Smashing

Getting onto the turnpike, I thought how the poking out of a ticket from the machine was already ready for pandemic.

As I drove, the clouds were gargantuan and baroque, puffs and flourishes and light and shadow.  In New York, I gazed at the beautiful buildings.  Here, I gaze at clouds.  Or stars.  We have both.

I wondered if my anxiety was going to zoom out of control.  Maybe I wasn’t up to this.  I kept going. I was thinking about how long it would take me to get home.

Then at some point I forgot.

Past the empty racetrack, past the empty every place, I swooped off the interstate and made turns to get me to the spot.  Maybe my 16th protest in the last three years?

Protests of the last four years (okay, to brag, but also to remind myself I have done things):

  1. Anti-Trump, uptown, with Alec Baldwin (allegedly, I could only barely hear his voice)
  2. Pro-immigrant, Battery Park, with Chuck Schumer
  3. Pro-press, at the New York Times building
  4. First women’s march (NYC)
  5. Second women’s march (Lawrence)
  6. Pro birth control (KC)
  7. Pro gun control (KC)
  8. Black Lives Matter (KC)
  9. Black Lives Matter (Lawrence)
  10. Lawrence school board to protect teachers
  11. KCK school board to protect teachers
  12. Something during the day at Washington Square Park… I think we were doing a sick out, for immigrants, and I had a panic attack, so it was memorable
  13. Something in Lawrence that had to do with the Mueller investigation, honestly I’m not sure which moment of horror that was.  There were just a few of us, me and some people a generation ahead of me
  14. Anti-Trump visit (KC)
  15. Pro gun control (Topeka)
  16. Pro Medicaid expansion (Topeka)

I sent postcards to electors to beg them not to vote for Trump.  For two years, I made a list of what egregious harm Trump had done to our country that week.  I’ve written countless emails.  A few times, I even called, though I loathe the telephone.  I’ve done tons of research to refute arguments that were illogical, fallacious, or otherwise wrong.

I’ve read news, more news, more news, hoping that one of the stories will make me feel better or safer.  This doesn’t usually happen.

I am definitely waiting around for God to show up and be like, good work, you learned the lessons of history.

Although I don’t believe in a God that works that way.

That God sounds like a jerk.

I’ve slept and not slept.  Eaten and not eaten.  Exercised and not exercised.

When I got out of my car, newly decorated with the signs I’d painted, I walked up to the group of maybe 20 people.  I chatted a minute with a lady who tried to read my sign, and so I held it up for her.  She was wearing a mask, and using a cane, and had a young girl with her.  The girl asked if she could take my photo.  Of course, I said.  A budding journalist and activist!

I walked up to the others, and they organized for a photo.  Someone took our photo.  The world of pandemic protesting is weird.  One lovely thing that usually happens at protests is that people share food, and stories, and go have a drink after.  During the pandemic they don’t do most of these things.  It sucks.

You don’t even get a good read on who is there, and you may not recognize them if you run into them again, because you only interact with them on Facebook, and at the event everyone is masked.

You try to smile with your eyes when you walk up to the group, because for all they know, you’ve shown up to scream at them with your corona-laced breath.  Or you’ve come with a gun.

I most often go by myself, so I try to take a lot of photos, when I don’t have a buddy there.

Had I been to protests before this?  Well, yes.  But I had taken some long breaks.  I began in animal rights activism.  We have gotten some of what we asked for back then: more humane treatment of animals raised for fast food was a big one.  There have been many victories in pushing back on the fur trade.

Right after the photo was taken, the organizer (whoever in the world that was) said we could go, because the meeting was online anyway.

I think God knew how much energy I had that day, and so I was only asked for that little piece.

And for the hour and a half I spent driving.  Looking at clouds, green fields, the sign for the Agriculture Hall of Fame, where I still want to go.

I test drove the ending of my [meditation? self help? activity?] manuscript.  The ending felt good, but it did not fix me.  My emotions still felt a mess.

I determined that for me, pandemic is like waking up in a mine field. Every day of the Trump presidency is like waking up, knowing there are more mines, but not knowing where they are.  Knowing many people will step on them before anyone can find them.

