June is my January

June is the only month I keep a calendar, that is, a written-out datebook.  All the other months of the year, I am fully capable of keeping everything in my head.  I rarely forget appointments July through May, but in June, it’s all about iCalendar.  The month is filled with half-days, professional development days, graduations, award ceremonies, field trips, endings and beginnings.  The image of Janus, the two-faced god who faces both forward and behind, seems more appropriate to this month than any other.

This year, I move on June 1st, living in Brooklyn for the first time in 8 years in New York City.  I am surrounded by my belongings packed in cardboard, with more still to pack.  I’ll be living with a roommate again after two years on my own, and I’ll be moving into a smaller space again, the better to save money as I start a new lifestyle.  It’s a bit complicated – I’m moving into a share for two months, then the roommate will move out, I will take over the lease, and I will need to find a new roommate.  If you know anyone nice, smart, and sane looking for a place around August 1st, let me know.  I’m really excited to get to know the new apartment and then try my hand at studied re-decoration.  The bathroom is TINY and cluttered with shelves, so I think I need to take a good look at it and the solutions available at IKEA, ContainerStore, etc., pull out all the shelves – come August – clean & repaint in a color that feels spacious, and then install shelves in a more thoughtful way.  The kitchen storage situation also needs a little work, so that’s another project.  And my bedroom is currently painted red and green – it’s better-looking than it sounds – so I’ll have to live with that for a while and see if I like it or want something else.

I told some of my students that I wouldn’t be coming back next year – it came up naturally as part of an end-of-year events conversation.  I spun it as reaching out for new opportunities, which is true, though being really, really tired and ready for a lower-stress job that still means something is also part of it.  When I said I was leaving to become a writer, one girl asked if I was going to write a book about them.

It’s time to revise curriculum maps.  I annotated mine and color coded standards based on whether we covered them or not and how well I think the kids learned them.  We only completed about 1/2 to 2/3 of the city’s curriculum, and one part of me feels like I failed in some way, and another part knows that I did important work with them that simply took a lot longer than the time budgeted by the city.  Thinking about how to revise the plan for next year is hard and a little sad when you know you won’t be teaching it next year.  I’m committed to my new job but will confess to having doubts about whether I should really be leaving teaching altogether.  It is a job I’ve loved.

We took the sixth graders who qualified – about 40 of them – sailing on the Pioneer yesterday, down at the Seaport, and we filled the ranks with 7th and 8th graders.  It was a sunny, beautiful day, and after some initial trouble due to mechanical problems with one of our buses, everything went just as planned.  The kids were tired and happy when we dropped them off outside school – and so were we.

This Thursday was the last session of my personal essay class.  My group really bonded, and people’s writing improved a ton, and we’re organizing a schedule to continue meeting, sans teacher, as a nonfiction writing group.  It feels good to have compatriots as I try to launch this aspect of my writing career, clip-less wonder that I am at the moment.  We range in age from 23 to 72, have advertising, teaching, non-profit, photography, editing, banking, and several other forms of work experience among us, are published or not, have something like gender balance, are married or single, with kids, without, desiring of them or not.

The endings are sad, but liberating.  The beginnings feel risky, not-yet-thrilling though I think as the endings pass one-by-one, I’ll have more space in my head for excitement.  I wonder about the people I work with, with whom I’ll remain friends, with whom I’ll fall out of touch.  I wonder about the new people I’ll meet.

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My favorite headline ever!

Monkeys Control a Robot Arm with Their Thoughts.

Basically, scientists implanted sensors over 100 neurons in the monkeys’ motor cortex, then programmed a computerized arm to respond to different firing patterns.  The monkeys were trained using biofeedback, but in a matter of days could control the arm on their own, and even used it in ways that they were not trained to, for example, licking the robot finger when some food stuck to it.  Cool.

That said, yet more evidence that biological body-brain systems are still better:

After several days, the monkeys needed no help. They sat stationary in a chair, repeatedly manipulating the arm with their brain to reach out and grab grapes, marshmallows and other nuggets dangled in front of them. The snacks reached the mouths about two-thirds of the time — an impressive rate, compared with earlier work.

