Friday, September 30, 2011

Why the grass is always greener on someone else's blog

If the rumors are to be believed, it seems that blogging can sometimes lead to good things happening for for some very lucky bloggers. Free trips to exotic locales, free products to review, paid writing gigs, and all because they started a blog. Without fail, these bloggers describe their windfalls this way: "When I first started this blog a year ago, I never would have imagined that [x, y, and z] would happen to me because of it!" And I'm like, one year? Jesus. But ok, I'm willing to accept that I'm a late bloomer. (Four and a half years later...) Whatever. (Only marginally related: does anyone actually make money off of those banner ads? I have to assume that somewhere, someone is making money off of those banner ads, and yet...) Still, whenever I read about someone landing a paid writing gig through their blog, I start asking myself mopey-dope questions, like, "Is she really that much better a writer than me? What does she have that I don't have?" And I've found that, more often than not, the answer to that last question can be summed up in one word--kids. And so, it is for this reason that I would like to announce to you that, Internet...I'm having a baby.

Well, not having, obviously, so much as getting. With all the lucrative mommy-blogging possibilities, I figure this kid will pay for itself in a year or two. Heck, maybe I'll pick myself up a couple. New or used, it doesn't matter to me.

So, if you know anyone who has a new or used kid they need taken off their hands, please shoot me an e-mail. Now that I'm thinking about it, I probably shouldn't have used "kid" and "shoot" in the same sentence, but believe me when I say that it will be very well taken care of. (Or its, if there's two.) I will promise to lovingly and artistically document its (its') childhood in blog form for all of you, my loyal readers, to marvel at in wonderment, but only on weekdays. (It(s) will have weekends off in accordance with child labor laws.)

If that doesn't work out, I would also accept a free trip to an exotic locale, if anyone reading happens to be handing those out. 

Your move, Universe. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why my life was like The Wire

I really wish I had started watching season 4 of The Wire before my short-lived attempt at employment as a Dee Cee Pee Ess school teacher. I might have learned something, or at least had some idea of what it was I was getting myself into. But then, I probably would have told myself that it was "dramatized for television" or some such, and that it couldn't possibly be that bad. But I would have been wrong. Though 40 miles south of Baltimore, what I saw in the classroom was eerily similar to the televised version on The Wire. The only differences being:

a) our kids didn't have uniforms
b) I taught high school, not middle school, so the kids giving me problems were 18 instead of 13
c) subject matter (French instead of math--considered to be an "elective," thus generally lumped together with art and P.E. and accorded about as much respect)

Aside from that, it's pretty much the same story. In fact, the only way I can tell for sure it's fiction is that when the teacher, Mr. Prezbylewski, assigns detention, the kids (all thirty-some) actually show up. Pshaw, I say.

Seeing is believing. Watch for yourself.

How much money would they have to pay you to do this every day? Not a hypothetical question; I'm actually curious. What's your number?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why you can take this job and...push it?

I recently picked up a couple translation projects (that were passed on to me by a reader! Thanks Elliott!) Around the same time I stumbled on this girl's Youtube channel and found her hilarious and scarily accurate video representation of what the translation process is like:

Pajamas? check. Mug of tea? check. One browser tab opened on Facebook and one on And here I was thinking I was original.

The fun and games and working from home couldn't last forever, though, and today found me at my new temp job at the posh law firm. I coded 38,000 lines of data in an Excel spreadsheet, with a Y (for yes), N (for no), or ? (for wtf?) Thirty-eight thousand lines, people, oh my gah. In case you were wondering where exactly that falls on the slit-your-wrists scale of temporary employment, it was...what's the word? catastrophic? calamitous? Oh, right. I felt dreadful. I think what I'm trying to say is, I would rather be translating.    

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why my life isn't picture perfect, but at least my walls will be

And now for something completely frivolous...

Back when I thought I had a job and disposable income, I decided to spend some of it on one of those Groupon things everyone is always talking about. You see, I had a couch with miles of blank wall space above it begging to be filled, so I bought three of those digital-to-canvas deals that seem to be all the rage, thinking I would simply choose three pictures I had taken "of my travels" (oh, gag, I know) and voilĂ , easiest decorating project ever. Cue smug hand-brushing gesture indicating done and done. Except, as it turns out, it's not just that simple.

