Change

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged.

Sorry about that.

Last September I started a new job.  When I first heard I had it, I was so excited. I had waited ten years for this opportunity, and the last few, when I was burned out, were the ones when I thought I needed a complete job change, not just a new job.

Now it did change my hours, and my family’s morning routine.  But I had to give up some stability, and the confidence that comes with having mastered old material. Yet, I report to someone new and hang out with different colleagues.

I had so many expectations.

One of which was that my entire life would change for the better.  And while many things have changed for the better, some fundamental, personal challenges have not.

And that was my mistake.

Sometimes people believe that a change will change who they really are.  Like a new home, a new job, a new spouse, that new phone.  It’s as if our minds are tricking us that if only this changed, everything would be better.  But these changes are only superficial.

Sure, my new job has renewed my faith in the profession.  I have new energy at work.  I no longer dread going.

But my own expectations of the job, and of myself, have pushed me into a frenzy of working longer hours at home, learning new skills, and having that “this is my first impression” complex.  I don’t have the same confidence in my own success as I did.

And all this had prompted me to pay for this change with time. The new job has taken up so much of it that I have not addressed those fundamental personal issues that my mind tricked me into thinking the new job would magically solve.

I lost my balance.

And those other issues I want to address? They may have slid into the background, but they put on even more terrifying masks and pop up when I least expect them.

It’s going to take real effort to solve them, not just a superficial change.

Think about life changes you have experienced.  Were they all you expected? Leave me some comments below. Love to hear from you.

And bear with me reader.  I promise to start writing again.

JMonell

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Reading Logs and Other School Crap

abc books chalk chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*In full disclosure, I am not just a middle-aged mom.  I happen to teach for a living.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the need to rant from time to time.

Education has become a business.

And a part of that business includes endless amounts of paper for parents to sign, not to mention dozens of emails a day for a parent to read.  But let’s leave that for another time.

Reading logs, practice logs, and other such forms that require a parent to sign daily are a waste of time.   Period.

I can hear you already, but aren’t you a writer?  Don’t you want your stories read?

Sure I do.  Not that they will be read in schools anyhow.

How else is the teacher ensuring that the child studies, reads, practices, etc?

Blah. Blah. Blah.

The problem is twofold.  First, my son got the message, from a very early age, that you don’t read for pleasure.  You read to record a number in a tiny box that requires you to ask a parent for a signature nightly.   I’m not against keeping track of activity, such as reading, eating, and exercise.  But for a kid, it becomes one more thing to worry about.

Mine worried so much that there was one time when he forged my signature because I wanted to finish a yoga DVD.  He might have been 8.  When I asked why he forged my name,  he said “I’m afraid of getting into trouble.”

Fear.

That’s what these logs can bring to a child.

Second, the logs can be used to “grade” students.  The recent one we have indicates that the log must reflect a certain amount of instrument practice per week, with a signature,of course.  The kicker is that the completed log is worth 50% of the grade!

My son did not understand the implication or importance of the log.  It took him three weeks to show it to me.

Yeah, I should have done the nightly SHOW ME YOUR STUFF ritual.

And I wondered why his grade in the class was lower than the other classes.

My problem with this is that I KNOW many parents just fill it out regardless if their child practiced at all.  Lying to get a grade is nothing new.  But the teacher is depending on the parents’ integrity.

Look at our world today.  Our much integrity do the adults have?

Worse, grading should be used to assess skill.  Did my son master the skill that was presented?  Did he surpass expectations?  Did his ability to produce a C sharp fall short of expectations?  No idea.  He just did not practice enough at home, or he didn’t write it down and remember to ask for a signature.

Practice should be practice.  NOT GRADED.

Logs should be a personal tool to measure growth towards a goal.  Not the end assessment.

And the business model in school needs to be busted out.

