Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why hyperbole is the best medicine

My throat is full of gravel, my chest is packed with maple syrup, and my brains have liquefied and are slowly leaking out my nose. I have been invaded by evil spirits which my body attempts to expel via frequent bouts of sneezing and uncontrollable coughing. My eyeballs are hot and burny. My skin hurts. All of this can only mean one thing: I am dying. Or maybe just sick. No, definitely dying. I will miss you, Internet. Pray for me.

I took my first sick day today in a Very Long Time, not that I would have been able to get out anyway, as my car is currently buried under [I have no idea how many as I haven't been able to get out with my yardstick but trust me when I say it's a lot] inches of snow. I think I should probably take a sick day tomorrow, too, but oh, the Teacher Guilt--it burns, almost as much as my hot hot eyeballs. But! I must go to school tomorrow, because two students need to make up the test from Monday! And if they don't make up the test tomorrow then I will not be able to give the tests back until Wednesday, and if I make the students wait more than a week to get their tests back they will mutiny! Mutiny! Plus we will fall behind and if my students never become competent French speakers then surely they will be able to trace it back to missing this class! Clearly, I am a failure. A hacking, snotty, disgusting failure. With an immune system constructed out of scotch tape and lisping 90-lb school boys and runty puppies. I mean, why don't you quit loafing around and do your job, puppies white blood cells puppies?

Also, and this may or may not be related to the fact that I haven't left my house in 36 hours and have since watched somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 hours of television, but
do you ever feel like you want to fast forward your life to somewhere more interesting, to a place where something actually happens? It's like other people's lives are t.v. shows, and mine is nothing but commercials.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why being skinny just means there is less of me to love

I must be looking particularly frail lately, because suddenly everybody and their mother wants to tell me how skinny I am. "I mean, you're obviously not anorexic," my coworker informed me. "I can tell the difference. I mean, you have a butt, and boobs. Not big ones, but they're there."

"Um...thanks," I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

"I mean, you're not disgustingly skinny," my friend James told me the next day, à propos of absolutely nothing. We were on the treadmill cooling down after our workout, as I've taken to lifting weights to try to build up my puny, pathetic muscles.

"Wow," I said. "That's like, the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."


"No. Are you kidding? That's a terrible thing to say."

"No, but I said you're not disgustingly skinny."

"Just stop talking. Oh, and by the way? You're not really that fat."


A few days earlier, walking around in class checking my students' wo
rk, I noticed one student had absentmindedly scribbled the title of a Bon Iver song in the margin of his notebook. Skinny Love, scrawled underneath two lines of notes on indirect object pronouns. And, not to read too much into a Bon Iver song, but...really? I mean, really?

I am a freak. I am a medical oddity. Years ago, I was lying on a paper-covered table getting poked and prodded by a physician's assistant, when-- "I' right back," she said, backing slowly out of the room with a frightened look in her eyes. Back she came with the doctor, who poked and prodded in turn. "Right here?" the doctor asked. "Here?"
The nurse nodded. "That's a rib." The nurse looked at her quizzically. "Yeah, that's definitely a rib. The last one. Usually you can't feel it, but..."

"Have you always been thin?" the nurse asked me during a subsequent visit to the student health center during my college years.

"Yes," I said. "I have."

"And do"

"Um, yeah, of course. Doesn't everyone?"

"And do you...throw up?"

"What? No! I mean, ok, last weekend, but that wasn't on purpose. I'd never had Jagermeister before, and... But anyway, I don't have an eating disorder, if that's what you're getting at." She raised an eyebrow. "Really!" I insisted.

"Hmm," she said, pursing her lips, and wrote something down on her clipboard.

So, yes. I am skinny. I get it. Hear that everyone? You can stop telling me about it now!

Though, if it makes you feel better, I am sure that will all be changing soon. The long, slow slide into the big 3-0 is rapidly accelerating into a free fall, as I find my birthday ever more quickly approaching. And, as everyone knows, or so various sources have gleefully reported to me, it's all over once you hit thirty. Your metabolism slows down, you start putting on weight, and your hair? It might even go gray. From there on out it's nothing but crows feet, age spots and spare tires, or so they tell me. And you know what? I'll take it. Anything to avoid another decade of hearing about how skinny I am.

