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A Tale of Two Predators

10/08/2020

I like reading books about people who challenge nature and themselves. Books like Into the Wild (and many other books by Jon Krakauer), Paths of Glory (Jeffrey Archer), The Great Alone (Kristin Hannah), A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson), Wild (Cheryl Strayed), Left for Dead (Beck Weathers), Dark Summit (Nick Heil), The Stranger in the Woods (Michael Finkel), Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Aron Ralston), Going to Extremes (Joe McGinnis), Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck)…all make me feel like I’m on an adventure rather than sitting in my reading nook.

Recently I reread A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Both books are inspiring, but the tone of each is very different. I think most people know the stories, but I’ll briefly summarize.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine, and enlists his friend Stephen Katz to hike with him, so as to have someone to shove towards the mouths of attacking bears if the opportunity presents. Okay, not really, but Bryson does include a lot of descriptions of bear attacks, his biggest fear about hiking the trail.  Interspersed with hiking details are descriptions of the history of the AT, including random stories of murder. The people who were killed at the hands of other people were all women killed by men. Interesting.  

In Wild, Cheryl Strayed tells her story of walking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) alone. Strayed gives plenty of descriptions of hiking with a heavy pack, her gear and all of the people she meets on the trail. Interspersed with the account of her hike are memories of her mother, who died of cancer, and the repercussions of this traumatic life event.

Strayed hikes alone, Bryson hikes with Katz. The tone of Bryson’s book is self-deprecating humor and adventure; the tone of Strayed’s book is a more serious: she has an introspective physical and mental journey. The predators Bryson and Katz worry about are actual predatory animals: bears, mountain lions, poisonous spiders, and even disease-ridden rats. For Strayed, the predators are similar to those of Bryson and Katz, but add to that her biggest threat along the trail: men.

At one point in A Walk in the Woods, Bryson stays in a hotel room that has no locking door. He shrugs his shoulders, assures himself no one will want to STEAL HIS PACK, and falls into worry-free slumber. A woman traveling alone would NEVER do this. She would ask for a different room, or drag every piece of furniture in front of the door and then spend a nightmare-riddled night worrying about rape, torture and murder. I could blame my thinking on my recent obsession with true crime podcasts (Murderinos, ya!), but I have been trained to watch out for creepy men since I was a little kid.

These are the things I was taught by my parents, brothers, popular culture, and random old dudes offering unsolicited advice:

Related to driving: interlace your keys between your fingers when you are walking alone to your car, don’t walk alone to your car; check the back seat before you get in; don’t stand too close to the car in case someone is lying underneath trying to grab your ankles; if there is a flyer on the windshield of your car don’t grab it, it’s a trick; if you get pulled over by a cop make sure it’s really a cop; lock your doors after you get in.. BE CAREFUL

Related to running: Don’t use headphones, don’t run the same route every time, don’t run at the same time of day, don’t wear tight, provocative clothes, carry mace, put ID on your shoe so your body can be identified when you get killed (hi, what if they steal my shoes)… BE CAREFUL

Related to living on your own: You are going to move to another state by yourself? That’s crazy. Don’t talk to people, don’t move to a crappy part of town, down give your phone number to people, make sure you aren’t being followed while you are driving home, carry mace, maybe get a gun actually don’t get a gun because they will probably wrestle it out of your weak girly hands and use it to kill you after they rape you… BE CAREFUL

Related to dating/going out: Never leave your drink alone, tell people where you are going and with whom and when you will be back, don’t drink too much, don’t leave the bar with someone… BE CAREFUL *this one is a little short because hi, lesbians don’t have these crazy dating problems. The worst thing we’ve got is people trying to get us to move in on Date #2

Related to crime: Don’t let yourself be taken to a second location, kick out the taillight and wave your hand through the hole so drivers will see you and call the cops, fight back, play dead, scratch and scream, don’t fight back or they will kill you, leave your DNA on the attacker so they will later go to prison, stay alert so you can identify him later…SURVIVE

The lessons of true crime are: don’t go running, don’t live alone, don’t use parking garages, don’t go camping, don’t do anything alone, if someone throws you in water, take off all your clothes so you don’t drown, don’t be a woman.

Here’s an interesting fact about Bryson and Strayed’s hiking stories: while Bryson doesn’t encounter any of his predators on the trail, Strayed does encounter a few of hers. Two fisherman come upon Strayed’s campsite, and she realizes they have been watching her pitch her tent and change her shirt. One nice guy, one not nice guy.  They talk to her briefly and then leave. Of course the not-nice, rapey guy peels away from his normal friend and approaches Strayed again, insinuating that she is in danger: “You out here all alone?”, “You have just the type of body I like.” He might as well have been a damn grizzly bear, licking his teeth and moving in for the kill. Luckily, the normal guy shows up, asks his friend what the fuck he is doing, and takes the guy away.

Let’s still teach our daughters to be careful, but I hope we are also teaching or sons not to be rapey. Can we hold men accountable rather than blaming women? Even in Wild, when the creepy fisherman starts circling, Strayed asks herself, Why did I come out here by myself?  I bet that guy wasn’t asking himself, Why did I just scare the shit out of that chick by violating her space and making unwelcome comments about her body when there was fear all over her face?  The times I’ve gotten myself in some weird situations, I’ve had the same thoughts as Strayed: Why did I let that guy in the house? Why did I say yes to this date? Why didn’t I ask someone to walk me to my car? Why did I go swimming at this hotel pool without bringing my brother along? Why do I work nights? I guess that’s the thing we women need to unlearn, the self blame.

Currently reading: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer and A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio.  I might reread Heaven by V.C. Andrews, to see if it’s as much fun as I thought it was when I was 13-years old.

If you haven’t read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, I recommend it. Great writing, very interesting, makes you jumpy.

I Am This Town and This Town is Me

09/08/2020

Like many people who were quarantined, we organized our house a bit and made a pretty large donate pile. I heard that the Goodwill would only take two bags at a time, and we had two boxes and five bags. The less neurotic people in the house (translation, everyone but me and the Border collie) said we could wait until Goodwill closed and do a stealth drop. You guys, I did not feel good about this. Shayne says, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  One should not ask this question of a catastrophic thinker. Among the possibilities in my mind, one of the worst things that could happen, aside from getting arrested, is a stranger might yell at us. I hate conflict, especially with strangers, and I think it’s in part because I was raised in a town where any adult could and would reprimand you in whatever way they saw fit at any time. This made me realize that, despite the fact that I left many years ago, my town has stayed with me. And it also made me wimp out on the Goodwill drop and make the brave people do it without me.