These are children. NOT WIDGETS!

close up photography of microphone
“Mic Drop”

 

 

 

Public Vs. Private

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Sorry I’ve been gone so long.  I started my new job in September and while it is exciting, it is exhausting.  Truth is that change doesn’t come easy to me.  And there has been a lot of change lately.

The photo above is of one of my favorite places.  Summer vacation on the Cape is a retreat for me.

But this year it was challenging to retreat into my private world.  The political landscape has planted landmines in many people’s paths.  And social media is ripe with visceral attacks on one’s beliefs and character.

This past week the Kavanaugh hearings gripped the nation.

I couldn’t bear to watch.

Dr. Ford’s testimony revealed what must have been one of her greatest private agonies.  And she spoke with grace.

Yet the public pounced.  Some vilified Kavanugh.  Others, Dr. Ford.

And  I wondered where is the line between public and private these days?  Twenty-something years ago, I wrote a thesis regarding the division of public and private in women’s lives during the Elizabethan era.  It’s a topic that has grabbed my attention for a long time.

Today, many post images, or write snippets of text, revealing private feelings, or feelings they want their audience to think are private.  How often do you peruse your social media and find someone who seems to have it all, based upon the images revealed, or events retold?  Social media allows its participants to create a narrative for a specified audience.

And in other forms of media, people’s private lines slash across the page.  Gossip seems to fuel much of our communication these days.  We read about celebrities, or normal day folks, spending a lot of time reading other stories without thinking about our own.  It’s escapism in the face of narcissistic selfies that we take with our mini-computers perched perilously on poles.

If any one dares to be private, then we judge them.

We wonder what they have to hide.  Or why they don’t participate in our new technological social arena?  We think there is something wrong with them.

I bet many people spent much of their time worried about what others think of them, instead of thinking of what they think of themselves.  It’s exhausting to keep up a shiny veneer.

And if perchance, your point of view is antithetical to someone else’s, be prepared for an attack.  Many choose to strike first wielding hateful words on a keyboard, keeping their face hidden.

None of this is healthy.

We need boundaries, emotional and social.

I grew up in an error where speaking about politics or religion was forbidden when company called.  You wouldn’t dare air your “dirty laundry” about yourself, or your family.

Speaking of family: this weekend I attended a cousin’s wedding, a second wedding.  It was to be small, just a few friends and family in a backyard tent.  A few of my friends asked some personal questions, or smirked a bit.  I admit, I was feeling a bit judgmental also.

But watching my cousin and her groom share hand-written vows, both with tears in their eyes, made me realized how true their love is.  And I understood just how intimate their wedding was, and how precious it was that I was asked to bear witness.  They were filled with gratitude for those who had come.  And I thought how I really don’t know my cousin as well as I should.

We need boundaries between our privacy and the public world.  We need to respect those boundaries.  We need to agree that it is okay to disagree.

There needs to be a clear division between what should be public  and what should be private.  And that is a personal decision.  But if we agreed to respect certain boundaries, then maybe HATE wouldn’t spread as rapidly as it has the past couple of years.

Write on!

J. Monell

 

 

Story

architecture building castle clouds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking about the nature of story this summer. What is story?  Is it truth?  Is it a well-constructed lie used to dupe an audience?  Is it escapism?

Some might suggest that our stories about ourselves are the narratives we construct in reaction to events and others’ perceptions.  These can either damn us or set us free.  If this is true and your story is dependent upon other’s perceptions of you and your actions, what does that say about you?  Maybe it makes you a passive character in your own construct.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  When life becomes too hectic, I often feel like I’m in a hamster ball on a treadmill.  When I settle for mediocre because I feel I have to, then I lose a bit of myself while maintaining the lie, the sweet facade that says “Yes” all the time.

But if I was more like Rhett Butler and “didn’t give a damn”, would that force me to surrender passivity?  Would that make me arrogant?  Maybe. At least I would feel as if I am driving through my own narrative landscape.

