Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sewing What You Rip; or Sowing What You Reap

There is this noise I love. It's a ringtone of my kid calling me from Madrid to tell me "hi." 

Sometimes it's just for a few minutes; other times it's for an hour. I love that GTMO finally got decent internet and we can talk. I love that he wants to talk about seeing Guernica (best anti-war art ever) or telling me about a lecture in class or describing the friends he's met from all over the world. And last weekend, he called to proudly tell me that he was repairing a hole in his favorite pants. This from a child I could have handed a sewing kit a few months ago, and he would have promptly handed it back to me.

As he repaired his pants with a sewing kit he bought at a thrift store and we talked about the subtleties of sewing (using a needle threader, how to end your stitches, basically one of a million things I should have taught him before he left for college), I was so proud of him. 

And we are so, so serious during these conversations, as you can see.

I love that he got out of here and he is living in another country, learning another language and experiencing another culture. This is what I wanted for him when I accepted this job, and I am glad he is actually getting to do it, and as a bonus, getting to go where he wants to go.

Speaking of experiencing cultures and getting out of here---I'm also anxiously awaiting to hear some news. But I'm not going to talk about that at all.

What I am going to talk about is the fact that I am an addict. True confession time. I am addicted. . . to school.

In fact, I'm currently taking college classes (again). I know, WHY?

Well. . . I miss my kid (even with the fun phone calls) and I most days I am OVER dealing with little things that have become big things here. I'm tired of inefficiency and inconsistency and simple things like a lack of Coke products or sour cream. I'm tired of the same small stretch of road and the 2 hours it takes to get ready and then clean up from going to the beach for 45 minutes. I'm just tired, y'all. I've even started taking naps when I get home from school because. . . I am tired.

I have many factors causing horrific anxiety in my life. I'm working on ways to get better, but it's a process. Part of it is doing things that make me feel in control.

In the most stressful times in my class, I buckle down and sign up for a few classes because I LOVE SCHOOL. It seems counterintuitive and rather self-destructive, right?

Taking classes brings order in times of chaos and in times of uncertainty. There are deadlines. They are strict. It's college, dammit, so I can't turn things in any old time and get credit. It's the real world. And because it's online, it's totally anonymous and I don't have to make awkward small talk or ever wear real clothes. I'm in boxers shorts, eating yogurt and drinking coffee and learning about linguistics, because linguistics is sexy, y'all. Noam Chomsky rocks my socks.

And I'm not taking one but two grad classes. One is linguistics---seriously something I would love to have a degree in if I could just figure out what to do with it---and the other class is a methods of ESL in Math classes, because I haven't taken a math class in over 20 years and I need to use that part of my brain. And because I'm probably a little crazy.

And also because taking classes actually relaxes me. I get my highlighters and markers (god, I love school supplies) lined up, and I do all the little critical reading strategies I've taught my students for years. Marginalia makes me happy.

If all goes as planned, I will be a TESOL certified teacher by summer.

And why does this matter?

I love teaching English, but it's no longer my bliss---that boat sailed and sank YEARS ago.

Now I am forward thinking. I am working towards a reward somewhere. Maybe it will be teaching ESL with DoDDS, maybe it will be an ESL career somewhere else at some other time. Who knows. I loved the year I taught it at EF school on the Evergreen State College campus in Olympia, WA. That was one low-pressure, high reward job. My students thanked me at the end of every class. Yes, teacher friends, THEY THANKED ME. Seriously. If you aren't a teacher and people thank you for doing your job, you are lucky. It just doesn't happen much in teaching.

I'm hoping I can reap the rewards all of the classes I have taken and certifications I have added since moving here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Missing Metaphors, Roller Rinks, and More Books; or, Perchance, to Dream

Random thoughts of the last few weeks below. Follow at your own peril. 

Conversation with a colleague a couple of weekends ago:

So every time I get out of the shower, I get bitten by a mosquito. In my own bathroom! A mosquito! And that pretty much represents life here. 

Friend, befuddled:
What is that, an analogy of something? What are you talking about??? 

More like a metaphor. What does it mean? I don't know. I'll let you know when I figure it out, because I'm sure it's deep. 

I can't even make a decent metaphor. It's somewhere in there, I'm sure. Just not sure where.

And then, there is also this:
Posted on one of our community online facebook groups is a plea for GTMO peeps to get together and skate.

We're going. We have to support people who are trying to make this a better place and come up with things to do. We need to go out, even if it's just us. We're going. 

