Teachers in Arms

 

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the pwesident manages to find a new level even lower than last week’s rock bottom. I have been shaking my head and waving off comments all day long about his latest idea to arm 20% of every school’s faculty. (In the case of our school, one colleague noted, only one of us would have to start going to the shooting range and taking  lessons. Then they all turned and looked at me . . .)

The thought that I, or any teacher I have ever had, or worked with, or know (and that is a lot of them) could whip out a gun from . . . wherever (a purse? a classroom locker?) and then go out Rambo-style in search of an active school shooter to confront is,

to put it very simply,

ABSURD.

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(Silent) Home (Horror) Movies

 

I have been getting some of our VCR tapes digitalized before they start decomposing and/or give up the ghost completely. One of those tapes was home movies from my childhood and I stayed up till about 3 am a few nights ago watching them.

Some of the films were classics – like one of our childhood Christmas shows, my ballet performance with dramatic final pose, or the King of the Raft battles during one of our many summer trips up north. Other films were only vaguely familiar to me – maybe those were the ones that tended to be left out on the occasions when my dad hauled out the projector and turned our living room into a movie theater. As we five kids tossed pillows on the floor and jockeyed for a comfortable spot with a good view, Dad stuck a reel of film on one of the arms of the projector, threaded the tape through the machine and on to the empty receiving reel. The lights were dimmed and then came that clackety-clack sound of the projector in motion, the humming of its fan, the initial ornery and dusty smell of an appliance that has not been used in a while being forced back into deployment.

As the youngest of five kids, I had to sit through a whole lot of scenes starring my elder siblings before I was born. It did not escape me that the number of films (or photographs) of each child was inversely proportional to the order of his/her birth (Child One has the most, Child Five the least.) But, to make up for this disadvantage, I also noticed that, in contrast to the black and white childhood of my brothers and sisters, at least mine was in color!  The films were also all silent, which turned out to be another advantage. We kids were free to talk and comment and reminisce and argue as the images danced in front of and past us. In that way, I was initiated into all the chapters of our family legend that pre-dated my membership.

 

While watching all these old movies again a few days ago, I started pausing and making screenshots of memorable moments. The resulting pictures turned out to have such an eerie quality to them – I guess because the images had been reincarnated over and over again. From camera to developed film reel, from film to video cassette (Thanks, Mom!), from video cassette to digital video, from digital video to image file . . .

And now . . . some of those images are about to be launched into the internetsphere with a mere click of a “Publish” button. They will blast off in a gazillion different directions, but only very few will eventually collide with physical entity capable of decoding them. Your laptop or computer screen, for instance. (Yes, Reader, I am talking to you!)

So here they are – a few captured specters of the binarily transcribed, inversely imprinted, silent visual reproductions of moments that have become – via this long insane string of coincidences – some of my earliest memories. It really is no wonder that they seem so ghostly!

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Kill ‘em With Kindness

 

My inner Chicken Whisperer keeps bugging my alter ego, Blackthumb, who loves the winter season hibernation period and the respite from agricultural responsibilities that it provides. Nevertheless, pesky CW wants an update posted on our shared blog about the fact that, for a week or two now, and despite the return of winter weather, we have been getting four (!) eggs a day. Blackthumb thinks big deal! pointing out that they are still the most expensive eggs in the country. CW retorts that such materialistic thinking is exactly what is wrong with this world. These are socially, politically, biologically, environmentally, organically and animal husbandry-ily correct eggs from happy chickens! Blackthumb responds: “Do these chickens look happy to you?!? Look at those soggy feathers! Look at those cold feet!!”

Having photographic evidence, Blackthumb wins the argument.

          

 

————-

 

“I just gave Frau R. (aka ‘Mean Neighbor Lady’) some eggs.”

On hearing this, my daughter laughed out loud and added “Kill ‘em with kindness, hey?”

She is much too smart. (I’m not sure where I went wrong while raising her). What she was referring to was one of our often-retold family stories from her wee childhood . . .

It began when we received a hand-written letter from the elderly man who delivered our newspaper every morning. He was complaining about a flower box in front of our house that is partly in the street. He found it very difficult to drive past. The letter was full of indignation, unnecessary rudeness, and basic spelling mistakes. My husband was irked and wanted to write back, asking him where he got off. I said – what’s the point? This is an old guy who – instead of enjoying his retirement – has to get up at four in the morning to deliver papers – he can’t be in very good shape financially or have a particularly nice life. And he clearly didn’t understand that he was in a position of absolute zero authority. Let’s not pursue a fight. Let’s kill this with kindness.

We ended up writing a really nice letter apologizing for the inconvenience and explaining that the box was there to slow cars down and to stop our young kids from running out of the house straight into the road. We attached the letter to a bottle of wine and left it out for him.

We became his favorite people after that. Our newspaper was lying on the welcome mat each morning as if placed there carefully.

 

————-

 

Of course, Mean Neighbor Lady was a much more complicated situation than Newspaper Guy. For the first 10 years or so of our . . . neighborliness . . . she simply scared the crap out of me. She lived way downhill in the valley below us, and yet she was omnipresent. She walked past our house regularly to spy and inspect things. I began to call it the “Daily Disapproval Tour”.

Once she rang the bell. She told me that my Dog One had jumped up on her and torn her apron. She wanted ten dollars from me to replace it. She hadn’t bothered to bring the apron to show me. I paid.