Combing through folder after folder of pictures I've taken "of my travels" (gag) over the years, I came to the swift conclusion that, for one, as it turns out, I am not all that great of a photographer. For two, the entire time that I lived in and around Paris, I had a strong aversion to looking like a tourist ("I live here! I am not a tourist! I will not take pictures!") and so carrying such potentially useful objects as maps or a camera was simply out of the question. So, because I am an idiot, not only are there very few pictures of that time in my life, but the few that do exist are mostly of my sister and I acting like fools in front of Parisian landmarks:

Luckily, when I was on vacation and traveling, I did give myself permission to take pictures, and so I was able to find a handful of photos that I hadn't ruined with either my terrible photography skills or shameless muppet-mouth mugging. Only, when trying to select three of them I realized that not only does each individual photo have to be attractive and personally meaningful, but they also all have to look good together. Hanging three photos next to each other on a wall requires that they look somehow cohesive and related by some kind of theme--by color, or subject, or whatever. Trying different combinations I realized that having one photo of mountains, one of the ocean, and one of a building, for example, just looked...odd. And so back to the drawing board I went.

Here's one combination I came up with. I know the theme will be hard to spot, but see if you can do it:

And here is what they look like together:

Let's call it option 1. What I like about these is that they evoke a feeling of calm serenity. Which is good! But are they perhaps...too calm? Too serene? Maybe a tad wee bit boring?

Here's my next set of three. Let's call it option B:

And here's what they look like together: 

Maybe I would shift the order a bit? Anyway, potential problems with this option include the fact that these were all taken on a vacation with the ex-boyfriend many years ago. In fact, I'm pretty sure all of these photos were actually taken by the ex, which perhaps explains why they don't all, you know, suck. So, would having these pictures in my living room serve as a constant reminder of the past? Or would I quickly forget about the person behind the camera, since I spent an extended amount of time living in Paris as a single, and could just as easily have taken these myself? In stark contrast to the first set of three, I like these photos for their grittiness and urban vibe, and how the train evokes a feeling of adventure, and of something new right around the corner. 

Finally, I have some miscellaneous pics that I really like for different reasons, but that don't necessarily "go" together. (Or do they?):

Let's call this option "buildings on cliffs and with boats and weird trees."

I'm leaning towards option B, Paris (duh). What about you? I need help here, people! Please advise.

EDITED TO ADD: Here are the last three together in the order Anonymous suggests. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why no news news

So, the people have demanded an update. And by people, I mean Dawn. I haven't updated so far because I have nothing new to report. I am still here, still unemployed, and growing queasier about it with every passing day. I still have not told my parents, but then I have managed to handily avoid talking to them for the past week. But I will tell them, probably, the next time I talk to them. Whenever that is. I had some vain hope that I would be able to follow up the announcement of quitting my old job with the happier news of having already locked down a new one, but it's looking less and less likely that that is going to happen. 

But here I am going on, when what I really wanted to do was address all the comments and e-mails I received over the last week. If I ever doubted the capacity of humans for kindness and compassion, the outpouring of support I received on the last post alone would have changed my mind. It makes me so happy to know that this little corner of the Internet, at least, is filled with such warm, caring and concerned people. So, thank you, warm, caring, and concerned people of the Internet. There were so many valid questions and comments that, rather than answering them one by one in the comments section of the last post, I thought I would address some of them now.

Re: was I assigned a mentor or a master teacher? A mentoring program for first-year teachers was briefly mentioned at the HR orientation (quickly glossed over and sandwiched between information on when to expect our first paycheck and the difference between HMOs and PPOs), and that was the first and last I ever heard of that. Here is what was stated: "All first-year teachers will have a mentor teacher." Here is what happened: nothing. So, like so many other grand ideas of the Dee Cee Pee Ess that sound nice in theory, in practice I never saw any actual evidence of it. 

