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in the winter sun

maura @ 12:26 pm

I’ve been carrying this post around with me in my head all week, an incredibly busy beginning of the semester at work, too worn out in the evenings to bang coherent sentences together. This time last weekend I was in Delaware, having driven down first thing in the morning with a good friend to go to the funeral of our favorite teacher from high school. She was only 59; her kids were only in their 20s. I’m tearing up again even as I type this.

The small group of folks that I’m close friends with from high school first heard the news at the end of the spring a year and a half ago: cancer, of the pancreatic kind, prognosis uncertain. I had trouble processing it — my teacher had actually visited Brooklyn the prior year and my friend and I had met her for dinner w/our partners and kids — how could she possibly be sick? I was upset and angry and sad. I wrote a bloggy screed that I never posted about how stupid cancer is and about some of the other friends we have who’ve had bouts with it (and, thankfully, survived). I wrote a letter to my teacher expressing my concern, letting her know how much she meant to me, and offering support in any way I could. I got a letter back from her promising that she’d fight the good fight.

She was an incredibly energetic and optimistic person and she fought hard, but right after new year’s we all heard that she’d taken a turn for the worse. I sent her emails, one with a crazy photo of the back of her head as she was driving a small bus full of a group of us during a Spring Break trip to work at a homeless shelter in Richmond, VA. My friends and I emailed each other photos and reminiscing, too, my favorite (from an old yearbook) of her sitting cross-legged on her desk in class, hands up to emphasize a point. I can actually hear her voice when I look at that picture.

And so it was that I found myself in the car on the NJ Turnpike again (we’d gone down to visit my family the prior weekend) on the way to her funeral mass at the new theater building at my old school. It was lovely and sad. Gus asked me later if I’d cried (yes). There were hundreds of people there that morning, and had been hundreds the night before for another memorial service. Former students from when she began teaching 30 years ago up to the present were there. The school streamed the service live and I later heard that folks on Facebook said they watched from afar. She was that good.

Rereading what I wrote when she first got sick, some of it seems salvageable and still true:

If I can write at all I owe it to this high school teacher for sure. It’s in her English classes that I have the first clear memory of really writing — not just reporting on what I’d read but actually thinking through the words and putting those thoughts on paper, albeit imperfectly. I don’t have many artifacts of my work from high school, the perils of growing up before ready access to computers. But I did keep some of the photocopies of short stories we read in her classes, many of which were my first introduction to Borges, Barthelme, Garcia-Marquez and others and had a lasting impact on my reading and writing habits.

It’s only in reflecting now that I’ve realized what a huge influence she’s been on my teaching, too. She had only just started teaching a few years before I got to high school, but I’m sure she’s the same in the classroom now as she was then. Her classes were fun and interesting because she’s fun and interesting, and her energy and enthusiasm for literature and writing made her classes enjoyable even as they were challenging. Thinking about how my own teaching has evolved over the years, I can only conclude that whatever success I have in the classroom now owes a huge debt to those high school English classes.

All of the conversations I’ve had with friends and acquaintances from high school center around the same theme. At a time when we were all navigating the transition from childhood to adulthood and were not always the nicest people to be around, in her teaching and friendship she always respected and valued us. She was a great teacher because of what she always did for her students: treated them as people with ideas worth having, gave them space for their own voices and creativity, and inspired them to do their best work. I’m still trying to do my best work. Thank you, Rosie.

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where i’m from

maura @ 9:57 pm

It’s hilariously cliched but true: when you are a librarian, people sometimes say things to you like: “I bet you love to read” (true), and “You must read all day” (false). I mean, I do read all day, just like you do: I read emails and meeting minutes and other worky stuff.

I have tried and tried to make time for reading, the nonwork kind, the fiction kind. STORIES. I put it on my list of Things I Try To Do Every Day. But it’s so easy to let that one slide. Unlike writing, it doesn’t get harder for me to read the less I read. And unlike exercise, I don’t get all hunched-over and achey if it’s been a couple of days since I’ve picked up a good book.

