Foam

The traditional gift is china, or diamonds, but we opted for foam.

New Mattress

Let me back up.

Twenty years ago, my mom and dad bought a mattress for Xy and me, a wedding present.

This year, as an anniversary gift to each other, we got ourselves a new mattress. That’s right, we slept on the same mattress for twenty years. It served us well in its day, but that day is past, long past. There was a deep trough where my body used to lie, and we’d flipped and rotated all we could.

It was time for something new. So we got a Sleep Innovations 12-Inch SureTemp Memory Foam Mattress.

It’s awesome, and it was affordable. Many thanks to Brother O’Mara for the recommendation, and for letting us come over to his house and roll around on his bed.

Interestingly enough, this mattress comes with a twenty year warranty. So maybe this will last us until our 40th anniversary.


We promised each other that this mutual gift would fulfill our gifting obligations with regard to our anniversary, but I couldn’t resist one little surprise. I knew that Xy would check her laptop first thing in the morning. I left her a note that said “please check your email.” In her inbox she found a message that said “please watch this video.”

And then she saw this.

NSFW, probably. No one ever saw this video before. It was just sitting on a tape in a shoebox in the closet. Xy had certainly forgotten all about it. But I knew it was there, and I knew this would be the perfect time to edit it up.

I’d had some vague thought that a ten-year follow-up would interesting, but I seem to have lost interest in cocktails.

Second Guessing

I’ve also been reflecting on our decision to stay in place for Isaac. Was it the right choice? There’s room for disagreement even in our house. Over the past week Xy has repeated “Never again!” whereas I’ve found myself saying I’m glad we stayed.

So what were the pros and cons of that decision? It’s tempting, though foolish, to look at what actually happened.

Sleeping Arrangement

For example: On the negative, the winds were kind of unsettling. None of us slept well that first night, when Isaac made his stumbling landfall not once but twice. Our whole house shook. Our house shakes whenever a truck rolls by, but sustained shaking for many hours is worrisome. Also, we were without power for four days. That was the worst of it.

Problem is, any analysis of our decision should be based on risk assessment, on what could have happened. To judge our judgment based on what actually happened is foolish — and irresistible, inevitable. Human nature, I suppose.

A tree could have fallen on our house. But it didn’t.

What’s the worst that might have happened? Here’s one nasty scenario: Hurricanes can spin off tornadoes faster than a late-70s sitcom. In fact Isaac was responsible for some tornadoes in Illinois. Tornadoes, to me, seem like tiny superfast hurricanes, much more unpredictable, highly destructive though much more limited in scope. So, a tornado could have hit our house in just such a way as to make it collapse and kill us all. I have no idea of the statistical likelihood of such an event. It would be interesting to compare that to the risk involved in, say, driving an automobile on the interstate.

In the end, though, it doesn’t come down to a rational analysis of statistical data. As I talked to people about their various plans to evacuate or not, I found a lot of it had to do with their previous experience. The authorities warn us that every storm is different, yet we can’t help comparing to the last one. Some people had a bad time in the evacuation for Ivan, which experience led them to stay for Katrina. Our Gustav evacuation informed our decision for Isaac.

I’m worried that going forward I’ll have an overly rosy memory of Isaac which will tempt me to stay at some point in the future when I really should go.

And so forth. There’s no escape from second-guessing.

Balancing Intentions

Equinox Symbol

Equinox

It’s a precise moment that happens twice a year, when the equatorial plane of the earth intersects the center of the sun. That’s the equinox. This year it came at 4:04 AM (local time) on the morning of Friday, September 23rd. For this moment only, the earth’s axis was not tilted one way or the other with regard to the sun. Sounds complicated, but it’s easy to illustrate with a flashlight and a globe, and I’m happy to demonstrate to anyone who cares to listen.

My understanding of the solar holidays continues to evolve. I used to have a vague idea that the solstices were a time to celebrate nature, while the equinoxes were a time to celebrate our humanity. The solstices represent the extremes of the sun’s wandering path across our skies. (See the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and the arctic circles for more details.) The equinoxes represent the halfway point between these extremes. And who cares about halfway points? We humans do.

That’s what I used to think based on sheer intuition. That was before I knew about the cross-quarter days, which are even more deeply human and culturally constructed. Now I see the equinoxes as somewhere in-between, a time to celebrate and reflect on the balance between nature and culture. Equinox means “equal night,” i.e., the time of year when day and night are the same length, or nearly so. Dark and light in equal measure.

Harvest

Living in the subtropics, I don’t feel the same sense of bittersweet melancholy I associate with autumn in the temperate zones, but there’s no doubt the squash harvest is coming in with a vengeance. There are a lot of harvest festivals around the world that occur around this time of year. Some, like Harvest Home and סוכות (Sukkot) don’t fall precisely on the equinox, but others like 추석 (Chuseok) and Mabon do.