I could tell you the Wikipedia version of my town (Los Osos, California) but that’s not the part of this place that lives in me. Nobody but a few can really understand where I grew up, when I grew up. My brothers and my small town friends of the 70s and 80s know what it is to ride bikes to view a sunset off the bay any day of the week. We remember going to the Bay Liquor to blow our allowances on Wacky Wafers, Tart n Tinys, Bottle Caps, Lemonheads and Jawbusters, Fun Dip, Dinosaur Eggs, and 25-cent candy bars (“wow Mom, you really ARE old.”).  If you found a dime in the lint trap of the dryer or underneath the couch cushions, you could buy 5 semi-stale Red Vines from the wax covered box. The licorice was probably touched by a hundred hands, but nobody cared.

In our town, if you were broke and lived near 2nd street by the Bay, you could go to Steve’s Bromeliads and offer to sweep the sidewalk or water the plants for a dime. Steve, a bit of hippie, would eat his peppered avocado with a spoon and tell you the evils of sugar and nuclear power before handing over your ten cents. The opportunity to earn a little change was very welcome, despite the lecture, because in my house snacks were not really a thing. If you said you were hungry you were told to eat an apple or drink a glass of water, which is totally illogical but whatever.

We Los Osos natives knew we had the best pizza in the world in Clemenza’s and Nardonne’s, and Don Eduardo’s was the best Mexican food anywhere, because it was the only place in town, and some of us never left the town, so what did we know?  If you could get a ride from someone or you had a bike that would make it across town you could go to DJs Burger Freeze, borrow the trays to ride town the sand dunes, then return the trays and order the best chocolate chip shake you ever had. If you really had some money beyond dimes from the couch, you could blow it on video games at the Space Age Video Arcade.

Twice a year you could attend a Fest, which happened to be two blocks from my house. I could beg money to enter the 4-mile run, and score a T-shirt that made me kind of cool at school. We had Junefest and Octoberfest, with craft booths, delicious food, and live music. My childhood was marked by so much boredom, so this was a big deal. This was a thing people from OTHER CITIES came to see: cities like Morro Bay, Cayucos, and San Luis Obispo. Suddenly my town was cool and popular.

I do feel like kids today don’t really experience as much boredom as we did back then. Of course, we had cable when it became available, but at first HBO was kind of like early Netflix. Remember when Netflix first came out and it only showed movies you’d never heard of? HBO had movies you’d heard of, but just ten of them running on a constant loop. Here are the movies I remember seeing over and over on HBO: Airplane, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Gloria, 10, Arthur, 9 to 5, and some confusing movie called How to Beat the High Cost of Living.

But yes, so much boredom. We didn’t have channels dedicated to kid shows, and our kid movies played on TV once per year. We did have a movie theater in the next town, and if we were lucky, and could catch a ride, the Bay Theater was our jam.  If we could get dropped off at the Jug Liquor down the street, we could first load up on snacks before walking up Morro Bay Blvd to the theater.  Single screen, 99 cents, two show times, 7:00 or 9:00. The 9:00 crowd queued up on the sidewalk, hoping no 7:00 show people would tell them the ending as they walked past the line.

When we got older, if we had money (can you tell I never had money?), we could take the bus to San Luis Obispo, and walk around downtown, feeling like big shits in a big town. My friend Susie and I perused the albums and tapes at Boo Boo Records, and usually found something cheap enough to buy at Leon’s Used Bookstore.  For lunch, we would eat a slice at either Woodstock’s Pizza or a burger at Rhinos before getting an ice cream cone in the Network, making sure to save enough money for the bus ride home. If it was too hot to walk around downtown, a dollar could get you into Cuesta Pool for a few hours, and 50 cents could get you there.  Sometimes we would look for friends who might be able to give us rides home, so we could spend return bus fare on snacks. Guys, I was always on a quest for snacks.

As a kid who was a bit under parented (we were extreme free range), I found so much solace in going to other people’s houses. My friend Cindy had a little brother, and their house seemed so normal, the adults so capable. When I went over to spend the night HER DAD cooked dinner.  This was unbelievable to me. I had never seen my dad cook anything, except maybe heating up a can of chili and making coffee.  Cindy’s refrigerator contained Capri Suns, and their cupboard contained Handisnacks and lunch sized bags of chips, which blew my mind.  Food purchased just for kids was a crazy concept. At my house, a special Friday night treat was a half gallon of Thrifty’s Chocolate Malted Crunch or Heavenly Hash ice cream, divided among five people.

So many times, adults gave me advice, as if they were my parents. In a way, it felt like they were. In Los Osos, a shout of “Hey, knock that shit off right now!” from a random stranger was normal, and we would immediately scatter like cockroaches when the light comes on. Back then, it was fine and expected to yell at other people’s children. Once, I kicked a coke bottle along the road until it hit a rock and broke. I was prepared to step over it and pretend it never happened, when a guy walked out of his garage, yelled at me for being a bottle kicking idiot (“What did you THINK would happen?!”), brought a broom, dustpan, and garbage can, and demanded I clean up every last piece. I did it because I knew that guy probably knew my parents somehow. If I complained to my parents about it, they’d probably ask for the guy’s address so they could send him a thank you card, and then ground me for a week. Once, my softball coach threw a ball directly at me on purpose, beaning me in the ankle, for not listening to him. When I showed my mom the huge bruise she said, “Well, you should have been listening.” Discussion over.

My point is, adults were scary. Anyone at any time could make your life hell, so we all avoided confrontation whenever possible. So I’m not saying I’m scared of the guy at the Goodwill drop off, I’m just saying I’d rather not deal with it.

I still go visit my town, but it’s not the same. There is a Starbucks there now, and I do love to sit and watch the town live its life without me. Some of the old businesses are still there after all these years (thank you Sylvester’s Burgers and Carlock’s), but really, it’s been so long since I’ve lived there I feel like I can’t claim it anymore. It will always be a part of me, but we broke up so long ago. I’m a stranger in familiar land, and even though not much has changed, I am not the same person.

I do sometimes wonder what it would feel like, had I never moved away . One of my favorite books is a lesser known sci-fi called Replay by Ken Grimwood. In it, the main character has a heart attack and wakes up as his college-aged self. Knowing everything that led him to the reality of his life, he is given the chance to replay things, over and over and over again. The book makes me wonder what I would change about my past, given the chance. Changing the past makes you lose the present, that is basic time- travel math, but I still wonder, what if I had stayed? If I had never left, I would have never experienced the strangely retro hippie culture of New Mexico in the 90s: the coffee shop life of Double Rainbow Café, camping in the Jemez Mountains, eating green chile EVERYTHING. I never would have moved to Reno, wouldn’t have this house, this perfect family. But I’d be right there, by the most beautiful beaches, salt water and fog, reading the plaques on piers, running on the beach, and going to best Farmer’s Market in the country every Thursday night.

