Friday, November 5, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr... Jekyll?

I know I usually pretend that I'm simply above the consumption of popular mass media, but I think it's time I 'fess up. Of course I don't own something as bourgeois as a television set, but who watches tv on an actual television these days anyway?

Yes, I admit I've become a secret television junkie, courtesy of my aging iBookG4.  And I can't help noticing a repeated theme that must somehow appeal to the public imagination of the moment: the phenomenon of the double life. All of the most engaging characters seem to have them right now: Dexter, the mild mannered family man and secret serial killer; Walt, the middle aged chemistry teacher and secret crystal meth big wig; Nancy, soccer mom turned pot dealer, human trafficker and slut; even Finn, big man on campus turned glee club nerd.

And then there's me: teacher/grad student and secret... somethin' else. (The "somethin' else" might be explored in a future post whereby certain grown-ups will be asked to cover their eyes, so for the moment let's stick to the student/teacher act.)

Since Dexter, Walt, Nancy and I share this incongruity of experience, I couldn't help thinking that other people must too.  I asked around, and it turns out I'm not the only one who walks around faking it five days a week. Which means that even my classmate/nemesis Ellen, with her eighteen highlighters and judgy attitude, just might have another side, right? RIGHT?


Not so long ago, some of my classmates decided that we should all get together and get to know each other outside of school. Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? Maybe we could all just be ourselves for a little while, no?


The Ladies decided that we should all get together for an ice cream sundae potluck and watch a documentary about child development... 'cause, you know, we don't get enough of that in our three hour lectures all week. I'm not going to say the name of the movie right now, because I wouldn't want one of them to google it and end up here by accident. Let's just say that it rhymes with "Rabies" and starts with B.

"Well, maybe it's an interesting movie," you say. Well maybe it is. Fine. I'm a sourpuss and I didn't go.
Did I misjudge them? What follows proves that, no, I did not misjudge them. If anything I under-estimated the Lame Quotient.

In this class of mine, there are about forty students. Just one of them is a man. Hank, we'll call him, since I can't be honest about anything anymore.

Hank is married, and his wife is pregnant with their first child. Great. In all seriousness and earnestness, I think that is just fantastic. I also think it's equally fantastic that other strangers that I know nothing about are having babies. And yet somehow, I am now supposed to dedicate two days of my FREE TIME, unpaid and without school credit, to make Hank's baby production in to a truly special occasion, over and above all the other strangers in the world producing babies.

I think I need to back up a bit. I've become wrapped up in my own incredulity, and I think I might have gotten a little bit ahead of myself. (Sorry, I've been ruminating over the ridiculousness of this situation all week.)

Let's get back to Lenore, my dear classmate who has decided to throw Our Hank (who probably doesn't even know who I am) a surprise baby shower at her mom's house. But it's not just a party - there's a catch. (I mean, a catch other than having to spend an afternoon with my nemesis at Lenore's mom's house, unpaid and not for course credit.) On top of the shower day, we are being asked to reserve another day where we will all get together to create a quilt for Who The Heck Are You's baby - a sewing party.

Yes, that's right. Each of us ladies is meant  to embroider a square of fabric, which will be sewn together to form a hand-made quilt.

I mean, SERIOUSLY? Embroidery? Or quilting, or crocheting, or whateverthehell they're going to do? I don't know how to QUILT for godsake - do you KNOW how long that would take me? Even with the enticing offer of a lesson from Lenore's mom? Plus, I don't even know this dude. In fact, I don't even know who Lenore is, I just got her name off the email. (And of course, her name isn't really Lenore, since Teacher=Lying About Most Things.)

I mean, look. Babies are great. Fine. I'm not such a curmudgeon. But I have REAL FRIENDS with babies. If I was going to make a freaking QUILT it would be for one of them. And you know what? I'm not making THEM quilts either, and no one would ever ASK me to, because they understand that some people have other things they like to do in their FREE TIME. Such as FUN. Remember FUN, teachers? I thought not.

Be glad you've read these words today, blogosphere,  because obviously as soon as any of the girls becomes a facebook friend, they'll be able to find the secret hiding spot that is digressions, and I'll have to remove this post. Although, unless someone reveals a personal side more interesting than documentaries that rhyme with "rabies" and knitting lessons from ma... we might just stick with the "classroom" relationship.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Very Important

For some reason - possibly the week of watching little children use their little peanut brains - this moment popped in to my head tonight, and I feel that it *must* be shared.