Here in the United States our big harvest festival is Thanksgiving. I have some issues with the holiday. Leaving aside the usual political grousing, it’s too late in the year. It’s too close to the winter solstice and Christmas and all that. It’s too nationalistic. It’s annoying when people call it “Turkey Day.” Above all it’s too gluttonous. But then most of our major national holidays seem out of balance.

We invited some friends over for an equinoctial feast. I took the day off to prepare the meal: jicama, curried tomato bisque, cornbread, stuffed squash, Haver cookies. I kept Persephone home for the day too. Our friends are vegan; cooking without eggs or butter was an interesting exercise for me. They brought sweet potato muffins and some roasted squash as well. We had plenty to eat.

But I’ll say this about a vegan banquet. It just didn’t feel as heavy as meat and animal by-products. It felt entirely moderate, not excessive. At the end of the meal I felt full and satisfied but not overstuffed.

So I think it is possible to celebrate balance and celebrate the harvest at the same time. I think that’s more conducive to a spirit of thanksgiving than eating a bunch of turkey and collapsing in a food coma.

I had a short grace prepared, but I forgot to say it.

Balance

I’ve had the equinox in mind as a new starting point for a couple weeks now.

Maybe I should have started at Lammas; the completion of one revolution would seem to be a propitious time for starting another. Maybe the solstice would have been the best time; I made a case for that a few years ago.

Time slips away. Now I’m thinking the equinox might be the very best occasion. This is a symbol of balance, which is central to my aspirations.

Gus diZerega makes a convincing argument that balance is a key spiritual value in certain traditions, on par with salvation and enlightenment in others. Gus is writing from an explicitly Neopagan perspective, but note that balance is also one of the main principles of Taoism.

One of my favorite films of all time is Koyaanisqatsi. It shows that as a society, we are living a “life out of balance,” which is what the title means in the language of the Hopi.

It’s a powerful statement, made without words or any conventional narrative structure. It manages to be intensely beautiful at the same time. Highly recommended. I just wanted to touch on the fact that balance is not merely an inner experience. When our lives are out of balance, the consequences are manifest in the material world.

But how to find that elusive sense of balance? Patrick McCleary recommends a number of simple practices: breathing exercises, meditation, prayer and prioritization.

To me setting priorities is the best way to start. Although it can be the toughest to accomplish.

This advice caught my attention because I’ve been doing a number of those things already. In particular I’ve been prioritizing.

Intentions

So here I am, at a point of resolution and determination, of self-authorship and self-transformation. I’ve been sifting through what it is that I feel I need to do now, and over the year to come.

Three things keep coming out on top:

  • to deepen
  • to strengthen
  • to integrate

Naturally, one might be inclined to ask, “What the hell are you talking about? Deepen what?”

Everything. My actions. My relations. My daily habits and practices. My inner and outer life.

And most of all, I want to be full of intention.

This may seem vague at first glance, but it’s really just abstract. There’s a difference. What’s missing is the next piece, which I’ll get to eventually, the concrete practices that put these into action.

But hold on just a minute. Isn’t that religion? A set of practices designed to develop our natural faculties for meaning, purpose and values? But I have no religion. I’m an atheist, an anarchist, a spiritual rogue.

So I’m setting for myself a one-year project. When I was younger, a year seemed like a long time. Now I feel like I could do anything for a year. I could stand on my head for a year. Instead of standing on my head, I’ll dedicate myself to this, make a project of it, give my best sustained effort to realizing these intentions. And at the next equinox, we’ll see where things stand.

I’m no longer scared of the R word. If religion is the wrong word for what I’m about, I’m perfectly happy to discard it. Words are important, but it’s the intentions behind our words that matter most. I’m using the term broadly, as I’ve come to realize the variety of religious experiences is beyond all my preconceived notions. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This will be a year of discovering my religion. Or inventing it.

No Handles

In coming to this pass, I’m inspired by Project Conversion, so I’ve got to give props to Andrew Bowen. For the current calendar year, he’s converting to a different religion each month. Right now he’s a Sikh. He calls it “twelve months of spiritual promiscuity.” I’ve been following his story for the better part of the year so far, and it’s truly an amazing journey. I wouldn’t miss a day.

While I can’t hope to compare, I kind of wish I had a handy handle, a catchy catchphrase, something fun that other people could wrap their minds around. “My Year of DIY Religion” or “The 49 Stupidities of Editor B” or something like that.

But I don’t. And that’s fine too. If it’s meant to have a name, that can come in time. Maybe I’ll know what to call it when we come back to the autumnal equinox again.

Of course, I’m open to suggestions.

Eighteen Years

Xy and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary on Sunday. As a gift I gave her a necklace.

Seeds of Demeter

It’s called Seeds of Demeter, a beautiful piece of work by Rhonda King. (Buy her jewelery.) Demeter is, of course, the mother of Persephone and the goddess of the harvest, so I feel this piece resonates with both the time and the person. I gave it to Xy with wishes that she will reap a beneficial “harvest” as she labors to teach her students.