Ends up that another friend and her daughter were able to come out, too, so we had a great time at our own little skating rink. The next week, it was just the guy who put out the call, my husband, and me. But it was so much fun---I really do love having something different to do to break the monotony.

When I first got here in 2012, we had some kids from the school who would play roller hockey. In all the time I've played soccer and then used the track at night to run since those first few months here, I haven't seen anyone on the rink. I'm happy it's not just sitting there deteriorating in the sun without anyone using it.

Now, if we could just get more people to come out, it would be even more fun.

I spent a large chunk of my childhood in Monticello, MS, skating on quads around my subdivision (called, creatively, "the subdivision"---it is a really small town). Then I married and eventually moved to Colorado Springs and bought some rollerblades so I could take my greyhound and mutt out for exercise every sunny day. This was part of how I kept my sanity the year my husband was deployed---I would rush home from work, lace up my skates, grab the dogs, their leashes and poop scoop supplies (because I'm not a jerk), and skate until the sun went down.

view of the chapel and Bay from the rink, sunset
Skating helped me escape life's frustrations when I needed it most. Flash forward 22 years, and I'm finding myself enjoying it more every week. Thankfully I now have something else to focus on other than transfer season, yearbook deadlines, and the stack of ungraded essays on my desk.

Yes, it's that time of year again. I'm not going to talk about transfer season, because that just seems to jinx the entire process. Let's just say I hope to hear some good news in the next 2 weeks. If not, hopefully a few other options will come open before summer begins. 

In the meanwhile. . . I'm going to keep skating through like (see what I did there?) and waiting, because that seems to be the one thing I have gotten really good at doing here in GTMO. 

Book challenge conquest of the week: Australian Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies (a book you bought on a trip---yes, Jacksonville counts as a trip!)

"“Every day I think, ‘Gosh, you look a bit tired today,’ and it’s just recently occurred to me that it’s not that I’m tired, it’s that this is the way I look now.” I am going on about week 3 of a major bout with insomnia, and people are coming out of the woodwork to tell me how tired I look. (How are you supposed to respond to that? "Um, thanks so much!") That quote then had me more than relate to the speaker's feeling. If I could just sleep through an entire night and get more than a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep, I may vanquish the dark and now omnipresent circles under my eyes and may even start having dreams again. 

Great beach book, meaning it's a quick read and a page turner, with a lot of intrigue to keep you hanging on, but not too many allusions or word play or historical events to make you slow down---many times----to catch your thoughts (I'm talking about you, G. Cabrera Infante). I hear this is going to be a television series and it should be excellent. Moriarty does a good job of fleshing out a few of the characters so by the end, you are vested in what happens to whom and how. It's a mystery with many voices, and you aren't sure who did what to whom until the very end of the book. I was happy with the ending and read it in bed over the MLK 3 day weekend. It was a satisfying way to spend a relaxing weekend. 

I look over at my bedside table is see that also still working on Blackass and a collection of Haruki Murakami's short stories, The Elephant Vanishes, because I'm a book baller and that's how I roll. Do I feel guilty on cheating on one book with another? No. . . I don't see it as cheating as much as multi-tasking. I'm hoping to get a book a week read in 2017. Onwards to #s 4 and 5!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Exiles, Wanderers, and Travelers; or, Boy 1 Escapes Guantánamo Bay

Oh, happy days! 

Oldest boy got to Spain without a hitch. The planes were on time, he was able to get through customs with his visa that (thank god) barely made it on time, and he has settled in with his host family. After a couple of days of orientation, he will officially be a college freshman this week! 

Friends keeps asking me if I am worried about him. Well, of course. I'm sure my parents worried about me going to college, and I was only about 25 miles from home my first year. 

There is, honestly, a lot about Madrid that is very appealing to me as a parent. Things you don't want to talk about but I'm just throwing it out there: the homicide rate in Madrid last year was 1 (yes, ONE) per 100,000 people. In San Antonio, Texas, his #2 choice for college, it was 104 per 100,000. And less scary: he can use public transportation that is reliable, cheap, and safe. There aren't many places he could live in the U.S. for four years of college and survive without a car. Madrid is a great location for travel, and he can be on a plane and back in the southern part of the U.S. in about 11 hours, with probably one layover thrown in there, for about $600. Getting to GTMO is a whole other story; it took us almost that long just to get from the airport in GTMO to our hotel in Jacksonville. But that's another blog for another time, and honestly, I'm sick of talking about the ridiculousness that is travel on and off of this place.