Yes it makes it hard to sleep.

Yes I still kick myself for the times I wished to live through something historically significant.

When I get back to Lawrence, I stop by the Dollar Tree to buy more plates to smash.

My thing now is buying $1 plates, smashing them with a hammer on my living room floor, and then gluing the pieces onto something.  And then grouting it.

It was my dream in high school that– in addition to living through something historically significant– I have a newspaper called The Grout Gazette.  This morphed into a different thing I worked on, but my joy in the word “grout” remains.  There’s something about that “gr” sound, isn’t there?  It’s not easy being “gr”een.  “Gr”over is one of my favorite Muppets.  And then “out,” such a pinched up word.

Immediately when I got home, I got my reading glasses on and started smashing.  I ought to do this in a deeper cardboard box, or inside a towel, ut there is some joy in seeing the smashing.  I sweep up later.  I pray that no fragment gets my cats in the eye.

Then I have this long, joyous, quiet experimenting.  Stripes.  No pattern.  A cross.  A flag.

Glue.  Piece by piece.  At first I thought fancy glue was necessary, but Elmer’s seems to do just fine.

And then grout.  Grout grout grout.  Grout is Mark Twain.  Grout is spittoons.  Grout is squeaky shoes.

So I sit and do my work.  Smash, arrange, glue, grout.

Yes everyone I know will be receiving mosaiced things for the foreseeable future.  (Well, I also learned to make room sprays with essential oils, so there could be surprises!)

I have to make things.  I have to.

Currently, “Law & Order” puts me to sleep.  I do bedtime yoga while a story plays out in its staccato way, like a ticker tape, and then I get in bed and listen to the story.  It makes a pretty good radio play, “Law & Order.”  Most things are explained, even if they are also shown.

Does it give me nightmares, hearing stories about attacks and violence?  It doesn’t.  The characters on the show are handling it. I watch them handle everything.  I’m so glad they handle everything.

Forget It

What I know now: people close to me, and people who are friends of friends, know that returning to in-person school would endanger my life.  And my mother’s life.  And my cousin’s life.  And all my other teacher friends.

And they don’t care.

I don’t know how to live with this knowledge.

I say I’m scared for my mother’s life, and people say, “But the economy!”

Many, many of my friends are teachers, and I imagine each of them falling ill while people say, “Parents have to go back to work!”

I went to my first protest about this yesterday.

Someone had a sign that said, “Teachers are not sacrificial lambs.”

We were standing outside the district office, wearing our masks, holding our signs, and people inside were deciding if to keep our jobs, we had to risk our lives,.

—–

I don’t need anyone to canonize me for being a teacher.  I just need them to act as if my life is meaningful.  A meaningful life is often the most valuable thing teachers own.  It’s the only valuable thing I own.

I’m not a martyr.  Never had been.  The God I believe in wants people to treat me with respect.

I want to keep teaching, but here’s what echoes in my head….

-An administrator refused to let me have access to books I had ordered with grant money I had helped win.  My classroom would be too “cluttered,” she said.

-In a staff meeting, the principal told us that “everyone cheats,” so we shouldn’t address students who cheated on tests.

In another staff meeting, the school secretary stood in front of the teachers and read off how many students had As, Bs, Cs, etc.  Then she berated us for “giving” the students such low grades.

Principal told me that it seemed like I “didn’t care,” though I was quite busy setting up field trips and poetry readings and learning to teach AP.

A dear friend of mine had a student who screamed at her that she was a “cunt,” and repeatedly asked her about her sex life.

She was advised to build a relationship with him.

I had a student who would climb up on a desk and just scream.

Same advice.

I sat outside principal’s office trying to breathe and not run away, trying to convince myself that the nasty things she said were not things I should take to heart.

At the dysfunctional school where I briefly taught, kids threw things and yelled and refused to do anything. I finally had a student threaten to physically attack me, and after pushing the paperwork through again and again, the student was briefly, briefly suspended.

How I felt didn’t matter.  At all.

I started having panic attacks at school.

I couldn’t eat.

One day I found that I had literally locked myself in a closet to eat my lunch because the principal was trying to force me to do extra duties that went against our contract.  What was I doing?