I also took that occasion to talk briefly about the many ideas that have been swirling around me lately, of which I have written here. One might think the person closest to me would know all about this, but it’s not so. We’ve always given each other plenty of mental space.

I appreciate the freedom in our relationship, but I do worry. I worry for Xy’s general welfare. I worry about potential fractures and fissures. In this as in all things I will seek a tighter integration, to strengthen and deepen the bond between us. My soul has been on fire with joy, and I yearn to share that. It’s tempting to draw on another equinox metaphor of light and darkness, but I will forebear.

As I fumbled my way through my intentions, with far less eloquence than even this tortured prose may suggest, I realized just how far we are from a Married Master Mind. But I also see the promise and the possibility. We have a lot of work to do.

I’d also hoped for a little loving tenderness, but the time wasn’t right. We ended up with something a little more torrid and wild, a passion almost violent in its intensity. Not what I’d had in mind, not at all. But oh well. I’ll take it.

Certainly marriage is a balancing act.

Equilux

Earlier, I alluded to an odd factoid: The day of the equinox doesn’t necessarily have exactly twelve hours between sunrise and sunset. It might, or it might not, depending on where you live on the planet. In New Orleans, that day was yesterday, September 27th. Sunrise was at 6:51 AM. Sunset will be at 6:51 PM.

Some people, astronomy buffs I suppose, have started bandying about a new word to describe this day: the equilux. I like the idea. The equinox is a fuzzy concept in most minds. Why not make it fuzzier? Even better, I like the idea of extending the celebration from equinox to equilux, with our anniversary right in the middle. Now more than ever, we need more time to find balance in our lives.


Tangents & Footnotes: This is where I’ll add afterthoughts and anything else that may come up.

The neologism “equilux” is hardly well-established, which may cause confusion. Case in point: The Ehoah philosophy proposes Equilux as a new name for the vernal equinox, as well as the beginning of the year, as part of the beautiful Pandion calendar.

Listen to my Autumnal Equinox 2011 mix on 8Tracks.

Back to School

It’s become a tradition to take a photo of Xy as she heads off to her first day of classes.

Back to School

I realized this morning that we’ve been doing this for long enough that I have built up quite a little archive, going back to 2005, just a few days before Katrina.

Back to School

Back to School

Back to School

Back to School

First Day of School

Teacher

These photos kind of recapitulate our lives over last six years. Even though I always feel a great deal of pride when she embarks on a new year of teaching, reviewing these pictures also makes me a little sad. She’s still reeling from the brutal year she had in 09-10. A year like that can really undermine one’s confidence. (Her recent surgery has not made things any easier either; she’s recovering but there have been some anxiety issues along the way.) Teachers across the country have had it rough but here in New Orleans they’ve been kicked to the curb repeatedly, used and abused, underpaid and overworked and repeatedly disrespected.

Seeing the real human toll on someone you love isn’t pleasant.

When Xy comes home exhausted and overwrought, I don’t know how to advise her. Oh, I have plenty to say. I’m brimming over with perky little self-help ideas, I’m just not sure if it helps her in any way. It might be better if I was just the “strong silent type,” but I’m more the kind of guy who wants to get in there and fix stuff. It’s a fairly typical masculine mindset, I suppose. But we have such different working environments, and our psychologies are just different enough, that I don’t know if she finds much value in anything I say. But my frustration is only a fraction of what Xy feels.

Each year starts with such high hopes, only to end deeper in discouragement and despair. I worry. Yes, I do.

But enough gloom. Teaching is hard work, but the world needs good teachers, and these teachers need our love and support. Give a teacher a hug, or a word of appreciation, or better yet a nice home-cooked meal. That’s my plan.

Knee Surgery

Get Well Soon

Over a year ago Xy hurt her knee while practicing with the Big Easy Roller Girls. It’s bothered her ever since, and so yesterday morning we rose early and dropped her off for a little surgery. Persephone and I went home and made a “Get Well Soon” poster for her mother. The surgeon called me at about 8:30 AM and said:

She did great and we finished the surgery, everything went fine. She was found to have a torn cartilage, a pretty good tear, or torn meniscus, same thing, pretty good torn meniscus in her knee, and a little roughening or wear, underneath the kneecap. So I trimmed the roughening and removed the unstable portion of the meniscus, and she did well. I left her some instructions regarding her recovery, exercises, specifically moving her leg, and particularly moving her ankle up and down to lessen the likelihood of a blood clot, crutches, left a prescription for some pain medicine, and then I think she has an appointment to see me in about six days. She should be in the recovery room for about an hour and then go up to the fourth floor and stay there for about an hour or so before she goes home. Thank you.

