract, the length or specifics of which I remain ignorant; after those three months, I worked there for a little while longer before teaching for two semesters at Lehigh Carbon Community College (which I liked a lot better and paid a lot more).

Bringing in a doctor's note when sick seems ludicrous, considering that much of the time, one's sickness does not require a visit to the doctor. Most of the time, for things like the flu, one might be sick enough to legitimately warrant time off from work, but going to a doctor won't solve anything. (Furthermore, I hadn't health insurance at the time, so there was the added bonus of paying even more out of pocket.)

As a side note: This was the same place that insisted I bring in a copy of my high school diploma, which, you know, who keeps theirs? I might have mine somewhere at my parents', but in the meantime I had obtained both a two-year and four-year degree; I could certainly show them the diploma from my undergraduate institution, which was still somewhat recent. "We need to see your high school diploma!" "Well, I have no idea where it is. I can show you my college diploma, though." "We need your high school diploma." And back and forth a bit until I said, if I graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree, I probably have a high school diploma, wouldn't you agree? "...Oh, yeah."

I worked at this daycare beginning in the fall, and into December, when it's not unreasonable for snow to fall. One morning, I set out in really dangerous, icy, snowy conditions. I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, and lived there for more then 20 years, so I'm not afraid of driving in snow, but the I-78 was all backed up, the road was slippery, it really was dangerous, and I simply didn't feel safe. I turned around and came home, called work, and told them I wasn't coming in, "Well, you know that might cause problems." "Hey, that's okay, do what needs to be done. I don't feel safe driving in that." Nothing ever did happen, possibly because the contract had already been fulfilled, but at this point I don't remember.

Daycare workers are absolutely underpaid; I was earning between $8 and $9 an hour because I had a four-year degree; this was higher than most of the other employees. It's physically demanding work, and between that and the low pay there tends to be a lot of turnover, so I understand the lengths to which this daycare and other employers might have felt it necessary to go to in order to retain staff, but requiring a doctor's note seems unwarranted, and does not exactly fill employees with the sense of being trusted or valued. It's a lousy cycle.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaBloPoMo: First Christmas Concert of the Season

Last night, Ed, his dad, and I went to a Christmas concert at Temple Square. It was the first Christmas concert of the season, and fitting, since this weekend is the first weekend of Advent (and therefore the start of the Catholic liturgical year). 

Before the concert began - because we had arrived in plenty of time - we took a few minutes to walk around Temple Square to admire all the Christmas lights, which had only been turned on the day before. It was a fairly warm night for late November - no heavy coats needed. Unlike previous years, I didn't go mad taking pictures, but I did take two. The lights are really arranged quite well; everything is beautifully decorated.



the program from the concert
Two choirs performed - Because We Sing! and We Also Sing! The concert lasted about an hour, with both choirs performing separately and together.




Saturday, November 29, 2014

NaBloPoMo: The Passenger Pigeon (Fold the Flock)

A few months ago, the Smithsonian ran an article on Passenger Pigeons. An origami pigeon was included, such that one could fold a Passenger Pigeon to commemorate their extinction. This morning Ed kindly folded the pigeon for me (I'm terrible at origami).

The attached was part of the origami sheet:
Huge flocks of Passenger Pigeons once flew across our skies. Millions of birds would pass overhead, blocking the sun and darkening our skies for days. Because there were so many, no one dreamed they could ever be gone. But as the population of the United States grew, and the demand for food increased, they were nearly all killed by hunters. 
On March 24, 1900, a boy in Pike County, Ohio, shot the last recorded wild Passenger Pigeon. 
Fourteen years later, in 1914, the last captive Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. 
The story of the Passenger Pigeon extinction reminds us that sometimes the natural world is more fragile than we think. To help remember the Passenger Pigeon, we are folding origami pigeons to recreate the great flocks. Please fold a Passenger Pigeon and help to Fold the Flock.


Friday, November 28, 2014

NaBloPoMo: What Constitutes Fulfillment

Because I know folks who are perplexed by people who do not have children, and questions why (as in, "Why don't you have children?"): These questions imply that there are, in fact, reasons why people do not have children. "Because we don't" does not compute; "no particular reason {that we k now of" also causes confusion. Without having gone the route of being extensively tested for this sort of thing, we simply don't know why. I have my suspicions, and one two good thoughts as to why, but I'm unwilling to put myself through the emotional misery to determine a biological reason.

Ultimately, though, one's purpose in life does not solely need to be tied to having children; I would argue that one has more than one purpose in life.

"You might need kids to have a purpose. I do not.

Here’s the biggest thing that kills me about people who insist that deep down I want kids – they often say something like “but kids are the biggest blessing!” or “you won’t be truly fulfilled unless you have children,” or “you’re missing out on the best part of life.” These statements may be true for other people. They are not true for me, as the above paragraphs should have clued everyone in to.

My purpose is not tied to having babies. My purpose is in helping people who are already here, not in creating more of them."
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The fact is that I go back and forth when it comes to my desire to have children. I sometimes wish that I could have the experience of being pregnant...once. I'd like to know what it's like. I'd appreciate the experience of raising a child, I think, but like marriage, this is not necessarily a strong, overwhelming urge. (I figured if I got married, great, but if not, that was really okay, too. I met someone who I wanted to marry, and in short order we did in fact get married, but it wasn't something I especially wanted to do until I met Ed.)

I also do wonder if I'll get to be older and wish I had exhausted all my mental, emotional, and financial resources - even during moments when I think that would be foolish, since that would imply that I'm incapable of fulfilling my own needs and providing and taking care of myself, which is necessary to be able to take care of the other people in my life whom I care about.

"At least I’ve thought about it – perhaps because I’m often asked to justify my position or explain why. To end that conversation I now sometimes say I couldn’t have children.