This year I missed visiting the coast, due to Covid and fires. The Truckee river is giving me my cold water fix, but I replenish my soul by walking the beach in Cayucos while eating Brown Butter Cookies, drinking coffee and eating Eggs Benedict at The Coffee Pot in Morro Bay, sitting quietly in Spooner’s Cove in Los Osos watching the easy waves roll in, having afternoon tea with my best friend in Atascadero, eating a double scoop of Chocolate Malted Krunch at the Rite Aid, and buying new hoodies and stickers from Wavelengths Surf Shop.

  The only solution is figuring how to time travel like in Replay, but without the heart attack. This time, if an adult yells at me, I’ll… well, I’ll probably do what they say, but then I’ll go get some 70’s candy and a delicious slice of pizza. Oh man, I’d buy a case of Dinosaur Eggs! And Reggie Bars! And, I guess, I better plan on bringing some money, since the pockets of my corduroy OP short will be EMPTY, we know this.

Current reads: I finally finished A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which was a reread for me. This book is just fun. It’s a very different book than Wild though. I may need to compare the two in an essay. Men hiking fear different things than women hiking. Namely, women fear men. The men fear bears and snakes. Interesting. As far as my next read, I’m kind of at a loss now. I might try Station Eleven, but I’m also tempted by rereads. I think it’s because school is a bit stressful so rereads offer familiarity. I’m considering rereading Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon OR Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles. I did receive my awaited-for book of essays called Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby, which I think will be fun.

There is a Mouse in the Laundry Room, and Nobody Wants to Kill It

08/09/2020

Okay, nobody (except my dog) wanted to kill it, at first. It’s a furry little mammal, and I’m wondering if part of the reason I didn’t want to hurt him is all of the books I’ve read featuring anthropomorphized rats and mice, like Despereaux, Stuart Little, and Ralph S. Mouse. I mean, the guy in my laundry room might be living his best life, riding motorcycles and rescuing princesses, and here we are about to cut him off in his prime.

But you guys, the pee, the poop, the ew. Maybe Stuart Little has a mini potty, a little matchbox crapper or something, but the mouse in my house poops in places that require moving large appliances to clean.  Once you move the refrigerator, washer, dryer, and dishwasher, then get on your hands and knees to scrub the floor, accidentally getting mouse poop embedded in your kneecaps, you become sympathetic to the farmer’s wife with her carving knife.

It all started in the garage, and at that point we were a little bit less concerned. We thought we could have a symbiotic relationship with the little guy. He eats the dry dog food that periodically spills from the bin, and we feel good because we let him live. But then, the poop. I feel like mice don’t poop like regular animals. It must be like one tiny bite of food creates a machine-gun level of feces bulleting out of the tiny butt. We also know this was not healthy for the people and dogs living here, so the symbiosis was over.

I think Laura Numeroff, writer of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (and other If You Give an ANIMAL a FOOD THING books) may have been speaking from personal experience. If you don’t know the book, the boy invites the mouse into the house, and thing after thing goes wrong, all because the mouse is needy and the boy has no boundaries. So you first see the mouse in your garage, and you think, sure, come in and stay a while. How cute, so furry, so little. Then, Wait, is that a hole in the dog food bag? Is this mouse poop in my bike helmet?  Now he’s in the laundry room, enjoying the dog food and water and nesting (and pooping) in the dog towels. By the way, it’s cute how I thought we had only one mouse. I bet you were already thinking this.

We went to Home Depot and bought traps. Not poison, and not sticky traps. We thought the traditional snappy trap might be the most humane. It only costs $2.50 for a pack of 4 traps. We bought 16 traps, and I thought we  might save the extra ones. I was still hopeful about how we only had one mouse. So we wouldn’t possibly need all of these, right?

At first, setting the traps was a bit nerve-wracking. We put bits of leftover taco meat on the trap, and the little shits took the snacks, leaving the traps undisturbed. We upped our game to peanut butter because it’s harder to steal off the trap. It places the mice in the appropriate spot, if you know what I mean. I know, we are monsters. But when you realize you don’t have A mouse but many mice, you become determined. Plus, after moving four appliances, you are ready to take your house back.

I did a little bit of online research about traps, and tons of people asked about reusing them. I thought, Ew, who would do that? It’s hard to get close enough to the trap to throw it out when there is a dead mouse on it, and people are actually lifting up the spring-loaded dealio and releasing a mouse into the garbage, then reloading the trap, despite the blood?  Have I mentioned how much I dislike going to Home Depot? Plus, some traps work better than others. Pretty soon we were reusing the traps, and utilizing a complicated system of tying lunch meat to the food spot so that the little guys couldn’t  run off with the prize, unscathed.

After we got rid of all the mice, we cemented the tiny mouse holes that we found under the sink and in the laundry room. I am hopeful that this is it, problem solved. So far all traps remain full of snacks and empty of corpses, so that’s good.

The other day, we came inside after relaxing in Sap Point, and in the dark, I saw a black thing and a pile of brown something on the carpet by the back door. I said, “Is that a toy… and a pile of toy stuffing?” I was hopeful. I may have been in denial. It was not a toy, it was a dead bird, and it was not stuffing, it was a little volcano of the contents of my dog’s stomach. I think she tried to eat the bird, then threw up, leaving both things for us to take care of. While we cleaned up the mess, I sighed, and whispered “so much death.”

But really, I’m just as culpable in contributing to all the animal death as anyone else. I mean, we were feeding the mice ground turkey and lunch meat from our own refrigerator. Lately I’ve been thinking about small steps I can take to make the world a better place. I feel guilty for killing the mice, but nobody should let their house turn into a lair for rodents, if they can help it. And it’s not my fault my dog killed the bird; isn’t that what Labradors are supposed to do? We do work hard to provide good lives for our dogs, and I think they basically live like little princesses. So taking care of dogs feels like important work in the world, because really, dogs are pure good. But what about the other animals? Must I contribute to their death?  If I am barely willing to kill a mouse, why will I eat the animals other people have to kill for me (under awful conditions also). Last week, my friend came over for calzones on the deck,  and I told her they were pepperoni-less because I’ve been thinking pigs are cute and smart. And really, do I need pepperoni? Guys, I don’t even know where I’m going with this, except to say I will be eating less meat in the future, to make up for the mice.

In other news, we see no difference between the left and right Twix. We are certain they are the delicious same. The kid says left is more cookie, less caramel and vice versa for right. I really can’t tell, but I am willing to try the experiment again.

What I’m reading now:  I just finished Run Forever by Amby Burfoot, a book that got me running and actually looking forward to my morning workout. I’m about to start The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris and I’m enjoying a reread of Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It kind of aligns with the feeling of doing impossible things. We can all do hard things. Things seem very hard right now, so I’m just trying to enjoy the small moments.