But when I went in to pick her up things didn’t go so smoothly. After visiting with the patient for a few minutes, I was instructed to bring the car around and pick her up. After waiting in the car for a few minutes, a nurse came out and told me Xy wasn’t quite ready to go after all. When we got back up to her room, she seemed substantially worse than we left her.

Post Surgical

The anesthesiologist said she wasn’t quite ready to go home after all. Her blood pressure and heart rate had dropped. They just wanted to pump another bag of fluids into her, and then she’d be fine. I almost asked “How long will that take?” But I didn’t. Xy was pissed cuz they’d ripped her old IV out, prematurely as it developed, and had to re-stick her. She doesn’t stick well.

Thirty minutes later I noticed the IV bag had hardly depleted at all. Meanwhile her monitor kept sounding an alarm for low blood pressure, prompting repeated questions from Persephone. After making several inquiries, and getting several nurses in to look at the situation, it was finally determined that she hadn’t been properly stuck the second time, and the fluid was not entering her system at all. Meanwhile we were fielding repeated questions from Persephone about why we were yelling at each other.

Short of the long, we got her home and for the last two days my convalescing wife and inquisitive toddler have kept me hopping.

Except when they nod off of course.

Napping

Relays

A couple days ago Xy reported she had trouble with the car starting, and sure enough the next morning it was dead. We packed Xy off in a cab. (When she got to her school on the West Bank, she discovered the cab wasn’t equipped to take credit cards (although the dispatcher had assured me that it was) so he ran her to an ATM, but it was broken, so she had to borrow money from another teacher. But I digress.) I asked Tommie, who runs the station across the street, to take a look at our vehicle, but he forgot, until I came home from work at the end of the day and reminded him. The battery was dead, so he charged it up ($10) and everything seemed to be fine.

“If it happens again,” he said, “I’m going to suggest a new battery.”

Later that evening I was planning to ride my bike to a FOLC board meeting, but as a storm was moving in I decided to drive instead. Before I even put the key in the ignition I noticed all sorts of funny clicking noises coming from the dashboard. The car wouldn’t start. The antitheft indicator was blinking, even after I locked the car up, and I had a flashback to the huge aggravation of our previous car. I started to get the chills. We never were able to fix that problem.

That was yesterday. This morning, Xy got a ride with a co-worker, and I dithered about whether to grapple with getting the car fixed or wait until after the holiday weekend. I decided to grit my teeth and go for it. I figured there was some sort of esoteric electronic problem that was causing the battery to drain — something obscure and high-tech that Tommie wouldn’t be able to fix. I figured I needed to take it to the dealership. So I got Tommie to jump the car for me. Actually one of his employees did it. He claims to have written a “Who Dat” book which he’s now publishing. The title is Whodat-Lagniappe! and it would seem to be an inspirational Christian tome. Not what I expected from an older guy of indeterminate ethnicity in a Biohazard t-shirt.

After dropping Persephone off at daycare, I drove up to the North Shore on the world’s (seventh) longest bridge, to Mandeville, to the Banner Ford dealership, which is where I bought the car on the last day of 2009.

(Why so far when there’s a dealership in Metairie? I happened to glance at some reviews on Google and there was a vast disparity in customer satisfaction.)

On the ride there I listened to Democracy Now on WTUL, an interview with Eli Pariser about the filter bubble.

I don’t particularly like cars, and so dealing with automotive problems is anathema to me, and sitting in the waiting room at a car dealership has always seemed like purgatory to me. I was bracing myself for a long, long wait. I had a cup of coffee, took a crap, watched some daytime TV, and rated some songs. (Xy found an iPod about a year ago and gave it to me.) I didn’t even had a chance to crack open my book (Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg) when the mechanic came out and told me I had a bum battery. They just needed to replace it.

What? I remembered what Tommie said and kicked myself mentally. But all those weird clicking noises?

Relays, I was told.

OK, so they replaced it, I paid $136.51, and I tried to head back home. Problem: It’s a toll bridge. I knew that, but I wasn’t certain of the amount. You can’t discern the toll until you’re right up on the tollgate. I only had one dollar bill on me, and (just like Xy’s cab) they don’t take plastic. I had to take the exit of shame and head back to an ATM where I paid a $3.00 fee so I could get the necessary cash for the $3.00 toll.

While getting the cash, I received a text from Xy advising me to get a tuneup while I was at the dealership. Too late, I texted back. I’m on the causeway by the time I get her next text: Omg! Brakes bad 2!

And then she had the unmitigated nerve to call me and fuss about it.

On the ride back I listened to Tommy Tucker (sitting in for Garland Robinette) on WWL talking about the petition to recall Superintendent Serpas.

When I finally got back to Mid-City and turned down our street, another vehicle got caught in my blind spot and I very nearly sideswiped it when I turned into our driveway. The driver honked at me and then she stopped in the street and gave me a good long glare as I climbed out of the car. I shrugged a sheepish apology.