Reading is so easy to ignore, but it makes me feel mournful when I think about how little I read. I stare at the pile of books on my desk, on my shelf, and wonder when I’ll ever get to them. I could cut out internet reading, but my feed is never really under control anyway so it’s not like I spend lots of time reading on the nets. (I’m also about 4 issues behind in the New Yorker, but who’s counting?)

But, (lest we end on an unhappy note), good news, everyone! In a couple of weeks I’m going to be traveling by bus for a long, long time. Bus travel is no picnic, but I’m actually somewhat gleeful when I think about the time I can spend reading.


language is a virus

maura @ 4:50 pm

We are having a bit of an issue with swearing here lately. It’s not surprising, really: Gus rides the schoolbus along with lots of other kids ages 5-11 from his school (and, this year, other schools! thank you, budget cuts, for doubling the length of my kid’s morning bus ride). The older kids mess around with curse words, as kids hanging out (mostly) by themselves are wont to do. The younger kids hear them. Gus has known *all* the words (yes, we tested him) for many years now.

Up until this year whatever swearing happened seemed to happen only on the bus or at recess, basically places where adults couldn’t/didn’t hear it. But lately the blue language has been creeping into everyday life.

At first we decided to decriminalize “crap.” We figured that it’s only just barely a swear word, anyway, and it sounds so funny when you say it with a Scottish accent (which I can’t do — can’t roll my Rs to save my life — but G + J can). And we thought that the family legality of one acceptable swear would keep the unacceptable alternatives at bay. That worked fine for a while, but then we realized that crap is sort of a gateway drug, as lots of other sweary language started happening.

It’s the fake swearing that drives me the most batty. Sometimes he’ll say “bleep” as in “that Pokemon bleeping killed me!” Other times he just uses the first letter — “oh D!” — as if we don’t know what that means! Argh, it makes me crazy.

So now we are trying to cut the crap, as it were, in hopes of squashing the swearing altogether. Of course us grownups swear too, though we’ve tried to keep it squeaky clean around the sprog since toddlerhood, when he got old enough to start repeating them back to us. But we do curse when he’s not around, at varying levels of curseyness.

I sometimes try to convince Gus to make up his own swear words, a la Little Pete (e.g. “gutbuckets!”), because it’s so uncreative to rely on the standard curses. I’ve also been known to tell him that it’s embarrassing for parents when their kids swear, which has had mixed results, predictably.

It’s got me thinking about swearing in general. Why is it bad for kids to swear, exactly? (Most) adults know when to swear and when not, but if it’s bad for kids maybe it’s bad for us, too. Is it lazy? Probably, but sometimes that swear word just fits the situation so, so well.

(I want to end this with “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” but that’s too easy, right?)

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maura @ 10:31 pm

All weekend I have sort of been avoiding taking a look at the calendar because the next couple of weeks are kind of insane. Gus’s birthday is soon, and Xmas is practically right around the corner. Also, I somehow managed to get myself involved in 4 presentations at conferences and various other events between 12/3 and 12/14. It is all very exciting but also a little scary. So instead I’ve been catching up on my feeds + twitter and playing Carcassonne and listening to music and hanging out with family + friends.

Only a few more minutes of that before I should go to sleep so I can get up and start freaking out getting back to work tomorrow. Later, gators!

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two sides to every story

maura @ 10:52 pm

I’m so grateful that the mornings are brighter now that daylight savings is past. We have to get up at 6:15am this year to get Gus to the schoolbus on time, and those cold dark mornings were tough.

On the other hand, it always makes me tired when it’s so super post-falling-back dark in the evenings when I’m heading home. I’m finding that the older I get, the more I value sunshine (and the more awake I feel in the daytime).

Sometimes I think it would be cool to do the seasonal sleeping thing and sleep more in winter and less in summer. But the eXtreme busy of the fall semester doesn’t really support that, you stinky hippie.

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surprise art

maura @ 9:29 pm

I was crabby on my walk to work this morning, tired + out of sorts. It’s been a long week. Superbusy at work. Rainy and yucky yesterday. Gus went camping w/school which is always fun for him (and us!) but is also very strange (quiet house!). And I’m having weird, waking-up-before-the-alarm insomnia lately, which is just infuriating.