Emphasis mine.

(Then again, if you took a youngster just learning to use his or her hands to feed him/herself, it would probably take more than a couple of days to reach this level of accuracy… I wonder if the monkeys will continue to improve their accuracy rate as time goes on?)

I am still waiting to be able to control children with my thoughts……

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Memorial Day To-Do

I can’t find my way to my closet through the huge pile of laundry, nor can I get anything done in the living room thanks to the boxes and half-packed piles stacked everywhere, the strewn-about packing tape torn off of boxes to be replaced by new tape once packed. Dishes need boxing, pots and pans need boxing, baking stuff and small appliances need boxing, tupperware needs sorting and boxing, dry goods need boxing, clothes need boxing, toiletries need sorting and boxing, office supplies are mostly sorted but need boxing, My plants are parched and dying behind the wardrobe boxes but I can scarcely reach them to give them water. The next two (one) weeks need to be planned, chaperones found for Friday’s sailing trip, quizzes graded, resignation letter printed (time to turn it in formally), transition to new job planned, OPD license applied for (so that I can coach robotics and help out here and there at my old school). I cooked food for the entire week so that I can start packing my kitchen, but now my fridge seems to be dying (all week I noticed things going bad unusually fast, but I didn’t put it all together until I felt the ice cream slosh around inside its cardboard pint). I have a final essay to write for my writing class, a lot of things I want to say about Emily Gould (then again, maybe there’s nothing to say), essays I want to revise and submit to magazines, a camera that seems to have disappeared into the bowels of CanonUSA again. I’m trying to figure out which order of events will energize me most… where do I start to make this a productive day?

(The fridge kind of makes me want to cry… when am I supposed to deal with that? Maybe I’ll just take all my lunches to school tomorrow… maybe I’ll take all my dinners, too).

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Greenwood Cemetery

greenwood frame

white flowers 2

jumpers 1

bouquet

memorial day 3

when one door is closed...

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Imagine you have a magic marker (washable) in your hand…

now draw a capital letter E on your forehead.  Go ahead, raise your hand to your head and draw it.

Did you draw it facing me (so I could read it), or facing you (so the little guy in your head could read it)?

If you read this week’s New Yorker, you know why I’m asking… there was a little piece about researchers who believe that the direction you draw your E reveals something about whether you are, at that moment, a perspective-taking kind of person (who would draw an E for others to read) or thinking from your own perspective primarily (the inward-facing E).  They hypothesized that people with more power would draw the inward-facing E, and people with less power would be more likely to take others’ perspective and draw the outward-facing E.  They primed people to feel powerful by having them write about a time they were completely dominant over someone else, then primed others to feel less powerful by having them write about being completely submissive to someone else, and sure enough, the first group was much more likely to draw the inward-facing E.

The journalist writing about it asked a lot of famous, powerful people at the Time 100 (most influential) banquet, and all but one drew outward-facing E’s.  But a banquet is a pretty other-oriented event, don’t you think?  Also, they were allowed to draw on post-it notes placed on their foreheads, and I think paper implies a reader and has a more clear front and back directionality than a forehead does (if that makes any sense).  So that’s my take on that.  Interestingly, the SNL ladies were the only ones who refused to participate… who knows why, but I would have thought that comedians would be interested in every odd facet of human behavior  – isn’t that their fuel?

Part of the reason I’m so interested in this question, even though I’m not convinced that it’s a good way to measure how powerful someone feels or how much they take another’s perspective, is that I had the strongest reaction: of course I’d draw the outward-facing E.  I can’t even imagine the other ones.  And I figured everyone else would feel the same way.  But when I started asking colleagues and friends, the first three I asked all drew inward-facing Es!

To me, my outward-facing E is a sign of the importance of communication and relationships for me… what’s the point of drawing a letter that no one can read?  my subconscious thinks.  We are who we are through the web of connections extending out from us, through the people we affect, help, inspire… well, that’s how I often feel, anyway.

