Friday, October 2, 2015

Honoring Dad

My father, Michael MacDonald Vance, died from a heart attack on Friday, September 4, 2015 at 11:59 p.m.  He was 69 years and 6 days old.

I am very conscious of dates and time and so was my father. Therefore, I am exact when people ask me when he died. Those who knew him would appreciate that he died at 11:59 and that he expected me to be accurate. He died on Friday night not Saturday morning. Such an error in detail would be egregious.

But since Dad has died, my concept of time has been thrown off. From the time when he went into the hospital for a host of other physical ailments to the time he passed was 3.2857142857 weeks and yet to me it feels like 6 months. Then there are days when I feel like I have just seen him; have just talked to him. He is no more distant than the moment I am thinking of him.

Dad with his "kitties" Fluffy and Scooter
Every day this week I’ve been thinking, “Friday will be one month since Dad died.”  I’ve rallied friends to keep me company so that I don’t cry my face off.  Then last night when I was shuffling around my apartment I happened to glance at the calendar and realized that today is the 2nd, not the 4th, of October. It is not the one-month anniversary of his death, but the four-week anniversary. The only timeline that’s measured in weeks is pregnancy, so Dad would be annoyed if I mourned his one-month anniversary today, because it isn’t the one-month anniversary. And there’s a part of me that wants to honor his love of the punctilious and reign in the emotions until Sunday.

But when it comes to love and grief, time means nothing and everything. Those sentiments would make him crazy, but that's also a way for me to honor my father. I loved prodding him with such lofty, abstract thinking. 

Nevertheless Dad, I miss you every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of the month. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Party Never Stops

Teaching writing is far more challenging than teaching literature. With literature, a teacher has fascinating characters, engaging plots, and important themes that they can easily get behind.  English teachers, even those who are just paying the bills until they get their great American novel published, did not choose their major because they loved writing essays (or even novels). They did so because of literature.  Teaching straight, expository writing is much more challenging because it’s hard to make the writing process interesting to students.

At least I can make the topics of writing more edgy and fun when I teach my college students.  For example, when introduce the classification and analysis essay, I ask students to break up the guests of a typical House Party into different categories.  The term “guests” is a bit of an euphemism because very few people at House Parties are actually invited.  For those of you whose rebellion happened before the 21st century, House Parties, formally known as Flyer Parties (90s), formally known as Ragers (80s) occur whenever a teen’s parents have gone out of the town for the weekend and word gets out that there is an adult-free abode in which to indulge in iniquities.  Concept has been around for decades (hell, centuries) but the name has changed.

Same with those who attend.  As the students shared their categories, I learned some new labels.

For those who for the tradition of drinking:
·         The hot heads: The ones that start drinking and just want to get down. “Getting down” means to fight. I thought it was a reference to sex. In context, both definitions make sense to me.
·         Flops: People that can't handle their alcohol

The fact that no one offered a category of silly, jovial drunks makes me wonder just how much fun is to be had at House Parties.

For those who are into a little bit more than alcohol:
·         Burnouts: People who come to do drugs
·         Fiends: People that are just looking to smoke weed and just want people to smoke them out. I assume they differ from burnouts because they are cannabis-focused where burnouts will take anything.
·         The Dealer: The person that comes to make money from drug selling.
·         Ballooners: Go to party to do noz from the noz tank until they forget how to speak. This party behavior is new to me.  Apparently, if it’s a good party, then there will be a tank of nitrous oxide to take hits off of (kind of like a step-up from inhaling from helium balloons).  And yes, the goal is to become a drooling idiot.  I also pointed out that the goal is to kill off your brain cells. Permanently.

For those looking for a little tail:
·         The thirsty: people desperate to have sex.  Before submitting this category, a student asked me if I know what “being thirsty” meant. I was a little suspicious: either they think I’ve been ballooning too much or if it was too scandalous to put into spoken (or written) language. I told them I assumed that it referred to a bonafide alcoholic. I stand corrected.
·         Smashers: girls only good for sex.   
·         Outcasts: socially awkward people that show up so they could get noticed.

As a teacher and possible mentor, even to college students, I did take this opportunity to point out that these highly destructive behaviors are all ways to escape.  Those who frequent House Parties are probably suffering some sort of personal trauma or self-esteem issues.  I commented on the irony of parties becoming the stage to let all the things that are no-so-fun about us to come out.  Our social lives, which are meant to be a reprieve from stress and anxiety, are quickly becoming the fuel for more stress and anxiety.

Not sure anyone understood me. Maybe too many Ballooners in the room. Maybe I have fallen into the Party Pooper category.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Smarter Than I Look

I understand that most teenagers believe teachers (hell, adults) behaved differently when they were teenagers.  We went to sock-hops. We loved school.  If we felt like rebelling, we wore racy clothes and drove our cars too fast. Maybe smoked a cigarette; maybe took a couple sips from a beer occasionally. Honestly, I don't blame them.  I thought the same thing too.
What strikes me is that they think we are not akin to their subterfuges.
The high school I teach at starts a half-hour later on Fridays; combined with the fact that this occurs at the end of their week makes hitting Starbucks a must for adolescents.  I  sympathize and have no problem with that as long as students arrive to class on time and don’t spill that Venti, blended goodness all over my floor.
But this morning, a little lady told me a bold-face lie so that she could retrieve her beverage after class had started.  One thing I have no patience with or tolerance for is lying.  She asked me is she could go to the restroom. I gave her permission.  She came back with a Venti passion tea.
I hauled her tush outside and said, “Samantha, don’t ever lie to me. You ask to go to the bathroom and you come back with Starbucks. Did you really think I wouldn’t catch that?”
Her eyes get real big.  “I didn’t lie. I just happen to run into my friend, and she had an iced tea for me. I swear.”
My response: “Do you really think I’m that stupid?”
“I swear that’s what happened.”