 

See You in Sap Point

07/31/2020

July 31st is my last day of summer break. Once the calendar turns to August, even if I don’t go back to work right away, I begin thinking about the new school year, reading books on education and teaching, and buying school supplies. This year though, I feel a little bit less optimistic, as you can imagine. I wrote a thousand words that meandered around my thoughts on the going back in the time of Covid, but none of it made much sense and some of it was pretty whiny, so I deleted. This school year will look different than any other, and I keep having nightmares that I’m the only person wearing a mask, but we will persevere and find ways to accomplish this impossible-feeling task. The thing is, I don’t want to be mad at people, and the month of July is centering and grounding for me. I’m in the Zen place. And being mad at things I can’t control is not in line with that.

This July, as you know, we built a deck and created a little Sap Point under the blue spruce in our front yard. The Point is a perfect little hidey hole, and sitting under the tree journaling and drinking coffee is the best thing I do for my sanity every day. We end the day talking and drinking beers in Sap Point, and that also feels calming. It feels like camping, without all the work and with the added bonus of a flushing toilet nearby. Wonderful. Side note, hand sanitizer gets sap out of everything. Drinking coffee outside, preferably out of a metal cup, is one of the simple pleasures of my life. I love listening to the sounds of the neighborhood: my neighbor’s sprinklers, garage doors opening, the podcast of the woman who walks her twin Pomeranians past our house every day. Instead of wild animals, I hear birds chirping, and the muted whine of my dog  letting me know her exclusion from the Point is unfair. Underneath all the intermittent noise is silence and the smell of tree sap; perfect for writing.

I feel like I really tune in to what matters in July, my True North month. This July, I started blogging again and signed up for the Boston Writers Conference, including an agent pitch session. I baked, sat outside (on the deck!) eating, drinking and talking with friends and neighbors, worked my body in the sun and replaced lost fluids with tea and beer. I read a few books, took the young dogs to the park, and walked the old dog around the block. I quit tracking my steps on my phone’s health app. Maybe I’m not into tracking things in my personal life. Perhaps my phone telling me to Get Moving! is too much input from a non-human. July should be a month of few commitments anyway.

Some of the feedback teachers receive these days is that we are lazy and entitled. I offer no apologies for my time off. I work tons of extra hours August –May, and I appreciate the recharging I get to do in July. I am in a place of peace and love, so middle fingers in the air to the people who call me lazy.

My last task of July: The kid and I are going to see if there really is a difference between the left and right Twix. I’ll report back.

Re-reading: Jaws by Peter Benchley (Jaws is Covid, the beaches are the schools. Talk amongst yourselves) and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I think familiar books are needed right now. Also Run Forever by Amby Burfoot. I do enjoy books about running, even while I’m being kind of lazy about running.

Quotes of the day, with no comment:

“Benefits outweigh the costs for younger students to return for in person learning, IF you can protect teachers well.”  Bill Gates

“Don’t accept the criticism from people you would not seek for advice.”  Some Guy on Twitter

 

Maybe, Maybe Not. Expectations Managed.

07/23/2020

Alternate title: shit is not going to work out as planned. I knew this already about life, but for some reason I need reminders, this time as it relates to customer service.  As in you might get it, and you might not. You might be a customer, or you might be an untrained, unpaid employee of the place from which you want the thing. I was still operating under a customer role, a person who thought she would  receive help from people of employ, and these were the expectations I had to work out as we build a deck in our front yard.

But first, my gym (a tangent). I recently received an email from the gym people offering for me “to become a member again for zero dollars, for an annual savings of $109 per year.” This is confusing for two reasons: 1) math and 2) because I never quit the gym. Yes, true, I don’t go there because Hi, Covid, but all my past experience as a customer of gyms has shown me that it is nearly impossible to break up with gyms. And now this one is telling me it happened, just because gym=cooties=Covid=I’ll work out in 2021. The email actually made me feel kind of rejected by the place I never go, but I’m curious about my role here. My expectation is I stay a customer of this gym until I make up some excuse to get out of my commitment. But now I have to re-up every year, and sometimes it costs me zero dollars but sometimes it costs me some amount of dollars to rejoin the gym I already occasionally visit and am a member of?  And do I have to take the same really bad picture for the computer every year?

So now my workout is outdoors, building that deck I mentioned. We also made a parking space on the other side of the driveway, which involved moving lots dirt and rocks. So in other words, we are having a boat load of fun over here in the 95 degrees. Here are some of the expectations I needed to manage about building a deck (besides “Building a deck is not quick and easy.”- people who have built decks) . I thought that when you order a bunch of deck things at Home Depot and they tell you the order will be ready in the Customer Pick Up Area, and you show up three hours after your pick up time in your U-Haul, the stuff will be “picked,” i.e., ready to load up. After all, you gave them three extra hours, right? That’s an expectation I needed to manage. The new normal is maybe it will be ready, maybe it will not. Turns out, they didn’t have time to get the order together, so we turned into employees and picked the online order ourselves. They wouldn’t let us drive the forklift though. I must have missed the training for that. Too bad. My expectation is that driving a forklift around Home Depot would be a lot of fun. Which, for the record, would be the first time I ever had fun at the Home Depot. We did load and unload 42 pier blocks (~35 pounds each) and 20 bags of cement (50 pounds each), so I expect those muscles to start popping any minute, gym membership be damned. Without going into details, I’ll just add that Lowe’s also doesn’t have time to pick orders, and I work there now too.

After having unloaded everything, we were ready to return the truck to U-Haul. My expectation was that the people who actually work at U-Haul would check the truck in. But like gas and groceries, that’s our job. We stood in the parking lot, our shoes melting to the asphalt, sweaty from a day of being new employees of Lowes and Home Depot, thirsty and sick of that fucking orange truck, trying to create an account on UHaul.com, using a special code sent via text, so that we could return the truck cyberly, not just physically. The employee told us it would be easy. It was not. She might need to manage her own expectations.

My friend says that these companies don’t need our business. She’s probably right. It’s almost like we have to meet them halfway now, and they might give us the product that they have and we need. Or they might not. See, expectation managed. But still, I’d like fewer jobs. I feel like I have enough of those already.

I began applying this newfound philosophy of expectations to work. I was looking through an old journal from my first year of teaching, which reminded me that Year One is a serious lesson in managing expectations. You think you’re going to be Mr. Keating (Oh Captain, My Captain!) when you’re a little bit more like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop. So many journal entries are some iteration of “Holy Shit, how am I supposed to do all this stuff and still be a good parent and maybe find time to exercise and write a little?”

One of my journal entries included this quote: “Over prepare, then go with the flow,” which is a public speaking tip from Regina Brett. Right now, as we enter a school year that will be like no other, I’m managing my expectations and thinking about Brett.  I’m ready to work hard and probably over prepare for whatever my job will look like (no small group instruction for Special Education is sort of like no espresso for baristas), and then go with the flow when all the rules change.

I’ll tell you what though, building a deck is a Zen activity.  Simple. Wake up. Coffee. Put on the same shorts as yesterday (and the day before, and the day before… but who’s counting?) Nothing to think about except dirt, rocks, cement, and is this level? Is school going to start? Don’t know. How will it? Don’t care. Will I get Covid? Maybe. But look, we built a deck!

