Monday, April 10, 2017

Everybody's Dancing in a Ring Around the Sun; or, Butterflies, Kayaks, Caves, and More

Spring Break was a blast. We didn't deal with the nightmare that is GTMO holiday travel. No hastily packed bags, no regrets for the overindulging in too much rich food, no early morning wake up calls to make the airport. We didn't do much of anything. And it was glorious. 

Ab-so-lute-ly glorious.

There were trips to the beach which included snorkeling and sea glass gathering. I have decided that the hundreds of pounds of household goods I am throwing out and giving away will be replaced with sea glass---five or six thousands pounds of sea glass. 

Okay, just kidding. I dream of leaving much lighter, but who knows---I have a sort of OCD/hoarder sickness. I cannot walk by a piece of sea glass and not pick it up. Woe is me.

I went kayaking near the hospital with friends and to Ferry Landing for a kid's birthday party and I'm happy to see so many large, brilliant orange star fish. Those who haven't been here 5 years can't appreciate what disappeared and is finally coming back after Hurricane Sandy hit the month we got here (Oct. 2012). My husband spotted a pod of dolphins frolicking (do they frolick? dance? play?) in the Bay, too. 

I caught up on literary pursuits. Okay, I'm lying. I watched a lot of television, mostly Netflix. At least it wasn't all junk; I did see a great documentary: Searching for Sugarman (2012). It's a story of missed opportunities and the realization that you haven't fulfilled your potential---and dealing with it with grace. It was a nice counterpoint to the seven part podcast that I listened to almost non-stop from beginning to end, "S-Town" (as in "Shit Town). It's is a true Southern Gothic cut from the cloth of Flannery O'Connor, with a little Faulkner, Welty, and Tennessee Williams thrown in. And it's totally addictive and will have you calling your friends (especially if you, too, are from a little southern town) and talking all the finer points of what makes it so disturbing and intriguing at the same time. 

I also finished the HBO mini series, "Big Little Lies," based on one of my 40 book challenge books. I couldn't manage to keep up with it pre-break (and it's less than 10 episodes). Read the book first, then watch the show. It will bring more depth to what you're watching, and the director/producers made some interesting changes in the storyline which also brought some depth. That being said, it's guilty viewing and not that much depth there. But that's okay, because I'm on break and I'm a little weary of my last 6 weeks of so with the Bard (Hamlet with seniors, Romeo and Juliet with freshman). 

I didn't read much. Okay, I read very little. I am damned and determined to read that "great Spanish novel" Don Quixote, but god gawd, y'all, it's slow. Sorry, I'm just not digging it thus far---but I AM going to finish it. 

I enjoyed the great outdoors (thanks to some DEET to make it more bearable). In addition to swimming and kayaking in the Bay, I went on some hikes with my husband. I had a few very close encounters with iguanas---we all know I'm blind as a bat, but even for those who can really see---because they blend in so well sometimes, you don't see them until you almost step on them. Or sit on them. Thankfully I didn't do either, but I did get thaaaaat close.

Best wildlife experience: the feral cat who, upon my opening of the closed garbage bin, let out a howl from hell, and shot out, claws first, narrowly missing my head. My life flashed before my eyes. Okay, I'm being hyperbolic. It did make me almost pee my pants (sorry, TMI). 

In an unrelated trip to the garbage bin, I stopped by a neighbor's house and ended up staying and talking until well past midnight. I love that sometimes you just find the right person for the right evening of good conversation (and good wine) if you look hard enough. Or if you are just taking out the garbage. (My husband to another neighbor: "She takes out the garbage at 8 pm. She comes home at 1 am. I'm not sure how she does it." )

Also I am amazed that in 4 Years, 5 Months, 2 Weeks, 5 Days of living here (heck yeah I count; sometimes it feels like a prison sentence), I still find firsts. 

There was the first time to the top of the lighthouse. The restored lighthouse is open and we can go to the top for the first time in the five years we've been here. 
The stairs are steep, and the windows offer little in ventilation. It's not too unbearable now, but come summer, it will be hellish at the top, since it's all enclosed in glass. I felt like I was in a huge gazing ball, and I'm glad I chose the hot spring instead of the hotter than hot summer to see it. 

There was my first time to go to a party for someone who gained their U.S. citizenship. During break, a colleague's spouse was sworn in as an American in Florida and some of the staff threw him a surprise party when he returned. Call it a "we're glad you are now officially an American" party. There's a party for everything---and there are thoughtful people who put them together, too.  

There's magic here, too. 

All during the break, the base was covered with butterflies. 

I was reminded of my favorite novel: “It was then that she realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia" (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

Nope, they aren't yellow, they don't announce the arrival of a guest, but they are everywhere.  And there is something magical about the glistening of white wings in the hot sun, and having them tangle in your hair in the breeze. I tried to capture them on film, but I'm afraid I didn't do a great job. 