Let's face it, most of the first five years of our lives become pretty much a blur eventually. But there are always certain key moments that stand out. Images imprinted in our memories forever.

Unquestionably, one of my most salient childhood flashbulb images is - well, put simply: 

My brother Michael's head stuck in the banister. 

Sorry Michael. 

You might not have wanted this shared, and I know you sometimes read the blog. But I'm laughing out loud right now, and the blog's been starved for material lately, so... sorry.

I recall, 
on more than one occasion, Michael poking his head between the wooden rails of the stairway banister, just for fun, and somehow getting it lodged there. My father had to unscrew things to get him out.

I think I also remember him getting his head stuck in a chair - in the space between the back and the seat. Screwdriver to the rescue again.

I'm sorry, Michael. I really am. But this is some funny shit.

p.s. In the name of full disclosure, I should probably admit that I may have copied him once, and possibly gotten my head stuck as well. Still. It was 
his idea first.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

School Daze

Back in Canada, a foreigner no more, and yet still trying to fit in. Blending in with the Chinese was nothing compared to assimilating with the Go-Getter-Teachery Crowd.

For a moment there, I thought maybe I could do it: I was relieved to meet Laura (not her real name, of course, since lying about stuff is all part of this teacher package), who told me that she wasn't really sure if she wanted to be there either. She also said that, like me, she felt awkward that all of the other girls (yes, they are all girls) were yay-dream-come-true teachery people. I thought just maybe I'd have someone to sit in the back of the class with me making snarky remarks.

That was until a few days later, when I caught wind of her talking with some of the other girls about how fulfilled she felt at the end of each day.

Eye roll.

Oh, well. I haven't entirely given up on her - she still comes in to class ten minutes late most of the time, which is encouraging. That warm fuzzy feeling will probably wear off soon, and then I just may have someone who shares my passion for all that is negative/neutral in the world.

On the plus side, I may not have made a friend but I'm pretty sure I've made a nemesis. (And no, I'm not talking about the pair of Scientologists I see every morning doing those stupid arm signals on their bikes even though there's no traffic and I can already tell they're stopping or turning or whatever because, um, they're stopping or turning or whatever. They're really only annoying because it's nauseatingly early in the morning.)

My nemesis is Ellen (again, lying), a classmate that I have sat next to twice now. I'm pretty sure she knows that we are nemesi. She is the Newman to my Jerry.

Spread out on the desk in front of Ellen: a pink highlighter, a blue highlighter, white-out correction tape, a package of eight different colours of felt-tipped pens, a regular pen, about six pages of hand-written colour coded notes on the weekly readings, and of course the note paper for today's class.

Spread out on the desk in front of me? A banana, some kleenex, and a giant cup of coffee.

The first time I sat next to Ellen, we were asked to do some group work with the students at our table. We were supposed to answer a question about a reading, and then present our answer to the class. I was the designated presenter for our group, because Sally's favourite vegetable was squash, or whatever "fun" selection process the prof was using that day.

Anyway. I was presenting. And despite the banana and blue-only pen I actually had read the article, thankyouverymuch. The question was of the straightforward regurgitation variety, no analysis or criticism necessary, so we easily agreed on what I would say. Ellen was scribbling furiously, switching writing utensils at every turn to correlate her notes with the shade of her heart at that very moment, I imagine. In case she thought it was a written assignment, I helpfully pointed out that she might not really need to write down so much - we only had to answer orally, and it was information directly out of the article we each had printed out in front of us. She said she preferred to write it down anyway, just to make sure she knew. Okay. Totally fine. I get that.

But then she says, "And if YOU'RE not writing it down I just want to make sure that YOU know it too because YOU'RE the one presenting for us." 

Oh Yes She Did.

Instant Nemesis.

Of course my answer was articulate and brilliant, SO THERE nemesis, and WE DON'T GET GRADED ON THE QUALITY OF OUR SCHOOL SUPPLIES YOU KNOW. AHRGH!!! I want to scream right now just thinking about it. And also laugh very hard. All at the same time.

So, that's my current level  of adjustment to the student life. It's a good start.

p.s. Does anyone know anyone who can make a mind map with pretty pictures about my vision of teaching and learning and how every child is a special snow flake? I need it for Friday, and I'm willing to pay you five bucks and make you a mojito.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Suburban Limbo

Post-Its From My Mom: The Coles Notes

How To Procrastinate When There's Nothing To Do

How To Get the Most Out of Your Pajamas

How To Get the Most Out of Your Parents Liquor Supply

Yogurt! And other adventures in breakfast

10 Reasons to Stop Matching Your Socks


Oh, what’s a blogger to do when life becomes unblogworthy? 