So there I was, grumble grumble grumble on the way to work, when I rounded the corner onto the plaza near my job only to see that new public art had been unveiled since the last time I walked to work. There are at least 3 big sculptural pieces, including one that’s a series of glass boxes w/stuff inside that sort of reminds me of Louise Bourgeois. I didn’t have time to look closely (9am meeting) or take pictures today but will soon. And now you have something to look forward to in a future post, yay for you!

It was surprising how quickly my mood lifted when I saw the art. Art in the morning, it’s a mood inoculation! Need to find a way to stumble upon art every time I am grumpy.


twitter fail

maura @ 11:16 pm

I have given up on catching up on twitter this week. I’m not sure when it happened, but I’m anywhere from 24-48 hours behind on reading tweets right now. And I think I am just going to say no to catching up entirely.

It’s usually pretty easy to keep up with twitter — it fills in the gaps between things so nicely. I guess I haven’t had any of those gaps in the past few days. Except on the subway, but there’s no internet on the subway.

It feels even failier than usual to give up on twitter. Twitter is the easy one, the quick fix, not something to dwell on or worry about. Maybe I need to cull the # of folks I follow.

Also why is it still 85 degrees on some of the subway platforms? It’s November, for pete’s sake!

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questions & answers

maura @ 9:30 pm

Q: What’s going on around here? Why so quiet lately?

A: Oh, you know, the usual: work, research, chores, weekend bike rides + park visits, fencing (now with mask + glove!), homework, last-minute costume prep, etc.

A: Also, the unusual:

– The bathroom renovation, which has really been much less stressful than it could be (and also mad props to J for acquiring most of the needfuls, including tile, which is very heavy). I haven’t been in there in a while, but I hear things are progressing swimmingly. Right now there’s a hi-tech plastic sheet spanning the hallway in front of the bathroom door from floor to ceiling, with a long red zipper for entry and exit. So CDC!

– Gus’s prehistoric technology studies at school are in full effect. Yesterday was one of the wigwam field trips, and Jonathan helped the kids make fire. (Fire! Fire!) Also I got a slate pendant necklace that Gus had drilled a hole in with a stick, bringing this month’s homemade necklace haul up to 2 — yay!

– So I am on a team that got a very very big grant at work which is very very exciting. My responsibilities have shifted somewhat, though, and I am still getting my bearings time-wise. Which is a complicated way to say that I am very very busy.

Q: Are the cats freaked out by the bathroom renovation?

A: The big one kind of is, and spends lots of time sitting on Jonathan’s lap during the day. The little one could care less.

Q: Have you quit Twitter and/or Facebook?

A: No! See above about the busy. Mostly succeeding in keeping up w/Twitter these days, but can’t really seem to find time to look at Facebook more than a couple of times a week. But our library has a Facebook now so you should be our fan!

Q: What is Gus planning to be for Halloween?

A: Well originally he wanted to be a bat. And we looked all over the internets for a costume only to find that it’s apparently pretty easy to make one with an old black umbrella. So I brought my spare umbrella home from work to sacrifice it, but then in true Gus fashion he changed his mind, and now he’s going as the grim reaper. Which I think is kind of spooky for him these days, but what do I know? Maybe he just wants the scythe. He’s going to a Halloween party before the trick or treating on Sunday afternoon, so maybe we’ll go have a grownup halloweenniversary lunch or somesuch.

Q: Is minute 2:13 in “Leaders of Men” still your favorite part of any Joy Division song ever?

A: Yes.

Q: Are you sad now that Mad Men is over?

A: Sort of. I do miss it, but it’s nice to be caught up on the other TV. House has been decent this season, though Fringe is disappointing. It’s just so *flimsy* with the dual universe storylines. Jonathan keeps saying that they are spreading their story butter too thin across the toast of the show. Also we got a new toaster oven, which performs well enough but has an annoying digital readout (power vampire!) and makes a beeping noise when it’s finished toasting that is much too close to the standard smoke detector noise around these parts. Which is sort of funny given that excessive toasting could in theory set off the smoke detector.