It’s not an outright lie. As it turns out, much as I had thought, the desire to have kids just wasn’t strong enough in me. It was there a bit; like a radio signal that came and went. I’d look at friends’ kids and I’d feel a pang but then it would go away like the beginning of a threatening headache that melts without medication."
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It comes down to personal fulfillment. I live in a culture in which women are, I feel, pressured and otherwise expected to have as many children as soon as possible, with the singular definition of purpose and fulfillment. If the fulfillment is to care for others, though, there are many ways to do that (I happen to be in a career that exemplifies that). 

"But raising your kids or someone else’s isn’t crucial to fulfillment. 

'Women without children are perfectly capable of being happy,' Gilbert writes. 'What they’re often missing isn’t kids, but a society and a culture that values and respects them.' 

This is as true a thing as I’ve ever read on the subject. Fulfillment, after all, is a feeling of a job well done, a sense of peace at having met a goal."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Thanksgiving Grub

Today's menu:
My first pecan pie came out pretty well, although I think I
should have baked it a little less.
The buttermilk pie is surprisingly good; it's a Southern pie,
custard-y and not terribly sweet.
traditional pumpkin pie
And of course the brined, dry rubbed turkey, complete with
stuffing (because stuffing is very important).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Recipe Memoirs, Part 2

Today was the second day in which my students presented their recipe memoirs. We had a lot of very creative foods, both main courses and desserts, some of which were long-standing family recipes, and others of which were more recently acquired.

Maily made stuffed tomates,
something she had grown up
with in France.
Andrea made cupcakes, the concept of
which had come from family baking
competitions.
Gema made her own mole.
Jazmin made an apple salad with
pineapple, walnuts, and marshmallows.

Monday, November 24, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Morbid Monday

Part of of Atlas Obscura's Morbid Monday series, specifically from "The Morbid Journey of Cromwell's Traveling Head":
In January of 1661, King Charles II of England ordered the exhumation of the corpses of Henry Ireton, John Bradshaw, and Oliver Cromwell. He arranged to have the bodies hanged and beheaded because the three men presided over the trial and execution of his father, King Charles I. 
The corpses were hanged at the Tyburn gallows, and their bodies were left there until the afternoon. The corpses were then decapitated and buried under the gallows. According to tradition, it took eight blows to separate Cromwell’s head from his corpse. 
The heads of Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw were impaled on 20-foot spikes through the base of the skull then displayed on the roof of Westminster Hall. Cromwell’s head stayed on the spike for more than 20 years before it disappeared.
drawing of Cromwell's head,
from Pennant's Journey from
Chester to Londo
n (1790)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Take "The Other" To Lunch

"I'm deeply disturbed by the ways in which all of our cultures are demonizing 'the Other' by the voice we're giving to the most divisive among us. Listen to these titles of some of the bestselling books from both sides of the political divide here in the U.S. 'Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder,' 'Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot,' 'Pinheads and Patriots,' 'Arguing With Idiots.' They're supposedly tongue-in-cheek, but they're actually dangerous. Now here's a title that may sound familiar, but whose author may surprise you: "Four-and-a-Half-Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice." Who wrote that? That was Adolf Hitler's first title for Mein Kampf -- My Struggle -- the book that launched the Nazi party. The worst eras in human history, whether in Cambodia or Germany or Rwanda, they start like this, with negative other-izing. And then they morph into violent extremism."

What's interesting about this talk is that the speaker advises to start small, and to personalize "the other," thereby minimizing or otherwise negating demonization. It's hard to demonize people you know.   

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Waiting Room

Today's writing prompt from Thinking About Memoir: "Write two pages that take place in a waiting room." This doesn't take place entirely in a waiting room, although hospital visits are involved.
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I was going to write about the worst Spring Break I ever encountered, which happened this past March. (I'm withholding many details here, mostly because they're not mine to recount.) Ed was admitted to the hospital after three visits to the emergency room, two or three visits to his primary care physician, and a visit to an InstaCare clinic; he had tests that included a spinal tap, x-rays, multiple rounds of blood work, an MRI, a biopsy, and an endoscopy - and several follow-up visits with a neurologist.

The hell of it is that we still don't know what the problem was. 

I've never slept overnight in a hospital before, and I hope never to again. I'd go home for an hour to shower, grab some clean clothes, and swap out some laundry before going back to the hospital.

So much time spent in the hospital; the medical staff were all wonderful and kind and friendly and gentle and answered all my questions, because I am, in fact, someone who wants to know as much detail as possible, and all the technical, medical names for things (even if I immediately forget).

It made me grateful that Ed's father and my parents were able to come out to help at the proverbial drop of a hat, so that after Ed was discharged and he started to feel better, I could go back to work but someone could still be around. (For about a week and a half, someone was with him in the same room at all times, otherwise he'd panic.) It made me grateful that we have such good health insurance, otherwise we would have owed more than $30,000. It made me grateful for Ed's job that provided such good health insurance, and that he had such a wonderfully understanding boss, since Ed was out of commission for more than two weeks. 

So this is not so much an experience spending time in a waiting room and being shaken as it is spending time in a medical environment in which questions are simply and frustratingly unanswerable. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Recipe Memoirs, Part 1

In the college English classes that I teach, near the end of the semester students write a recipe or food memoir and share their memoirs while bringing in samples of the food. There are three days' worth of presentations, and yesterday was the first day in which students brought in food. It was really nice to see what students brought in, and to have a chance to just relax as a collective group and eat together, even if it's not something we would have done otherwise.