I had a “coach,” and after she had earned my trust, I went to her because the school was out of paper, and refused to provide any more.  I did not have textbooks for my class, and students did not have computers, so handouts were all we had.

My coach said, “Well, that’s just how it is in education.”

I never spoke to her again.

I’ve taught in classrooms with bullet holes in the windows.

I’ve had to keep furniture in my room that was splintered and tore people’s clothes because otherwise we’d have nowhere to sit.

When you speak of masks and sanitizing and distancing, I remember that at every school, I regularly found the bathrooms to be out of soap and/or paper towels.

Even if masks and distancing made it safe, teachers aren’t getting those things.

If we can’t get all of our American governors to wear masks, we sure as hell aren’t going to get students to wear them.

I love the shit out of teaching.  I really love it.  I had experience disciplining students, and experience teaching in an engaging way.

I get excited about how to structure our activities, how much background information is necessary, how to include ethical questions in everything, and logical reasoning in everything.  Finding texts that are perfect for students.

I love figuring out how to make people feel safe, how to listen to them, how to increase their confidence.  I love to appreciate every new, weird story that each unique student brings.

When I see my former students, on social media, running their own businesses, protesting for Black Lives Matter, getting themselves through college, thoughtfully choosing schools for their own kids, I am so glad.  I’m so proud of them.

Once I was out and about, and a former student who had boldly failed my class and dropped out of school saw me, yelled out, and ran to hug me.  “How is your fish?” he asked me.  He had given me a heater for my betta.

Teaching is amazing work.

But I am not expendable.

I do not deserve to be verbally abused at work.

I do not deserve to be physically threatened at work.

I deserve to be able to contact another adult if a student gets violent or there is an emergency.  (Everywhere I have worked, this was only sometimes possible.)

There is enough money in the United States of America to build and maintain schools.

There is enough money to pay teachers a salary comparable to other professionals.

We are not fucking idiots.

There is money for other things.

My mother is a para.  She works with kids who sometimes kick her and scream and throw things and run away from school and spit.  For this they pay her $13.78 an hour during the school year.

On snow days, she makes nothing.

Snow days stress her out.

I know now that many Americans are fine with her dying as a result of her job.

Including the president of the United States, of course.

We are busy discussing how students will get “behind,” and how parents have to work.

Teachers die, we find other suckers to be teachers.

I don’t want to live in this America.

I want to somehow forget.

I want to remove from my mind, surgically, article after article discussing the dangers to children, as if the adults who work in schools do not exist.  No, worse: they exist, but their lives are cheap.

I don’t want anyone to be punished or anything to be fixed in any particular way.

I want to forget how cruel people can be.

Or maybe more realistically: I want everyone who works in a school to quit before they are made to put themselves in harm’s way.

Please quit.

We have already lost too much.

Please quit.

Teaching is great, but it isn’t worth your life.

Refuse.

Set an example for our students.

This is the final call from America: can we push our teachers to risk their health and lives for our convenience?

We must answer.

 

 

 

 

 

Messages

I watched “Hamilton” on the 4th.  It cracked my heart.

I roasted some potatoes (a daring move for me) and mixed up some fruit juice n o one would want to drink, but I was bringing it anyway.

I drove east, from Lawrence to Olathe.  The clouds were as dramatic as opera.  I glimpsed a rainbow.  I drove through a rainstorm.  I pulled my sunglasses down to see if the rainbow was still there.

I may have hallucinated the rainbow.

But seeing a rainbow, whether it’s there or not, well, I will take that rainbow and write it down where others can see it.

I shift between fear of my parents traveling, fear of my parents being infected by kids, fear of being forced to teach in person, fear of my mom being forced to teach in person, fear for my aunt who is ill with a non-covid illness, fear that this will never end, fear that my birthday will be distanced (October), fear that Thanksgiving will be (unthinkable, really) or Christmas will be (unfathomable).

Dream I was in Manhattan, and coming out of subway, and I saw tall buildings, which sometimes triggered panic in me, and I think, I’m not panicky.  I’m okay now.

Dream I am celebrating Bastille Day with Conan O’Brien.  I tell him I am so happy he is the only famous person I met when I moved to LA.