Skinny and sis, 1989

Bringing skinny back, 2009

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why at least I'm getting better at something (ok, two things)

Life as a teacher isn't always easy for the sometimes-less-than-confident among us. If you are a worrier by nature (who, moi?), your students always give you something to second-guess or fret over. Was I clear enough when I explained double object pronouns? If they fail the test is it their fault or mine? Could I have done more, taught better? Do they respect me as a teacher? And, (at the risk of coming off too Michael-Scott-in-the-office-ish) do they like me? I mean, of course they like me - right??? And, while in most situations you never have to know what your co-workers and/or subordinates think about you (or say about you behind your back), when you teach at the college level your students are encouraged to fill out evaluations of your performance, answering all of these questions and more. With the shield of anonymity to hide behind, these can be a brutal assessment of your performance, and depending on the student in question's current grade in the class, sometimes devolve into a no-holds-barred grudge match.

Three years ago, I finished my first semester as a grad student and teaching assistant in Boston. It was the first time I had taught at the college level, and the first time I had taught French at all, actually. I had done my very best: planning lessons that I hoped would be interesting and fun, teaching four days a week, meeting with my students for extra help outside of class, and all the while doing all the work of a full-time student for three of my own classes. I struggled, I was sleep-deprived, and I spent the entire end of the semester wanting to rip out my ponytail by the roots, but I did it. By god, I really did it. And so it was in this frame of mind that I opened my first set of course evaluations, and read comments like:

"The instructor did not have answers readily available for common questions."

"Occasionally a bit vague."

"Gets overwhelmed easily, nervous too."

"Sometimes gets flustered under pressure."

"Great fashion! I want to go shopping with her. :)"

I mean, that one made me smile, and I'm sure my supervisors were duly impressed by my "fashion," but couldn't she have at least mentioned my teaching? (On second thought, it's probably a good thing she didn't.)

Things have smoothed themselves out a bit over the years, and as I finished my first semester teaching at Mythaca College a couple months ago, I realized how much more comfortable I felt in front of the class now. It was even--dear god, was it?--a little bit fun. The biggest change that I noticed in myself was that I finally learned to Calm The Fuck Down. Speak slowly. Enunciate. Repeat. Pause. Ask for questions. A question you can't answer? No worries. Don't turn red. Say, "That's a good question." Don't get flustered and start talking too fast. Say, "Let's think about that." Or, "Let's look that up." Or, for god's sake, just say "I don't know." (Why are New Jersey and New Hampshire le New Jersey and le New Hampshire, but New Mexico is le Nouveau Méxique? And for that matter, why is le Méxique masculine even though every single other country ending with an e is feminine? I don't know. I don't know, ok??? And stop asking me questions. Or better yet--it's to fuck with you. Yeah. Every single time something in French doesn't make sense, it's just to fuck with you. Yes, you specifically. Ok? Now let's move on.)

And so, what with the Calming The Fuck Down and the new found spirit of joy and fun I found myself discovering every day even within the minutiae of French grammar, I had the impression that my first semester had gone pretty well. But would the students agree? And thus it was with more than a little trepidation that I found myself ripping open my course evaluations to find comments like these:

"Rachel Why = fabulous. Very intelligent, good handle on the material and the needs of the students. Very endearing demeanor, enthusiastic, fun to listen to."

"I very much enjoyed the course. Keep on rockin'."

"I really think Rachel is the best French professor I have ever had. She has a great accent and every time we learn something new it feels natural. I can't really explain it but it works really well for me and I dig it."

"I really enjoyed having Rachel as an instructor. I've really enjoyed being in her class and can say that it was one of the most fun classes I've ever had."

One of the most fun classes s/he has ever had, people. In a course teaching the proper use of reflexive verbs and indirect object pronouns. I know, I don't get it either. But it does make me a little bit giddy.