From the first class, clockwise from
bottom left: Chelsea tart,
peanut butter Rice Krispie treat,
Chinese noodle cookies (haystacks),
and chocolate no-bake cookies.
from the first class:
macaroni and tomato juice
from the second class:
bigos (Polish hunter stew)
from the second class: pink salad
from the second class, clockwise
from left: Rotkraut (sweet and sour
red cabbage), pumpkin cheesecake,
Rollo cookie, and pumpkin roll
from the third class, clockwise from the top:
pumpkin chocolate chip muffin,
Danish butter cookies, a homemade egg roll,
a dolmade (stuffed grape leaf)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NaBloPoMo: The Source of My Strength

There were two pieces of writing for this week's Autobiographical Literacies class, one of which was to write about an animal with which we bonded, the other of which was a response to the following prompt: Consider Thomas's comments and directions in Thinking About Memoir, about writing from loss. Respond to Thomas's prompts on page 93 about strength. Write two pages entitled "The Source of My Strength."
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The Source of My Strength

Thomas writes that her formerly tight-as-a-drum abdomen is the source of her strength (93). I’m spending some time trying to dissect what she means by this assertion, and I come to this conclusion: The source of her – and my, and anyone else’s – strength is that which allows us to extricate ourselves from a difficult situation. The situation can be physical, mental, emotional, whatever; it can be momentary or last longer than we think it should. In Thomas’ case, her abdominal muscles got her out of a tight spot (in that she was wedged between various dogs and sore). I’m trying to define a singular source of my strength, and I’m having difficulty – as I seem to encounter lots of, when it comes to this course.

It probably says something about my religiosity and Catholicism that the first thing I thought of was my husband (who would not appreciate being called a “thing,” although he would likely agree with it, too). I never thought I’d get married; or, rather, I was ambivalent about marriage, not because I had had bad experiences with it (parents married 45 years; both sets of grandparents married more than 50 years; one aunt and uncle married more than 25 years, another aunt and uncle more than 20 years…I believe my father has a cousin who was divorced, but I can’t think of anyone else in my family who has been divorced). Rather, it was not something I felt called to do – I figured if it happened, it happened, and if not, that was okay too. My husband changed my mind in all of that, though, and relatively quickly, I might add. (18 months after we met, we married.) My husband is the first man with whom I’d been romantically involved that had made me reconsider some of my choices; he steadied me in terms of preparing for my future, career, and retirement, aspects of life that don’t sound especially romantic, I suppose, but which are, I think, at least partly the result of maturity.

I think that was it: My husband matured and steadied me in a very necessary way. (And high time, I can hear my mother add.)

Yet that doesn’t feel entirely right, somehow. My husband is certainly a source of my strength, in the same way my religious beliefs are. However: My Catholicism somehow also isn’t the central part of my strength, although it’s certainly very important. You know how there are people who say they’re Catholic (or another religion), yet perhaps only go to services twice a year? (I heard one priest say that he was tempted to say, “See you at Christmas!” during the Easter homily, and “See you at Easter!” during the Christmas homily, to the large numbers of parishioners who only attended these holy days.)

No, indeed: My husband and I attend Mass weekly and on all Holy Days of Obligation; we’ve gotten all the sacraments for which we’re currently eligible. We don’t skip Mass because we’re tired or it’s rainy or it’s on vacation or, as one friend once did, the church was too crowded. There are aspects of doctrine with which I disagree or struggle, but I believe in Catholic dogma. Mass keeps me focused; it’s a reprieve, a weekly hour in which I don’t have to worry about the outside world. It’s an hour for myself.

I think I’ve stumbled on it: It’s writing. Writing is the source of my strength because, as I’ve mentioned previously and elsewhere, writing is the best means I have to ruminate, to percolate, to work out how I think and feel about things. This blog post is an example; I had to work my way through several possibilities in order to determine what a source of strength is. My husband is a source of strength (an admitted cliché) because he has helped me prevent being in unpleasant professional and financial tight spots, or at least is helping to prepare myself to minimize these tight spots, allowing me to be able to extricate myself from potential future problems. My faith allows me to clear my mind, to recalibrate myself, to remind myself that I need to be patient with people, damnit, regardless of their idiocy. (When I’m king…) But the writing – the writing lets me clear my head in a way that I’m not sure anything else does to the same extent. I can talk my way through my anger, anxiety, frustration, confusion – it’s like a form of praying, how I make sense of the world, and how I get out of tight spots.

Work Cited:
Thomas, Abigail. Thinking About Memoir. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2008. Print.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Animal Bonding

This week in my Autobiographical Literacies class, we read Stacey O'Brien's Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl. The writing prompt for this memoir: "Share your responses about who Wesley was to O'Brien. Give quotes from the text to support your views. Describe a deep bond you too have shared with an animal during your lifetime."
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Clearly Wesley’s development was central to O’Brien’s personal life. There are indications that O’Brien feels that since she tamed him, she owed him her life, perhaps as a sense of social responsibility to care for him (indeed, chapters two and 15 focus on that, and are reflected in the chapter titles). She notes that Wesley was completely dependent on her, and in such a fashion it could be understood that “maintaining” him: “He would be completely dependent upon me physically and emotionally, and if I were ever to abandon him, I could doom him to die from fear, confusion, and grief...[yet she’d] never felt so protective of anything” in [her] life (18). I got the impression that Wesley added elements of consistency through O’Brien’s life in a way that a spouse/long-term partner or especially children might have provided; Wesley fulfills an emotional need. The sense of responsibility that comes from taming such a young animal strikes me as similar to raising a newborn (although the newborn becomes independent fairly quickly in relative terms to the constant and prolonged care that a baby animal would need).

O’Brien’s need to care for Wesley comes nearly at the expense to her ability to recognize the level of care she needed for herself, especially as explained in a later chapter in which she explains the extreme health issues that began plaguing her in her late 30s. The mentality of wanting to be sent home because it was “no big deal” so that she could continue caring for Wesley speaks to their bond, but nearly at the expense of her ability to make prudent decisions (as exemplified in chapter 15 – “Twilight: He Whom I Tamed Saves My Life”). Yet it is also possible that when she does recognize that she is unable to care for Wesley without assistance, she is able to recognize that Wesley’s dependence on her is what prevents her from committing suicide, and taking him along with her (211). It seems as though Wesley saved her in this regard – or at least she believes he did – thereby continuing their dependence on each other. I do see this as a type of dependence, although not necessarily in any sort of negative way. If Wesley was able to provide O’Brien with a reason for life, as she implies at the end of the chapter: “I looked into the eyes of the owl, found the way of God there, and decided to live” (211). I’m not sure that she had this type of bond with a person. Wesley appears to have been central to O’Brien’s mental and emotional development. While one might argue that Wesley allowed her to bond with her co-workers and other animal-lover friends, Wesley could be seen as an inhibitor when it came to bonding with romantic partners. Perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy; O’Brien emotionally depended on Wesley despite looking for a long-term partner who could not fulfill her needs because of her bond with the owl.