Books I’m reading:

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (I need an easy re-read, and humor)

Sliver by Ira Levin (the quest to read all of Levin continues)

Bruce Lee – Artist of Life

20200719_180926

How you PLC, Based on Your Enneagram (Also, You Should Take the Test)

07/09/2020

I might have mentioned recently (on this blog, to all my friends on Marco Polo and via texts, and to a few random strangers), that the Enneagram is crazy cool and everyone should take the test. The Enneagram is a personality test, called “a model of the human psyche,” on Wikipedia, that defines nine personality types, as follows:

Type 1: Reformer, Perfectionist

Type 2: Helper, Giver

Type 3: Achiever. Performer

Type 4: Individualist, Romantic

Type 5: Investigator, Observer

Type 6: Loyalist, Loyal Skeptic

Type 7: Enthusiast, Epicure

Type 8: Challenger, Protector

Type 9: Peacemaker, Mediator

There are stages to learning your Enneagram number. When you take the test, you don’t just take it and accept your numbers, especially not if you are a Six. There are stages to acceptance. You take the test, and then you read the too-true synopsis of your Enneagram number, which includes your virtues, vices, and drugs you might possibly become addicted to in your lifetime.  Oh, you also learn what personality disorders you might have if you let yourself devolve all the way to Level 9, the very worst on the Levels of Development Scale. I learned I can become schizoid and overly dependent, and I am prone to sloth-like behaviors like binge watching Netflix or reading under a tree all day long while eating movie-theater sized boxes of Runts and Red Vines.

Much like reading a horoscope, you may somewhat relate to some of the description of your Enneagram number; but you will also disagree with some parts. You think “maybe when I was younger I was The Peacemaker, but now that I’m in my (late) 40s I’m waaay more assertive than this description. I stand up for myself mostly, except when I don’t, which is like 50% of the time, and usually only on behalf of someone else who can’t stand up for themselves but still… how can I be a fucking Nine?!” So you deny.

Next you bargain. What if I take the test again, and really think harder about the questions so that I can get to the true, root-of- my-soul answers.  Hit fewer middle answers by REALLY COMMITTING to one side or the other. But then, you question, “Will the second test be true? I already know the questions because I took the test like, five minutes ago. So then you kind of accept it (unless you are a Six. Sixes aren’t here. They are retaking the test. They will be right back.)

The next step is fully reading the description of the Enneagram. Or, if you are me, you buy the book. Then you ask everyone you know to take the test. Soon you are doing random things and you think, “Oh my God, I’m doing this because I’m a Nine. Of course a Nine says, “I’m cool with whatever you guys want to order for dinner….but am I really cool? Can I un-Nine myself?” Then the people around you start doing the same thing. They say, “Oh no, I really am a One because I can’t just let that person be wrong, I have to tell him he’s wrong.”  Recently, at my house, during a game of Trivial Pursuit, my son, a Four, moved the piece around to various colors without consulting with his partner, a Five. In the interest of molding and shaping, I told the kid, “You aren’t even asking your teammate what categories he wants,” and our friend the Five just shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t mind.”  We couldn’t stop ourselves from observing that The Individualist Four was not being a team player, while The Observer Five, was fine with it.  Are Enneagrams accurate or what??!

After learning the Enneagram numbers of everyone in my circle, I began to think about how much better work might be if I knew all of my coworker’s numbers. I could relate to them on a deeper, Enneagram-based level. Or at least use the knowledge to make excuses for their behavior.

Maybe in one of our weekly PLCs (Professional Learning Community) we could all take the quiz, then report results. PLCs are when teachers get together to talk about new teaching initiatives, test scores and how to analyze test scores to improve teaching strategies, social-emotional learning, and various other important things, like gossip.  We all kind of secretly don’t want to be there, because we are still working on the old initiatives that were new last week, we have a lot of other stuff to do, and we want to go home at a normal time.

So I began to wonder, how does each Enneagram behave in the PLC? Here are my guesses (all teachers are referred to as she in these scenarios, because obviously, 95% of teachers are women. Sorry Steve, but thanks for doing the football pool every year. We appreciate you.):

#1 The Reformer, Perfectionist: She is organized. She already implemented the initiative, and it is laminated and color-coded. Even now, in July, she is probably prepping for the new school year. The rest of us go to One for answers. She might be wondering how the hell we don’t know this already, but in PLC, she is probably the presenter, so it’s all good.

#2 The Helper, Giver:  If the PLCs are about social-emotional learning strategies, the Two is rocking it. Two is a good listener, she already Found Her Why, and she is a good person to seek out as your work homie. She might apologetically complain about the Ones, just a tiny bit, but she offers positive, helpful feedback.

#3 The Achiever, Performer. She is very competitive. She wants to be the best teacher, so she is the superstar of the PLC about test scores and shared assessments. Three might want the PLC to end soon because she is already in her work-out clothes and she really wants to go on her run.  She is your teacher leader. She might also be very proud of the amount of years she has been teaching. She might mention it in conversation when it kind of doesn’t really fit. Maybe. But you go Three! You are the best!

#4 The Individualist, Romantic: In those PLCs when every group creates a poster, and then must present the poster, the Four says Nose Goes! The Four hates group work, and despises presenting. When given depressing news or data in the PLC (loss of star rating, poor test scores), Four is looking off into the distance, a sad song playing that only she can hear, questioning every life choice she ever made, wondering if a different answer might have led her to a different career….

#5 The Investigator, Observer: Five is the training queen. She read all the books about teaching. If the July One is planning, the July Five is taking trainings and researching how to become a better teacher. She is very knowledgeable, but she keeps the information to herself. She needs to know WHY we do something, and she begins to unravel when the why seems dumb (let’s face it, sometimes the why is dumb).

#6 The Loyalist, The Loyal Skeptic: Six might have been at this school since ‘Nam. She remembers when we didn’t have to… [insert new initiative here], and she doesn’t trust that this newly presented thing at the PLC will really work. She will sit back and wait until someone else proves that the new thing is awesome, then she is on board for life. The Six is independent. She won’t be co-teaching any time soon.

#7 Enthusiast, Epicure:  Can you say Sunshine Committee? The Seven LOVES new initiatives. She listens intently in the PLC, she asks follow-up questions, she might be the person who keeps us there longer than we want, but she always asks the question we all needed.  Everyone loves the Seven. She is comic relief. She is super positive. When Seven is down, the world might be ending. A Seven loves to start new things, but she might need to depend on some of the other numbers (er, I mean teachers) to finish the thing. Because finishing is kind of… not new and fun.