You know what I didn't do? I didn't go in to work. I didn't grade papers. I didn't work on the yearbook. I didn't think about lesson plans. And with very, very few exceptions, I didn't wear shoes. 

I chased butterflies on trails. I dodged iguanas on the beach, and spotted several species of fish in two beautiful afternoons of snorkeling. I managed to climb rocks and a narrow trail and found a cave I've been wanting to visit before leaving (another GTMO first). 

And while driving Sunday night with the windows down in my car, pondering the end of break and listening to one of the few CDs I managed to salvage (because you never, ever get rid of the Dead), I heard these lyrics and thought how it could be my eternal-summer, beach-life, trail-hiking, Bay-kayaking, GTMO-living theme song, if I had chosen to stay here indefinitely: 

"See that girl, barefootin' along,
Whistlin' and singin', she's a carryin' on.
There's laughing in her eyes, dancing in her feet,
She's a neon-light diamond and she can live on the street. . . 

Well everybody's dancin' in a ring around the sun
Nobody's finished, we ain't even begun.
So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.
Try on your wings and find out where it's at"---
"The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)Find" 
the Grateful Dead

Instead, I'll be dancing a jig barefooted on another beach, but undoubtedly missing the iguanas, the plumerias, the neighbors (but most likely not the feral cats or the hutias). I loved spring break and now I'm nervous but ready to move onward towards closing out the year---and this chapter----in Cuba. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What Fresh Hell is This; or, Boxes of Feelings

Teachers do this awful thing during our "down time," i.e. unpaid vacations scattered throughout the year.

(No, we do not get paid for the times your kids are not in school. Our districts just spread our paychecks out evenly over the school year, or, in most states, the entire year, so we don't go completely broke during those long vacation months).

So now that we have ascertained that it's MY unpaid time---I've decided to treat my unpaid self to a week of----wait for it!---cleaning like a madwoman.

And that's the other crazy thing we teachers do.  Are we lounging around, watching soap operas, baking, doing whatever people supposedly do who don't work? (don't worry, those of you who work as domestic gods and goddesses---I know all of these are ridiculous stereotypes and myths). At least in my case, I am doing all the deep cleaning I can't do during the school year because I'm spending (unpaid) hours after work and on weekends doing my job that I can't do because of 1001 meetings (or because---heaven forbid---I chose to spend time with my own family instead of work on some weekends). 

Not that I don't love my job. Please, please don't get that impression. Good grief---I've been at it since 1991, so yeah, there's something there.

I've been reminded SO MANY times this week of why I love teaching. More about that in a bit. . .

Here's the deal: I have this horrible habit during moves (13 times in 24 years) of throwing those things we don't want to deal with in a box and repacking them over and over and over and over again.

Some people eat their feelings. I don't eat my feelings; I pack them in a U-Haul or moving company box and throw them on a shelf in a closet or garage to deal with, well, never. And one box has become seven or eight boxes, and I HAVE to deal with those things because I don't want to leave them for my kids to deal with, once the eight boxes have become 10. Or 20. Or a whole basement.

I am a hoarder of feelings. 

In anticipation of move #14 to our second overseas location, I don't want to move SEVENTEEN freakin' THOUSAND lbs. of goods to a new house. I still can't believe that's what we brought with us. I want to have only things we want, we need, we love.

So Dorothy Parker, whom I adore and wish I had 1/10 of her wit, had a habit of saying, "What fresh hell can this be?" any time anyone came to her door. Over the years, this became, "What fresh hell is this?" For some reason, it's one of my favorite expressions, and I have said this ad nauseum while opening those boxes of feelings I've been avoiding for years. Spring break has been SO much fun. It's been a fun-fest of feelings and shredding. Because the best way to get rid of feelings is to shred them----it's become quite satisfying, actually, to hear the constant hum of my trusty old shredder. 

There is paperwork for the four houses we have bought and sold. Each house meant so much---the first house in Colorado, which was still one of my top two; the house in Washington, where we brought home a baby boy; the haunted house in Texas that made me decide to never, ever live in a house built in the 1940s ever again (the ghost had nothing to do with that, btw); the last Texas home where we brought home another baby boy and lived in the longest of any house we've lived (8 years). Some of those houses were bought hastily and were probably not the best fit for us; others cost us money to unload, and caused a little resentment that things didn't go as planned. Today we have chosen a life where we will probably not own another house for many, many years. So seeing the former life of home ownership spread before me has dredged up many feelings, and shredding all that paperwork has been a little bittersweet. 

There are mementos from my childhood. Do I need yearbooks and scrapbooks and autograph books and diaries from my childhood? I took hundreds (I'm starting to think thousands) of photographs, starting in middle school, and although I've managed to mail several of them to friends in the US, I am finding even more that I need to get in envelopes and give away. My children are not going to want school pictures of kids they don't recognize. And honestly----I don't even recognize some of the people in the pictures. I am at the point of NO guilt over throwing out some of these things. It's all beginning to feel like clutter, and it doesn't have that official context of mortgage paperwork that had me holding onto it for so many years. It's sentimental stuff, and I'm trying to be tougher about throwing out something that's been thrown in a box for 15 years and I haven't thought about since. 