And you know, I don't usually toot my own horn, and normally I probably wouldn't post something like this, but with Valentine's Day coming up and once again having absolutely no hope for flowers, or chocolate, or the feeling of being special and/or cared about by someone, or by anyone, anyone at all--wait, where was I? Oh, right. Anyway, with that in mind I decided to brush modesty aside in favor of self love and the tooting of my own horn. Which, coincidentally enough, also happen to be my plans for Valentine's Day. If you know what I mean.

So, if you have already found your special someone, then I wish you a halfway decent Valentine's Day full of mediocre pleasures. (Sorry, but that's the best this hardened heart can do.) And if you're single like me--then happy horn tooting, everybody.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why I wish you could all be winners (Spoiler alert: You are not all winners)

Well, how am I supposed to pick a winner now? Each entry was more clever and hilarious than the last, and I haven't giggled so hard in a very long time. The options are all so good that I was going to cop out and just pick a winner at random, but my friend Canaan (aka the laziest blogger I know) said that was bogus, and I had to choose based on the old laugh-o-meter test. I warned her that if that were the case, then she should know that she couldn't be the winner, lest I appear biased. Sorry, C! And while her suggestion of the Jon Hamm SNL sketch was worth a chuckle or two (if you're into placenta-covered shirtless saxophone players- which may be more of a niche market, I'm thinking), there was really only one video that made me guffaw. But before I get to that, here are some thoughts I had on some of the other entries:

Girl's Night Out is hilarious. I had actually already seen it, and in fact, I wrote about it a couple years ago here. It was just as good the second time around, and I discovered that several more videos have since been added! Score. You can watch Mary Olson's loud-talking, socially awkward adventures in attempted dating here.

This link to a group of animatronic animals performing Usher's "Love in the Club" was...interesting, although I tend to think that their performance of "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira is better on a more purely comic level. Unfortunately, the mechanical mouse singer isn't able to actually move her hips at all, which kind of makes it funnier, actually. Then I discovered their performance of one of my favorite songs, Neighborhood#1 (Tunnels) by Arcade Fire, and it kind of blew my mind. The video of the piano-playing gorilla, guitar-playing bear, and drumming dog receiving injections from giant needles in their necks and eyes, interlaced with apocalyptic video images and Arcade Fire's amazing lyrics, is bizarre, eerie, and strangely poignant. I'm telling you- watch it. Rock-afire Explosion, man. Crazy.

So now that things have gotten all kinds of dark, let's talk about dark humor, shall we? A brand of humor that many of you seem to favor. And I hear you, loud and clear: It's time to settle! you told me. Although the other side of the coin isn't looking much better. I guess the moral of the story here is that, single, married, or divorced, we will all die alone. Fun times. Thanks, guys!

But let's get down to business now, shall we? Out of all these hilarious videos, websites, puns, and blond jokes, the only one that actually made me laugh out loud was...drumroll please... Model Falls on Runway! I'm telling you- just watch.

Ha! Did you see that? The part when she falls? I mean, you can almost hear the cartoon whoop whoop whoop sound effects. And then they play it again in slow motion and honestly, it just gets better every time. While verbally replaying it over Gchat, and discussing my favorite part (the part where she falls!), my friend Jamie decided to feel sorry for the girl. Twisted ankle and bruised pride and all that. To which I say, um, no. That "poor girl" gets paid a shit-ton of money to humiliate herself like that, and I'm sure she can more than afford the co-pay on that sprained ankle. I mean, she gets paid to walk. Cry me a river. Meanwhile I humiliate myself in front of my students every day and I don't get paid shit. Just today, for instance, right after my chipper "Bonjour, classe!" one of my high school students raised her hand and said, "Um, I think you have chalk in your hair."

"Oh," I said, pinching at a tiny strand of hair on the right side of my head. "Here? Did I get it?"

"Um, no," she said. "It's sort of...all over," as six other heads nodded in agreement and gestured helpfully. Oh, and the principal. Because she was there, too. I tried to carry on with teaching while nonchalantly combing my fingers through my hair and chalk dust rained down, like it happens all the time that I inadvertently use my head as a giant blackboard eraser. Let that model stand in front of my classroom for even fifteen minutes, and she'll tell you what pain is. Sorry for her, indeed. Pshah. Plus, if our roles were reversed, I'll tell you one thing- I bet you I would have rocked those stilettos.