I would never move to LA.

We are so lucky to be able to go see fireworks, almost like a normal Fourth, except we go in separate cars and wear masks.  This is a town with enough space for us to all spread out. We sit on folding chairs, which are now essential supply, as we visit only outdoors.  And one blanket.  I take the blanket and sit criss-cross.

Behind us, residents of those suburban houses on the edge are setting off fireworks, more, and more, and more, the screaming loud ones and the pretty ones, almost as big as professional fireworks.

It’s a lot.  They are close to us.

I ask my niece to pick me some wildflowers.  We are on the edge of the interstate, and the edge of a suburban development that has a walking trail.  We are plopped in the center of that trail.

She says okay, but she does not go until I get up and say, “Come on.”

Thistles and Queen Anne’s lace and tall grass and clover.  I grab a stalk of Queen Anne’s lace and pull.  It doesn’t give up easily.

“Look at the moon!” people say.

“When do the fireworks start?”

This asking of when fireworks begin, and the awkward waiting time, is part of tradition, isn’t it?

I bend and turn the flower’s stem until it gives and separates.

“That one!” my niece says.

She has interpreted my asking for help as asking her to select the flowers I will take.

I did ask her to “pick” some flowers for me.

I follow her direction (why not?) and pick seven stems of Queen Anne’s lace.

“I’m allergic to that,” her mom had said, so I set the picked flowers gently in the grass, a good distance from our camp.

“When you get home, and you put them in a vase, will you take a picture and send it to me?”

“I’ll try to remember,” I say, because promises, right now, seem impossible.

“Why would you forget?”

“Well, you know, things happen.  I just don’t want you to be too sad if I forget to send you the picture tonight.”

“Well, you could set a reminder on your phone,” she suggests.

“I could,” I say, though I don’t, instead I put one stem of Queen Anne’s lace in a four-inch-tall cobalt blue vase, and the other six in a blue painted jar.  The tiny vase goes on the bathroom sink.  The jar goes on the mantle.

I took a vow to always have red wine and flowers in my home.  I haven’t always kept this up.

But this summer wildflowers are understandable.  Something, something is there just to be taken, just to be enjoyed.

“Please, please, I want to see it!”

And she does.

 

Images: two vases from Paul Revere Pottery, the first, 1915, the second ca. 1908-15.  Both from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Below are my photos of my flowers.

Dominoes

Trevor Noah has a great video on this.

which inspired me to organize my thoughts a little.

I often thought, and said, that we should have a strong social safety net because, all ethics aside, when economic structures are top-heavy, societies turn into enclaves of a very few rich people behind barbed wire, and everyone else, who deals with significant crime and a lack of opportunity.   I didn’t want to be right about this, but seeing the anger, that has always been there, plus no school, no jobs, people finally have time to think more about how they’ve been treated, and what that means.  Particularly when the people who are pulled back to work, and pulled into danger, are people who are disproportionately black.

I’ve spent many years trying to explain racism and its effects, and plenty of people are not interested.  The more time has gone by, the more I have understood that white Americans genuinely see people who are black (particularly if they do not work hard to present themselves as allied with the middle class) as odd, scary, and in many ways, past help.

I told you college was cheaper than prison.  I told you that even at the school where I taught, with great amounts of support for students, they were significantly held back by a lack of funding and opportunities.  Public colleges are public in name only.  Some places in our country used to have actual public universities, by which I mean: tuition free.

Could the financial chaos happening now have been softened or even prevented by making sure everyone made a living wage, everyone had public education offered to them from preschool through college?

If we had excellent public transportation, so that a car problem didn’t immediately mean potential job loss, and a snowball of financial crisis, would this be happening in Kansas City?

It’s not just that I’m a bleeding heart liberal (which I am) or that I’m not ethically firm in my conviction that the government must provide a base level of services to all Americans, but it’s actually cheaper.  Crime is expensive for a society.  Riots are expensive.

Financially and emotionally, they are expensive.

Would this have happened if Hillary had been elected?  I don’t think so.

Would this have happened if Trump had been removed after impeachment?  I don’t think so.

Knowing your president supports racists has been deeply wounding people for years.