Wednesday, February 23, 2011

There is Risk Here

The persistent supervision of every
Who, what, when, and where in my life
Is not akin to a juggler keeping balls in the air.
My son,
My daughter,
The students I govern each day,
They are the matter I endeavor to keep aloft.
Balls bounce.
They roll, retrievable.
Mine are not always resilient.

If anything, I am a juggler of eggs.
I observe, anticipate, propel and protect,
Try to stay focused,
Fight the unrelenting urge to
Stop. Block out the ceaseless swish and whirl.
Perhaps keep one eye open,
Hold my breath against the sickening crack of
Fragile shell on unyielding ground.
I listen hard, jolt and re-jolt myself out of derelict reverie,
And try to keep those fragile eggs from falling on my watch.

I am not so vain to think that they are raw
And any sloppy toss, any clumsy catch
Will end in catastrophic crunch and ooze.
But when they’re hurtling past my face,
It’s tough to tell which would sustain the impact
Should I let my mind drift,
Miss my mark and lose my grasp,
And which are already cracked from
Some previous lapse of attention
And vulnerable to life’s unapologetic solidity.

My son.
My daughter.
The students I govern every day.
Don’t insult us with playful imagery,
A juggler keeping balls in the air.
Balls bounce.
They roll, retrievable.
Mine are not always resilient.
I am a juggler of eggs.
There is risk here.

- Beth Silverman Landau, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why I Love the Local News

Some months ago, I posted this picture to FB with the caption, "I love the local paper."

 A couple of nights ago, I came to the same conclusion about the local news.

To understand my fascination with what passes for news around here, you must first understand that as a NJ native (go ahead, make your Jersey Shore jokes... I'll wait) news has always meant some politics, lots of crime and violence, and a few feelgood stories of charitable donations or volunteerism to help offset the crime and violence.

The overall message of both print and televised news was, "There's lots of bad stuff going on out there, but don't worry - Mrs. Applebee's 3rd grade class all wrote letters to soldiers in Afghanistan."

Out here in South Central PA, the overall message of both print and televised news seems to be, "We've got to fill up that paper or newscast somehow."

The above clipping is case in point, as is the following synopsis of the first 10 minutes of a local 30 minute newscast (as witnessed and interpreted by my family):

Top Story: It's Windy

It's windy.

Sound byte w/accompanying video, looped:
"The wind blew this branch almost 2 yards today."

Family commentary:
"This is news?" 

Story 2: Wind Causes Barn Fire

Firefighters responded to a barn fire believed to have been caused by the wind. Maybe an underlying electrical issue had something to do with it, but let's go ahead and blame it on the wind anyway.

Sound byte w/accompanying video:
Firefighter: "The wind was blowin' so hard we had to start in the back so the house didn't catch, too."

Newscaster: "Arson is not suspected."
(Inferred: "Unless you count the g-d wind. Bastard.")

Family commentary:
"I think I just saw that branch roll by in the background."

Story 3: Wind Blamed in Another Fire

Something about the g-d wind being blamed for another fire that obviously had an underlying cause. 

Sound byte w/accompanying video:
Serious newscast-type information totally eclipsed by convulsive laughter in my living room.

Family commentary:
Various versions of, "There goes that freaking branch!"

Story 4: Protesters Take to the Streets in Lancaster.

People who cannot be bothered to show up for school board meetings or governmental forums risked their lives and the well-being of shoddily constructed and nonsensical signs, selflessly braving the nefarious winds and taking to the streets to protest the philosophical theft of a nutritionally-void, obesity-causing, supposedly Lancaster-created treat.

Sound byte: w/accompanying video:
 "Despite the high winds, citizens of Lancaster have gathered together to protest Maine adopting the whoopie pie as their official snack."

Protesters chanting: "WhooPIE, WhooPIE..."

Protester 1, face obscured by wind-blown hair: "We're a peaceful people, but the whoopie pie is OURS."

Protester 2, cramming whoopie pie in her mouth for emphasis: "Mwhuh uh fwuhmmy bwumph!"

Family commentary:
"Thanks for that visual, lady." "The whoopie pie is OURS!" "I think I see the tree branch!"


Lest anyone think I'm knocking South Central PA, remember that I've chosen to raise my family here. When we moved here from Georgia thirteen years ago, it was quite a shock that we hadn't moved "back north" but to what's semi-lovingly called Pennsyltucky.

There are no real bakeries here, the Olive Garden is routinely voted "Best Italian Food in York County," and people here are, as a whole, so unused to attending live theater that they do not know when to clap. Anyone who questions the status quo is coldly informed, "It's the York County way." Did I mention that they have no real bakeries here?

However, we stayed because our jobs are here, we've made good friends, and the schools are good. It's not terribly crowded, the cost of living is reasonable, and we've come to find that we absolutely love living in suburbia less than three minutes from rolling hills, apple orchards, and produce stands. All in all, it's a good trade off for the non-news we find so amusing.