What was your E?  What’s your take on this?

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I need some air…

It’s just a love that you can’t get back
It’s just a tale of a heart attack
You feel alive, but you’re sinking fast
Just close your eyes, this won’t be your last

You wanna lift somethin’ up, you gotta pin it down
You wanna pull somethin’ in, you gotta let it out
You wanna light something up, you gotta burn it down
I wanna feel the sun, I just need some air

The only word that you know is please, please, please
The only life that you see is from your knees
I wanna feel the light, I just can’t receive
Don’t wanna leave the ground, I just need some air
I need some air

-Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Yesterday, we took a wonderful field trip to the Liberty Science Center.  They warned us at the start of the film “3D Sun” that chaperones should prevent students from screaming and jumping out of their seats.  It sounded a bit harsh, until charged particles started drifting towards us, accelerating, until we zoomed over the horizon of the sun, past coronal arches and loops…. wow.  When the satellite called Stereo floated out towards me, I’ll admit I reached out to touch it.

The only bad part of the trip was a peanut allergy scare, which ended with no problems at all but made me realize several things about my experience teaching:

1. We are very lucky nothing too awful has happened given how poorly informed we are (by parents in the first place, and then by the school once the parents do inform us) about our students’ potentially serious health issues.

2. The incident calls into question so many things – the standard of care our children receive at hospitals and health clinics, the organizational systems within our schools, the levels of trust between parents and children, the potentially dangerous issues that arise when all of a student’s emergency contacts speak only Spanish, and you are in an emergency situation where no adult speaks Spanish.  And so many other issues.  We got a serious lecture about the need to carry an Epi-Pen from the staff at the Liberty Science Center.  And I sound like an idiot saying, But this allergy wasn’t even reported to the school!  A colleague cited some statistic or another (no idea where he got it) that peanut allergies are more prevalent in large urban areas – yet this is the first – or maybe there was one other – I’ve encountered in 8 years.  So, where are these kids?  Do our kids not live on PB&J like a lot of suburban kids?  Is the allergy hidden within an asthma diagnosis?  (But these are such different things!)  Are there tons of kids out there with unreported life-threatening allergies?  I want to find out more about this one.

Meanwhile, we have another trip coming up which was supposed to be the sixth grade end-of-year trip.  It was supposed to be really fun.  We set a pretty high standard of attendance, behavior, etc. to attend, and then our administration raised the bar to what we knew was pretty much unattainable (ours was already going to be very, very hard), but what could we say?  Now only 25% of our kids qualified.  We didn’t succeed in motivating them to work extra hard this month to get to go, because they really quickly figured out they’d never make it.  The culture of the class has, if anything, turned against the trip.  We are filling the spots with kids from other grades… I don’t know, it’s just not the trip I want to take at all anymore.  Leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I feel like I was put in a really bad position by others who won’t really have to deal with the long-term impact on student motivation or the immediate backlash when the kids who get to go are announced.

There’s more – our entire Science department is leaving this year.  Right now there are no candidates to replace us.  I might squeeze in a few hours here & there consulting for the new teachers next year, because otherwise they’ll be starting from scratch.

We were grading science exams after school today (this is the third day we’ve stayed after, at least one or two more afternoons before it’s done), and another teacher quoted the song above… she was talking about a relationship but it feels right for everything.  The pressure’s all right, somehow everything is getting done, it’s tiring but under control, but with a little more space to breathe things could be done so much better…. my cat never sees me anymore, my house is a huge mess.  I’ve scheduled my moving truck for June 1st, a birthday event for the following weekend, and I have a cake commission (for someone else, it’s a longish story) for the actual day of my own birthday…  I’m running twice a week and went to a yoga class for the first time in months (it felt great, even though the teacher was not awesome… it’s so nice to realize that after months away, I’ve at least got the muscle-memory if not the strength or flexibility).  Busy is the way I like life, but hey, I could use a little air…
.

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I am enjoying

PopWaffle, possibly a bit too much.  I wanna make little crayon-imations.

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