Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Don't Know What to Say Right Now

These last few days, I've wanted to say something about what happened last Friday.  I'm angry, and sad, and scared, but I can't form a coherent thought.  Everything I start to write comes out as vitriol, knee-jerky reactions.  And there's enough knee-jerking going around.  I don't know enough about anything to speak intelligently on this, and I can say "it's awful" only so much.

I'm just a little burned out right now. I'll be back.  I'll be back soon, but right now, I just need a couple days of a break.  I think it's better that I just step back for a few days, rather than going off all wobbly, and unintentionally burning bridges.  Heaven knows we all need all the friends we can get right now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Curious Case of Mr. Puff

The following is an excerpt from my Hawaii Scrapbook.  A few years back, we took our office staff to the Islands for the ADA and then a vacation afterwards.  I made a kickass scrapbook to commemorate the trip, and most of you aren't around to see it in person, and even if you were, I don't foist my vacation scrapbooks on my few and long suffering houseguests.  It's kind of too bad, because the scrapbook IS pretty kickass, more fun to look through than the standard vacation slides.  

Anyway, I'd seen them referenced before, but I didn't know that lamps made from actual puffer-fish were a real thing until I went to Hawaii, and there they were, just hanging out one night while Shane and I were having dinner.  I'd like to say that the following story is because I had way too many Mai-Tais while we were on the beach, but I didn't.  My imagination really is this warped.  So with that in mind, I present to you "The Curious Case of Mr. Puff." 

Dining by the light of a taxidermied pufferfish!
Mr. Puff once lived in Bikini Bottom with his wife Mrs. Puff, a boating school instructor.  Mr. Puff was a traffic cop.  He frequented the Krusty Krab before SpongeBob SquarePants was even out of grade school.  Then one day, mysterious hooks appeared in JellyFish Fields, a quiet suburb of Bikini Bottom, and Mr. Puff went to check them out.

Suddenly, Mr. Puff was jerked up and out of the water, away from his home and friends in Bikini Bottom.  It was hot and dry and Mr. Puff didn't like this new place at all.

Mr. Puff as part of the aesthetic team at LuLu's.
Mr. Puff can't remember what happened next, but the next thing he knew, he was suspended from a ceiling and lit from within. It took Mr. Puff a while to understand what was going on, but he realized he was now part of the aesthetic team, along with other Pufferfish Lamps, at a place called LuLu's in the Waikiki Beach neighborhood of Honolulu, Hawaii.

A pufferfish in his more wistful moments, thinking of home.
Although Lulu's isn't geographically far from Bikini Bottom, just a mile out to sea and straight down, LuLu's is a completely different world.  Mr. Puff doesn't mind life at LuLu's- everyone there is happy and when the sun goes down, Mr. Puff and his friends do give off a disturbingly pretty glow.

But every so often, when the trade winds calm ever so much, Mr. Puff turns his gaze out to sea and remembers his old life in Bikini Bottom, and for a few moments, he's plaintive.  Then the trade winds pick up once again, and it's back to work for Mr. Puff.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Choffy, Where Have Ya Been All My Life?!

A couple nights ago, my friend reminded me of something I've been awfully curious to try, but for some reason, I never followed through on it: Choffy.  It's ground-up cocoa beans that you brew like coffee.  That's where they get the clever name "Choffy." 

I was in one of those moods, so right after I told my friend I'd try out the Choffy if she would, I ordered some from Amazon before she ever said whether or not she was in.  I mean, how wrong can something that is like the love child between coffee and chocolate really go?  How bad can it be?

My bag arrived yesterday afternoon via the UPS truck, and they hadn't even gotten to the end of my driveway before I had the bag ripped open, and 4 tablespoons of Choffy measured out in my French Press.  (I was making a 12-ounce cup, because life's too short to muck around with a 6-ounce cup of coffee or Choffy!)  Yeah, I have a French Press.  Not because I'm a coffee snob.  I bought the French Press on a whim a few years ago and have enjoyed about three big cups of gritty coffee from it, because as it turns out, there's a bit of a learning curve and some patience involved in learning how to use a French Press, but my coffeemaker's foolproof (mostly).  But I figured French Press is the way to go with this Choffy, and I didn't want my bare-bones basic coffeemaker messing up my experience and putting me off Choffy forever, in case it's really great.