I gave Tommie five bucks for the jump, and walked to work. Somehow I made it there around half-past noon. So the day was not completely wasted.

10K Classroom

This photo just turned over 10,000 views on Flickr.

New Classroom

This is the fourth such photo of mine to achieve such popularity — and thus far all of them feature Xy. Only two are sort of vaguely cheesecakey. One you can’t even tell if it’s a man or a woman or what. And in none of them can you see her face. So I tell her not to get a swelled head.

This particular photo, “New Classroom,” I took in December of 2005. I was helping Xy set up her new classroom at Eisenhower Elementary. She felt fortunate to have landed that job so shortly after all public school teachers here were fired. I didn’t have anything better to do than help her get set up, since the University where I work was still closed for repairs. Actually this photo was taken on a Saturday afternoon, but the point’s still relevant. I’d spent several days pilfering her old school for supplies to bring to the new school.

At the time, I was more excited about getting our generator hooked up, and so I never posted this photo here. But it’s been posted plenty of other places.

See for example:

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As of this moment, it’s my 25th most “interesting” photo, my 4th most viewed and 3rd most favorited. As one might discern from that final link, the photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, allowing people to use it for whatever they like at no cost.

Sometimes Creative Commons is not enough. Flickr partnered with Getty Images some time ago, and I’ve had at least one request to license this image commercially. However, I found the paperwork to be onerous. A “model release” is easy enough; Xy will sign anything I stick under her nose. But a “location release”? Are you kidding me? Let’s see, this is a public school run by the Algiers Charter Schools Association. Xy no longer works there and the principal has moved on as well. Who would I even ask? Why would I even bother?

As for explaining the popularity of this image, I think it has to do with the motion blur. Not only does it lend a sense of energy to the photo, it anonymizes and generalizes. Xy becomes every teacher in this picture.

I wish I could say I planned it that way, but in reality I just hate taking flash photos. I knew if I turned off the flash and braced the camera on a solid surface I’d get a decent shot. It kind of bugs me that the desk legs are out of frame at the very bottom. But, all in all, I’m happy with this photo, and I’m curious to see if its popularity will continue.

Mellenscat

I’ve gotta give some props to Eric Spears for continuing to excavate such gems from his personal video collection. Here’s Christy Paxson Behind the Scenes at the Making of the Latest John “Cougar” Mellencamp Video.

Eric sez: “Between episodes of her access TV series, The Christy Paxson Show, Christy made several video shorts, and this is one of them. I sent a copy to MTV, but they never responded.”

This particular video cracks me up so much I can only watch about three minutes at a time before I’m racked with convulsive hysterical sobbing.

Celebrating Saturday, Morning and Night

Saturday morning I was out early conducting a short tour of the Lafitte Corridor. I was skeptical about how many people would be up for a hike at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but pleasantly surprised when a dozen people showed up, plus a half dozen more who joined us in progress.

Edgar & Vance

Hike

Lindsay & Helen

We walked from Sojourner Truth Community Center to Bayou St. John and back. Actually we had to turn back before we reached the bayou. I was worried I wouldn’t have folks back to Sojourner Truth in time for the main event, namely the Walk and Roll Louisiana Summit 2010. I was supposed to be on a panel at the summit titled “Building successes from the ground up: The legacy of walking and cycling advocacy in Louisiana.” But thankfully I was able to get one of my esteemed FOLC board members, namely Edgar Chase, to represent us.

See, I couldn’t stick around for Walk & Roll because I had a prior commitment. The second Saturday of the month is my book club. Don’t get me wrong, I think Walk & Roll was a fantastic event, and bike/ped issues are near and dear to my heart. But I’ve been going to this book club for almost ten years now. I’ve missed a few meetings here and there because of levee failures and the like, but as a rule I do my best to be there. Second Saturdays are sort of sacred to me.

Drawing boundaries like this is important to maintaining my sanity and my sense of balance. There are many needs in this community, and I try to do my part, but in order to stay happy and healthy I have to know where to draw the line, to say “sorry” and enjoy my personal pleasures as opposed to serving the elusive public good.

(As another example, I was recently asked to serve on some neighborhood committees. I was on the verge of saying yes when I remembered that in 2008 I essentially made a vow, to my wife and my daughter and myself, to limit my involvement to one organization only. I chose Friends of Lafitte Corridor and resigned from two other boards. It was a good decision, one I need to continue to honor, so instead of serving on one of those committees I made a counter-offer. I’m going to recruit someone else as a Greenway Liaison for Mid-City. I suspect there’s a FOLC member living in Mid-City who’d like to get more active with FOLC and/or MCNO. This might be the perfect opportunity for getting started. I’m hoping that this will be a way to expand the circle of neighborhood involvement for a net gain.)

