Censored or Unsensored: The Trigonometry of Falling part

Carson came home from school, plopped on the couch, clapped her hands together, and said, “Ok.  I have a story.  Do you want it censored or uncensored?”

Ooh!  Six seconds after school, and I am being offered this gift!

“Uncensored.”

“Awesome.”  She stood, so she could readjust. She sat back down on her knees, a sure sign gesticulation would occur.

“So I am sitting in precalc today, and you know how we are taught?  We sit in “learning groups,” which means, you know, we teach ourselves.

“Mr. K. — He’s like a really brilliant mind.  He understands math better than I think any teacher in the building, but like all real geniuses, he cannot always articulate what he knows, and this frustrates people who don’t want to work for understanding.  Anyway, he’s walking around the room watching us learn and I am just minding my own business working through my problems when I happened to look up.  I notice that the girl who sits across from me at the next table, she looks… I don’t know, almost despondent.”

She paused to readjust, sitting a little taller.  The story was about to get juicy, I knew!

“Okay, so this girl, Amy is her name; she’s a senior, and she obviously needs precalc to graduate.  I know she doesn’t like Mr. K’s teaching style, and I know she struggles in the class.  She looked miserable. She was just staring at the book.

“Mr K. then said, ‘Does anyone need assistance?’  And I watched her hand raise, very slowly mind you.  Hesitantly even, but she did raise her hand.  She didn’t turn toward him, nor did her expression change, but her hand did go up.

“He walked over to her and said, ‘What can I do for you Amy?’  She did not look up.  She did not speak.  She just pointed at a problem in the book.

“Mom, I looked around and no one was paying attention.  The weight of her point was making me nervous, and no one was paying attention!

“Anyway, he bent down, looked at what she was pointing at, and instead of explaining how to do the problem, he posed a question.  ‘What is the cosine?’  See, he teaches by making us figure it out for ourselves.  I mean, I don’t mind because it makes me think about the problems more in-depthly, and I always end up understanding the solution better, but Amy and kids like her, they just want to be told what to do or how to do it…”

“Or maybe they just want the answer,” I interrupted.

“Exactly!”  She pointed at me.  “Okay, so Amy did not look up or answer, and I noticed that her face looked hot.  She was turning different shades of red.

“K was looking at the book and not at her so I don’t think he realized that she looked kind of upset.  He didn’t get an answer, so he posed another question.   ‘Amy, can you tell me which part of the problem should be solved first?

“Mom, this is no joke.  I saw Amy clench her fists.”

“Did she want to punch him?” I asked.

“Probably, but she did something even better.”  The giddiness in her voice let me know this was going to be good.

“Uncensored?” she asked again.

“Good God, yes!”

“Okay.  So she clenched her fists and I saw a single tear leave her right eye.  Mom, I looked around and still no one was paying attention! I looked back, and I am not kidding, the tear moved in slow motion down her face and literally dropped on the page of her book.

“Mr K. was still oblivious.  He was standing next to her but kind of behind her so  I really don’t think he could see any of it.”

“So what happened?”  I asked.  I was feeling the tension she was describing.

“Well!”  She clenched her hands together again, “She let out this kind of weird sigh or sob or…. God, I don’t even know how to describe the sound.  It kind of resonated in her throat, but blew out her nose.

“I realized that everyone else was suddenly aware something was about to happen.

“I cannot make this up.  She looked up, and Mr. K. finally saw her face.”

“What did he do?” I could not wait to hear!

“Nothing!   He did not react.  His face was just as serious and calm as ever.  So, in a very quiet voice, she said, ‘I don’t know what comes first.’  And then tears streamed down her face and it started.”

“What?”

“She said, I don’t know what comes first,’ and then her voice escalated,  ‘because you don’t fucking teach.  I don’t understand a fucking thing and I probably am going to fail out of high school because you are the worst math teacher in the history of fucking math teachers.”

I could feel my mouth gaping.  “What did K. do?”

