Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I dreamed I was a teacher and woke up screaming

Well, not screaming. But it was a terrible nightmare. I was supposed to be teaching these third-graders, but I had no lesson plans and no idea what third-graders were supposed to learn. There were two other grown-ups in the room with me, one of whom was evaluating me, and the other was the science/math teacher. So I was all, “Yeah, well, right now it’s the science and math unit!”, and I was hoping the science and math teacher would take over, and give me time to think of a language arts lesson plan; but instead she just stood there watching me expectantly. I said, “Okay, fractions!” and all the kids waited patiently and I said, “One half plus one half equals a whole. Get it?” and drew a picture of a sliced-in-half pie on the chalkboard.

“Jenny,” said the science and math teacher. “They don’t learn fractions until eighth grade.”

“No,” I said anxiously. “Third grade. They learn fractions right now. With pie.”

“It’s 3.14159 et cetera,” said the science and math teacher to the students. “Remember that, students. You will need it to decipher the circle that Jenny drew on the board for you.”

“Wait, we aren’t doing geometry!” I said.

“You brought it up,” said the science and math teacher gently.

“Not pi,” I said. “Pie like apple pie.”

“You’re being very irrational,” said the science and math teacher.

“Is this your normal teaching method?” said the evaluator. “Why haven’t you asked the students to tell you about themselves? These students don’t even know each other’s names. How can you try to teach them Euclidean [only she pronounced it Oyclidean] geometry on the very first day when you don’t know anything about them?”

IT WAS AWFUL. I woke up shaking and couldn’t get back to sleep, but I didn’t remember what the nightmare was about until just now. I thought it must have featured horrific monsters. But no. Just teaching.

This nightmare brought to you by:

1. Several of my friends becoming teachers
2. Talking to my sister about fractions last night – she was fantastically good at them when we learned them in (she says) fourth grade (but I thought we learned fractions in third) (but she remembers it very vividly and I'm sure she is right). So I was off about the fractions by a year.
3. Explaining to tim that I am bad at teaching. Also, the Oyclidean business is tim-related because she one time told me that Euler is pronounced Oiler and it always makes her want to call Euclid Oyclid. Also if it weren’t for tim I doubt that the irrational joke and the five digits I can remember of pi would have made it into this dream.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What I wonder

My mother and I were talking last week about Memorable Reading Experiences, and she had all these memories of where she was, and what she was doing, and what the weather was like, when she was reading certain books. Whereas my memorable reading experiences were more me thinking, Oh, you can do that in a book. Like with Rumer Godden’s books, the way she interjects brief comments from other characters in the middle of describing an event, or that dialogue thing she does where she contrasts what one character is thinking with what another character says. Like, Jenny thought that football was dull, but, “We’d love for you to stay and watch it with us,” said Aunt Becky. I love Rumer Godden.

Or when I first read Agatha Christie, and previously the only mysteries I’d really read were Nancy Drew and the Boxcar Children, and I got to the end, and it was like, bam! You weren’t expecting that, were you? I remember being so fascinated by the idea that someone could be the killer all along and everyone else didn’t even know. (Yes, as an adult, I realize this is how mystery novels work. But Nancy Drew telegraphs its punches! So it was a new sensation to me, with Agatha Christie!)

Or – hey, I know – when I first read Sorcery and Cecilia, the idea that you could have an epistolary novel, a novel that was a proper novel but at the same time it was made out of letters (I just typed “made out of win” on accident, so you see I feel strongly about this) – well, that idea filled me with almost more rejoicing than my brain could handle. It still does actually. One of these days, my friends.

Do these examples work? I mean that when I read books, I like for writers do something I hadn’t thought of before. Unless it sucks. Like the first time I ever read a stream-of-consciousness story, I expect I was all, Blech. Where is the punctuation? Punctuation, everyone! Punctu-fuckin’-ation. (To make that remark slightly less lowbrow, let me pause and mention that it is what is referred to as tmesis, a literary device of which I have always been fond. Wikipedia gives a rather sexy Latin example. The fact that five years out from my most recent Latin class, I am still excited about tmesis in Ovid suggests to me that I maybe missed my calling to be a Latin teacher.)