#8 The Challenger, Protector: She might be scary. If she can control it, she can fix it. She can lead a team on a task everyone hates, and she will not give up. Everyone might hate her by the end, but does she care? Not really. Cover pages on the TPS Reports? She wrote the memo, she loves the idea, and she will not give up until we are 100% compliant! Don’t @ her. She’s got this. But she might not be your work buddy, especially if you are a….

#9 Peacemaker, Mediator:  She will trust that things are right, and she’ll go with the flow. She appears to get along with everyone, but she has inner turmoil. In PLC, she will follow along with whatever is presented, pushing down her internal WTF for later. What? I’m just guessing about what Nine would be like.

What I’m Reading Now…

Okay, so I finished The Choice by Edith Eva Eger. This book was amazing. What an inspiring story of survival. I also read The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, which was quick and fun, but also deeper than I expected. Next up is Sliver, also by Ira Levin. And I’m rereading The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal. I love this book.

Is it weird that I watched Wine Country four times last week? Ya, I didn’t think so. May I offer you some feedback? Watch this movie.

Why Teachers Quit

06/22/2020

It was interesting to do a blog post after a three year hiatus. I forgot how fun it is. One of the first blog posts I did on my old Mommy blog was about slowing down and enjoying life with a 2-year old, whose favorite activity was watching ants crawl around the concrete in the backyard. Life moves pretty fast Ferris. And a blog is a nice way to stop and look around. The kid who tried my patience spending long afternoons watching ants is now 15, old enough to read my blog via a link I sent over text, and reply back, “that’s very cute.” Funny. My son thinks I’m cute.

So this blog has been around long enough to see my posts about returning to school to become a teacher, special education internship, first years of teaching, and summer school sessions. The 2020-2021 school year will be number 9 for me. After this many years in special education, I do see why teachers sometimes want to quit. In Nevada, 40 -50% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years. In Washoe County, 14% of new teachers quit in the first year, and 24% quit in three years or less.

Teachers retire prematurely because we are exhausted.  The job is actually impossible, and it gets tiring, doing impossible things every day. It’s okay for Alice, but we have lives. We are driven to stay for the same reason we started: we love the kids. We are driven to leave because we are tired of working for free, spending money on our jobs, and being blamed for just about everything.

Before teaching, I had jobs that demanded more: overtime, working from home at night after leaving the office, or picking up extra shifts when coworkers quit with no notice. For most of us, that is the natural cycle of work.  Busy times yield extra work which also equals overtime pay. Then slow times allow a bit of personal time, regrouping, even perhaps on-the-clock training.  The reality of teaching is, there is no chill. There is no slow time, and we’ve never heard of overtime pay. We do our training in the evenings or on Saturdays, because getting a substitute requires an hour or more of unpaid work writing sub plans. We also don’t call in sick because we don’t want to write sub plans. Bonuses do exist, and for that I am thankful. But for those, you must be perfect, 16/16 stars, highly effective. Side note, you can’t be highly effective unless you are willing to work outside of contract, all the time.  For special education, the job is actually impossible to complete in contract time, so by choosing special ed, you have also opted to work for free.  A lot. The teachers I mentor look at me sadly, asking, “How do we do it all?” I asked the same question as a new teacher, and the veteran teacher said, “You fill your plate and you stay late.” The rookie teacher says, “Wait, what? They never told me that in school…”

A friend of mine, who also teaches special ed, recently asked me to track my extra hours, and after one week I had 17.5 hours logged outside of contract. If I calculated overtime pay I might have earned, I would have become bitter, especially when I was already budgeting hard for my family. Instead of calculating pay, I calculated time. I work an extra 10-12 weeks per year for free. I stopped calculating anything after that. After eight years of teaching special education in various setting, I can write an IEP pretty quickly, but I still work on all of my IEPs at home on my couch, and each one still takes at least two hours, sometimes more. Oh and also, if you don’t do it exactly right, you are told you will get sued.  Special education teachers are reminded about being sued weekly, sometimes daily. We joke about going to Special Education Jail, and some of us are so tired we kind of want it. We imagine it might be okay as long as there are good books and decent snacks.

The other factor is money. I’ve never had a job that required me to spend money on materials needed for my customers. When I worked restaurant I didn’t make lattes with milk I purchased, but as a teacher I taught cooking as a life skills curriculum with food I bought with my family’s money. I started a coffee cart to fund cooking and classroom incentives, and that helped my budget but not my time, as I spent every Thursday night baking and every Saturday shopping for the mini-business I ran from my classroom.

There is also the blame from parents. How come my kid can’t read? Why can’t you get him to eat his lunch? Why is he in trouble when he only said fuck five times? How come she doesn’t know how to tie her shoes yet? We are tasked with teaching academics, but we are also supposed to make sure everybody has strong character and life skills as well. Phone calls home often lead to blame. Not on the kids, but on the school staff. My child hit someone?  Well why didn’t you stop him before he did it? Why weren’t you standing closer? Who hit him when you weren’t looking? Are you sure he hit someone, that doesn’t sound like him. We are supposed to be all knowing, all seeing superheroes, but with little respect given.

After all this, I love my job. I even feel guilty posting this at all, because I feel fortunate to get paid to do what I love. I can get creative with delivery of curriculum, and I spend all day with kids who make me laugh (and sometime cry).  I have pride in my school, and my coworkers are also my friends. I love the kids. I get a thrill when their test scores go up or they learn a skill they have been working on for months. I get a lot of personal  fulfillment from my job, but it’s a sacrifice. My intense protection and love of kids who are in special ed costs me. It costs me time with my family, it costs me money, and it costs me peace of mind. I never feel like I’ve done enough. Nothing ever feels good enough. And because I only work an extra 10-12 hours per week, I’m actually not a GREAT teacher. The great ones work a lot more, but I try for balance. I want simple things. I want to find time to work out in the morning, instead of going in early to prep. I want to be able to write a book rather than write IEPs. I’d like to be able to enjoy free time with my family instead of lesson planning. Every school year I set these goals. And every year I fail at meeting them, because the workload won’t allow me to be a “contract teacher.” I want to at least be caught up on IEPs, be ready to teach all of my groups, have all of my data collected/organized/scanned, complete all of my current testing, make my progress reports amazing,  get my trainings done, and, and, and…. let’s change the subject.

I keep starting too many books and then running out of time before the library sucks them off my kindle. So I’m 20% in on Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, a fun book about analyzing how to be more productive, create good habits and ditch bad habits by analyzing your motivation and taking tiny steps towards change. I don’t want to talk about how I didn’t finish reading Tiny Habits, but in approximately 4 weeks I’ll be able to talk about the rest of it. I also was only about 30% into The Choice by Eva Eger, a well-written book about a Holocaust survivor who became a psychologist and lectures about victimhood and pessimistic ways of thinking. I’ll be able to say more about this book in approximately 6 weeks. I can say that The Institute by Stephen King is very good.  A suspenseful read about children being kept and studied for their telekinetic and telepathic abilities.  Long but entertaining.