“That’s the best part.  He never reacted.  His expression did not change.  He just looked at this poor, frustrated, bumbling girl and he did nothing!  After a second, he did say, rather calmly I might add, ‘Amy, I think you should gather your belongings and head to the office.’

Head to the office!  Mom, like she had received a call slip or something.  She stood up, swept up her stuff and headed to the door.”

“What happened next?”

“Oh. this is the best part.  She walked down the hall, a hall with door after door ajar, and kept talking loudly.  “Yep.  I’m going to fucking end up on skid row because of K.  Thanks K!  Thanks for destroying my fucking life!”

She patted her legs as if to iron out a wrinkle in her pants, and smiled.

“Is that it?”  I knew there had to be more.

“Well, basically.  Everyone was staring at K.   I saw it, though.  I saw his reaction.   He cocked his head ever so slightly.  Oh, his wheels were turning, and that slight head movement let me know he was thinking.  And then, he looked at us. No one was moving, and he just calmly said, ‘Does anyone need assistance?’ Like the whole thing didn’t happen!”

“What did everyone do?”

“Pretty much everyone put up their hands.  Like, kids who never raise their hands, they suddenly had questions.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  Maybe out of sympathy.  Maybe out of fear.  I don’t know, but I feel like after she left, everyone went out of their way to try to understand precalc today.

“That’s fantastic!”

“I know, right?  God, it was amazing!”

***********

This experience was my first with “censored or uncensored,” and I am so glad I made the “uncensored” choice.  Ah, the stress of a high school senior.  I want to say to Amy,  “It’s fine.  You will be fine. Maybe in a wee bit of trouble.  But ultimately, fine.”

 

 

Dear Ishmael,

You don’t know me, yet I feel like I know you.  I recently had the opportunity not only to read A Long Way Gone, but I had a chance to experience its pages in a way many people do not.  My co-teacher in the SITES program chose your book in his study of global issues.  Having never read the book, I chose to read it with our students, so that I could engage in conversation in class.

As a child of literature yourself, you may know that sometimes, a book can speak to us in a way we do not expect.

For me, maybe it was that I had just finished teaching Paul Rusesabagina’s Ordinary Man and I found the parallel between the two stories haunting.   Maybe it was the moment in our first discussion when one of our students pointed to a passage that I myself could not shake, “We must always strive to be like the moon,” and a ten minute discussion followed analyzing the truth and wisdom of these words.  Maybe it was the fact that you wrote so poignantly that I was able to transcend the delicate refinements of my life to see what I think you want everyone who reads your book to see: even though mankind can terrorize one another and bring pain and hardship, what matters is what we do after the experience.  This book, your book, stays with me because by the end, I felt strengthened by a feeling that already existed in my heart: if I only allow myself to experience man when he is at his worst, I may never know man for the potential he has: for his beauty, for his amiability, and for his love.

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear you speak.  As someone who is constantly analyzing my own place in the world, I felt like a child in a classroom.  Your story and strength of the first book were inspirational, but the limitlessness of your spirit is profound.  You are correct in your theory that happiness should not be measured by stretches of time.  It is not to be measured, but it is to be experienced.  Ultimately,  you were the victim of childhood captivity; without an alternative, you were forced to be a soldier. Yet, despite the reality of your past,  you have allowed yourself to heal, you have allowed yourself to eclipse a world speckled with hatred so that you can live again.

Standing in line with my students eagerly waiting to get your new novel Radiance of Tomorrow signed, I felt renewed.  I felt that within the hour of listening to you speak, my understanding of mankind deepened.  Ishmael, for me you rejuvenated truth:  Many people will enter our lives and they will see the flicker of our eternal flame.  Some of those people will want to extinguish it, and if given the opportunity, they will.  However, others will see us for what we are, for what we can be.  These people will take one of two actions: They will either do everything in their power to relight the flame, or seeing that it still flickers, they will protect it, nurture it, and wait for it be what it was meant to be.  Each of us has a light inside, and with the proper guidance and nurturing, it will blaze and we will live to our full potential: hopeful creatures, dedicated individuals, and spiritual heroes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not only signing my book but for touching my life.

