Nov 18th, 2015 by alexfaye

I always give the finger to anyone who blows their horn at me, even if they have a point.   It just seems like the right thing to do.  Horns lack subtlety of any kind, and even though the guy today may have been justified in blasting his big Dodge Ram horn at my little Toyota Matrix, I still felt I should flip him off, so I did.

The thing about teaching at a large public high school though is that the closer you are in proximity to the school in the morning, the more likely you know the person in the Dodge Ram.  Even more likely: they know you.

Teachers live in a fishbowl, and fish inside fishbowls should not give the finger to anyone. Or fin.  Fin You!

The morning is such a struggle.  I walk Hank, and we don’t even go that far.  I am always trying to leave earlier than I do, but I end up leaving right at 7:00, and even a little later.  That puts so much pressure on my commute up the 605 — nothing can go wrong.  And then I’m driving in with all the parents and kids, and I frequently end up practicing deep breathing to keep from losing my mind.  I walk in with my bags draped across my body (backpack, lunch bag, canvas sack of (untouched) work, purse) and open the door to the kids.  Bell rings, and it’s off to the races.

What would be better:  getting up much earlier, and walking Hank much farther, and leaving earlier, and getting to school earlier.  All of that would be better.

Most people need to sleep more.  I need to sleep more.  And people get better sleep and rest when they go to bed earlier than they do when they sleep in later. Just more time in bed does not necessarily mean more rest or better rest.  And they say that 7 hours of sleep is essential. (Essential.  I think we’re going to find out that all of this sleep deprivation we’ve taught ourselves to live with is just as bad as smoking.)

Here’s another thing they say: we should disconnect from screens at least an hour before bed.  It’s even better to disconnect TWO hours before bed.

So here’s the day as it SHOULD be.  I should hear my alarm at 5am, and get up the first time.

Because the other thing they say is that you should set your alarm a half hour earlier and get up the first time.  With this simple act, you teach yourself to overcome the fat, hairy resistance that sits between you and your higher purpose.  There are so many things that we want to do, but we never get started.  But we teach ourselves to do what is best by getting up the first time the alarm goes off.

So, it goes off at 5:00.

I should be clean already.
My lunch should be made.
My clothes should be pressed and ready to go.
I go out to the kitchen, drink lemon, honey and cayenne pepper on an empty stomach.
Then I should do a 10-minute work out, working towards the day that these are easy, and I need to add more strenuous exercise to that short routine.
By now, it’s 5:30.
Get dressed, pack up my bags, get everything staged for loading, eat oatmeal, and some lean protein. Maybe chop up a hard-boiled egg white and toss it into the oatmeal.
6:00 a.m., walk Hank for 30 minutes.
6:30 a.m. settle Hank in, and then leave.
Arrive at school at 7a.m. at the latest.
Why? No traffic.  No long line at the copy machine.  Quiet time in the classroom with the black journal, plan the day.
1:00 Lunch.  Get out of the classroom and seek the company of other adults.  Eat a healthy lunch. 
1:30 Drink a big coffee, and work (grading, planning, never ending email) until 4:00  [work hours:  8 hours]
4:00 Come home, drink a big water and eat a gigantic salad.
5:00 Hank time
6:30 Write, read, plan, work until 8:30. [2 hours]
8:30  Yoga mat
9:00  shower, prepare lunch, lay out clothes, journal, meditate.  Bed by 10.

The routine that I always thought to be so rigid, so inflexible, so SQUARE — look.  It’s actually the path to liberation.

Here’s some wisdom I’ve finally earned:  there is no time to waste.  I like to be flexible and you know, take a phone call now and then, but honestly, the day is busy.  The weeks fly by.  There are not enough hours to do everything that I want to do, everything that I should, and get my work done too.  Everything — the food, the exercise, the quiet time, the Hank time, the writing time, and reading time…all of that adds up.  And when I’m into a stack of papers, I can’t stop, can I?  It’s difficult.  When I’ve built up some momentum with a stack, I need to keep going.

If you have an answer, let me know.  Surely this is the path to sanity, but my feet do not seem able to stay upon it for long.

Life is unfair; man up
May 1st, 2012 by alexfaye

My friend recently reported that he received this terse bit of advice from a friend he admires and respects, which got me to thinking about passivity and cynicism (and the phrase “man up,” which means what, exactly?)