So that’s what I did Saturday morning, and I’m glad I did. I really enjoyed talking about Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others with my fellow club members. Even so, I felt slightly guilty about not being at Walk & Roll to show my support, and about not being home to help with chores and looking after my daughter, especially after being gone most of last week.

But only slightly.

Actually, that may have added to my enjoyment. I felt like I was getting away with something.

I’m still planning to write more about the trip to St. Louis, by the way.

Saturday night, Xy and I dropped Persephone off with a sitter and celebrated — I wasn’t sure exactly what we were celebrating, but we had a good time which included dinner at Crescent Pie & Sausage. It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized it has been a year and a day since we closed on our new house. I wonder when we will stop calling it “new”?

Back to School

Instead of strengthening into a named storm, Tropical Depression #5 petered out and dissipated into nothing but a bunch of rainy weather. If it had played out differently, school might have been cancelled, but as it was today was the first day of classes at Xy’s new school.

Back to School

Yes, she’s teaching again, as I mentioned a couple months ago. Since then I’ve been joking that she needs to plan on working there for at least ten years. But it’s not really a joke; I hope she finds a measure of satisfaction and (dare I say it) peace in this position.

As long as I’m wishing, I’ll extend that to all teachers everywhere.

Some schools did indeed close today, including Persephone’s new daycare, a fact which I did not discover until I got there and found the place locked up and deserted. But “Dada’s school” is open so it’s an impromptu “Take Your Daughter to Work” day for me. It’s pretty quiet here, as summer sessions are over and the fall semester has not yet begun.

Xy Update

We’ve taken Persephone out of daycare for the summer. Xy’s finally having some time to bond with her, which is a refreshing change after this last school year.

Xy found a new job about a month ago. The bad news is it’s still classroom teaching. She’ll be teaching fourth-grade science and social studies at a small Catholic school on the West Bank. Remember it is the policy of this blog not mention our employers by name, so don’t ask. This represents a $20K pay cut but hopefully she will be happier or at least less miserable. While it’s been nice not to have to worry about money lately, I’ll take a happier spouse any day. A little belt-tightening won’t hurt us.

Xy says she’s going to look at the world through rose-colored lenses. Thus this picture:

Rose-Colored Lenses

In other Xy news, her rollergirl dreams seem to have run aground. She got a knee injury a couple months ago that prevented her from qualifying for the team or skating at all. As she’s healed up, though, she’s come to realize she can’t handle the time commitment. Most players practice at least twice a week, often three or four times, and then there are the bouts themselves. That’s a lot, but it’s what’s need to be competitive. She had a lot of fun but at this point it looks doubtful that “Smallpox” will ever make her debut.

Batchin’ It

For the last week Xy and Persephone have been out in the proverbial boonies, hanging with some friends at a remote cabin way out in the woods. It was originally going to be a three day trip, but they were enjoying themselves so much they extended their stay.

Meanwhile I’ve been “batchin’ it” here at home. Something about that phrase makes me uneasy — mainly the spelling. You pretty much have to spell it with a “t” even though there’s no “t” in “bachelor.” If you omit the “t” it sounds like a reference Johann Sebastian. If you’re playing an organ concerto in the baroque style you might be “Bachin’ it.” Include the “t” and it sounds better — batchin’ it — despite the implication that you’re running a series of jobs to completion without manual intervention. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No, I haven’t been frequenting strip clubs in their absence or anything of that nature. I’ve had no more excitement than taking in a couple movies and having dinner with a few friends. I’m extremely grateful for the latter — you know who you are — because Xy left me with nothing but spinach enchiladas and a rather bare cupboard.

Things have been even more banal of late as my sore throat came back yet again, with a little fever. I discovered my old doctor was taking my insurance again after dropping it back in 2008. So I made an appointment and now I’m taking a course of antibiotics and also some sort of nasal spray. I’d tried a couple different over-the-counter all-day anti-histamines but nothing seemed to stop the post-nasal drip, but I’m hopeful this spray is the silver bullet.

My girls are driving back today and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them. I get a little nervous when they’re on the road so I am hoping for their safe arrival.

Requiem for a Rabbit

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Nicky came our way last summer, under circumstances that can best be described as silly if not stupid. I was never too close to him, because I frankly hardened my heart against all pets after Lucy disappeared. But even I had to admit this docile little lagamorph held a certain charm.

Alas, Nicky died this afternoon. We are not sure of the cause but dehydration is the prime suspect. Xy liked to let him roam around the yard and this afternoon he spent perhaps too much time out there. My co-worker Jim T. told me a cautionary tale once of how their pet rabbit died in the heat one day. We thought Nicky was safe because he wasn’t in the sun, but perhaps he spent too long a time away from his water bottle.

Or maybe it was something else entirely. One doesn’t tend to assemble an inquest upon the death of a rabbit.

We thought about burying him in the yard but that was complicated by an number of factors and so in the end we did not. Taking his little body out to the garbage can in a plastic bag… well that just sucked.