So I measured, stirred, waited, plunged, and poured and took a sip of this Choffy stuff.

I think that it's the closest approximation of what that chocolate river from the original Willy Wonka movie tasted like.  I have a palate about as sophisticated as Buddy the Elf's, though, so I couldn't drink it black.  I added 2 teaspoons of sugar, which is a major cut-down for me, and enough milk to lighten the cup o' Choffy. 

It's never going to be hot cocoa or hot chocolate, this Choffy.  It's never going to be a cup of coffee, because there's absolutely no coffee in it.  It's ground-up cocoa beans, so think straight-up cocoa powder, before there's any sugar mixed in.  No fat.  Just kind of a bitter taste with cocoa overtones. If you're used to drinking black coffee, black Choffy won't even be a problem for you.  In fact, if I were drinking it with a giant cookie or a sweet pastry or the like, I would have left it alone and not added the sugar and the milk.

I think Choffy needs to take off and join the ranks of coffee, tea, and hot cocoa as a nice hot drink on a day, especially like today, when it's cold and drizzly.  I didn't want to have a coffee in the afternoon, but tea kind of bores me, and I didn't want to spend the 240 calories a 12-ounce mug of hot cocoa would have cost me.  I was really fixated on having 12 ounces of hot drink.  Straight-up, a 12-ounce mug of Choffy sets you back 20 calories.  The sugar and milk or other lightener or sweetener you might add will raise the calorie count accordingly. 

With those stats, though, you know how there are certain times when you need something chocolate or there'll be carnage?  I think this gives you all the benefits of a darker chocolate especially, without loading you up on sugar and fat, too.  A personal trainer once told me that one Hershey Kiss is enough to stop a chocolate craving.  I still think he's a damn liar.  One Hershey Kiss is enough to set off a chain reaction, where I eat the whole bag, eat the entire back-up bag, because I buy them only when they're on a 2-for special, and when I've reached the bottom of the back-up bag, I'm on my way to Wellsville for another 2-for on Hershey Kisses.  After my cup of Choffy, I felt good enough to step away from having a second cup- there's something about the way a hot drink warms you up from the inside out that makes it easier to stop consuming.

I guess that's why Hungry Girl's been trumpeting Choffy for years.  It's worth a check-out!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Black Tears of the Arizona

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
 One of my favorite places we visited on Oahu was the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.  I'd seen pictures of this Memorial from the time I was a kid, but the pictures don't do it justice.  In pictures, it looks so simple, but it always sort of reminded me of a shoe-box.

In person, its simplicity is perfect.  The white stone almost gives off its own light in the Hawaiian sun.  There's a constant soft, plumeria-and-salt-water scented breeze and the sound of the water in Pearl Harbor lapping against the Memorial's abutments. 

The only way to get to the Memorial itself is to ride a ferry from the Visitor Center to the Memorial.  You watch an orientation video before you get on the ferry.  The ride gives you a little time to reflect and to get a good look at the outside of the Memorial.  It was dedicated in 1962, and in ways, is absolutely a product of its time.  Its lines are clean, its shape is simple.  It's also timeless.  Once I heard the story of the design of it, I didn't see a shoebox anymore when I looked at it. 

As you can see, the ends of the Memorial stand tall on the ends and sags in the middle.  The Memorial's designer, Alfred Preis, used this shape to represent "initial defeat and ultimate victory."  What a message!  The openings in the center of the Memorial- there are seven on either side and seven in the roof, twenty-one in all- represent a twenty-one gun salute.

It's impossible to believe in this beautiful, peaceful place that's about as close as we'll get to Paradise here on Earth, hell broke loose on the morning of December 7th, 1941.  Once you step onto the Memorial, there's this overwhelming peace, a hush.  Yet you can feel the presence of the 1,177 men who died aboard the U.S.S. Arizona that December morning, hovering just over the water of Pearl Harbor, along with those who died aboard other ships that day.  The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial is there to honor the memory of all of them.

Although it's popularly believed that the U.S.S. Arizona is still commissioned, that's not correct.  What is correct is that the ship's remains are an active military cemetery.