Re: teaching perhaps not being my calling, or something in my online personality not striking people as particularly teacher-like--Is it because I am not at all a nurturing or patient person? Because I am much too introspective and marginally aloof? In any case, you are probably right. Teaching isn't something I always wanted to do, and it felt like something I somehow stumbled into due to lack of other options. But here's what happened: based on my experiences as a graduate student TA at Boston University (with full responsibility for teaching one section of undergraduate French per semester) and later teaching French as an adjunct instructor at Mythaca College, I found that, surprisingly enough, teaching was something I actually liked to do. Finally, after years of professional wandering, I had found something that I seemed to be good at, and that I actually enjoyed. I enjoyed teaching French to college kids. However, given the treatment of adjuncts in the university system these days, it wasn't a financially sustainable option for me (or for any single and non-independently wealthy person, for that matter). (For an informative and honest perspective on the challenges of teaching as an adjunct instructor, you should read this article in the Boston Globe. I can particularly relate to the part about having to work two or three side jobs, and then living in terror that one of your students will "catch you" (their French professor!) at work at your decidedly un-glamorous second job.) I needed to make a change, and so I thought, what can I do that is similar to this, but pays an actual livable salary plus benefits? I racked my brain and landed on high school teacher, thinking that it would have its challenges, sure, but teaching high school students French full-time couldn't be that different from what I had been doing, teaching college students French, part-time. And now you're all laughing at me. The answer is, of course, that it is completely different, that it is not at all the same thing, and to think otherwise puts you in a very special category of naive or possibly brain-dead optimist. And though it's completely out of character for me, knowing the potential obstacles involved, for once in my life I chose to hope for the best. (Clearly, my brief foray into optimism didn't work out, and so back to prune-faced pessimist I go.)

Re: you should use this time to write a book, or pursue a writing career. First, I mean, thanks. The fact that any of you think that that would even be an option for me is beyond flattering. Though whether or not it actually is an option for me is still not something I'm ready to explore. I wouldn't have the first idea how to go about it, for one thing, and for another, I'm in a bit of a desperate financial situation, as I may have mentioned. At this point I am looking for anyone who will hire me and pay me money (and for a job that won't make me physically ill or give me daily panic attacks, but as long as I stay away from teenagers I think I'll be alright. I must be allergic to 'em or something). And I don't want to be all, oh man, this economy, because that is such a tiresome refrain, but, oh man, guys. This economy. 

I'm reminded of something an occasionally wise man named Pete once said, which is, "Fuck doing what you love. This is the problem; we've all been told since birth that we should do what we love, but it's a lie. Don't do what you love. Do what makes you money, and use the money to do what you love." At 22 I don't think I would have listened to him. But knowing what I do now, I don't think he's wrong. Knowing what I do now, I would tell my 22 year-old self to get an MBA, or a law degree. Because no one ever grows up dreaming of becoming an admin assistant. Does the world need admin assistants? Sure. But when it comes down to it, there are admin assistants, and there are people who need admin assistants, and which would you rather be? If your answer is the former, then by all means get your liberal arts degree in the humanities, but otherwise, you might want to re-think your course. 

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, if that isn't obvious. Maybe too much.

And finally, re: everyone who said "Eat something!"--Don't worry, I've been more than making up for lost time. Lately I can't seem to stop eating, though that's more from boredom than actual life-sustaining purposes.

So, you see, I am fine. Fine! You can all stop worrying now.    

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why it could have been a brilliant career

I didn't want to write this post. I've been putting it off, too embarrassed. Everyone has been so nice, leaving comments, sending e-mails. Then another comment, then another e-mail, "just checking in." Hoping I'm feeling better, that things are getting better, if only a little bit. I suppose, in a way, things are a little bit better, since I quit my job. However, in another and much more real way, things are also much, much worse, since...I quit my job. And there it is. I quit my job. What I have been to embarrassed, too ashamed to post about, to tell even my close friends about, to tell my parents about. They still don't know. But now you do. On Thursday I talked to my principal, in tears, and on Tuesday, after a long weekend, I didn't go back. I didn't go back.

Everyone has been so nice, the steady stream of social workers and instructional coaches the principal sent into my classroom on Friday to "check up" on me, perhaps hoping they would sway me, but no one even tried to. They hugged me, these complete strangers, and told me it would be ok, that it wasn't my fault, that they understood and that I had to do what was right for me. But I don't deserve their kindness. I don't deserve the e-mails of support and offers to share contacts at other schools, in other districts. I don't deserve it because I am the worst kind of person, because who abandons her students only two weeks into the school year? Who gives up and throws in the towel without even giving it a proper go? What kind of person devotes an entire year of her life to a Masters program and goes into debt all in the name of teaching, and then gives up when the going gets hard? Three weeks ago I would never have thought that would be me. But I guess we can all surprise ourselves, sometimes. 