Things That Happened During Quarantine 2020

06/11/2020

 

We got the kid a plant for his room. He named it Ambrose. He gave it an actual name tag. He walks out of the house and tells us “I am going to take Ambrose out for some sun.” The boy thinks Ambrose needs a humidifier because he is a tropical plant. Ambrose is a he.

My mom had a UTI, which resulted in sepsis, which caused her to forget to put her pants on. I think all of us are getting a bit creative in the pants department, but still, I’m glad the neighbor called 911 before things got out of hand. She was in the hospital and we couldn’t visit her, of course. Instead, we cleaned the house, fed dogs, and stocked the fridge.  A second trip to the hospital was less stressful (high potassium levels, tremors, pants not a problem), and security was a little bit more relaxed. I don’t have a fever, I learned that. Good news.

Work got stupid. Zoom teaching is ridiculous for K/1. It’s hard to teach when kids are yelling things like, “I’m in the bathroom now! Don’t worry, I’m not pooping I’m just farting!” I don’t want to spend summer teaching on a computer or even planning for next year because August 10th feels cancelled. New plan: write a book and get over my fear of riding my bike to work. You know, if I go to work, that is.

I learned a few things about working from home: I can’t work in pajama pants. There is a dissonance there. I’m not a business on top, comfy on the bottom person, but I can wear the same pair of jeans for 3 days. Day 2 is optimal, as far as fit and comfort go. Also, I really don’t mind spending this much time at home. It just, you know, doesn’t feel like teaching.

We shared eggs, tea, oatmeal cookies, chips, takeout and books with our friends and neighbors. Driveway Drinks and Garage Guzzling became a thing. Garage entertainment included Would You Rather, Cards Against Humanity, Apples to Apples, and Trivial Pursuit, which is not a bad way to spend an evening with friends.

I quit sugar. Five times actually, thanks for asking.

Grocery shopping became more complicated. Our shopping has always been a bit complex, because we bring my mom to the store, which involves finding the electric cart, scanning and bagging her groceries, delivering her stuff, then our stuff, blady blady. But ya, finding items on two grocery lists was hard. We quit bringing my mom to the store, so I don’t think she understood the struggle to find things. She found some chocolate chips in her cupboard and asked for all the ingredients necessary to make cookies, which, as you know, was impossible mid-quarantine.

We all learned our Enneagrams. 9s rule!!!! I also know the Enneagram numbers for my wife, my son, various friends, my boss, and my across-the-street neighbor. You guys, you should take the test (https://www.truity.com/test/enneagram-personality-test). It is seriously fun analyzing how wrong you think the negative parts of your number are, learn what mental health issues you are prone to, and see whether you are compatible with everyone you encounter in your life. Get your boss to take it!

I read Rosemary’s Baby, A Kiss Before Dying (Ira Levin, amazing), Educated (no, just no), The Glitch (fun idea, but ending kind of sucked), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (for the 4th time, heart, heart, heart, love, love, love), Sleepers (revenge! New York!), and Stranger in the Woods by Michel Finkel (2nd read, maybe I’m drawn to the hermit- hiding-in-the-woods-reading-books-he-stole-from-unlocked-cabins vibe after all this tech). . We also listened to Imaginary Friend. I don’t recommend that one (lonnnng, repetitive, annoying), but Ira Levin is my new favorite.

The Writers’ Group became a regular thing. We Zoom, show each other our snacks and drinks, critique each others’ work, turn off audio and video and write for designated periods of time, and talk about how much we miss coffee shops.

Walking is the only workout I need. Sometimes we go for two hours. Sometimes we do the around the block walk and that’s it. If the walk serves a function that’s optimal. Walking functions included getting the eggs from the meet spot, returning the Redbox movies, and dropping bills and letters in the mailbox. A walk with purpose is good, in case you really start to hate it. This way, you can’t quit.

We spent so much time with our dogs. I also learned they spend a lot of time wrestling and loudly licking body parts, so that was really helpful during all those Zoom meetings. But they are kind of clingy now. We go to the store or for a walk without them, and they act very abandoned.

Time in front of the TV included nightly Jeopardy, Marvel Marathons, Star Wars Marathon and binge watching: Dead to Me, Person of Interest, Stumptown, Hollywood, Golden Girls, Supergirl and Flash.

We cleaned out the garage. We have mice. I have a fear of a mouse or multiple mice running up my pants leg. Everyone has told me that’s the last thing a mouse wants to do. But how do they know? Did they ask a mouse? Was there some kind of poll? I don’t think so.

We cooked! Tamales, soup, calzones (so many times), chicken marsala, blueberry Bundt cake, lemon cake, cookies, pineapple upside-down cheesecake cake, and some South Beach meals, because you know, I quit sugar five times.

 

Now we are in Phase 2.  So this feels like a Quarantine is Over list. I do miss coffee shops, restaurants and the library, but I’m kind of waiting around to see what happens. Will there be a second wave of Covid? Scientists say yes, and I like to listen to the experts, rather than the politicians. So I’m hoping we will go back to school “brick and mortar” style, but I have a feeling my dining room table will once again be transformed into the Zoom/Teams/Distance Learning Headquarters of yore. So for now, we are still masking, Garage Guzzling and Driveway Drinking, picking food up curbside, and social distancing. I follow the arrows on the ground at the store. I wash my hands and clean my phone when I get home (things we should have been doing all along?), and I step away from the people. They keep moving towards me though, and that is problematic. But perhaps that’s another post for another day, about how introverts, who can be slightly germ-phobic, operate out in the world.

Summer School Lessons

07/24/2017

This summer I worked four additional weeks beyond the last day of school, teaching summer school. I was apprehensive about summer school, in part because teachers are given a half day to prepare for students we don’t know, in a classroom that is not ours, with very few materials provided. It turns out teaching summer school was the easiest job ever.

I felt obligated to make summer school fun since, hello, the kids were in school during the summer. During the regular school year, I get a little wrapped up in teaching kids to be functioning adults who can pay bills on time and order at a restaurant and not burn down their kitchen while making toast and read directions and cross the street safely and be respectful so as to not get arrested and, and, and, ya, all that. Seriously, all this is on my mind plus a million other things every day. It’s important that they learn all these things (plus how to take a test and behave in the lunch room and handle transitions and follow fire drill procedures), but summer school was a lot less pressure. Because there really isn’t time to accomplish the 500 things on the list in my brain.

In 16 half days, you choose a few things. You could work on something like taking turns or recognizing coins or sitting calmly during read aloud. But serious goals, like mastering 2-digit addition or reading 50 more sight words, were probably not going to happen. We did math and reading centers, speech and occupational therapy, but we also went on a nature walk, played games, researched Bigfoot, and played water balloon baseball.