Those are the easy things. The harder things are those associated with feelings of failure and shame: paperwork and letters and pictures from what started as a lovely relationship (or so I thought, at 16 years old) and ended as a rather nasty divorce at 22. If you haven't been through a divorce, then you don't know this fun little fact: you will carry your divorce papers with you for the rest of your life. You need them to buy or sell a house. The military asked for them several times when I was a military spouse, and again as I am a civilian working for the government. I honestly forget about that first marriage (as a friend calls it, it's my "starter marriage") until I have to gather them again for official government paperwork. Incidentally, I recently gave my starter marriage an annulment (long story, too boring for a blog) and I did shred that paperwork. I am not Catholic, and no offense if you are, but I think annulments are silly and pointless. And the ridiculous amount of paperwork it required was taking up way too much room in my boxes of feelings. 

The more difficult boxes have paperwork to remind me of times of financial hardships, of very stressful health issues, of friendships that just petered out for some strange reason or another. I don't know why, but I had people I thought would be in my life forever, and I see now our relationships have just dissolved. It's neither person's fault; it just happens. It's life. And like a set of divorce papers, those cards and letters and photographs are reminders of something that maybe I should have fought for (or maybe something I should have never tried to make work). Unlike divorce papers, they can go to the shredder. 

There are letters and cards from people I have loved who have died. What do you do with letters from your Granny, especially when they make you smile and laugh every time you re-read them? What about cards? If they don't have a note in them, do you throw them away? But just being able to touch my  father in law's handwriting again, and chuckle at the types of cards he chose for me---he knew my personality so well---keeps me from throwing them out. This is the guy who called me EVERY SINGLE WEEK for the entire year that my husband was deployed to S. Korea to check on me. His loss 15 years ago isn't any easier today, and I grieve every week for what my kids missed. Will they get to know him by reading his funny little sarcastic notes and postscripts on cards and letters? I hope so. Those I kept. 
my Granny Ann's chicken scratch---she was a dreamer, a cloud gazer,
 a lover of small animals and children, and believed in sending and receiving letters.
As a college student, if I went over a few weeks without sending her a letter,
I got a note reminding me that I should write her.
And I did---often.  

I really do suffer from hyper-sentimentality, if there is such a thing.

That being said----I have shredded EIGHT extra large black garbage bags full of materials. I feel like I'm doing some illegal operation for the mafia (or the government). And those eight boxes are now 2 bins, very neatly organized into materials I am keeping for legal (and yes, some sentimental) reasons, and one more box to go through. I feel so accomplished. That supersized box of extra large ziploc bags came in SO handy. I can see everything neatly organized, and seeing everything spread out gives me reasons to do a second and third sweep and get rid of even more. 

Coming back full circle to teaching---one thing I have never thrown out is the letters students have written me. 

Since my first year of teaching, students have given me Christmas cards or even thank you cards at the end of the year with wonderful little notes. 

Some notes are written with sloppy handwriting and bad spelling; others are in the student's very best print. Sometimes they have a photograph or even a piece of poetry the student has written for me. And other times there is no letter or card---it's just a piece of artwork done for me.

I will be honest---I can't picture the face of a few of the students, especially the ones from way back in the 1990s. 

But have you ever gotten a thank you note for doing your job or a piece of poetry written for you? It doesn't happen to me a lot---and I will be honest, it has happened very little since I have been here. I don't know why; maybe it's just this generation communicates almost exclusively electronically. I have several emails and facebook messages that have made me smile and thankful that I get to work with teenagers.

An email isn't the same as a hand written card, however. Getting something so personal, especially when I know how hard it is for so many teenagers to express themselves to adults, has made me hold on to these things. They were a labor of love, and something I will definitely keep. 
YOU'RE, Tyrone, YOU'RE. But the sentiment is appreciated
Wonder if he'd feel the same of me at 47? And don't worry, kid;
I've had administrators at the above-school level
who didn't know the difference
between your/you're, either.
Also, Tyrone is 34 years old today. Ouch.

This process has been somber, and in a lot of ways, it's created feelings of grief. I won't even go into some of the personal things I have found, but there are little things you throw in a box, and when you reach in and take them out, they can give you all sorts of feels. If they can be shared with someone else, I'm boxing them up and sending them on. If I no longer have a relationship with that person, they are being thrown out. If it's something that makes me feel regret, I try to throw it out, too. Why hold on to sadness?

Here's to a life that eventually contains no boxes of feelings, where everything can be unpacked and displayed, and with no boxes to shuffle from one house to another. It may not be completed over spring break, but I have a manageable project that won't have me hollering, "Oh what fresh hell is this!" every time I pull out another tidbit of my past from a messy, unorganized cardboard box.