The Tears of the Arizona
The full effect of the Memorial can be seen only from above, and unfortunately I don't have a picture to show you of the Memorial from that angle.  I have it on a postcard.  From above, you can see that the white Memorial is built perpendicular to the sunken ship, which stands out in a ghostly outline beneath the blue-green water. 

But when you're standing on the Memorial, if you stand in the openings and look into the water below, you can see the unmistakable rainbow-tinged swirling black that's oil on the water.  Oil from the ship's engines.  Ever since December 7, 1941, the U.S.S. Arizona  has been weeping oil from her engines.  Seventy-one years now, she's been weeping that oil. 

These are the Black Tears of the U.S.S. Arizona.

Pearl Harbor legend says that the U.S.S. Arizona  will stop weeping her black tears when the last survivor joins his crewmates in death.

Lest we forget.
Those Arizona crewmen who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor may choose to be interred on the ship with their crewmates, within Gun Turret #2, which isn't able to be viewed by visitors to the Memorial.  When they're buried with their crewmates, their names are then engraved in a special place on the wall in the Memorial's Shrine Room.

 It's a beautiful tribute for the men who served and for those who died on December 7, 1941.  Theirs is a brotherhood that only those who have served and survived or served and sacrificed can understand.  The rest of us can only wonder about it and be thankful that there are such brave men and women.
Even though we marked Pearl Harbor Day yesterday, it still bears some remembering today and every day.  Each day, the clock moves forward.  One by one, the crewmen of the U.S.S. Arizona go Home.  We'll treasure them while they're here and keep them in our hearts when they're gone.

She'll not weep her Black Tears much longer.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Head In The Clouds

One time, I was out flying a solo flight.  It was supposed to be an easy up-and-back to Batavia, NY from my home airport of Wellsville.  Forty-five minutes to get there, land, take back off, and come home.  I had it all planned out, plotted on my sectional chart (that's the fancy aviatin' word for map).  I had my flight plan all written.  I had charted the distance and fuel and time to the top of my climb, and how long it would take me to fly between visual checkpoints.  I had all my radio frequencies written and ready to be dialed in as I needed to change them on the way up and back.

The weather briefer said I had about enough time to get to Batavia if I left soon after I got off the phone with him, but I needed to be advised that there was some weather coming in off Lake Ontario.  It was three days after Christmas, and the "weather" he was talking about was clouds and snow.

No problem!  I was flying in the airport's Tomahawk.  It's a little airplane. Simple.  Preflights didn't have to take that long, unless I was really stalling and trying to milk the pre-flight.  I wouldn't that day.  I wanted to get my first solo cross-country out of the way.  I'm nervous about things.  Really nervous about them, until I get one or two cracks at it under my belt.

In the case of flying the airplane, I never really got over the nervousness.  Let's be clear about that.

So, pre-flight was done, my instructor gave me his pep-talk that he always gave me before I'd fly, with or without him, and he sent me off to the plane.  I was always good at talking on the radio, and my radio-check went off without a hitch.  I taxied to the departure end of good ol' Runway 2-8, set the brake, did my run-up, and called that I was departing.

It was a cold day, with dense air, and just me in the plane, so that bird popped up into the sky like nobody's business.  Boy, didn't I feel like a big cheese (a scared, shaking big block of scardey-cheese, but a big cheese nonetheless!), flying over our practice area (the lands between the edge of Wellsville on one end and the Allegany County Jail on the other).  There was the windmill farm up near Houghton, NY.  There was Silver Lake, shaped like a hockey stick, easy to see on the chart AND in person.  Batavia was getting closer!  Yaaaaaaaaaaay me!

Except, I didn't see the airport when I thought I should.  This was bad.  Where was the airport?  I looked at my chart.  I looked outside.  Everything was covered in a Frosted-Mini-Wheat coating of snow.  It looked different from any other time I'd been flying up there with my instructor.  And honestly, I was lousy at finding airports.  I could spot another plane seven, eight miles away.  I could spot birds that could pose a threat to our flights.  But seeing any airport but my own, which sits alone atop a high hill, head and shoulders above the rest of Wellsville, I was absolutely worthless at.  It led the chief instructor at the airport to yell once "For God's sake, April!  Look for the short, fat road with numbers on either end!!!" when we were out flying, and I wasn't seeing Danville's airport fast enough for him.  So of COURSE I'd mess this up and not see my airport in Batavia, which is sort of in the middle of things on the edge of that town.