I've been struggling with other blog/discussion board posts, but this one may be, in fact, the most difficult, for the simple reason that I've never bonded with an animal. When I was little, I had rabbits that lived in an outdoor pen; I don't remember what happened to them, but I'm told they ran away. (I don't think the pen was a great one, although I would not dismiss the idea that my brother or I left the door open). I think I may have had an occasional hamster or gerbil, neither of which is known for their long lives. I briefly inherited a can from a friend, but the cat ran away (and this time I can say with certainty it's because the front door was left open). I'm about as interested in having a pet as I am in going on a cruise - which is to say, not at all. I don't understand the appeal of pet ownership, although I've had folks try to explain their bonds with their pets over the years ("They're like my children!" "People have been hurtful and I can't trust any person anymore. I can only trust animals!" etc. Pet parents drive me up the proverbial wall.). I simply don't bond with pets or animals; I'm ambivalent about them, and like babies, I have trouble getting excited about them or wanting one. I can't say, then, that I've ever had any bond with an animal.

Because of my own interests and apathy towards pet ownership (which you are entirely welcome to question and disparage), I had trouble with Wesley the Owl; the interesting parts to me were the ways in which Wesley affected O'Brien's life and relationships. Her work as a biologist interested me; Wesley's bowel movements and physical development did not.

Work Cited 
O’Brien, Stacey. Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl. New York: Free Press, 2008. Print.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura is one of my favorite websites; it's a site that promotes collaboration and depends on a "community of explorers" to uncover interesting or otherwise overlooked aspects of travel, history, etc. By creating an account, too, one can create trips - find interesting places that you might wish to see during one's travels, and clicking the "I want to see this!" button, which adds the place to a map. (Since Ed and I are in the throes of planning a trip to Rome and Vatican City over Christmas, I've been finding some interesting places written about on Atlas Obscura, such as "Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls" and "Arciconfraternita Santa Maria Dell'Orazione e Morte" - the crypt of St. Mary of Eulogies and the Dead.)

From "Hacking the Death Zone: Ingenious DIY Escapes Across the Berlin Wall":
In the early days of the wall, tunneling underneath it was the most popular way through. Some tunnels were dug under basements; others through the sewers. A dozen people escaped through Der Seniorentunnel ("the Senior Citizens Tunnel"), which began at a chicken coop and was constructed by a group of elderly citizens led by an 81-year-old man. Another ingenious access point turned out to be in the Pankow Municipal cemetery, where students turned a well-kept gravestone into a hidden tunnel doorway. More than twenty people were able to escape through this tunnel before the Stasi discovered it and sealed it off.
a member of the state railway inspects the Wollankstraße tunnel
(image via Peter Heinz Junge / Wikimedia)
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From "A Mummy Hoax Might Be Wrapped up in a Modern Murder":
In October of 2000, Pakistani authorities heard that a Karachi resident was trying to sell a mummy on the black market for $11 million. When the police interrogated the seller, he told them he got the mummy from an Iranian man, who supposedly found it after an earthquake, and the two agreed to sell it and split the profits. The seller eventually led them to where he was storing the mummy, a region that borders Iran and Afghanistan... Scholars grew suspicious of the mummy’s authenticity when experts in ancient cuneiform examined the mummy’s breastplate and determined that someone “not well familiar with Iranian script,” had carved the inscription. This mummy hoax began to unravel after subsequent testing.
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From "Museum of a Million and One Roots":
Twisting around the floor, walls, and ceilings of the Museum of a Million and One Roots in Cornimont, France are fanciful creatures of all shape and kind, seemingly organic clocks and lamps, and fantasy tableaus, all made of hardened roots collected by local artist Michel Maurice.
photo by alainalele on Flickr / creative commons

Monday, November 17, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Damning Left, Right, and Center

This week's writing prompt for my Autobiographical Literacies class: Consider Roorbach's thoughts about style and "saying things right." Also, think about Mullaney's experiences in a war-torn environment. In light of your readings, respond to Roorbach's prompt in page 181 - "forget about style." Write two pages in which you "throw a fit" about something and cast the cares of style to the wind."

This assignment has been revised because it involves professional situations that are currently frustrating and which would not be appropriate to share in a public forum. I have eliminated specific details as necessary and appropriate and edited the language accordingly. Some of my frustrations are general and not aimed towards specific students or current teaching situations.
________________________________________________________________

As a caveat: I live in a very, very conservative state. Among other things that frustrate me politically (and I suppose religiously, too) about living here is that I can’t say things like, “Oh my G-d!” without someone accusing me of blasphemy; indeed, once I had a student leave me an unhappy course evaluation because before class one day I mentioned I’m not Mormon. (Apparently I’m anti-Mormon and I play favorites.) After one movie (I forget which) I showed in college, there was such a brief moment of nudity that I missed it during the several times I watched the movie, yet a student took offense and told me I should have warned them ahead of time. (We had a class discussion about this, about that in college and in the Great Big World at large there may be Adult Situations, but they’ll have to cope and not look for offense where there isn’t any.) The point of this mini-tirade is that occasionally I am apparently quite offensive; I curse (although not while teaching) – and there may be occasional cursing here. If that offends you, I’m very sorry; perhaps you should stop reading at this point.

Having to censure myself to the extent where I am unable to acknowledge nudity is not the only thing that frustrates me. At the moment, there are both general and specific academic policies that cause me to get twitchy, some of which are currently applicable, and some of which are not. I don’t know how much I can throw a fit here, but I can tell you that this is stuff I wish I could publicly and loudly denounce, but obviously this is not permissible. One doesn't want to appear entirely unprofessional.