Fifteen years ago, her daughter built a new house for both of them halfway down the hill between us and MNL’s old farmhouse in the valley. Not only did the DDT’s increase in frequency, but the new house was right along the path where I take my daily walk. I kept my dogs on leashes whenever we passed the house. Sometimes I whistled.

MNL once told my daughters that she wouldn’t allow her grandson to play with them in our yard because it was an “Urwald” (= jungle).

She also clearly had a crush on my husband.  Whenever I ran into her, she sometimes grunted at best. But when my husband was there too, she smiled (at him) and engaged in pleasant banter.

So, now Mrs. R. and I have been neighbors for thirty years. And except for the fact that I am a lousy gardener, she has little or no clue about who I am. She seems to know almost nothing about America or even that I come from there. I doubt she knows much at all about English literature, Economics, Business Administration, Maria Montessori, blog writing or Constitutional crises.

But she does know about chickens, so, for the first time, we have something to talk about.

 

I not only gave her eggs this morning, but I also made an effort to give her five different eggs from five different chickens. She seemed a bit confused, even flustered. Her contorted facial expression was hard to discern, but it was definitely reminiscent of something smile-like. She kind of ran away from me after I handed them over.

Blackthumb may have won the argument on the happiness of my flock this morning, but Chicken Whisperer definitely wins the day.

 

Various Trespasses

 

I had this whole other blog post planned. It was going to be a series of (seemingly!!) Random Thoughts Which Occurred to Me While Administering a Three-Plus-One Hour Exam to My One (And Only) Student. I had already planned out how to sneakily take a picture of him (from behind, of course) in the seminar room, poring over his papers, scribbling away, with me thinking “boy oh boy, if you only knew that you have already passed and all of this here is just for those officious, paper-dependent bureaucrats”.  While he was working, I was going to simultaneously read and write – catching up on all the blog peeps I follow in real time while sneaking in various observations from the past week. For instance, that pretty much all of their blogs are better reads than the book I just finished.  (Mr. Wolf’s billion-copy-selling “Fire and Fury” may be great resistance candy, but it is also really poorly written.) I was going to wax pseudo-philosophically on the euphoria one feels post-pain – after a nauseating battle with the flu is over and the four-day headache dissipates. I was going to end the four hours with a gloriously clear conscience from having made amends and achieving a successful fresh start for my Trek*, all while helping a nice young man get one step closer to his dream of studying at the university.

All that was the plan.

Instead, I post this sorry picture with the statement “Forgive me blog friends, for I have . . . trespassed” (the Presbyterian word for “sinned”.) It has been . . . fifty-three years since my first and last confession. While killing an hour at the train station and deciding where to go for my daily bread, I led myself into temptation and delivered myself to evil. As I ate it, I wondered if there was a single food item anywhere at the station that was less healthy or more ecologically and socially damaging per calorie consumed. To make matters even worse, I couldn’t finish my fries so I threw them away. Now, hours later, back at home, sitting here with a big undigested McLump in my stomach (and still somehow hungry), I wonder at how quickly things can change.

My poor (as it turned out, non-)student had the same experience today. He showed up to the exam with a blue envelope ( = registered letter) in his hand – still unopened. It had arrived just under the wire – right before he left for the university; he assumed (and hoped) that it was his admission letter to the program (which he needs to be able to sign up for and take exams). I watched him open it and then stare in confusion. His hands started shaking a bit. “Oh no!” I thought, “He’s been rejected!” I asked if I could look at it and was surprised to see “Admission” written largely at the top. What was the problem? And then I skimmed down to the list of the five exams he had to pass before he could start his regular studies. English was not one of them.

He had no idea how this could have happened! Everyone had told him he would need English! He apologized profusely for my coming all the way to Graz for nothing. We sat and talked for a while till he calmed down. We hatched a plan for how he could deal with this situation.

It was during that conversation that a different mystery got cleared up. My (non-)student told me that he had originally wanted to study Business, but had been rejected for that field and so reapplied with a different major. It turns out, he wasn’t alone. Apparently, every single applicant who wanted to study Business this year was rejected – all by the same professor. When that fact became generally known, an official complaint was lodged, the job of reviewing applications was handed over to a different professor, and all the rejected applicants were contacted and allowed to reapply. All of this happened just last week. It goes a long way in explaining why I had no students this year.

Anyway, instead of giving the written and oral exams for four hours, I headed back to the train station to go home. I wasn’t even that irritated because learning that new information was well worth a trip to Graz. If only I hadn’t blown it by going to McDonald’s!

Once back home, I wondered how I could get back on track . . . how I could repair the damage, repent, restore the Karma, (and hopefully lose the McLump) . . .

I remembered an essay on the topic of McDonalds some student had handed in way back at the start of my university career. I had found it so inane at the time with all its sweepingly prejudicial and empty statements interspersed with pretty phrases (“it goes without saying that . . .”,  “it may well be that . . . “, “at first sight we might believe that . . . but on closer view. . .”). I had it hanging on my bulletin board for years and later it landed in a keepsake box. I actually found the thing. I held it in my hand and thought . . . maybe I could post it (here) on my blog, and confess that, maybe just maybe, this student had a point and I had been unfair.  I read the text again and . . . and . . .

Naaahh. It really is an awful essay. Beyond redemption. A trespass against us that cannot be forgiven.

Incredible as this may seem, it is perfectly true.

Judge for yourself.