We are all distracted by others’ stories.  How much time do you spend on social media?  Isn’t that what social media is… story?  How many of us see so many posts of beautiful people, beautiful things, and feel bad about ourselves?  We forget these are fictions.  Or we are overwhelmed by cries for help punctuated by Go Fund Me or the personal cause de jour.  Often I can’t even see some of my friends’ stories because of some blasted algorithm.

As a writer I have found myself a bit stumped about story lately.  I am starting to understand that writing is not inherent in the first draft, but is the process by which we take that clay and shape it into some form that affects our reader. Stories today need to be more evocative then ever, needing some shock value to just get attention.

Hopefully a reader can relate and connect to the characters and understand that they are not alone.  Maybe they can adapt to a foreign setting and find new appreciation for history, or learn that the “other” is just the reflective image in a mirror.  Rarer still is the reader who appreciates the author’s craft.

While preparing for my high school adventure that starts in September, I have been reading older stories, ones that some would argue should be removed from current curriculum.  This makes me wonder why these are the stories I am to share with my students.  I ponder how to help them understand these narratives’ value in this modern world, and of course, how to read them.  Which brings me to the most nagging question, whose story is worth knowing?

Enough musing.

Time to read some story.

JMonell

 

 

Dietland…

Dietland

 

It was a sweltering Monday evening a bit before the end of the school year when I flopped into my favorite chair and played with the remote, landing on a cartoon black and white image of a heavy-set woman who had a dark cloud over her head.

And I was hooked.

I dropped the remote the first time I watched Plum, the main character, undress for a doctor’s appointment.  The plastic surgeon marked her full body with a sharpie, an action that felt as crude as rape itself.  Plum’s face contorted in confusion as the doctor rattled off all the different ways he could remake her physicality.

The next day I ran to the library to get Sarai Walker’s book.

And each Monday I plop my own plump butt into my favorite chair to watch Plum’s journey.  Sometimes I watch Unapologetic afterwards.

Because as much as the external story line jumps the shark, I am amazed to see such an honest view of women on television.  Okay…it is cable TV.

And the book, although lacking the diversity represented in the series, is brutally honest about how women are castrated by external expectations, especially when it comes to our bodies.  Unfortunately, the book’s ending felt stunted.  And the series wanders off into lands that Walker does not.  But Dietland‘s sentiment is still the same.

Watching plump Plum wake up to the reality that her life has been spent waiting until she’s thin resonated with me.  Watching her mock the female ideal made me chuckle. And then there have been the interactions between Kitty and Plum that have made me laugh out loud, a rarity since I don’t have much of a sense of humor, or cringe in horror.

Plum makes you want to reach out and hug her. She saves her birth name, Alicia, for that perfect body and goes as far as buying clothes for Alicia, not Plum, which made me uncomfortable. Listening to her counseling sessions with Verena made me cry.  I was so uncomfortable when she fought with one of her few friends, who in the series is a gay Black man, as they battled it out in a game of “You don’t know what it’s like”.

Self-hatred is buried deep within Plum.  And at this point in the season when she decides to free it, albeit at others, she is confronted with a society that still cannot accept her.  And maybe that is the lesson.  All you need to do is accept yourself.

Rarely does television evoke emotion from me anymore.  So much feels like super sweet candy that gets stuck in the back of your throat and makes you gag.

And watching Dietland‘s characters’ raw emotion can be painful.

But Dietland sheds painful truths on what it means to live as the “other” in our society.

I hope enough people have the guts to watch. Or better yet…read the book.

JMonell

Pool Politics

pool

July’s humidity has been thick, just as thick as the political quagmire we all play in. And one place this is most evident is the pool club.

No,  I do not work during the summer other than prepping for next year’s students or learning new pedagogy.  And before you start to gripe, just remember I don’t get paid either.  Instead my work shifts to home work.  I become a full time mommy.

One way I fill the time for my munchkin is by joining a pool.

We have been members of the same pool club, which happens to be in a neighboring town, for the past four years.  So Munchkin and I hop into the car, which is filled with towels, tubes, and other toys, and drive over in the afternoons.