That’s something else that frustrates me. I understand the rationale behind not publicly decrying idiocy, but for someone whose frustrations are more easily dispelled by writing, this leads to a prolonged sense of irritation because I can’t talk about what frustrates me.

I don’t think my irritation extends to the extremely ungrammatical. I find it difficult to take people seriously when they’re so massively ungrammatical that I can’t parse their anger, yet I’m sure I’m being ungrammatical right now without realizing it – unless you could ending a sentence with a preposition or prepositional phrase, which in and of itself I have difficulty in believing as ungrammatical (given that this “rule” was created as a means of applying Latin grammatical standards to English).

Moving on.

As a teacher, one is apparently supposed to like all one’s students. This is, of course, a sham. I like many of my students; some of them I haven’t strong feelings about one way or the other (mostly because I don’t know them well). Very rarely do I actively and strongly dislike a student, and it’s usually because of extremely disrespect and rudeness. Normally, I would simply extricate myself from any situation in which I would be required to interact with someone like this, yet there are situations in which one just needs to deal with it. I so strongly dislike so very few people that I don’t quite know what to do with myself when this happens.

And of course I understand the professionalism required of the situation – and the religious implications – of treating someone I dislike with respect regardless of the situation. I do not, however, appreciate trying to find something positive about someone who consistently treats me this way. (And I’d like to reiterate that this type of emotional response I speak of is such a rarity for me that I’m caught between wanting to bonk the kid on the head, or simply ignoring him outright.) I don’t like wanting to give up on students, but I can’t provide the same level of mental energy towards students who are vulgar for the sake of being intentionally hurtful. I like looking for the best in my students, but I am coming to the conclusion that there are just some students who are nasty for the sake of being nasty, and who are not, in fact, especially intelligent. I can’t tell if students like this pretend not to care because they just don't have the emotional skills necessary, or if they truly doesn’t care. I sometimes wonder, too, if there are students who would be better served by not being in high school until they see how difficult it will be without the necessary ethos to do good work.

Intelligence is not an issue for Mullaney, who clearly is an intelligent guy. I would argue, though, that while he is academically intelligent – he knows how to study, I would say, and has traveled quite a bit – his emotional intelligence needs some help, at least in how he portrayed himself in reacting and interacting with those around him; his overreactions are misdirected. How he treats his future wife, for example, speaks of immaturity, both in terms of being able to navigate their cultural differences as well as their personal and religious differences. (I don’t know how much of this is the result of his not having dated prior to meeting her.) More egregiously, Mullaney’s treatment of his father – who himself handled the departure from his family badly – indicates an inability to see that he does not have the right to insert himself into his parents’ marriage, an indication that he does not have the mental and emotional maturity to navigate complex emotional situations during which he is not in charge. He notes, for example, that he wanted answers he could challenge, a “knock-down, draft-out argument” that could lead to a physical altercation that would then lead to his father asking his forgiveness (211). I would not minimize his feelings of anger and betrayal, but perhaps this is not the best way to move past this. His parents’ marriage is their business, not his, and it’s interesting that we don’t hear what his mother’s response was, nor entertain the possibility that there might be another side to the story. We hear about his father’s faults, not his mother’s; it’s one-sided, and I wonder if Mullaney has ever regretted his reaction.

Work Cited
Mullaney, Craig M. The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. Print.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Being Afraid of the Attic

As part of National Blog Writing Month, I'd agreed to at least try to write a blog post every day, and on some days, it's a real struggle to come up with something new or interesting to write. One of the textbooks for my Autobiographical Literacies class, Abigail Thomas' Thinking About Memoir, includes a section at the end of the book in which Thomas lists several pages' worth of writing prompts to help the would-be memoirist write. One of the writing prompts is: "Write two pages of being afraid of the attic."
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Fear of the Attic

I've lived in perhaps a dozen places throughout my life; I was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and lived there until I was two, at which point we moved to a rather small town called Coopersburg, about 10 miles away. I have no memories of having lived in Bethlehem, but I do remember Coopersburg, where we lived for eight years before moving abroad for a year. My brother and I both attended the now-defunct Coopersburg Elementary School, half a mile away, which had one class each of the first through fifth grades, although a kindergarten was added part of the way through my tenure. It was a glorious old brick building, with huge classrooms; grades one, two, and five were on the ground floor, and the library and grades three and four were on the second floor. The cafeteria was on the ground floor, and was only one room that was part of a very long hallway that I'm not sure I ever went to the end to; I remember another room was used for the little Christmas shop where we, as little ones, could do some Christmas shopping for our families. I also seem to remember that dinosaur tracks were found on site, and were showcased at one point. 

The house we lived in was a beautiful, old house that had the occasional fireplace - at least I remember Justin's room having a fireplace in it, although I'm not sure it was functional by the time we moved in. There was a small basement where I think the washer and dryer lived at one point, although I have only a single memory of looking down at it from the main floor; I remember not liking going down there (and fortunately I didn't have to very much, since at that age my mother did my laundry). We rarely went in the front door; there was a side door that was connected to a vestibule (where at another point the washer and dryer lived), through which one would walk to get to the kitchen. An old furnace that heated much of the house had a large, black pipe that went all the way from the kitchen, through my parents' bedroom on the second floor (directly above the kitchen), to the attic. 

There were some definite cool things about this house: The windows had deep windowsills; we had a big, concrete front porch from which my parents would sit and watch as town parades marched on by. (I was part of the local Girl Scout troop and marched in many a parade). This was, of course, embarrassing, marching by my parents as they waved, but it was a good spot because the porch was raised off street level. There was a great big yard that opened up on some alleys so I could effectively run free. Our yard had at least one huge chestnut tree, a lilac tree or two, and one great tree for climbing; my dad also installed a sandbox at one point. 