I was getting around my VOR triangulation to figure out where I was.  On the ground, I was BRILLIANT at using different VORs, theoretically, to find my position.  I prided myself on it.  My instructor prided me on it.  I was good at finding out where I was, with my ass firmly in a seat at the airport, a chair with all four legs on the floor, no engine noise, no having to keep one hand on the yoke to keep from nosing into the ground.  Bloody brilliant at figuring out where I was when I wasn't lost!

Just as I was dialing in the frequency for the VOR in Geneseo to get the missing reading, I really looked out my windscreen.  Opaque whiteness, and little beads of water were flitting all over the plexiglass.  My mouth went dry and all my muscles clenched.  I looked out the side window.  In the milky distance, I could see the ground enough to see it was still under me and not over me.

What a moron.  This is why women shouldn't be allowed to fly airplanes by themselves.  They do stupid stuff like get lost and then fly right into a goddamn snow cloud!  And what if the FAA found out I'd flown right into a goddamn snow cloud?  That was a total violation of the 1000 feet above, 500 feet below, 2000 feet laterally away from clouds rule!

My eyes snapped to my instruments.  This can be attributed to my instructor making me spend so much time under the "Foggles," special goggles that block out everything except the instrument panel while you fly, that I nearly threw up on him a couple of times, and also What To Do In A Cloud had been embedded in my reptilian brain, so thankfully, I didn't have to think about it much.  Thankfully, because my human-higher-order thinking brain had shut down and was slamming herself in the forehead in a corner of the cockpit repeating "stupid, stupid, stupid" and frankly, that wasn't helping anything.

When you fly into a cloud, the trick is to keep your airplane level.  Keep your flight coordinated.  There's an instrument called a "turn-slip indicator" that's shaped like a smile, with ball that floats inside.  If your flight's coordinated, meaning ailerons and rudder in balance, that ball rides in the center, at the bottom of the smile.  If you're out of whack one way or the other, you add in rudder, a little at a time, on the side where the ball's hanging out.  They call it "stepping on the ball."  So, using that, and the heading indicator (like a compass, but not exactly a compass), the artificial horizon, and the gauge that tells you how fast you're climbing or descending or staying level, is what keeps you flying when you fly into a cloud.  You can't trust your eyes or your head because it plays tricks on you when there's white everywhere.  You can feel like you're level, when in reality, you're climbing, losing speed, and are headed for a stall, which is bad news in a cloud!  Or you think you're flying straight, but you're really turning ever so gradually, which can also cause you to lose speed and descend.

In a cloud, you have to trust your instruments, and that's one of the hardest things to do.  But, as I didn't have much choice that day, I kept my eyes glued to the panel and slowly, slowly, slowly got myself turned back around whence I came, where there wasn't a giant stupid snow cloud rolling in from stupid Lake Ontario.

You know that feeling when you have a cold, and your nose is hopelessly plugged up, and you think you're never going to breath right again, and then all of a sudden, you feel a kind of "thunk" in your sinuses, and you can BREATHE again?  That's what it was like for me that day when I flew back out of that cloud.  While I was in the cloud, I'd resigned myself to just calling it a day and going home, and not landing at Batavia.  I'd have to tell my instructor what happened, and he'd be disappointed but he'd understand.  Polar opposites, my instructor and me, he wasn't much of a yeller.  Very easy-going, very mellow.  He'd be cool with me taking another stab at this solo cross-country thing another day, when there was NO SNOW forecast to be shipping in on giant clouds.

But I decided to take a hot-lap around Batavia, and as I made my turn, there it was:  Batavia's short, fat road with the numbers on either end, for God's sake!!!  I called my position, set up my approach and held my breath through my landing.  Holding my breath on landings is a bad habit I got into early on, and it's a tough one to break.  Also, letting go of the rudder too early, but a wonky trip down the runway with the chief instructor one day (that ended in me being in tears) sort of broke me of the letting go of the rudder too early.  I also sort of hold my breath on the take-off, which also isn't too good, but I couldn't help it.  Take-offs can be kind of an intense thing.  You always have to be on the lookout for a place you can land off the end of the runway, In Case.  You never turn back around and try to make the runway.