Now our club has this Dirty Dancing feel, a real throwback to the 60s.  They have shuffle board, and a diving board.  There are even games set up for the kids to play during adult swim!  And a few times a month, they hire a DJ and stay open late.

It has that country club feel without the price of one.

But when it comes to picking out a seat….Mommy beware!  Choosing your seat means more than just sitting poolside.  Your seat is like one of J.K. Rowling’s sorting hats.

See, there is the Yummy Mommy section, the place where slim, fit moms of three huddle with their Yeti coolers stuffed with kid treats.  They often have plush lounge chair covers and Joe Shade umbrella perched just behind them.  They talk about soccer coaches, camps, and clothes.

Catty corner to them is the new mom’s section.  They are often found hovering near the steps, holding their munchkins’ feet dangling just above the water.  They can be seen spraying sun-tan lotion and pulling on shirts or hats.

Towards the deep end are the older moms, or at least the ones with older kids.  Some sit in pairs and chat, while others glance up from their books every so often to see if their kid made it off the diving board in one piece.

Behind them, sitting on the grass under the club’s umbrellas, are often the older members of the club.  They can be the most friendly.

Closest to the snack bar there is an overhang.  This is where the shade lovers sit, huddling close together to shun the sun.

Then there is the click of teachers, which I can finally say after three years I can join.  We talk about September woes and Summer jobs.  This is the group that grows closer in late August as other moms gossip about their child’s new teacher.  Late August is the most painful, yet instructive time.  It always amazes me how crass and callous people can be.

It took time to “fit” into a group.

The first few years I felt just as uncomfortable as my kid.   During adult swim I would try out casual conversation.  Then I bought a Joe Shade umbrella.  I told myself I was buying this because I had a suspicious mole removed off my back.  I picked green because most of the club members had blue and red.  Then I pushed my munchkin to play with other munchkins.  Part of this was getting him to pass the deep water test.  His success opened up social portals for us both.  And this year, I too went to Christmas Tree shop to pick up a lounge chair cover.  It’s aqua blue if you’re curious.  Now I match a few other mommies.

So finally, I can swipe my card, enter, and find a friendly face.  A few mommies even know my name.  My munchkin plays with other kids.  And I am comfortable in this throwback setting, sitting under an umbrella poolside…aware of politics.

Happy swimming!

JMonell

“I wanna be a Toys R Us Kid!”

toys r us

So this week Geoffrey the Giraffe was laid to rest.  And I am devastated.

See, we have a history. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the “holiday catalog” to show up in the mailbox.  I loved the campy commercials that would punctuate Saturday morning cartoons.  As a child of divorce, “Daddy days” often meant a trip to Toys R Us with a chance to wander through aisles and beg for a Barbie.

Yeah, I did have that Barbie stage.

As I grew older, I read about how one store was haunted.  When video game consoles were new, I would go to Toys R Us to check them out and decide which games were worth a try.

And when I was first a mom, I would go to Babies R Us for diapers, clothes, and bath toys.

Later, I would walk my son through the store’s hallowed halls and watch his eyes grow wide.

Even though the store symbolized childhood, its death marks something darker.  In this article, by the New York Times, we learn of how the chain’s closing has a devastating human impact.  The employees, some of which who have been there for years, have lost severance pay.

Not only do they have to find new jobs, they need to figure out how to make ends meet in the meantime.  And what about all those who look for holiday work to fill in financial gaps?

Toys R Us’ death may also illustrate how children today do not know how to play on anything without a screen.

As my son and I walked through the store near us last week, I marveled at the action figures, masques, outdoor toys, and playing cards that were still left behind.  What has happened to our notion of play in American culture?

It seems that more companies are offering delivery services to appease the consumer who will not leave the house to venture forth for the shopping experience.  And if a company cannot meet that demand, then they too may go the way of Geoffrey the Giraffe.

So sad for us all.

J.Monell