Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!...And Growing Old With A Glass of Malbec

I pull into a gas station mini-mart.  
I run in to buy a newspaper, and while I’m skimming headlines the attractive gentleman behind the counter says, “You looking for a job?”
How the heck did he know? 
Dismayed by this man’s extra sensory perception, I reply ever so matter-of-factly.
“Why do you ask?” I say.
“I had to fire one of my girls today,” he explains.  “I need someone A.S.A.P.”
“So you lookin?” he presses, politely.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t look around the joint for a split second, considering the possibility.  I looked at shelves of nearly stale Twinkies, smelled the burnt coffee bubbling away on the slopped up burner, thinking, “It wouldn’t be so bad.”  
But then I glimpsed the rotating wiener cooker and caught a whiff of that deliciously fragrant aroma of tubular-shaped, ground up animal parts steeped in grease (MMMMmmmm!!), and then I snapped out of it.
“No, I’m not really looking right now,” I say.
“Too bad,” the nice man says.  “I really need to find a girl soon. I think you’d be good.”
Once again, hmm.
“Well, if you have any girl friends who are looking, let ‘em know there’s an opening,” he says.
“So it has to be a woman?” I ask.
Can’t wait to hear this one!
“I just think it’s good for business if there’s a cute girl behind the counter,” he explains. “That’s all. And you’re pretty cute.”
Yeah, I still got it!
“So what happened to the other girl?” I inquire.
“Eh,” he says, waving his hand at the thought of the other girl. “She was too young. Too irresponsible.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I’m looking to hire someone older,” he says. “You’d be perfect.
“Thanks but no thanks,” I say.  And then, just like that, I was gone.
Much like my thirties. 

                                                                 *     *     *
Okay, so my thirties aren’t entirely over.  This Saturday, I will be turning thirtysomething, not exactly a life-altering, mile-stone-making number, but a significant one for me, nonetheless. 
And why is that, you might ask?
Mostly because there are so many things I’ve yet to accomplish: get married, have babies, publish my book, make a million dollars, pay off my student loans, move to the French Riviera and live in a quaint yet glorious villa on the Mediterranean Sea.  
Pretty humble ambitions, I would say.
There’s also the issue of aging.  Try as I might to drink as much red wine as possible to soak up all those age defying antioxidants, mysteriously I continue to show my age. 
Every time I go to the grocery store, I wait with bated breath to see if the cashier will card me for my bottles of wine.  If the cashier is a man, I almost always get carded.  But if it’s a middle-aged woman, she takes one look at my crows feet and waves me through.  
And they keep getting deeper, those crows feet.  And isn’t that a horrible name?  Personally, I would prefer to call them something with a slightly more positive connotation, like “wings of wisdom” or perhaps something more euphonious, such as “wave-like wisps of time.”  
Doesn’t that just sound better?
All in all, I’m not lamenting my age.  In fact, I have a few concrete things to feel good about from my years on this earth: friends who put up with me, a boyfriend who loves, loves, LOVES me! A mother who prays for me, and an imagination that allows me to dream. 
So this Saturday, I’ll raise a glass (or three) of Malbec, and I’ll let my wings of wisdom carry my thoughts to that villa on the French Riviera, where I’ll float like an ageless swan on those wave-like wisps of time.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Control: How one tries to "let go" instead of "losing it"

So now that I’ve gotten all of that political stuff off my chest...
Let's chat, shall we?
Just recently I watched a movie called Control. It's about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the brilliant band "Joy Division," and it got me thinking about the idea of control:  
What we do or do not have control over in our lives.  Whether or not we feel we’re being controlled by someone else.  Our wacky friends or family members whom we describe as being “out of control” (come know exactly the type of person of whom I speak!). 
Or, worst of all, the feeling of losing control--over everything--like in that dream when we’re being chased by a bad guy, and, as hard as we try to move our legs to run, we stand still as though pressed against an invisible wall. 
It’s a horribly fatalist viewpoint to say that we have no control over our own lives.  But sometimes, that’s how it feels. 
Clearly, I had zero control over the fact that my lousy school district riffed me despite my having helped raise my students’ ISAT scores by nearly fourteen percent--in one year.  I had no control over the fact that twenty four more teachers from that same district--some of whom are my dear friends--also got riffed this year.  I also had no control over the fact that the grossly inept superintendent of that lousy school district received a $41,000 salary increase this year, an amount of money, which, incidentally, is more than a first-year teacher in that district earns in an entire year.  
But I digress.  
While I’ve been on this “sabbatical” from teaching (gotta love euphemisms, huh!), I’ve tried on a daily basis to be proactive in fighting off those fatalist beliefs, doing whatever I can to take back control of my life.  
So what have I done with myself all these months--aside from applying for every job in the state of Illinois?  
I started a blog, mostly to vent about the teaching profession (not that I’m bitter, or anything).  
With that blog, I was lucky enough to gain a very small, but very loyal, following--even people I had never met in person (official praise for Suz and Jenny!).  
As the blog progressed, it somehow morphed into the makings of a book about the crazy family I worked for as an au pair in France some years ago.  And it’s that book that has been the antidote to my fatalist fears.
But right now I’m in the process of revising that “book,” and I can’t tell you how mind numbingly painful it is to re-read one’s own writing when the writing is god-awful poor. Honestly, I haven't felt this insecure since grad school.
Am I fishing for compliments, as Adam might teasingly suggest?  Absolutely not.  When I’ve written something decent, I can feel it, taste it. Heck, I can smell it in the air.  
Rather, what I’m dealing with now is simple stagnation--the lack of progress that comes with dreading the revision of that next deplorable chapter.  
So on the days when I simply can’t stand to edit even one more “He said,” or “She glanced with narrowed eyes,” I go for a run and contemplate the positives of my life, insisting that I at least try to see the benefits of not being in the classroom this year.
This is what I came up with:
1).  I’m able to spend more time planning healthy, delicious meals for Adam and me.  The other night, Adam grilled turkey burgers.  We added some roasted red peppers and...the rest is history.  This is a photo of my “perfect bun-less burger”--ten points to the first person who can actually spot the burger!
2). I get to hang out with friends like Val and Nicole, who call me and get me out of the house because for some reason, they still think I’m fun to hang with.
3). I have more time to exercise.  Pathetic as it sounds, I actually bought a machine called the “Leg Magic” from an infomercial that played on television every day when I was in graduate school. (Yes, I watched television even though I should have been working on my thesis!) Only recently did I start to use it seriously and I’ve already lost an inch around my waste...yay!
4). Best of all, being away from the classroom has allowed me to remember the good things about teaching.  I remember a student from last year; I’ll call him “Isaiah.” We were beginning a poetry portfolio project toward the end of the year, and Isaiah--a student who was beyond the bane of my existence all year--told me, “I can’t write no poems, Ms. Smith. Especially no sonnets.” By the end of the year, Isaiah had written the most beautiful English sonnet, and, to me, it was a small miracle.  
I realize I have no control over whether or not I get called for interviews.  If I revise my résumé one more time, I’ll be able to publish the myriad versions of it as a book in itself.  

But it’s nice to be able to miss things about something you’d come to resent.  It’s nice to miss the good things about teaching. 
The little miracles.