I am finding it hard to explain myself, because really, there is no excuse for what I have done. But here are the facts. I wasn't sleeping. I couldn't eat. I felt nauseous 24 hours a day, my entire body a twisted knot of nerves, and every day it got worse, and not better. I started out on an adrenaline high that lasted most of the first week (a day out for an earthquake mid-week helped), but by week two, things had changed. Week two, it was real. My attempts at re-gaining control in my classroom all failed. I couldn't teach my students; I couldn't even get them to sit down. Nothing I did seemed to help. I assigned detention; no one came. I called parents and sent e-mails and spoke to administrators and logged all of my actions, staying at school until late, way past the point of drained, and then went home to prepare lesson plans. I came in early to prepare and I went to morning all-staff meetings, and then I steeled myself for the rest of the day, but the fact was, I couldn't teach my students. Years of experience and training, and suddenly, I knew nothing at all, anymore. The truth is, I only had one really bad class (one out of three, with demon-from-hell block scheduling and classes lasting an hour and twenty minutes each, so help me god). But even in the good classes, the "good" classes, I didn't know how to reach them. I didn't know how to get them to learn, there was such resistance. And the bad ones I couldn't even get to acknowledge my existence. I would speak and they would ignore me as if I wasn't even there. If I assigned detention, they laughed at me. When word got out that I was calling homes, that egged them on. "I look forward to your call tonight," they would say laughing, defiant. "You gonna call my house? Go ahead." 

And eighteen-year-old Rico, on his fifth year of high school, who had begged them to let him back in so he could graduate, not even a kid but a man. With a head full of braids, a booming, resonant voice and a swagger, he said, "Man, you ain't got no control of this class. Look at you, they aren't even listening to you." I wanted to say, No, because they're listening to you. But I didn't. The first time I tried to be light, make a joke out of it. "You want to get up here and do this?" I said, faking a smile. "I'd probably do a lot better at it than you," he said, scowling, and my smile faded; it was true. The second time he said it, the next day, I snapped. "Can I get a pass to see my counselor?" he complained. "I gotta get out of this class. You don't know what you're doing, you ain't got no control." His voice oozed contempt.

"Get out," I snapped, losing any pretense of dignity or calm. 

"I'm already goin'," he said. "I don't want to be in this class anyway, you don't know how to teach." And it was true. I didn't.

They said, they said, all you need is to have your procedures in place, and you would have nothing to worry about. All about structure and routines. They said all you need are engaging lesson plans and you'll have them eating from your hand. I never saw the footnote that said, *This is what will work for white, suburban kids. Your results may vary. Teach at your own risk.

If I could have kept on, I would have. If I could have finished out the year, finished out the semester, if it had been even a possibility, I would have. Somehow, some way. But as it was, if I managed to go to sleep at all, I would wake up at 2:00 in the morning, without fail, violently sweating, and then lie awake the rest of the night, and start the day at 6:00. I could barely choke down half a piece of peanut butter toast in the morning without wanting to vomit, picked at my lunch, would throw together completely unappetizing leftovers for dinner, making meals of things like steamed broccoli and two-week old mashed potatoes, no time and no energy for more. Losing weight without having weight to lose. But instead of feeling light I felt heavy, dragging myself to the bus stop and down hallways like I had weights attached. I felt sick when I was there, and sick when I was at home, anticipating being there. I couldn't relax, couldn't turn off, couldn't not think about it. My hands would shake, and I had no idea how to fix it, how to fix any of it. It all seemed insurmountable, like more than I could do. And so, instead of fighting, I gave up. I gave up. 

My kids deserved better than me. They deserve better than me. They deserve someone who can teach them. Leaving after two weeks, I thought, or justified, would be less traumatic than leaving them after a month, or two months. They would still have a chance at a normal semester if they could just get someone else in there right away, someone who could teach them, but it wasn't me. It isn't me. 

I didn't say a word to them when I left. I am still thinking about them. I hope they aren't thinking about me. I hope they don't think I left because of them. I hope they have forgotten me.  

I know it seems like the easy way out, but if you think there's a weight off my shoulders now, there's not. Instead now I am burdened by guilt, by regret, by shame, by impending financial disaster. It wasn't the right decision but it was the only one. I didn't want to leave, but I couldn't stay. I wish it could have been different. I don't know why I feel the need to explain myself to strangers but I do. I want to scream from the rooftops, I am sorry, please don't hate me, there is already enough of that to go around.

So, now you know. But how will I tell my parents?