So travel is done. I wasn't obsessing or anything, but I did manage to stay awake for most of his trip to Europe. 

He was able to enjoy the Reina Sofía Museum today (it's free certain hours of certain days) and saw one of my very favorite pieces of art, Picasso's "Guernica." It was painted for the World's Fair as a war protest painting. It protests the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica that was destroyed by carpet bombers during Franco's regime. Picasso was already living in exile in Paris (he never returned to his home country of Spain in his lifetime). 

image source and more info found here: http://www.pablopicasso.org/guernica.jsp

So here's my connection to Book Challenge #2: G. Cabrera Infante's Three Trapped Tigers 

Again, if you are only here for my snark about life in GTMO, year five, or occasional stories about my kids and other diversions and don't want to read about books, adiós, muchacho. Otherwise, read on, reader: 

It's weird my first choice for the book challenge I chose for this year, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was about someone feeling trapped in his body ("locked-in syndrome"), and my second book is named Three Trapped Tigers. Is there a subliminal theme going on here? Feeling a little trapped on La Isla Bonita, maybe? I swear it was completely coincidental. 

This selection is "a book that's been on your To Be Read list for way too long"---before there was a husband and children, and Cuba wasn't even on my radar, I was taking a ton of undergraduate and grad level Spanish courses  and this book came up over and over again in class discussions. G. Cabrera Infante, like Picasso, lived in exile. He moved from Cuba to London after Castro took over.  Although this story takes place before the revolution and he wrote it while exiled in Europe, there is interestingly no mention of an uprising on any page. 

This novel is often called  "the Spanish Ulysses." Well damn, now I have to finally read that book (it's on this year's list) to see if it's true. It's divided into several sections, with much being stream of consciousness----think Benjy, the "idiot" in The Sound and the Fury. (As Macbeth says, "A tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.")  Much later in the book, a character explains Cuba as "an island of double or triple entendres, told by a drunk idiot signifying everything" (128). 

There are 3 main characters telling stories of the nightclub scene in Havana at the height of the tourist boom and pre-Castro. They are all artists of some sort---an actor, a writer, and a photographer. Are they the Three Trapped Tigers? 

I don't think so. . . it's just the weird translation from the original title, Tres Tristes Tigres, which if you've ever taken a Spanish class, you probably had to learn the trabalengua to help you roll your Rs: "Tres tristes tigres tragan trigo en un trigal." (Three sad tigers swallow wheat in a wheat field). The entire books is a tongue twister---Infante loves to play with words----one character calls an annoying guy who is always trying to hang out with his friends as they travel from nightclub to nightclub "peripathetic." And that's just one of 100s of examples and in a translation from Spanish---it's probably much funnier in the original language.

The book is split into several sections, and sometimes the characters are not directly connected to each other. There are nightclub singers, underaged heiresses, and lots of people scheming to get by. There are people of all classes, races, and sexual orientation. The backdrop is the cabaret/Jazz scene and most of the book takes place at night. You get the feeling that Havana was a never-ending party and wonder what it could have been, had the revolution not occurred. 

There's a travelogue from a husband, who is corrected by his wife, who then re corrects hers, and so forth and so on. In that section, the humor reminded me much of David Sedaris. There is a section called "Some Revelations" that are just blank pages. There are characters who make puns in literally every single sentence. It's smart and sarcastic, snarky and sometimes somnambulant (like that alliteration??)---there's a sleep-walking, half awake quality of the wanderings of the main characters from nightclub to nightclub all night long. 

Chapter title: "Some Revelations"

One of his narrators says this:  "Cuba. . . was not a fit hangout for man or beast. Nobody should live here except plants, insects and fungi or any other lower forms of life. The squalid fauna that Christopher Columbus found when he landed proved the point. All that remained now were birds and fish and tourists. All of these could leave the island when they wanted" (96). 

However, you know better. They love the nightlife, the sketchy characters involved, and even all these things they complain about. They also love the music, the dancing, the food, the many, many beautiful and complicated women, and even the tourist traps. It makes me sad for a place I never got to experience, and for what could have been for Cuba. If we ever visit, I seriously doubt it will be from this base. Instead, we will see a version of Cuba that's much different than what's explained in the book. But then again, are NYC or Miami or Paris the same cities 60 years later, either?