A Zen Little Unplanned Existential Experiment

This morning, I did not expect NOT to go to work.  I mean, it was a figuratively balmy 8 degrees at 6:00 when I awoke, and the temperature was only going to climb as the day progressed.  In no way would calling school be justified again.  The Polar Vortex was done ravaging us with wind chills in the -40s; it was time to get back to normality.

However, at 6:13, a friend texted me, “No school again ?!?”

I thought he was joking.  I had not received the call, and this friend of mine, he can be somewhat of a jokester.  However, I walked out of the bathroom, and wouldn’t you know it, the phone rang one-minute later.  Today, school was cancelled because the majority of the busses wouldn’t start, and they could not, of course, allow the little dumplings stand in the frigid air while the few busses that did work tried to manage all of the routes.

Day Three.

The first thing that went through my mind was a song I used to love in the 90’s.   My mind could hear the riff of the guitar as the words played in my mind:

For three strange days
I had no obligations
My mind was a blur
I did not know what to do.
And then I lost myself

I, for the life of me could not remember anymore of the song.  I could not even remember who sang it.  Thank God for Google and the world-wide web.  I vaguely remembered the band School of Fish and when I looked up the lyrics, I found that they were actually really depressing.

For me, these have been three strange days, but unlike the lead singer, I have not lost my motivation.  On the contrary, I have relished in the gift of freedom that snow days bestow.

A gift, you scoff!  What about all the other days off?

Don’t you think, dear reader, I know you are dubious of the complexities of my job.  You see it as a cake walk: three days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, Spring Break, and then nine weeks in the summer!  But, what you do not understand is the paradox of teaching: we work our asses off for 187 days a year because we need for the students to excel and be better at whatever subjects we teach, and in order to do that, we need days off to regroup, reevaluate lessons, and recharge our batteries.

Everyone feels burnout, you say.  Well, I do not disagree, but please, try to be a teacher for even a year, and you might think a little less critically of our chosen calling.

Now, I do not mean to put you on the defensive or make you angry.  I love my job and I am grateful for the time off that school districts give students and teachers to restore their enthusiasm and yearning to learn.  Likewise, I was grateful for our winter break.  I crossed many items off of my list.  I shopped, cooked, entertained, visited, cleaned, worked out, graded some papers (not as many as I should have, I will admit), and relaxed with my family.  It was the perfect break.

Oh, but then the Polar Vortex hit, and three magical free days were conjured in the universe.  Free Days.  I did not plan on these days.  I did not have a schedule of chores that needed to be accomplished.  I did not have any set list of items that needed attention because these days were not planned, and thus, they were a gift.

For three strange days I had no obligations….

With no obligation comes the ability to just exist.  I kind of zenned out in my own little existential experiment.  I realized that nothing had to be done, so I decided what should be done was anything that I wanted to get done.  Do you understand the enormity of this gift for a 44 year-old, full-time working mother of three?

So what did I do?

  • I read The Fault in Our Stars cover-to-cover.  I would recommend it because it is incredibly well written, but blubbering for forty or more pages makes it a hard book to recommend.  Okay, screw it.   I cried but I also laughed. You should read it!  It’s that good!
  • I worked out twice!  I never find time to workout during the week, or is it that I find a million other things to do besides working out during the week?  Well, whichever way, the endorphins made me feel strong.
  • I played countless games of Life with the girls.  I won more than once.  I always pick the college track, and I think they are starting to realize that long-term earnings increase exponentially with a college education.
  • I slept.  One can NEVER sleep enough, in my opinion.
  • I cooked delicious meals.
  • I blogged.

It was a glorious, unencumbered three days, and it was almost better than any planned vacation.

If only I could give the gift to each of you readers so you can understand how having three strange days can seem like the perfect motivation to get done some of the things you never seem to find time to do.