Q: Are you tired? Right now? Because you’re getting a little loopy with that progression from TV to toast, is all I’m saying.

A: Right again! Gold star for you! But you’ll have to wait for it, I’ve got some work to do right now.

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a very blustery day

maura @ 9:32 pm

So, there was a tornado in Brooklyn yesterday! Yeah, I know the weather service is saying they’re not sure what to call it yet, but it sure seemed like a tornado to me. It’s funny: I lived in Missouri for 2 yrs as a kid and have spent lots of time visiting my in-laws in the great Midwest, but it’s here in the big city that I first encounter a tornado.

The whole thing was really weird — as Jonathan said at dinner, the weather forecast for the day didn’t seem that awful, just a 20% or so chance of rain in the evening. I was chatting with a coworker and ended up leaving work later than I planned, and as I walked from the library to the subway it was just starting to drizzle. But the air was really unsettled and the clouds were speeding by and the lightning was just weird, so you could tell it wasn’t a typical storm.

The train was really slow so I was probably down in the subway for 20 minutes or so. When I got to my stop and walked up to the first level above the platform, there was a huge tree branch near the turnstiles. Which was unexpected! Then I got upstairs to the sidewalk and saw the first of the big downed trees on my walk home (that’s the photo on the left above). There were three big trees down on the three-block walk to our street, though strangely none of the small trees on our block were damaged at all. The buildings around us are all fine but there’s been lots of roof + window damage elsewhere in Brooklyn and Queens.

(The Times has a cool map today of the downed trees that traces the storm’s path. Go GIS!)

We’re fine, as is everyone we know. Our car is fine, too, which makes me a little sad. You see that last photo up there, on the right? See the little bit of red car across the street from the car that has a tree on it? The red one is ours, and I wish it was the other one. I’ve been trying to make us get rid of the car for about 3 yrs now. But my enthusiasm is not shared, and it’s a lot of work to get it together and actually sell it. So we are still car owners.

But we have friends whose car got totalled a bunch of years ago, I forget how, I think they were in an accident but thankfully no one was hurt. And afterward they decided not to get a new car. Which got me thinking what a great thing it would be if something like that happened to our car. Accident, disaster, whatever — as long as no one gets hurt and nothing else gets broken. It just seems so much easier than having to make the effort to sell the damn thing.

So hello tornado in Brooklyn. If you were going to take down all of our beautiful trees, the least you could have done is dropped one of them on our car. The owner of that car across the street is so lucky, sheesh.

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sunday sunday sunday

maura @ 11:30 am

We spent last week at the beach on vacation with my family (my mom, 2 sibs + their families). It’s always a fun, if somewhat chaotic, time (7 kids under age 9!). The weather was great: we only had one rainy day, and much of that day it was only drizzly so we ended up taking the kids to the beach to hunt for shells anyway. It was lovely to meet my new nephew, who turned 4 weeks old last Friday. In my annual seafood-eating event I nommed steamed clams picked up by my mom + brother on the way in, an amazing lobster roll + clam chowder from here, as well as yummy broiled crab cakes from here.

This year I got sick (and Jonathan, too), which unfortunately kind of harshed my vacation mellow and scrapped many of my more ambitious leisure plans. I only read two books (both before the sickness hit), didn’t catch up on personal emails, and didn’t learn how to knit either. It’s just a head cold, but even though I tried to slow down and take it easy I’m still on sick day #6 (I think?). The inherent instability of vacation time means that I can’t quite remember when I got sick, maybe Tuesday? It was a bummer, though the vacation was still fun overall.

Now we’re back and I’m simultaneously trying to manage re-entry and recovery. Today is stretched before me in all of its Sundayness, and I’m a bit at odds. It’s hot + rainy. The cats missed us and are meowy + needy. Gus wanted a playdate but his desired pal is busy. I should clean the floors and go buy my niece a birthday present. I think the former is a pipe dream (also, Anne Lamott told me to clean less), but maybe we can swing the latter this afternoon. But resting needs to be at the top of the list, I think: classes start Thursday, so things are about to ramp up sharply. Full speed ahead!

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