The local news here will probably always crack up this Jersey girl, but it's hard even for me to argue that cringing and asking, "What's this world coming to?" beats giggling and asking, "Is this really news?" 

NOTE: Please feel free to post comments with links to other non-news from your area. Share your local color!

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's Painful to Watch You Sometimes

It’s painful to watch you sometimes,
Muzzled by hormones and contrived, impossible images
That teach you to shine by conforming and hiding your light.
Your minds whirl while you wonder what they think
You think
About yourself.
In the halls, your heels click,
Arms wrap around tummies in too tight jeans.
Your eyes dart wildly as you propel yourself within the throng,
Ungainly and uncomfortable,
Seeking attention and approval, and pushing your power
Deep inside a contradictory shell of self-consciousness.
So rigid you cannot escape it.
So fragile that you are crushed by any perceived slight.

My job is to teach you to think and to write,
To know yourself,
To share yourself,
To speak with the authority of someone who deserves to be heard.
But I remember this constrictive tunnel vision,
This cold weight in my belly,
This uneasy electrical charge in my chest,
And sometimes I have to just look away.

- Beth Silverman Landau, 2010

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who Does That?

I knew something was up when a group of students' heads simultaneously swiveled toward me for no apparent reason yesterday.

The grins on their faces made it clear that the reason for their sudden attention had nothing to do with the Great Expectations review they were supposed to be working on. It is the rare student who breaks into a smile over Dickens, and even then it's a quickly hidden giggle, not a grin.

"So.. uh.. hey, Mrs. Landau," the biggest grinner said, "What do you do in your free time?"

I wasn't sure why that question inspired grins. Was it the idea that I existed outside of the classroom? Had there been some supposition about what I did when I wasn't teaching English? I didn't ask. When you're dealing with a group of 9th grade boys, it's often better not to know.

"I drive my kids around. I do mom-type stuff. I see my friends. I blog."

"You BLOG??" they exclaimed, "Who does that?"

"Lots of people," I told them. "There are blogs about anything you can imagine. You should check it out and see what you see."

"Yeah, but you?"

"Yeah," I admitted. "I'm a writer. It's what I love. "

As I said it, the world slowed down. The room got a little brighter.

"I'm a writer."

It's been clear to me and to those who know me well that my drive to write has been reawakened, but it's not something I broadcast. In fact, I'm a little shy about "coming out" as a writer. It seems pompous, somehow, to say, "I'm a writer." Bogus, even. Sure, I write, but I'm not published. It's mostly me and my Mac, just as it's been me and a succession of notebooks since I was 12. So I haven't been able to simply call myself a writer.

For me, the difference between "I write" and "I'm a writer" is one of tense. The former is present tense; it describes current behavior. The latter, though technically a present tense clause, essentially functions in the present progressive tense; it says that this began earlier, it's still going on, and - darn it - it's going to keep going on. Saying, "I'm a writer," feels like a bigger deal because it supposes a future.

English weenie that I am, after applying grammar to the situation, it dawned on me that my ability to call myself a writer, to suppose a future for myself, happened amongst various conversations about Pip, the protagonist of Great Expectations. In the first part of the novel, Pip comes to find that he's got "great expectations." His perceived dead-end life as a lowly blacksmith vanishes, and he finds himself facing a wide open future as a gentleman.

Now, my life is not a dead-end and my job as a teacher is not lowly (despite what the press has to say about teachers), but I do feel a little like Pip does when he's told of his good fortune. Having great expectations for my re-burgeoning passion for writing feels like a door's been flung wide open. To quote Pip's brother-in-law, Joe, "Astonishing!"

My referring to myself as a writer meant nothing to my students, of course.

Though my proclamation and subsequent personal connection to our current unit had me feeling giddy, my grinners promptly turned around and went back to pretending to review for the test. The world resumed its normal pace. The change in lighting, which had nothing to do with my personal growth and everything to do with a student hitting a light switch with her head, was quickly remedied to a soundtrack of giggles.

Oh, and it turned out that the boys just wanted to know if I watch Jersey Shore. The grins? I'm still not entirely sure.

In other words, life quickly returned to normal. But normal feels a little more open, a little braver, now that I've "come out" as a writer.

"Who does that?" my students wanted to know.

I'm a writer and I do, that's who.

Going Mobile

Is mobile access to blogging a good idea?

Sometimes thoughts that seem so poignant one moment turn out to be sentimental bullshit or nonsensical ranting the next.

It is my hope, however, that mobile blogging will help me hold on to the rare and fleeting but well-worded observations or truths that float around in my head when I'm nowhere near my computer or I can't find a pen that actually writes.

Or it'll broadcast my sentimental bullshit and nonsensical ranting.

Either way, I'll be blogging regularly again, and that's really the whole point.