Anyway, when I said this to my mother, she said, “Well, you really are a writer.” But I am not sure that the above-mentioned thing is proof of that. And I am wondering now, when a book does something nifty and new, do other people have this reaction? Where they are like, OH HOORAY OH THE GLORIOUS VISTAS OF OPPORTUNITY? Or do they not notice at all? Or do they slightly notice but not pay attention because they don’t care? Or what?

Monday, September 21, 2009


The library hates me and breaks my heart. They are constructing some new system to catalogue the books and keep track of what patrons have what books out which THEY SAY is going to be much better and everyone will rejoice in it once they have finished setting it up TWO WEEKS FROM NOW. But I have my doubts because the last several new things that they have come up with have made me unhappy, to wit:

1. Completely getting rid of the computers where you didn't have to log in, you could just check really quickly to see if a book was in the library. Now you have to log in to the computers and get on the internet and use the online catalogue. It takes ages and I hate it. And the computers are constantly breaking which they hardly ever used to do. Or, well, maybe they did, but I liked them a lot better and have chosen to forget any negative qualities they may have possessed.

2. Bringing out these new soulless white cards. My card is blue, and I have had it for eight years, and I am not prepared to part with it for some allegedly stronger but definitely not as good white card.. Because when I first got a grown-up blue card, I kept losing it, and finally I got this one, and I was like, OKAY. THIS IS IT. I like this number and I am not ever ever ever going to lose this card, and I never did.

3. The new evil system whereby little children can only check out children's books on their card, so if they want an adult book or even a YA book, their parents have to check it out for them. This is hateful evilness and makes people's lives more trying. I can only imagine how furious I would have been if this rule had been in effect when I was small.

So I am not confident that the new library system will be better. Meanwhile I have no idea when my books are due. I check books out all the time, and I keep track of their due dates by looking online. You can't renew books using just your library card. You have to actually know which books are due when, and have them with you when you try to renew them. This sucks because my goal is to accrue less than $15 of fines on this go-round of my library card; I just renewed the card, and that lasts for three years, so I am trying to get very few fines in three years. And I know this is going to mess everything up. TOTALLY UNCOOL.

You know what would make me feel better? Football! How many more days is it until Saturday? I am nervous for the Florida game, but I am taking it as a good omen that it's happening on Ada Leverson's birthday. I shall pray that she intercedes for us - I mean what are the odds that there are any Florida fans who like her as much as I do?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Revisiting the slaughter policy

When I was a child I thought as a child and my slaughter policy was as follows:

1. Don't kill anything cute.
2. Kill other noncute things whenever you are brave enough to do so.
3. Don't kill any spiders.

This last bit is completely Roald Dahl's fault for having James say this:

Should her looks sometimes alarm you
Then I don't think it would harm you
To repeat at least a hundred times a day:
I must never kill a spider
I must only help and guide her
[and invite her in the nursery to play]

So, okay, that's fair (apart from the last line which I have bracketed off as obvious lunacy). Spiders do helpful things, and I like helpful things. I am not necessarily afraid of spiders. I mean I do not want disgusting spider babies running all over my apartment LIKE SOME PEOPLE, but I don't see a spider and start crying and hyperventilating or anything. That's why the third item on my policy was there.

And then I became an adolescent, and grew to understand nuances of good and evil, and I revised my policy thus.

1. Don't kill anything cute.
1a. If something cute is going to die anyway you may run it over with your car as I learned when my mother had to do this to a little bird my cat was playing with.

2. Kill other noncute things only if they are in your territory. I.e., if you encounter a wasp inside, it is a villainous invader of your personal space and you can kill it because it's icky. If you encounter it outside, like an ant on a picnic, you are in its space and it legitimately has the right to crawl on you or whatever.

3. Don't kill any spiders.
3a. However, you don't have to have them in your house. If you find one, mercifully scoop it up on a Kleenex and put it outside.

Now I am a grown-up and I have had to make changes again. Things are more complicated when you are an adult. They are. Viz:

1. Don't kill anything cute.
1a. If something cute is going to die anyway you may still run it over with your car.
1b. If you do kill something cute by accident, immediately call your Hindu friends and let them make you feel better by assuring you it's going to get reincarnated as something better.

2. Kill noncute things if they are in your territory.
2a. Or if they bite you.
2b. Or get on you.
2c. Or if you just can't stand the sight of them (this includes all cockroaches everywhere).