I have to admit I considered the potential for rabbit stew. No disrespect Nick, to me that would be the ultimate compliment. If anyone feels like sinking their teeth into my tired old flesh when I’ve kicked off, have at it. But since we don’t know the cause of death, it didn’t seem prudent.

Cue the mournful mix.

Such a Brutal Lifestyle

Yesterday’s front page story really captured our attention. All credit to reporter Sarah Carr. I’d never heard of the school she focused on, but the parallels to Xy’s experience are striking. I’ve quoted the story at length below, interspersing some of my own thoughts where relevant.

Early every morning, Akili Academy’s teachers gather for a daily bonding ritual.

Clutching caffeinated beverages, they offer praise to one another for achievements large and small: calming down an upset student, teaching an outstanding lesson on “realistic fiction” to kindergarteners, sorting out unspecified “bathroom issues.”

For the finale, the charter school’s staff pulls in closer for a quick huddle, like a sports team preparing to take the field. “Who are we proud to be?” one teacher asks. “Akili Academy of New Orleans!” they shout in unison, sending their arms flying. They then head to class before the students arrive.

But this is no casual competition or recreational game. It lasts at least 10 hours every weekday, often spills over into the weekends, and, at times, consumes the lives of the mostly young Akili staff.

“I’m totally tired, and if I’m still working this many hours next year, I maybe wouldn’t work a fourth year,” said Francis Giesler, an Akili teacher. Giesler, 24, a 2008 graduate of Loyola University, grew up in St. Louis.

While Giesler praises Akili for its supportive work environment, she gives voice to a nagging concern of school reformers and charter leaders across the city and the country. How can a movement predicated in part on superhuman exertions of time and effort sustain itself and grow in the long term?

As Giesler puts it: “How good a school are you if you have really strong results, but can’t take that model anywhere else because it was solely reliant on the bodies in the building, and kills people after two years?”

If the model kills people after two years, what do they become after, say, thirteen years? Do they become zombies? Or are they just miserable?

A growing number of schools, particularly charters, embrace a “no excuses” or “whatever it takes” attitude toward closing the achievement gap between poor, minority students and their wealthier peers. Poverty isn’t an excuse for school failure. Neither is bad parenting. Or insufficient school funding.

But to overcome these obstacles, a school’s staff and students must work harder — in the evenings, on weekends and through the summer — and give up some of their personal lives for their jobs.

Arguably nowhere is this trend so pronounced as in New Orleans, where charter schools mushroomed after Hurricane Katrina and hundreds of ambitious young educators like Giesler now live and teach. A looming question facing school leaders is how to maintain momentum as teachers and administrators inevitably grow up, burn out or move on.

Of course not all schools provide such a supportive environment, but the general approach of overloading teachers seems to be ubiquitous. Our schools are currently running on the efforts of the young and idealistic. Of course one has to wonder: What about the not-so-young, the veteran teachers who’ve been around the block, whose idealism may be a bit ragged, but who also have the experience and (dare I say it) the wisdom? Actually I don’t wonder, because I’m married to such a teacher, and I’ve seen what this trend is doing to her first-hand, and it ain’t nice.

“You’re going to run out of people willing to work an 80-hour week,” [principal Sean Gallagher] said. “Everyone here is single; no one has a kid. That’s just not (replicable). I want us to look like something any school in New Orleans could do. Right now, we’re not there.”

Gallagher said he tried to recruit a diverse teaching staff: young and old, novice and experienced, natives and transplants.

But the time commitment proved a deal-breaker with most veteran, New Orleans educators.

At one recruitment fair, a job-seeker stopped by Gallagher’s table.

“Longer school day? Longer school year?” the man asked.

When Gallagher nodded, the teacher quickly walked away, saying, “Don’t need to talk to you.”

We’re not sure but we think the job-seeker was our friend James. I remember when he did that.

Educators will probably always debate the importance of experience, some of which boils down to the contrasting philosophies of school leaders. Some emphasize the importance of building a family-like school culture, where children can develop lifelong relationships with teachers who attend their churches, live in the neighborhood and might even have taught their parents. Others say they care about continuity, but will do whatever it takes to build a high-performing school, even if that means higher teacher turnover.

A growing group of educators and policy wonks say they are not particularly concerned about chronic teacher turnover in urban schools, as long as there’s a pipeline of bright workaholics to fill the vacancies.

And with Teach for America, that pipeline looks inexhaustible. These kids are too young and fresh to realize they’re being exploited. Maybe it’s a viable model; maybe our schools are so screwed up that we have to resort to such measures; I really don’t know. But I do know that it sucks to have the terrain shift beneath your feet, so to speak. It sucks to have your chosen career slowly turned into something you can no longer do. We seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the reforms we truly need.

“I don’t think turnover is inherently bad,” said Andrew Rotherham, publisher of Education Sector, an education policy think tank. “Planned turnover or turnover you can deal with without yielding quality is fine.”