I cannot deny that there is a certain truth in this line of reasoning.  The people we deal with every day rarely behave in ways that we’d like them to; we acknowledge that there is a weird justice embedded in the purely random way that the world will just slap a pretty face, at any moment, for no reason.  Nice people get cancer;  idiots win elections; dedicated teachers get t-boned in intersections; criminals live in spacious beachfront homes; young college students are robbed and shot dead while sitting in their cars; beautiful babies fall asleep every night, hungry and alone.  Damn, don’t tell me that life is unfair.

These examples are extreme, I know, but they are honest, demonstrably so.

My personal injustices might not be so big, yet telling me that life is unfair/deal with it, is equivalent to telling me to shut up,  that I have no power to change my circumstances — the grip that injustice has on my life is real.  Beyond personal injustices, I share in the larger ones if I just observe them and do nothing, apply the “life is unfair” dictum, and so accept them as our lot in life.

And telling me to “man up” is to suggest, in some perverse way, that acceptance of this bitter truth is mature? masculine? It certainly elevates “masculinity” above all else, implying that to talk about injustice, however small you perceive it to be, is somehow weak, whiny, or “feminine,” perhaps?  Counselor, I must object.

I do not understand why this line of thinking is not more transparent than it is, why strong minds do not see the oppression packed in this small phrase.

On the other hand: I get the futility of enumerating the opportunities and the breaks that we did not get, or perhaps lamenting the fact that we are just not good looking enough — and not rich enough, not intelligent enough, and not lucky enough either.  Boring.

THIS IS WATER.  It is easy to fall into a pattern of criticizing the world — and taking the time to bitch about it when it’s merely your turn just spreads misery around.  It’s like the “I’m so busy” game.  You complain about your to-do list, and suddenly two or three friends are standing in a circle, commiserating, trying to outdo each other with tales of how tall their stacks are, how little sleep they are getting, and so on.  When I find myself in those moments — well, first, I secretly think that no matter what anybody else says, my stack is probably bigger, and second, although those conversations may be relief for some, they make we feel worse.

Did I just write myself around in a circle?  Am I suddenly seeing the wisdom in “shut up”?  Maybe. “Life is unfair — deal with it” is a way of acknowledging that this narrative is not the only narrative — quit complaining, take a breath, and share the world with the other folks who occupy this scintilla of history with you.  For god’s sake, shut up.

(But I still won’t say “man up.”  I just cannot.)



The green dresser
Apr 23rd, 2011 by alexfaye

Green dresser, circa 1944

My daughter Maddy moved out today.  She is 23 now, and moving into her first one-bedroom apartment is an important milestone.  And no roommate.  This is not college, where she is subsidized by savings and scholarships and loans – she went out and found this place, put a deposit down, and now must pay for it, month in and month out.  She has done the math a hundred different ways, and is sure she will be able to handle everything comfortably.  She has a good job in Pomona that looks like it will last for a good while.  Although…it seem as if this company may be acquired soon — the principal owner is eighty years old — and there is certain to be a shake up.  If she continues to demonstrate her worth, she may be spared and integrated into the new organization.  All this is new to her, but this is what I worry about.

But why worry?  That girl has always landed on her feet.  She’s smart, and resourceful.  And I don’t know anything about the company she works for.  I’m making it all up in my head.

I went to go see the apartment yesterday; it’s cute.  It’s on a quiet street, tucked in an older Fullerton neighborhood, within walking distance from the “action” of downtown — corners of Harbor and Commonwealth.  It’s exactly the kind of place a 23-year old girl should live in:  tiny, clean, with families all around, and a big avocado tree outside.  Today, she packed her room, loaded up her car and drove away, with very little fanfare.  She said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”  My eyebrows shot up.  “Are you sleeping there tonight?,” I wanted to know. She shrugged.  Maddy has no bed, no fridge, no gas on for the stove, no coffeepot, no couch, no table, no chair.  But she’s all dressed up, and anxious to go find her friends, haul her stuff upstairs, and then drink too much.

I face the emptiness of my house with a mixture of elation and grief.  I am going to miss her, but I don’t think mothers should have a front row seat to their daughters’ 20s.  It’s not a pretty decade.  There are bad decisions, tragic love affairs and ill-fated liaisons; there’s vomit in the driveway and cigarette butts spilling over their ashtrays.  I moved far, far away so my mother’s worries were vague and diaphanous; she couldn’t really put her finger on what troubled her, whereas I see it all, up close.  I’d prefer to see less.  I am banking on Maddy emerging from this decade alive, wiser, and appreciative of what it takes to keep a household together, day after day, month after month, for years following years.  It’s no mean feat.