Yes, she thinks I'm that stupid.
“So, you expect me to believe that the exact same moment you had to ‘go to the bathroom’ your friend happened to be walking the halls with an ice tea for you? You really think I am going to believe that?”
“I swear.”
“I don’t believe you.”
 She stands there blinking at me. 
“Don’t ever lie to me again.”
She huffs and storms into the classroom.
(Little does she know that next time --or the next dozen times-- she asks to go to the restroom, the answer will be “no.”)
I tell my students from the beginning of the year that they will always win with honesty and never win with lying. Honestly doesn’t mean no consequences, but they will come down soooo much easier.  All Samantha had to do was say, “Hey Ms. Vance, my friend just brought me an iced-tea. Can I go grab it?”
It’s Friday. We are just doing some leisurely reading.  She’s playing it straight. I would have said, “Sure, but this is an exception. Don’t make this a habit.”  The end.
Instead, she lies. Instead, she assumes that I’m not going to catch on.  She assumes that I am stupid. I’m a lot of things, but stupid ain’t one of ‘em.
Trust me, I was not a straight-laced kid. I rebelled. I rebelled hard.  And I used the same tricks they try to use on me.  When I set my watch back 20 minutes so that when I arrived home after curfew I could raise my little doe-eyes to my parents and show them how my watch says I’m on time? When I forged my own notes to get out of school early (I had an “injured knee” my junior year and had many, many doctor’s appointments) did the attendance workers know I was lying and just didn’t have a way to call my bluff? (They never called my mom, which is good, because then I’d be well . . . dead).  My parents never have been push-overs.  If I got caught doing wrong, punishment was severe and swift.  Yet I still ditched; I still snuck out; I still lied. I wonder how much they actually knew and just didn’t address because I was still bringing home good grades and treating them with respect?  Were they just worn by the demands of their daily lives so they would allow a few transgressions?
The message I’d like to send to all teens is this: we know a lot more than you think we know.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaaaaack!

Why did I drop off the blogosphere for last nine months?

No, I did not have a baby (unlike my friend over at Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares who also took a hiatus).  The idea of me procreating could be it's own horror novel.

No, it's not because I ran out of material. Trust me, being a 40-something, techno-challenged, even more man-challenged, teacher of high school English provides enough for this writer.  I didn't take a hiatus from writing (my seventeen-page essay on Ratchet is currently submitted to several literary journals); just from blogging.

To be honest, I don't have a good reason. Nothing concrete. No family illness, no change of career, no loss of career that left me homeless: no special marker that called for an end to my blogging career. I just lost the motivation. The passion was gone.  For a while, I thought my three-and-a-half-year relationship with Blogspot had run its course.  I didn't want to leave it for Word Press or Tumblr. I didn't give it an ultimatum like, "get me published or get out."  Quite simply, I just lost that loving feeling.

Ya, I'm coming back with cliches after nine months, dammit.

So, why am I back?

The catalyst was about a week ago when I was discussing with the department chair at the junior college I teach at about the possibility of apply for a full-time position. I wanted to make sure all that I would be giving up by leaving my nearly twenty-year career with my high school (primarily in the form of seniority and job security) would be worth it. Getting a full time job at the junior college level is nearly impossible. One would have to sleep with as well as kill several people to just get an interview: it is extremely competitive. As my department chair and I discussed what would help me pop as a candidate, one item that came up was to "make sure that [I] mention the blog."

It's ironic: my high school administration quivers in fear over my blog; my college one encourages it. I say absolutely nothing about it to my high school students. Nothing. Hell, I pretend to not even know what a blog is (and they believe me because as far as they are concerned I wrote my high school essays on parchment). I know it's been found; much to my surprise, some students have nothing better to do than google their teachers. As for my college students, I provide them with a link on the second day of class. Most of my posts analyze language; it will enhance their education, dammit. I also send links to my colleagues at the junior college.

Another little nudge came from a colleague at the junior college as well. While chatting with a lovely woman in the lounge a few days ago, we both realized that even though we knew each other's faces we weren't quite sure of each other's names. When I formally introduced myself, she replied with: "Your Holly Vance?! I am such a fan."

Even though it was a nice little spit-shine to my ego, I was a bit confused. When she didn't immediately mention that it was because of my blog, I began to panic. I never have, nor ever will, google myself, so who knows what's out there about me. What was she a fan of?

As it turns out, she knew about me through my high school teaching history. (And if you are waiting for the details, I ain't gonna provide 'em.  No need to give my high school an aneurysm before the new year even starts.) It had nothing to do with my blog, but it made me think about it.

All that matters is that I'm back. I feel the old spark of love for Blogspot. Hopefully, it will take me back with open arms. And roses. And chocolates from Godiva. And a flood of agents dying to market me to major publishing houses.