3. Take spiders on a case-by-case basis.
3a. Don't put them outside. If they are inside they are probably house spiders, so the house is their territory too, and putting them outside will probably kill them.
3b. So if you're inside and they're inside, and you try to ignore them and they don't take the hint and keep hopping back onto your desk and ending up on your post-it notes and finally GETTING IN YOUR HAIR AND IF A SPIDER CAN DO IT THEN SO MIGHT A COCKROACH, you can feel free to kill them.
3c. And then if you slam a pack of post-its down on them really hard and they still walk away from it, feel free to scream obscenities at them. And at Roald Dahl too because it's all his fault. And then write a stroppy blog post about it.

Dear friends and family,

This blog post is a call for help. I CANNOT STOP SWEET HEAVENLY GOD.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Oh my God! Look at what has happened! Look how the internet senses & responds to my every whim! Beautiful, wonderful, amazing, brilliant internet! How can it be that you care for me so much, when I have often scorned and cursed at you for running too slowly and for failing to load websites that I want? I am in a frenzy of self-reproach! Oh, internet, just tell me how to make it up to you! I will make you cakes, I will buy you jewels, I will travel to the North Pole and bring you back the head of a polar bear!

(You were doing quite well until you got to the bit about the polar bear.)

You may wonder what this is all about and DO NOT WORRY BECAUSE I WILL TELL YOU.

For a while I have had this project of trying to identify English accents. I am better at it than I used to be - obviously since going to England, but also since I've just been paying attention. Hitherto I have been getting by inspecting actor bios on IMDB when I watch British telly, which, yes, slows the progrses of my project, but not unduly, and it was the only way of managing it. I thought.



The British Library (which I have never scorned or cursed of course) (except for earlier today when I discovered that it wasn't going to let me listen to all the stuff I wanted to listen to on account of being American and not at university) has digitized their sound archives. Like including oral history. Which you can organize by county. Which means I can listen to what people sound like anywhere in Britain.

Today I listened to a dude from Cumbria who feels sad for children these days and their need for instant gratification. He actually said Bligh (is that how it's spelled?). "The dogs have nowhere to go; kiddies have nowhere to go. Bligh." He sounds a bit like the way the people in The Secret Garden talk. Except? He's not from Yorkshire. And now I can just go to the British Library website and listen to someone who IS. Whenever I feel like it.

Swear to Jesus.

I love the internet.

Preaching by the converted

How come I am so much more insane about preaching the goodness of books/films/TV shows that I originally didn't want to read/watch? You notice this same thing with converted religious people sometimes, that they can be madly zealous in a way that people brought up in the faith are often not.

I bring this up because I am reading The Girl in a Swing, which is a book by the same guy that wrote Watership Down, and it's making me want to tell everyone to read Watership Down. Zealously. Though I believe when my mother first brought up Watership Down to me, the conversation was like this.

Mumsy: Jenny! I got Watership Down! You have to read it while we're here [in Maine]!
Jenny: Okay! You have never steered me wrong! What's it about?
Mumsy: Well, it's about these rabbits.
Jenny: Um, yeah. That sounds sweet, but I'm too busy revisiting the oeuvres of William Steig and Maurice Sendak.
Mumsy: Really?
[Note: William Steig and Maurice Sendak are both brilliant and I love them. I am in no way criticizing William Steig and Maurice Sendak.]
Mumsy: No, no, it's very exciting. It's very exciting. It's about this rabbit that is psychic-
Jenny: Mother. This is embarrassing.

See, but I was so wrong! Watership Down is amazing and thrilling and suspenseful. The rabbits have all kinds of mad adventures, like - oo, it's so creepy - when they find this warren with these fat, well-fed rabbits that just act really weird; and like when the Major Fighter Rabbit, Bigwig, befriends this crow; and when they have to infiltrate a terrifying fascist warren and fight off the terrifying army of fascist rabbits.

When I try to tell people how good Watership Down is, I can always tell from their faces that they are thinking the exact same thing that I myself was thinking when my mother first told me about it. And I don't want them to make the same judgey-face mistake that I made! Which caused me to put off reading it for a really long time! I mean, okay, for like a week, until I ran out of other stuff to read, but dude, if we hadn't been on vacation, if we had been at home surrounded by zillions of books and a public library, I might NEVER EVER HAVE READ IT.

...I am sad for the people that have never read Watership Down.