Having left one life behind, but yet to begin a new one, I find myself waiting in bland suburban limbo without a story tell. Unless you want to hear about the afternoon I spent listening to a radio call-in show about gardening, which was about as riveting as LISTENING TO PAINT DRY, I've got nothing. (You'd think someone could let the callers in on a little something called THE INTERNET and spare the rest of us the drama of their inane questions about mulch.) 

So for today, a story courtesy of my friend Ashley: super-nanny, knitting enthusiast, and the only person I know under 60 who can make a pot roast.


Some time ago Ashley accompanied a 5-year old boy in her charge, let’s call him Connor, to Puck’s Farm, an educational farm outside of Toronto, where she had the occasion to teach him a bit about the birds and bees.

They had come to see some dairy cows, and were waiting for a demonstration of the milking process. Ashley explained that just like human babies drink milk from their mothers, baby cows drink milk from their mothers too. She went on to say that when the baby cows are finished drinking, people can drink the cow’s milk, and that’s where the milk we buy at the grocery store comes from. She pointed out the udders as the part of the cow where the milk would come out. 

Connor looked at the cow, and thought for a moment.

“Oh. So milk comes out of the cow’s penis. One, two, three, four. Four penises!” Connor exclaimed.

“No, Connor,” Ashley said patiently, “That’s not the cow’s penis. It’s the nipple. You have nipples too, you know.”

“Oh… okay…” As he contemplated this, his eyes began to widen incredulously, “… are we going to put our mouths there???”

“NO, Connor. We’re not.”


Soon I'll get back to talking about myself. Or I'll just make fun of my parents some more, which I've been trying to hold back on at least until after I move out of the house next week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

...otherwise I probably would have poisoned myself by now

I know you think your mom is crazy, but she's not. And mine is.

Take, as an example (and mind that this is just one example), the barrage of post-it notes that accosted me last Saturday morning, when the parents had left me to fend for myself while they spent the weekend at the cottage:

On the blueberries in the fridge

On the raspberries in the fridge

On the strawberries in the fridge

On the drawer in the bottom of the fridge, because sometimes the difficulty of oranges can be intimidating... or maybe because the bananas might be looking for a date...

On the bathroom counter, lest I forget to turn the fan on while I shower and cause moisture damage to the paint.

The Care and Feeding of a Loaf of Bread

On a paper bag containing peaches, so that I don't have to open mysterious parcels in order to find out what's inside, just in case its anthrax. (There was also one on the vegetable soup container that said "VEG SOUP"... but I think you get the point.)

On a rectangular foil-wrapped item that MIGHT be brownies - I haven't opened it yet; too risky.

But you know what didn't make it on to a post-it note? "If you use more than a teaspoon of detergent in the dishwasher the ENTIRE KITCHEN FLOOR WILL BE COVERED WITH WATER IN 2 MINUTES."

So, yeah. That might have been post-it worthy, Mom.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pen Pals

Shanghai, to Dehli, to London, to Toronto.

Thirty one hours. Four airports. Five airplane meals. An entire novel. A toddler who peed on the seat next to me. Finally I landed, all head-fuzz and man-glasses, safely in my parents' suburban nest... and promptly began plotting my next path out.

The apartment hunt was on.

Lucky for me, my craigslist peruse proved to be fruitful, and after responding to a few ads I received a speedy reply from one Pastor Tenny Hagen, all the way from West Africa.

Double click to enlarge

As a service to the lazy, I will paraphrase. The Good Pastor, a missionary and a "kind and honest man," has a big swanky apartment to rent out while he's "very busy with missions and crusades" in Africa. He needs a tenant who is "neat, honest, and trustworthy" to take good care of his property while he is away. There is no one here to show the apartment, so if I will just send first month's rent and a security deposit to his wife in Kentucky, they'll send me the keys and documents by courier the next day. Easy as pie.

Well, it seemed to me that emails like this were the fun part of apartment hunting, so I decided to let ol' Tenny in on the fun too, and sent him the following reply:

Click to enlarge

He hasn't gotten back to me yet.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just My Kind Of Workout

 The New Me (basically)

There are a few truisms so time-tested and self evident that they need not even be uttered.