There were some not-so-great things, too. There was no such thing as central heating or air-conditioning when the house was built, and we couldn't have afforded to have it installed anyway. This meant that the house was hot and humid in the summer, and cold in the winter. Apparently things were always breaking - my mother has told me stories of the basement flooding, and of the chimney falling off - although I don't remember these.

But as I grew older, there was a part of the house that was both fascinating and intimidating, one of those mixed-bags of curiosity paired with an overactive imagination. The attic was the place - huge, taking up the entire top floor of the house, not one of those tiny attics you can only fit in if you're under under 5 feet tall or 100 pounds.

There were two ways to get into the attic - one door that opened in one of the bathrooms opened up to a stairway that led up to one part of the attic, while a different doorway in my parents' bedroom led to  another stairway that went to a different part of the attic. The doorway that was connected to the bathroom led to the biggest part of the attic, a truly gigantic room that stored what few things we needed out of the way; it never came close to even being incrementally filled. I have no recollection of what we stored in the attic, but I seem to have a memory, perhaps a false memory, of the tiny attic bedroom also being used for storage.

But there wasn't simply one humongous room: There were a few small rooms that the other stairway led to - I'd been told they were servants' quarters.

Servants quarters! Someone - perhaps multiple someones - actually lived up there, to at least slept up there.

It was delightfully creaky place, our huge attic, dusty as all get out, full of dark corners and occasional boxes, not entirely dark, since there were windows here and there from which one could peer out, but, to my mind, a very underused space. I wanted to know who would have slept there, what else might have been stored in the attic, what else might it - could it - have been used for.

As I grew older, I was less afraid of it, and now I wish I had explored it more, spent more time playing up there. For a long time, though, I was conflicted, torn between fascination and uncertainty, fear of the unknown.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Travel Decor

L.L. Bean sells longitude and latitude personalized signs that we have taken to ordering to commemorate our travels. We started with four signs, one in each color, but we're up to eight signs (and three more for the future, which haven't been hung yet). We're hanging them in order of our travels; I think the next round of signs will have to be hung on the adjacent wall, where we currently hang a print of Ortelius' 1603 map of Iceland.


We also hung the Szetela crest that I had ordered. This is, apparently, the official Szetela crest.

The cross makes me think of the Crusades,
for some reason.

Friday, November 14, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Body Farms

I find the idea of body farms (research facilities where human decomposition can be studied in a variety of settings) absolutely fascinating. The first body farm was the one established in 1971, and was the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility. One can still donate one's body to science for the purposes of understanding human decomposition.


For exactly one semester I was a physical anthropology minor at Stony Brook University, but I felt that I could either put forth the mental effort to do well in that field of study, or focus on the teaching aspect of my major - I didn't think I could handle both at the same time. I wish I had tried a bit harder to do both, although it would have required extra effort. I didn't do as well in the introductory class as I thought I would. Perhaps taking another class or two would have allowed me to better gauge whether I had the mental acuity for it.

What I find so interesting about forensic anthropology is that in studying the remains, one can develop a deeper understanding of individual and historical development. In essence, it provides answers to the question, "What happened?" and provides a deeper understanding of human development.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NaBloPoMo: National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month and has been celebrated since 1995.

This particular family began the process of bringing Chloe home from Uganda. In December 2012 the U.S. government denied Chloe a visa; however, by Ugandan law, the family was already legally her family, so they began the process of moving to Uganda for three years until they can reapply for a visa.






Bring Home To Chloe: Part 2 from The Archibald Project on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaBloPoMo: The Unforgiving Minute

This week, I'm reading Craig Mullaney's The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education for my Autobiographical Literacies class.

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education

I'll tell you that it may have been the only memoir for the class that I hadn't read beforehand. (I hadn't read the "textbooks" - Abigail Thomas' Thinking About Memoir and Bill Roorbach's Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature either, figuring I might be better served reading alongside the course texts.) Although my father served in the Navy, it wasn't a career choice, and it's not a career choice many in my family have followed. While I admire those who have served and support the individuals I know (who come to me in the form of college students), I'm not especially interested in military history or strategies, and I often think that our military is sent to places where it does not belong.

I've read about a third of the memoir since yesterday, and I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would (a reminder not to necessarily a judge a book by its cover, perhaps). What I'm finding interesting is learning about the type of training that Mullaney has received - not coming from a military family, it's background with which I'm simply unfamiliar.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NaBloPoMo: In Flanders Fields

On this day in 1918, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car in the forest of Compiègne, France. The fighting officially ended at 11:00 a.m. (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). The war officially ended on the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
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In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~~~ Lt. Col. John McCrae


Monday, November 10, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Imperfect (Missing) Memory

This week's writing prompt for Autobiographical Literacies: Consider Thomas' comments in Thinking About Memoir and directions about imperfect memory, memory in the making, total recall, and physical memories (textures), among others. Then think about the positive and negative experiences of family relationships that Burroughs recounts in A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father. In light of your readings, write two pages about the thing you wanted to be or write two pages about the softest thing.
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Here’s a problem: I can’t remember a “softest thing.” I don’t have a textural memory, so I don’t remember people’s softness – or softness in general – in terms of physicality. It’s Thomas’ assertion that “just saying what it is you can’t remember gets the engine to turn over” (46). So this is what I don’t remember: the smell, or the physicality of touch. Texture is a superfluous element of memory, which is why I struggle here. I simply don’t associate people with softness (or, if I were to be cynical, their hardness). My memory is imperfect here. Thomas opines that “[m]emory seems to be an independent creature inspired by event, not faithful to it” (38), which to my mind is indicative of remembering the emotions and sights surrounding an event or person. These specifics are tied to developmental moments, key points in one’s life, a reflection of desire, as expressed by Thomas’ memories of her daughter wanting to be a leather purse, or describing how the scent of Noxzema reminded her of a long-ago love affair. There’s softness here, tied to the positive.