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to most people just because of all the references to Cuban writers (there is one section where Infante parodies famous Cuban writers telling the story of Trotsky's assassination in Mexico---random, I know, but hilarious at the same time).  It can be tedious and it almost needs footnotes for anyone who isn't familiar with Latin American literature and history. Parts of the book are in Spanglish. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it 25 years (!!!) after my last Spanish class, and I'm happy that somewhere in my brain is a part that gets many of the cultural references and understands the language. Book 2 is down, only 30 or so to go. 

Next up: Nigeria and the amazingly titled book, Blackass.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year; or, Changes to Come

Hello, 2017!

source: https://www.instagram.com/p/-OdTxIsw46/?taken-by=the_real_iman
Tomorrow is the first day back to work in 2017 but I won't be there. Why not? Because I am spending a week in exotic Jacksonville, FL, waiting for my oldest son to go to college.

Because of the ridiculousness that is travel on/off GTMO, we have to come here for a solid week and stay in a hotel because he is traveling to college on a Thursday. The flights are Fridays and every-other Tuesday. If he were flying to college on a Saturday, we could just fly in on Friday and set him on his merry way the next day. However, we will still be waiting here an entire week for the return flight. And if Space A/UEML flights were guaranteed (that's technically what the "rotator" government flights are called), we would have just come on Tuesday of this week. But nooooo, things are complicated, nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to the government, even a flight with orders, so we ended up staying a week because of the completely and utterly inconvenient flight schedule.

So what do you do for a week in a hotel? 

You catch up. My parents came to visit. I'm lucky that they are a (long) day's drive away and were able to visit a few days. We did a little eating out (choices! so many choices!). We did a little shopping. Some of it is for our son who will be moving to a country that has actual seasons, and after living in GTMO 4+ years, he needed a few colder winter clothes. The high is 49º the day he lands in Spain. The high the day we return to GTMO is 89º. 

This trip has also been a time to think ahead of the future. We met with my cousin and talked a lot about the future of the country post-election. My father gave his best fatherly advice to our son about succeeding in college, which he also gave me---and when I actually followed it, it worked. (The secret: do your homework the day you get the assignment, and read your notes EVERY DAY. Then you will barely have to study for big tests. Try it; it really works). 

We've talked about classes and possible jobs in Spain. We've talked a little about our youngest and his new role for the first time ever as the only kid at home. We are forward focused, and this also includes work. 

This year will be a year of change for me. I don't know if that means I will be doing a new job at my same location, or doing the same job at a different location, or doing a different job at a different location, but I am determined that next school year WILL be a different type of school year. On one hand, you can't make a year change for the better by sheer force of will; on the other, I am tired of waiting for change, because every additional year I am here, I feel more and more like I'm being run completely over. I have tried working the transfer system, and I am getting nowhere. There is being flexible, and there is learning a completely new curriculum you are told you are teaching the first day of school. There is offering everything you can for kids in a small school, and there is taking hundreds of hours away from your own children at home. There is carrying your weight, and there is being crushed to death.

Changing with the times is one thing; Quixotic or last-minute change is another. Sometimes in a large organization (like, say, a school system run by the federal government), it's the later, not the former. Year five of an indefinite sentence, and I find myself feeling more inefficient and, frankly, unhappy as ever.

I will make things change. They WILL change. Even if I am stuck here for (god forbid) a sixth year, it WILL be a different year in 2017-2018. 

I am not quitting my job; however, if I am still here in GTMO next year, I am going to make it a different job. 

If you are reading this and thinking, how?, I don't have all the answers myself. After all, it's just January and I have until August to figure that out. 

But I do know this with upmost certainty---next year will be more efficient, I will doing something I want to do, and if it kills me, I will be happy. I refuse to be stuck; I am moving forward. There will be a method to the madness that is working in a small, isolated, limited resource school.  I am doing formal research and asking other teachers who work in similar locations how to do it all. And with the little I've done towards change so far, I do feel like my voice is being heard, even if things can't change immediately.

The inimitable Will Rogers said, "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." I am tired of feeling like I am being run over. I think I am on the right track, but I am no longer waiting for changes to come to me. I am working on making change happen.

Anyone feel like joining my one-woman, sort of cheesy, albeit really sincere revolution, the more the merrier---please come along. Bring your ideas and free yourself from the confines of beating your head on the wall because you've been doing things the same way every. single. year. And you know where to find me---it's not like I'm going anywhere any time soon. 😜