The Sky Is Blue.

Tomorrow Is Another Day.

Risa Is Not An Athlete.

When I was little, my parents, fully aware of my, er, challenge, signed me up for a t-ball team. T-ball: the Boost Your Awkward Child's Self-Esteem sport. That is to say, my teammates were not exactly olympic-calibre either. At about seven years old, I was already the worst player on a team for clumsy five year olds. I remember going to games and silently praying to be put in the outfield, too far for the ball to intrude with any regularity. Mercifully, the coach also seemed to feel that my skills would be of greatest use to the team out there. Yup, it was me and the toddler who sat down in the middle of the field to blow the fluff off dandelions.

So perhaps you will understand why I am so proud to say that I think I may have found my sport. I've had to travel across the world to find it but I think I've done just that. And, no, I am not talking about the Neti pot, even though I sort of count that as yoga. What I am talking about is the Chairman Mao Eye Exercises.

I initially learned of the eye exercises by word of mouth: reminiscing about some of the inane aspects of primary school, some local people around my age recalled the twice daily broadcast over the school's loud speakers, calling all students to exercise their eyes in the name of Chairman Mao, for the glory of the People and the Republic (or some crap like that).

Apparently, it came to Uncle Mao's attention that his people had a propensity for near-sightedness , and for the advancement of his People's Republic he felt compelled to do something about the People's Eyesight (... although the People's Toilet Trough didn't seem like that big of a deal to him.) In this vein, he implemented in public schools a mandatory  routine of eye exercises which persists to this day, based on his expert scientific knowledge of... erm... beige suits.

And sure enough, on my first day teaching public school back in December, there it was. Fifty little child-pods nestled into identical bulky parkas (the school's winter uniform, due to frigid unheated classrooms), lined up row upon row, like neatly planted cabbages, poking and prodding at their fat little faces as the PA system screeched along it's instructions and careful counting.

YI, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba!
ER, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba!
SAN, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba!

(ONE, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!
TWO, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!
THREE, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!)

... and so on... all set to a cheery musical score so as to ensure a pleasant workout experience, while improving blood circulation to the eyes, and subliminally purging malleable young minds of any budding counter-revolutionary tendencies (maybe)...

As far as I can tell from my observations, the rigorous routine involves:

(1) gently massaging the bridge of the nose with the index fingers while staring up at the ceiling, tongue hanging out the side of the mouth, possibly drooling, thinking about how many pebbles you can fit in your pockets come recess time,

(2) poking around the cheeks a bit, interspersed with some nose picking and spit bubble formation practice (I'm pretty sure that this is because Chinese medicine views the body as a holistic system - you know, like the way that our eyes, noses, and mouths are all connected back there, as evidenced by the spaghetti-in-the-mouth, out-the-nose trick.)

(3) rubbing the back of the neck in circular motion, with the forehead resting on the desk, positioned for a good view of the day's accumulation of pea-shooter ammunition stored inside (because aiming projectiles is also good for the eyes, and isn't really detrimental for learning as long as it's only practiced during English class.)

I'm not sure exactly how the routine goes after this point, because I usually get distracted by the steely prowess of the Eye Exercise Nazi. Hand-picked by the homeroom teacher to patrol the ranks, this pint-sized tattle tale on a power trip marches up and down the aisles barking orders at sloppy classmates who have become engrossed in other endeavors, such as attempting to fit an entire scarf into their mouth or creating sculptures out of eraser shavings gummed together with hand-sweat and maybe snot. (Yes, kids really are that gross when they think no one is looking.)

I'm thinking about asking General Kitty Wong to be my guru. After all, she is already a Face Poking Master at just six years old and three feet tall. If that isn't guru material, I don't know what is. Through her tough-love mentorship, I will become a role model for every child with a collection of "Participant" ribbons.   A beacon for every youngster who has walked the Terry Fox run. A ray of hope to all those who have accidentally forgotten their gym clothes on purpose, or instinctively covered their eyes at the sight of a soaring ball approaching. I'll be just like that fat guy Jared who used to be even fatter, except instead of Subway sandwiches, the secret to my success will be Chairman Mao's Eye Exercises. I can be on TV, and write a book called, "How To Get In Shape By Poking Your Cheeks A Bit."

So there you have it. Mao DID do something good*.

(*He also ended that whole foot binding thing.  So I guess that counts too.)