Meanwhile, the description that Burroughs incorporates into the beginning sentences of his memoir indicates a prevailing hardness: “Broken sticks and sharp stones gouged my bare feet…A branch whipped across my face; I felt the sting” (1). These descriptions are not symbols of childhood love, or of positive desire (perhaps aside from wishing to avoid a relationship with his father, and by extension, physical, emotional, and mental pain). The formative memories that stay with him are not representations of love, as Thomas’ memories represent; that Burroughs’ first descriptions are of hardness, of pain, of being physically broken, foreshadow these attributes being central to his memoir. Thomas’ and Burroughs’ rhetorical choices illustrate their mindsets as well: The imperfect memory to which Thomas refers is exemplified throughout Burroughs’ story, especially in his descriptions at the beginning, in which he includes flashes of memories. The touch, sight, taste, and texture of early childhood demonstrate the nuances in his descriptions of a cracker, his mother’s skirt, his mother’s voice: “no words, just sounds” (3, 4). Textural memories abound: “My mother’s voice is my home, and I am surrounded by her sounds” (4) – reflects not only textural and imperfect memories (both of which Thomas refers to), but there are elements of comfort and softness here, too, and diametrically opposed to his interactions with his father.

Try as I might, I cannot recall neither a “thing” I wanted to be, nor a “softest thing.” I wanted to be “elsewhere” (or another person in terms of a character – Indiana Jones, Anne Shirley) which is, I suspect, a response for a different time. I have no particularly tactile memories that reflect Burroughs’ hardness or Thomas’ softness. While I know this could be interpreted – or misinterpreted – as the result of an unhappy childhood, this was not the case; I suspect I had what is colloquially called “an overactive imagination” (one of those kids who got in trouble for reading too much; perhaps this is why my eyesight is so terrible). Any softness is related to imagination, related to emotional response. Perhaps this is what Thomas refers to, but I have no textural memories to draw on. Now that I think about it, I wonder what this says about my ability to connect with other people.

Works Cited 
Burroughs, Augusten. A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father. New York: St. Martin's, 2008. Print. 
Thomas, Abigail. Thinking about Memoir. New York: Sterling Pub., 2008. Print.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Fall of the Wall

November 9th, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, although the demolation did not begin until Summer 1990 (and was not completed until 1992). I've written previously (here and here) about my family's trip to Berlin and the Wall in March 1988 (my brother had turned 16 in January; I turned 12 in February).  I don't remember how long we stayed in Berlin, but given that it was about 400 miles away from where we were living, I'm sure we were in the area at least for a day or two.

The following photographs were taken during our trip.

a monument to Heinz Sokolowski, who
was shot and killed by an East German
guard while trying to escape 
Justin in front of the Berlin Wall
me at Potsdamer Platz, in front of the Berlin Wall
at Potsdamer Platz, looking across No Man's Land
into East Berlin
from the West Berlin side, looking at Brandenburg Gate
(The sign says, "You're now leaving West Berlin.")

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Revising the Religious Rhetoric

The only newspaper I subscribe to is the Intermountain Catholic, "Utah's Official Catholic Newspaper" (I suspect the only Catholic newspaper for the Diocese, which encompasses all of Utah). One of the articles in this week's edition was written by a priest who examined the recent Synod of Bishops relating to family and evangelization. Said the author:
Bishop Johann Bonny of Antwerp wrote a widely circulated letter to the Synod (although he himself was not a participant). He argued that couples living together outside of marriage, using [artificial] contraception, or resorting to in vitro fertilization (all activities prohibited by the Church) 'deserve more respect and a more nuanced evaluation than the language of certain Church documents appear to prescribe. The mechanisms of accusation and exclusion ... can only block the way to evangelization.'
I'm of a much more liberal bent than the Church at large, and my disagreements tend to be with contraception, the redefinition of marriage, etc., so while I would like to see these issues resolved differently, I would first like to see the rhetoric overhauled to the extent that those with fertility issues, or gay and lesbian couples who might wish to marry within the Church, or those who might have legitimate reasons to live with non-spouses outside of marriage, etc., revised to include a broader understanding of some of the issues people face, issues that might not have been as prevalent or recognized in previous generations.

For example, the "issue" with couples living together outside of marriage, seen as morally unacceptable (what with the presumption of premarital sex) overlooks economic issues couples might face. It is unhelpful when one is told simply to move out, and ignores the possibility of there being no, or impractical, alternatives*.

Similarly, in terms of contraception, to argue that "contraception should not be used because pregnancy is not a disease" overlooks the necessary financial aspects of planning for a family and the need to be able to provide for the family. And statements such as the assertion that contraception "undermines a basic principle of real health care, which has a responsibility to affirm how a healthy body functions" ignores specific medical conditions in which oral contraception would allow the woman to become pregnant in the future. ** Natural Family Planning is not a good option for many couples, and based on reading stories and other arguments (here and here), I can see why.

As it is, Church language, especially in terms of sexuality, is often accusatory and exclusionary, as Bishop Bonny notes, and does not include an understanding the often difficult situations contemporary Catholic couples and families face, especially when presented as categorical repudiation.
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* I lived with a former boyfriend "outside of marriage." This was not a situation that was ideal in many ways, but my literal alternatives were to either live in my car, or to commute 90-150 miles twice a day for school and/or student teaching. This would not have been practical for so many reasons I don't even care to list them all. While I would have preferred to live alone, I needed the financial support in terms of living expenses that he could (and was happy to) provide. I also lived with Ed before we married, although we were engaged before I officially made the move. (I visited for the summer and stayed with him before we were engaged; there was a guest bedroom.)

** Catholic beliefs and teachings on love and sexuality can be found on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

Friday, November 7, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Family Talents (the Teaching, Engineering, and Music Edition)

Talents seem to run in families; it's not unusual for there to be several people in an extended family working in similar or related fields. In my own family, teaching and engineering run throughout: My grandfather was an engineer; my grandmother, her brother, and both my parents were teachers; an aunt and two uncles are engineers; two cousins that I can think of offhand are also teachers. And of course I'm a teacher, too, while another cousin is busy completing his undergraduate degree in filmmaking (the engineering bent showing up in my cousin's tech fu; his father, my uncle, has a strong background in engineering and programming).