Well, that was done!  I'd found Batavia, landed, and taken back off!  Now all I'd have to do is get back home, and I could totally do that, because I'd gotten there mostly okay, if you discounted that whole not finding the airport and flying into a cloud whilst looking for it thing.  Nobody had to know about that debacle.

And, ha!  Wasn't Batavia airport kind of like Platform Nine and Three-Quarters in Harry Potter?  You had to do some magic mumbo-jumbo to find it!  Haha!  That's clever!  I would have to remember that bit of cleverness borne out of sheer terror, because the terror was over!

And there was Silver Lake, still shaped like a hockey-stick!  There were the windmills on the farm near Houghton!  And not long after the windmills is when I went wrong again.  It was a few minutes before I realized I didn't recognize anything.  Crap!  How could I get lost twice in the same flight?  Especially since I'd already been over this terrain once!  The snow shouldn't have been stymieing me!  I'd seen this stuff!  Except, I hadn't seen this stuff, because I was now flying over things I hadn't flown over before.  Frack!  Frackety-frackety-frack! FRAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!

 I knew I must have been within Wellsville's frequency, so I switched back to 123.0 on my radio just as my instructor was hailing me.  He didn't sound so mellow and easy-going as he asked if 9284Tango was on the frequency.

"Ummmm, 9284Tango here," I replied.  "I think I'm lost."

"How lost?" he said.

"Shit, there's Alfred University," I said.  "Alfred Goddamn University."

"What are you doing over Alfred?"

"If I knew, I'd tell you," I said.  "I'll be home in a few minutes."

I could have just followed Andover Road back into Wellsville, but I wanted to at least salvage some of the route home I'd planned.  I flew over Hornell, noted its damn airport- sure, NOW I'm good at spotting damn short, fat roads with numbers on either end!  Universe!  Whatiswrongwithyou?!!!  I got back to Belmont, and noted the little waterfall.  I saw the jail- from the sky, it's shaped like a Christmas tree.  Did you know that?  And after the flight I'd had, it was the most beautiful penal building I could ever imagine seeing!  I could see Dresser-Rand and the train tracks, and my airport!  I called mid-field and set up my approach for Runway 1-0.  In the time I'd been gone, the wind had shifted.  The snowstorm was coming in.  I called final approach and held my breath through the landing.

From out of the blue terminal building, I could see a figure burst out of the door and pretty much march-run to where the taxiway connector met up with the ramp.  I knew who it was.  The question was, how much trouble was I in?  Must be a lot of trouble, since my instructor motioned for me to stay put and got IN the plane before I taxied to the hangar.

This was it, I figured.  He was going to take my logbook, set it on fire, take my student certificate and shred it and also set it on fire, and then tell me to go take a basketweaving class or something.

"So," he said, a nervous grimace on his face.  "What took you so long?"

I told him all about getting lost and flying into the cloud and then not being able to find the airport and then finding it, and then getting lost again.  He listened.

"You sound like you want to bawl," he said.

"Yeah, I do," I said.

"Well, when you get back to the hangar, you can fall apart.  But you've got to get back to the hangar first. 'Kay?"


It was a quiet trip for the short distance to the hangar.  We pushed the plane back into its spot, chocked the gear, and closed up the big door.

"I was worried that you'd crashed or something," he finally said.

"I was worried I was going to," I said.

"So you flew into the cloud, then?"

"Yeah, and then I flew back out of it.  I'll never bitch about the Foggles again, I promise."

"Well, good.  I wasn't mad on the radio.  I was just worried.  I'd been trying to call you on the radio for twenty minutes.  I tried your cell phone.  I was back here, freaking out."

"I was up there, freaking out."  I got my cell phone out of my bag. There were three missed calls from his cell phone, all in the space of five minutes.  "Yep, there you are!" I said cheerfully, showing him the screen of my phone.