I have little money to help her, so we are relying on her dad, who has been generous and accommodating.  Today, though — he’s depressed, and not up for shopping with me.  He’s been in a whirlwind of activity all week with his sister and her family down for Easter vacation; he can’t do too much before he falls into his morass of dark emotion.

I called a green dresser back into service — it used to belong to my sister, but it’s been the garage now for at least 25 years — so when I pulled it away from the wall in the garage,  I found black widow spiders, rat poop and mold.  I ran inside to get a mask to go over my nose and mouth, and a scarf to cover my hair, and then I started to methodically clean this piece of furniture that we surely had on Winchester Street.  This dresser dates back to at least the 1960s; Vicki thinks that it might be from the 1940s.  I remember my mother painting it that crazy green color, but which house were we in then?  Spain?  Morocco?  Petunia Court in San Diego?  It has big round white ceramic drawer pulls – very 1970s in appearance.    I dusted it off, killed the spider nests, took a wire brush to every inside surface, vacuumed it, sprayed it with Lysol, wiped it down with Clorox, and left it disassembled to air out.  It was a process, and during my work, I thought of my mother, and moving away from her house many different times.

When I was 23, I was already in the north, flailing around.  My mother was in this house, the one that I live in today.  I had abandoned my Southern California life, and that included her.  I didn’t think of it that way at the time, of course, but I am a mother now, and I know now how she experienced my departure.

It’s not that I want Maddy to stay.  In many ways, I am relieved to have my house to myself once again; I suffered one hundred little indignities as Maddy’s roommate.  But my heart is breaking anyway.  My child is grown, and her life belongs to her; I am no longer needed.  Well, I haven’t been needed as a “mom” for a long time, and I suppose she needs to remind me of that simple truth as a declaration of independence.  Providing food, shelter, safety and entertainment is a paltry thing compared with being somebody’s capital-M Mom.  There was a time when she adored me, but now, as she completes her separation, she must articulate all of the ways she does not need me, the ways that she exceeds me, the things that she knows better, the ways that I oppress her with worry or care.  She has to push me to the side, as I pushed my own mother aside.  As I scrub out the green dresser that my mother painted, I regret my part in this stupid cycle.

It’s off to Target for a dish drainer and a broom, a pot holder and a dish towel.  She needs everything.  I try not to think about the San Luis Obispo yard sale I sat at 10 months ago, when everything I had ever given her was up for sale for a song.  She sold it all and hit the road with Hannah for their WWOOF adventure.  Less than a year down the road, she’s a full time quality control chemist, starting a new life, and she needs a broom.  She will be fine.  I will be fine.  Life is not through with us yet.

I’ve missed you
Aug 14th, 2010 by alexfaye

But I’m back.  Say that all is forgiven.

Two weeks of summer vacation left before we jump into a new school year.  I never feel ready, and yet when the day actually arrives, we begin.  I’ve been blogging with my students all summer, and much of my energy has been directed there [AP Blog].

It’s been a busy summer, and as I look down the barrel of the last two weeks, I see just how much I did not do.  Many goals and aspirations left unrealized.  It brings to mind a poem about a woman about to undergo a dental procedure — gosh, the title is sitting just outside my peripheral vision, and I can’t think of the first line either  — in the poem, the woman is gripping the chair, but as the dentist administers the gas, she begins to loosen her grip.  She does not just let go of the chair; she lets go of her fear, her worry, her preoccupations, and she realizes,  This must be what it’s like to die.  Unrealized goals, unrealized aspirations — wave gently goodbye as they get on the train, and depart for a small fishing village in the south.  Bye bye.  “How nice the happy gas,” she says.  Although, now that I’ve said that bit about the fishing village, I believe I’m combining the dentistry poem with the Billy Collins poem on forgetfulness, which under the circumstances seems particularly apt.   Caramba. Someday, the dental poem will come rushing to mind, and I’ll run right out here and post it.

I’ve always been a relational thinker — not linear, but clusters, bubbles, concentric rings spreading in all directions like a pebble tossed onto a glassy pond.  I’ve read that menopausal women become spacier, less linear, more relational.  Well, here I am.  I’m definitely at some stage of menopause…not the tidy part where the menses actually ceases, but the part where I feel myself losing my familiar, list-making mind in favor of another calmer, weirder one.  Oh, and the waistline.  The waistline is spreading even further afield.


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