So! Anonymous commenter Carole (if that is your real name), who identified herself in a subsequent comment- the $15 iTunes gift card is yours if you'd like to send an e-mail to diaryofwhy at gmail dot com and tell me where to send it. Thank you so much for passing this gem along. And thanks to everyone else who shared something as well! I always knew my readers had hilarious senses of humor. Although, I'm not really sure what it says about me that out of all these really funny, clever, smart entries, the one that made me laugh the most was someone falling down. Can you imagine if someone had submitted a video of a man getting hit in the groin by a football? There would be no contest. I mean, the ball! His groin! It works on so many levels!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why laughter is the best medicine (unless you have an actual disease, in which case I recommend you take real medicine)

It must be January, I was going to say. Except that, whoops, it's February, all of a sudden. Shorter than January, and that much closer to spring, but then you have Valentine's Day to deal with, so it's sort of a draw. The winter doldrums have settled in with a vengeance here, in case you haven't been able to tell, and I've been feeling particularly uninspired, unmotivated, and just plain glum. It was negative four degrees when I left for work on Saturday morning, and that was without wind chill. Negative four degrees. Fahrenheit. You know what happens at negative four degrees Fahrenheit? The snot freezes in your nose. You breathe in and it sort of...crackles. Have you ever felt negative four degrees? Do you know what I'm talking about, with the crispy nose phenomenon? Because my roommate had no idea, so maybe I'm just gross. Mucous membranes aside, winter has always been my least favorite time of year, and this year is no exception. But is there a solution? Is there a way to shake off the glums?

"Damn woman, go have fun and laugh so friggin hard that your eyes water and you chops hurt," said a particularly wise commenter on my last blog post. Lately fun has been of limited quantity around here, and laughter even more so, particularly the eye-watering variety, but yes, yes, actually, that is just what I need! And this is where I implore your help, Internet. Internet, I want you to make me laugh. No, I need you to make me laugh! No, wait, the first one. In this time of economic recession and partisan politics and national disasters, when there is so much to worry about and stress over, sometimes you just need to sit down and have a good laugh, however you can get it. (Though I don't so much recommend the laughter yoga, which my teacher decided to ambush us with at the beginning of our normal, non-laughter yoga class, and, just no. I don't care how much you keep telling us to belly laugh, you are never getting more than a nervous, you-people-are-crazy chuckle out of me.) So! Internet, I ask you, I implore you, I beg you to make me laugh. And, just because I'm a giving sort of person, I'm going to throw in this $15 iTunes gift card to sweeten the deal. Now, I'm warning you, I haven't entirely thought this through. For example, I was thinking that I would give the card to the first person who makes me laugh out loud. But I might give it to the person who makes me laugh the hardest. But maybe I should give it to the person who makes me laugh the longest. Or, should I give it to the person who makes me inadvertently snort like a pig? Or to the person who makes me spew my beverage onto my keyboard? (Although, please warn me if your material is beverage-spittingly funny, as I don't really have the funds for laptop replacement right now, and fried circuit boards don't really put me in a giving mood.)

Here's what I want you to do: leave me a comment, and try to make me laugh. Tell your favorite joke. Tell a funny anecdote that happened to you. Or to your friend's boss's neighbor, and then pretend that it happened to you. Stealing is totally encouraged here. Leave a link to a hilarious video clip, tv weatherman bloopers, or a picture of a cat riding an invisible bike, pushing an invisible shopping cart, or performing an invisible slam dunk. Bring on the hilarity, Internet. Bring. It. On.

Just so you know what to aim for, this makes me chuckle:

this makes me hoot:

and this makes me positively howl with laughter:

So, let's get started! Let's have this be a veritable repository of tear-inducing, beverage-spitting, pee-your-pants brand hilarity. (And, wow, I never realized before just how many fluids are involved as by-products of the comic arts.) ((There is a joke in there somewhere, but I leave it to someone funnier than I to find it.)) The contest will end at 11:59 p.m. EST on Wed. February 3. Let the pants-wetting begin! (Wait, did that come out wrong? Um, go!)