"Yep," he said.  "Well, you flew into a cloud and flew back out of it without crashing, and you got lost on the way home and didn't run out of fuel and crash, so I'd say your first solo trip was some good flying."

I laughed out loud.

"Thank you," I said.  "It was an utter disaster, but thank you."

"Hey," he said, grinning.  "You didn't crash."

I didn't crash.

So what they say in the books is true.  When you find yourself in a cloud, keep yourself stable, stay calm, trust the tools that are there to help you, and slowly and steadily turn yourself around to go back to where you came from to regroup.  And don't forget to breathe.  That's not in the books, but I seem to forget to do that when things start getting intense.  Breathe, breathe, breathe.  Because it's funny just how much you can find yourself grappling about in the clouds, even when your feet are solidly on the ground.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where I Went: Part Two

I'm not going to lie.  I've been dreading writing about graduate school. It was not a blast the way college was.  I wanted to quit most of the time I was there.  In every sense of the word, I was a minnow in a giant pond.  Instead of rising to the occasion and growing, maybe even becoming a shark myself, I shrank and hid.  I could have handled things a lot better.  If I were there now, things would be different and I would be different.  I'd be better.

Most of the time over the ten years since I spent my time on the tenth floor of Anderson Hall at Temple University, I just remember pain and stress and misery, and over all, I think I was there during a weird period for the program.  And I was coming from a really phenomenal program, and I unfairly expected Temple's program to live up to or surpass the program from which I'd just graduated.  Now I realize that I was trying to compare two very different programs with two very different objectives fit into the same mold.

So since I started out writing this series earlier in the week, I've been thinking about graduate school with a sick lump in my stomach, because I didn't want this blog to take the negative turn I've been trying to keep it from taking.  (You have no idea how much of a battle it is for me not to default to negativity... Progress, not perfection.)  I was planning on just talking about my time working for the Honors Program and not even mention Anderson Hall.  On the other hand, it'd be disingenuous for me to gloss over all that poison and be all PollyAnna about my time there. 

I've done a lot of blaming the program for my perpetual angst at Temple, but you know, you get into it what you put in.  I think there were things going on that I'll never know about that might have put the unpleasant taste in the air, but I've since learned that when you're in a bad situation, you make the best of it.  A little humor goes a long way.  You rise above.  I did no rising above there.  I was overwhelmed, out classed, outwitted, out of my league.  I was adjusting to being married.  My husband was a student, too, at the time, at the Dental School, but he was in the clinical portion of his education, past having to read a thousand pages a week for each class.  My whole education there consisted of reading at least a thousand pages each week for my different classes, writing thoughtful analyses of each, writing my own work for workshop, and thoughtfully commentating on the work of my classmates.  I'm glad I got married, and I'm glad I went to graduate school, but I don't think they both needed to happen at the same time.  I always felt I was being torn in two directions.  And then in the Fall of 2001, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and 9/11 happened, within days of each other.  There was a lot going on and it was hard to keep my head in any one place.

But EVERYBODY's fighting a battle, and instead of contributing to the cut-throat environment on the 10th floor of Anderson Hall, I should have focused on being MY best instead of going along with kicking someone else when they were down and grappling to stand on another's carcass to make myself look better.

That's out of the way.  And it's easy for me to dwell on the negatives and forget about anything positive ever happening in a place.  But as I thought about graduate school for the purpose of this post, I realized I DID learn a lot and have a lot of fun at Temple as a whole, and even on the tenth floor of Anderson Hall.  It wasn't all bad!

Because so much of my time was spent at my job as a graduate assistant for the Honors Program, though, I learned as much there (or more) as I did in my actual classes.  And those are the times that will always shine brightest for me when I think of Temple.