There's a musical bent that run through the family, though, too: My brother and I both had music lessons; when I was a child, my mother played the organ at church for many years; my aunt plays (or had, at one point) the violin at her church; I was involved with the choir and musical theater in high school. Many of us can carry a tune and love music; the aforementioned cousin who's getting a degree in filmmaking is an award-winning dancer, and one of my great-grandmothers had apparently been quite the fiddler.

It's the musical gene that has been passed down very strongly to my cousin Bronwyn, who graduated with a degree in violin performance from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2013. Since graduating she's been very busy, giving lessons, attending workshops throughout the northeast, and performing most recently as part of Blue Hat, Yeah! and Mile Twelve.





I think that for many people, there isn't just one career we can follow based on our skills, talents, and interests. We're better at some things than others, but even the comparably lesser talent may lead to a good career - and not everything we're good at needs to be career-worthy for us to enjoy it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Oldest Picture of Human

Today was a quiet day; I find that I haven't much to say about anything. I'm feeling tired, in need of a mental health day. That's not going to happen for another couple weeks. Things will be fine - it's another month until the end of my college semesters, at which point I'll have a break until mid-January, at which point things will become very busy again for another couple months. I'm trying very hard not to think about this, because I'll get myself very anxious about the spring semester. I'll probably blog more about that later, but right now I'm taking the mindset that I can't do anything about it, so I can't worry about it, since at the moment I can't control what will happen.

Today I took a mental break when I got home from school, though. I made my way through Maeve Binchy's Evening Class, which I've read before, but which is light and readable. (On my Kindle, I keep copies of various books I've read before but which I've enjoyed enough to keep, books that are good for travel or that don't require heavy concentration.)

This weekend I'll have to read about 50 rough drafts, grade a handful of revisions, skim through A Wolf at the Table (which I'd read over the summer, in preparation for my Autobiographical Literacies class), and write a journal entry for the class.

In any case, I find that I have nothing of especial substance to blog about today, but in my internet exploration tonight, I came across this, what's thought to be the first photograph of a human being, taken in Paris in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, the French photographer who pioneered the daguerreotype.


From the article:
The exposure time for the image was around seven minutes, and although the street would have been busy with traffic and pedestrians, it appears deserted. Everything moving was too fast to register on the plate. 
The exception is the man at the lower-left who sat still long enough to appear in the photograph. The person cleaning his boots is also visible, although not as distinctly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NaBloPoMo: On Anxiety

This is the second blog post I wrote, and which I posted late last week, for my Autobiographical Literacies class. For this particular writing exercise, we were to write "on" atop a piece of paper or at the top of our screen, then add an abstract noun. The exercise was meant to be as close to automatic writing as possible.
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On Anxiety

Anxiety is what happens when I don’t feel that I’ll have enough time to prepare, and by “preparing” I mean learning a driving route somewhere, or learning about the people who are going to interview me for a teaching job I’ve been trying to land since (it seems) 1492, or learning about the school or workplace itself. I am anxious with my lack of preparation.

Anxiety leads me to study the route a la Google Maps – not just once, but several times, at different times of the day, on different days. I look at alternate routes; I look at whether Google Maps wants me to take I-15 or I-215 or some combination thereof, because the Belt Route makes me anxious because I don’t drive it often (even though my iPhone has GPS and a navigation app that has not once rerouted me to somewhere in Wyoming). This worry leads me to look at driving surface roads – driving locally – and avoiding the interstates unless it’s a part of the interstate I’ve already driven and can mentally envision. (It’s a catch-22: I can’t become familiar with either of the interstates with which I’m unfamiliar unless I drive the interstates more often, which I tend to avoid unless I have to. It’s like avoiding trying new food because one might not like it – what’s the worst that can happen? Death, I suppose. You could die trying a new food, but that’s extreme because I have no food allergies, and besides, I have good health insurance. Likewise, I am not likely to get horrifically lost on the interstates because – wait for it – I could turn around. I know this logically but that doesn’t stop me from being concerned that I’ll try to exit at that one exit that doesn’t let me actually turn around.) So over planning is how I compensate (overcompensate).

(I’d like to note that I am not actually anxious about trying new food. There are foods I definitely do not like – bell peppers are, in fact, a tool of the devil, and don’t you dare tell me that cabbage is edible – but I like trying new food and have not yet managed to die trying something new, even while flying Pakistani Air that one time.)

About seven weeks ago I started a new job, teaching English at a charter high school in a part of Utah I’m not terribly familiar with. I planned a route. I looked at Google Maps. I gave myself 45 minutes to get there, even though I didn’t need that much time. But because I’m anxious, I prefer to give myself extra time in case the highway eats me or I encounter a moose or people driving (below) the speed limit. (People driving below the speed limit don’t make me anxious. They make me mentally curse them in German.) I hate being late – it’s one of my pet peeves, being late. I am anxious because I am a visual driver and I tend to like to mentally picture a route based not only on signs, but on landmarks. Once I can picture how to get there, how to navigate the situation, I become less anxious, until the anxiety recedes.

Copy machines make me anxious. I am anxious I will break it or that I will cause such a paper jam that an error message along the lines of PC Load Letter (this is an Office Space reference) will mean that I cannot make copies for my students.

It is the lack of preparation that makes me anxious, the inability to fix something, the inability to convince people that I’m worth hanging out with. I am anxious I will not be accepted. I am anxious I will be overlooked because I am quiet and am not gregarious or extroverted or like eating lunch with people I don’t know. (Another dilemma.) In my first several weeks of teaching at the new school, I was in a very anxious state every night because I was unprepared.

Anxiety keeps me from talking to people I’d really like to get to know.