Translation: It’s OK to use and abuse people so long as there’s more fresh meat to victimize tomorrow.

Others stress that more value should be placed on making teaching a viable career for those who do not meet the typical Teach For America profile: young, well-educated and unattached.

Andre Perry, CEO of the University of New Orleans’ charter school network, said he worries about relying too heavily on young teachers from out of town. He notes that schools that burn out their teachers after a few years must repeatedly reinvest in replacements. “It just seems inefficient,” he said.

Perry encourages school leaders to foster the notion that “teaching is a way of living” that can coincide with having a life outside work.

“We are not creating that enough here in New Orleans,” he said. “It’s such a brutal lifestyle. We’re so focused on performance in such a specific way that we’ve become robots.”

Perry’s quote brings tears to my eyes. “Such a brutal lifestyle.” It resonates because I’ve seen Xy ground down over the years by the increasingly unreal regimen. It’s like an endless demand for more that can never be filled. It’s never enough.

The kicker came at the very end of the article.

Still, Giesler can’t imagine ever balancing her 31 students at Akili with a child of her own.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this job with a kid,” she says. “I really could not.”

And that is really what clinches the decision for Xy. She feels like she’s missing out on her daughter’s childhood.

And so that’s why Xy has decided to seek a new career after thirteen years in the classroom.

Needless to say, if you’re interested in this topic you really should read the whole story.

PS: It strikes me that this issue is appropriate to contemplate on International Women’s Day as the teaching and rearing of children has been historically deemed as “women’s work” in our culture. That teachers are chronically overworked and undervalued is perhaps not coincidental.

Smallpox

Smallpox

It’s not quite official. Xy made the first cut and has been going to practice sessions. The rules are strict and harsh — you have to pass through many circles of hell before you can be considered a Big Easy Roller Girl. And it will be even longer before she sees any action in a bout, I think. For now she is aching all over from her last practice but the bruises so far are minimal. As busy as she is with teaching and mothering, she really doesn’t have time for this. Yet I’ve encouraged her every step of the way (including decorating her helmet last night) because I think it’s important for everyone to have some fun, and some “me” time. This might be the perfect activity for Xy. She’s got a lot of aggression that needs an outlet.

XLIII

B @ 43

It’s shaping up as something of a tradition in its own right. My birthday has an overt tendency to suck. A quick recap may be in order.

  • 42: “Guess who forgot? That’s right. Xy.”
  • 41: “I’ve got no festivity in my life whatsoever. Xy didn’t even say ‘Happy Birthday’ this morning, and she has report card conferences this evening! No one at the office knows it’s my birthday, because I’ve kept it under wraps.”
  • 40: “Please be gentle with me. I’m making 40 today. I’d rather be thinking about other things, but life doesn’t seem to be working out that way, and this is what I’m stuck with. Like it or not.”

That 40th birthday was really the worst. Not only was I reeling from the brutal murder of a friend, I was also feeling pressure to be some sort of spokesman on the subject of violent crime, a role for which I found myself remarkably unsuited. Still I recall Xy managed to spend an evening sucking down oysters and booze in the Quarter. There was still a flicker of festive spirit there, however dark the backdrop. In terms of actual celebration it’s been strictly downhill since.

Prior to that I’m not sure, but I’d pretty much lost interest in my birthday after making 30.

Come to think of it, my 30th birthday pretty much sucked ass too, though I tried to put a good face on it: “Everyone was laughing and smoking and drinking and having a good time. Except for me. Well, I laughed and had a good time, but I didn’t drink or smoke. I never thought I’d be stone cold sober on my 30th birthday! Life is strange.”

Now back to the present. Our girl woke up around 4:00 AM and landed in our bed for a little nursing session, after which Xy fled to the couch downstairs. P let me sleep in until 9:00 AM. She woke up happy, I asked her whose birthday it was, and she said “Dada!” The day seemed to be getting off to an auspicious start.

Then Xy came up and informed me that she’d been barfing since 5:00 AM. And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. It was very much a repeat of yesterday. Xy was sick yesterday with a migraine. This morning’s sickness may have been food poisoning. So I played “single dad” while Xy rested (when not puking) and tried to feel better.

Oh, yes, there are worse things — I know. I had fun taking the girl to the park in the morning. She was beside herself with joy at the prospect of sliding down the slide.

Eggies

For lunch we went to Huevos, which is spitting distance from our new house. I got to meet the chef who has the same first name as me. I presume we don’t share the same birthday. But I didn’t check.

Xy’s feeling better now. We’re chugging on with our lives. Her birthday sucked too, for what it’s worth.

A number of people have suggested that Xy’s sicknesses, coming in the morning as they have, could be an indication of pregnancy. I have to respond: Not unless you know something I don’t. I know how babies get made and I can assure you I haven’t impregnated anyone lately.