Joan Mellen was the first writing workshop I took at Temple.  The first semester I was in Joan's workshop, she was fun and committed and I truly loved her.  She went on sabbatical the second semester, and when she came back the next year, she was angry and preoccupied.  She was writing a book about Jim Garrison.  It's fascinating.  When I worked with her for my second tutorial, she was trying to make me write just like her writing, and it wasn't a good fit.  This is where it's important to choose a mentor with a similar aesthetic.  Do your homework.  It's one thing to admire someone's work and another to try so hard to make your work match theirs when there's just no way.  I should have either been more of a shark to get to work with one of the other instructors for that tutorial, or I should have been stronger and dug my heels in and said "this is the story I'm going to tell, and I'm here to have you show me how to be MY best, not to be a copy of YOU, because you're already fabulous and one of a kind, and I need to learn how to be fabulous and one of a kind as well."  I didn't have the vocabulary or the tact for that back then.  I did have the ability to be sullen and withdrawn.  But I will say this for Joan Mellen.  She was passionate and driven and committed to whatever project she was working on.  She had laser-sharp focus.  And that first semester I was in her writing workshop, I was intimidated as hell, but I loved every minute I got to spend with her.  I really did!

Bill VanWert was another instructor I worked with for a tutorial as well as for workshop.  Bill did have a knack of helping you be your own best.  His work was more of a generalist nature, meaning he could write about one thing for this project, and then the next project would be something entirely different.  He'd go from fiction to nonfiction effortlessly.  He reminded me of Dr. Fincke in that respect.  Bill was also truly kind-hearted.  The day a year or two after I graduated when I found out he passed away, I curled up on the floor and cried and cried.  He gave me some advice, both in workshop, and in his tutorial, that I think of nearly every day.  "If you really hate something, that means there's something in it for ya."

He was talking specifically about reading material for class.  What he meant was if you hate it, it meant there was something about it speaking directly to something in yourself that needs to be addressed; there's something in there that you need to learn from; there's something there that thrums a weakness, and instead of shrinking away, you need to follow it and make yourself stronger.  I think that's right up there with some of the best advice I've ever gotten.

Chip Delaney got to be a professor by kind of an unconventional route.  He wasn't a PhD.  I'm not even sure if he went to college.  But he's a pretty amazing science fiction writer.  Maybe you've heard of him.  Samuel R. Delaney.  I feel like my time with Chip was a missed opportunity.  In his class I learned that if I'm going to swim with sharks, I'd better grow some sharp teeth.  We had a yelling match in class, once.  We were both wrong, but I should have deferred, because he was the teacher.  After that yelling match, we found ourselves (trapped) on an elevator in Anderson Hall for the painfully slow ride up to the 10th floor.  Just him and me.  It was cold in there to start with, but he struck up a conversation, natural as anything, and after that, it was a treat to get to ride in the elevator with Chip.  We'd visit.  Made the long ride shorter.  But the thing I'll always be grateful for is that at one of the readings I had to do, I decided to read something I wrote that was true to me, and not pandering to what Joan or Bill or Alan Singer wanted me to write.  I'd go for funny.  Always felt like a big fat failure in workshops.  But at that reading, while the rest of the writing faculty sat there, stone-faced and at times, perplexed-looking, somebody was laughing in all the right places.  My Honors Family, and Chip Delaney.  Maybe we weren't so far apart on things, you and I, after all, Chip.

For me, though, at Temple, my Honors Family was where it was at.  I chanced upon the Graduate Assistant position.  One of the doctoral students had taken me and another creative writing student for a campus tour, because we'd gotten our scheduling with Alan Singer finished already.  We ran into Ruth Ost, who was the Co-Director of the Honors Program at the time, who said they were looking for a second Graduate Assistant (GA), and that the other student and I should both have our CVs to her that weekend.

I did, and was pleased to get an interview.  I had fun at the interview, but I knew the other student was going to get the job.  I'd worn a disastrous outfit.  I was just a girl from the country who had a lot of growing up to do.  That other student was polished, and classy, and so friendly, and the girls in the program would have LOVED him.  I was just out of my league.

Except.  Ruth called me the Friday before Labor Day to tell me they wanted to offer me the job.  What?  Did they MEET me?  Yes.

My Honors family- there's so much to be said about them. They all came to all my readings at Temple.  They'd help me practice for them.  They'd be my first readers, my sounding board, my soft place to crash.  They were all always there for me.  I hope I was at least a little bit worthy of their time and attention and genuine love.  I could go on forever about each of them.  I say that a lot, but it's true.  And I'll be writing more stories from Honors, down the line.  But, for time's sake today, I'll just pull out a few threads to show you.

