Monthly Archives: May 2011

9-0-2-1-Oh

If your life depended on my ability to correctly answer a trivia question, my apologies, rest in peace, good luck. Along with jumping jacks, map folding, and tanning, conditions would have to be hyper-specific—and by hyper-specific I mean rigged—in order for me to be successful in any or all of these activities.

I once cost my friends free beer and a rare first-place finish at Wednesday night trivia when they wagered all of our points on my ability to answer a final question about the U.S. Census Bureau. I was employed by the organization at the time and paid by the hour to read manuals about its inner-workings, but we missed the question. More specifically, I missed the question and was relegated back to my role as time check girl and giver of moral support.

I am waiting for the day when I will be able to redeem myself and actively willing the universe to supply one of the following categories at said moment: underappreciated movie candy, negative side effects of Neosporin, and/or Beverly Hills 90210. I may or may not have spent a quarter of my life alternating between the desire to date Dylan McKay and be Dylan McKay. This may or may not still be a struggle.

Were pride something I was in great supply of right now, I would not admit to the following, but I’m feeling inside-out these days so what the hell, here goes. While starting my morning with Dr. Bronner’s magic peppermint the other day, a particular episode of the show came to mind in the midst of a “What’s next for Mo?” reflective shower moment.

Somewhere in my parents’ home in South Carolina is a worn-out VHS tape labeled “THE Decision,” on which is a recording of the ultimate season finale of California’s favorite zip code. Kelly is faced with the choice to marry Brandon or travel the world with Dylan and his scarred eyebrow and the drama leading up to this moment is basically what Aaron Spelling used to drive the show. With bated, angsty breath, I remember waiting for what ended up being Jennie Garth’s “You had me at hello” Jerry Maguire moment. “I choose me,” she said, while handing back the ring and round-trip ticket to the beautiful boys. “I choose me.”

Of course, the decision was one to be applauded. It was a rare departure from television and pop culture’s tendency to romanticize relationships and paint independence in a negative light. What troubled me mid-lather when remembering this moment, however, was thinking about the times when ”I choose me” is not deemed heroic… when the world isn’t waiting to hear what your decision will be and the only option you have in front of you is self-sufficiency and a search for self worth. Not tickets to travel the world or a marriage proposal.

I’m finding it much harder to muster the strength and excitement to choose myself when it’s the only thing I can do right now, but I know it must be done.

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“Finding Her Here” by Jayne Relaford Brown

Handwriting courtesy of the cutest ginger in town. Happy Momma’s Day…

Broken English

I used to be that student. The one who would have a private conniption over anything less than an “A” and stay up late into the night to obsessively create a cover page. For everything. As a result, I graduated first in my class and first in nervous breakdowns.

Then, I became that girlfriend. The one who either held too tightly for fear of losing or kept my eyes to the ground, carefully planning and watching every step in hopes of not making any mistakes. As a result, I made a lot of mistakes.

Now, as a teacher, it’s been interesting to witness the learning and growing that can take place when perfection is not the goal…. when the birthplace of the eraser and coloring outside the lines keeps the mission of exploration and discovery both valued and sacred.

This semester, what I believe to be my greatest classroom success was not found in a brilliantly written essay about Romeo and Juliet or a perfectly executed presentation about The Odyssey. Ironically, I nearly wet my pants in amazement over a student’s request for a restroom pass and beamed with pride as he walked toward this routine destination. He was a student whose voice I didn’t even hear during the first few weeks of classes because he could not and would not speak a word of English when we first met. We stared and nodded and smiled and worked our way slowly through picture book pages.

I’ve read and heard hundreds of sentences from immigrant students this year that are often the source of tasteless jokes and others’ impersonations. Yet I have to say that I’ve never been more in love or impressed with the English language than when I’ve had the opportunity to hear it spoken or used by these teenagers, whose broken but intentional words are the pieces I have used to put together my identity as a student and educator.

Last week, I watched the sun rise and set from the same seat at my kitchen table for more than three days in order to complete my portfolio for graduation. I had to reflect on, justify, evaluate, scan, compare, contrast, and analyze more than a year’s worth of lesson plans, assessments, and student work as a summary of my graduate experience. Tucked in the front cover of my notebook was this quote from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that I had written on a scrap piece of paper years ago when I was working on my first documentary in Portland, Maine:

“She was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”

I’d hardly say I’m looking my best these days. I think it’s safe to say I could come out with my own line of sweatpants for grad students and they would not say “Juicy.” But I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder or been as proud as I am now of the imperfect product of this journey.