Teaching is a difficult balance between rigor and fun, test prep and games, independence and support, tough love and kindness. Summer school was a nice way to remind myself what I love about teaching: seeing kids grow and learn while having fun. Now, as I prepare to return to school, I’m reviewing curriculum and thinking about what I want my students to accomplish. I’m considering new ways to hit all of those IEP goals and objectives, but I’m also carrying a bit of that summer school vibe back with me.  Because if work isn’t fun, what’s the point? My students need a happy, relaxed teacher. That’s my 2017-2018 school year goal.

The rest of the summer has been relaxing.  I spent some time at the waterpark. Being there with the now 12-year old boy means lots of reading time for me because he doesn’t really want to hang with his mom. Cool with me and as it should be. So, I read a lot of books. I wrote in various coffee shops, ran regularly and walked the dogs. I saw a few movies, and binge-watched The Good Wife and Elementary. I skated at Roller Kingdom, caught up with some old friends, worked on perfecting my popover recipe and went to Gay Pride. Of course, we sat in lawn chairs around coolers while watching fireworks. A simple yet satisfying summer. I am not ready to admit that it’s over. I still want to get to Lake Tahoe, go to Hot August Nights and Rib Cook-off, and see an outdoor concert or movie.

What I’m reading:

Nerd Girl by Holly Smale

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Enders Game by Orson Scott Card

Next Up:

Schooltalk by Mica Pollock

Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani

Thicker Than Water by Mike Carey

Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

07/12/2017

the girls

After I have finished reading a book, I like to go to Goodreads and see if random strangers liked or disliked the book as much as I did. I never post reviews or comments, because I can’t remember my password, but I do enjoy reading other peoples’ opinions of our shared read. I guess I’m a Goodreads voyeur. Of The Girls by Emma Cline, a male reviewer said, “I don’t know if a man can love this book.” I am inclined to agree. The Girls is  mostly a snapshot of a girlhood summer, age 14, location, California. The book is full of teenage insecurity, confusion, fear and intrigue about boys and men, bad decisions, and loss of innocence. The male characters are also not very likeable, which I too would find annoying if I was a guy.

I knew the book was a fictionalized version of the Manson girls, a topic I am interested in strictly for the familial link. We, my brothers and the maternal side of my family, are related to one of the Manson girls. Admitting this fact brings me back to the memory of my mother’s tight grip on my bicep, hissing in my ear through clenched teeth, “Don’t TELL people.” Like I was the one who killed someone.

So I was drawn to the book at first because I wanted a little more insight into the story of my second cousin, the Manson girl, and her cohorts. I wanted this question answered: What causes a seemingly normal, non-violent teenage girl, raised in the 50s and 60s like my mother was, to commit such heinous acts of murder? The answer is complicated and elusive. I still don’t think I know. What I do know is that The Girls took me back to what it felt like to be a 14-year old girl in the world.

I was surprised by how relatable this story is. In many ways, it was like I was reading the story of my own teenage self (minus cults and crime). This fear/nervousness/confusion with boys and men was my experience too. Penises showed up in my life in wrong and unexpected ways: falling out of a grown man’s shorts as he leapt to catch a football; bulging in the pants of boys I used to play tag with; being grabbed by its owner, the middle school boy who thought cupping his crotch was a big turn on for girls; and in books and magazines and all over the girl talk during the slumber parties of my youth. My own mom was pushing me hard to care about boys and sex, and even though I strongly suspected I wanted nothing to do with any part of male anatomy, the thought that I might one day HAVE to was scary and icky. The obvious difference between me and Evie Boyd, the main character in The Girls, was she actually wanted attention from the boys. It drove her and guided her. Me, not so much.

Evie is not extremely  likeable, but she is relatable. I saw my teenage self in Evie, and I didn’t like that connection to this insecure and pliable character. During the ages of 14-17, I too was looking for an idol, and was willing to do anything for that person. For me, it was easy stuff. Staying out past curfew when nobody was home to care anyway. Drinking vodka and orange Crush at school and feeling like a badass, daring someone to catch me.  And, like Evie,  Simultaneously loving and hating my mom. Hating the small details of her existence, including random things, like her curled up knee-high nylons resting inside her sensible shoes, the wafting scent of her Oil of Olay and Chanel #5 in the house, even when she wasn’t home, her nervous habit of clicking her nails on the coffee table. I hated myself for needing her, and hated her for dismissing me for what I perceived was her dislike of all the things I was: athlete, tomboy, book nerd, fashion victim, non-wearer of make-up, girl oblivious to hair styles, hair products, and, most importantly, dating or talking about boys. I suppose all parents have a lost dream for their own children.

Cline explores the invisibility of girls, how we rated and judged our friends, and how we were defined by who we hung with, the music we liked, the clothes we wore, our knowledge (or lack thereof) of makeup and guy catching.  How could we really know who we were, when everything we were supposed to care about was not us, but the Seventeen and Young Miss magazine version of what we should strive to be? Maybe this figuring yourself out can’t happen in the teen years.

“The Ranch” in the book reminded me of another time in my life, ages 19 25 ish. I was reading a lot of Herman Hesse and Tom Robbins, listening to the Grateful Dead, and working on minimalism (because I was poor). My plan was to own only enough stuff to live out of my truck if I had to and move anywhere I wanted to in one trip. I wanted the simple life. I almost had myself convinced, especially after reading On the Road, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Catcher in the Rye, that I was not going to play a part in my parents and society’s dream for me: sensible college major, career, white-picket fence, husband, children, PTA, meal planning, retirement, death. I was going to write, read, camp, learn to juggle, wear Levi’s cut-offs and thrift store T-shirts, go to festivals and outdoor concerts, and drink Americanos, journaling and judging the boujee people while sitting on patios of coffee shops to the subtle soundtrack of Blues Traveler and Sheryl Crow.

And then, I stopped. Because I realized you can have whatever you want, and you don’t have to align yourself to someone else’s ideal life. You get to make your own, whatever that looks like. With a kid, a wife, the picket fence and degree, juggling and journaling, minimalism and responsible bill paying, all.

Life evolves, and so do we. We age and we have the ability to reminisce and reflect. Cline juxtaposes chapters with the middle-aged Evie, a somewhat more confident version of her former self. The older Evie made me reflective about my life so far. Have I lived the life my parents created and hated? Am I like my mother, minus the nylons and clicking fingernails? The novel made me question my life, my journey so far. I questioned, I remembered, and it made me want to write more about my own story. I love it when a writer can do that for me.

 

I’ve been reading a lot lately, as summer school is over and I have a 3-week gap before school starts. I promised myself I wouldn’t think about school preparation until Week 3 of this break.

Recent reads that were awesome:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Orphan #8 by Kim Van Alkemade

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

George by Alex Gino

Current Reads:

Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. I am really enjoying this one. My first Archer novel, and now I want to read more. I also started Armada by Ernest Cline. I was motivated to try another one of Cline’s books because I loved Ready Player One so much.