Dieter Forster, at the time I was at Temple Honors, was the Co-Director, along with Ruth. Dieter's also a professor of Physics with a German accent-absolutely fabulous.  He'd ride his bicycle everywhere in Philadelphia, rain or shine, hot or slush.  It was Dieter who taught me how to learn Microsoft Excel.  I cannot begin to tell you how useful this is to know.  And nearly every day for lunch, Dieter would go to a specific Chinese truck and get beef and broccoli and regular Coke, not diet, because "I'm paying for the calories, so I'm going to have the calories, dammit!"

Dieter's wife Sammy, while not technically Honors staff, is as much a part of my Honors family as the people who worked at the office with me.  Sammy's an artist.  She makes and sells picture-books.  Actually, I don't think there's a kind of art she cannot do.  And it's all beautiful.  I bought a type writer from Sammy for $35, which she'd bought for $35.  She says when I get sick of it, she'll buy it back for $35.  I love Sammy!

Ruth Ost always taught Death and Dying as well as a class called "Art, Ritual, and Gender."  She was also the Co-Director of Honors.  One day when I was really struggling to get a story written, Ruth gave me a book by Anne Lamott called "Bird by Bird," and a lesson I learned from that book was instead of looking at the Whole Big Picture and not knowing where to start, just look through a one-inch frame, and write about that, then move to the next thing. It's served me well when I get stuck, and even when I'm not stuck.  Also, it was Ruth who told me my writing voice is "this Bitch-Goddess voice...OWN IT!!!" I've always loved that.  "Bitch Goddess."  Yes.  I DO own it!

Another thing about Dieter and Ruth as Directors- they let me work within my own strengths and really run away, creatively.  Working in Honors is the best job I've ever had, because of them, because of that freedom.  This was the right place, the right environment, the right people for me to be with at the right time, Honors.

Our secretary was Jackie, an extremely pleasant, extremely patient woman who greeted EVERYBODY with a big smile, even if she was having a bad day.  I'm not sure if Jackie ever had bad days.  We all do, so Jackie must have too, but you'd have never known it.  She could get people to do anything.  And she knew just what to say to someone who was having a bad day, to get them out of the Bell jar.  There should be more people like Jackie in this world!

Scott was the Assistant Director of Honors, and a few years older than Mel, the other GA and me.  So if Dieter and Ruth were the office parents, Jackie was the cool aunt, and Scott was the big brother.  He was ENERGYANDENTHUSIASM!!! personified!  And classy.  He'd never kick someone when they were down.  He'd always be giving them a hand.  On a field trip with Honors to the Dodge Poetry Festival, Scott was driving the school van when a tire blew on the New Jersey Turnpike.  He deftly steered the van over to the side of the road, and we all got out, unhurt, and wondering what the hell happened.  When we saw, we couldn't believe we were all standing there, unhurt, and that the van hadn't even had any paint scratched.  On 9/11, we all sat huddled in Scott's office, listening to the unfolding events on his radio.  I've met very few people as generous or enthusiastic as Scott.

Mel was the other GA, one semester more familiar than I at all things Temple, all things Philadelphia.  Mel and I went on many adventures together.  She was very much like a big sister to me.  We both went to division 3 schools for undergrad, and sometimes, we'd wear our undergrad sweatshirts for an us-declared D-3 DAY!!!  We were the only ones who cared about D-3 DAY!!! but we had fun nonetheless.  Mel did me a big favor and taught me how to navigate the subway!

We're all about a hundred years older now than we were in 2002, the last time we worked together.  It's amazing how fast things happen and how fast life changes.  We still get together every so often, and when we do, it's like we never left.

I still have nightmares that Alan Singer is going to show up and take back my Master's Degree sometimes.  And I still can't get enough of looking at the Philadelphia skyline.  I always loved that the two tallest buildings, the most prominent, are called "Liberty 1" and "Liberty 2." There's just something about that.  I was sad to leave my friends in the Honors Program, but I'd had about enough of Philadelphia, though, when it was time to move home.  It was good to be there, though, when I was.  I did grow a thicker skin there.  I did grow up some more.  I never would have had that opportunity if I'd stayed home, or gone home straight after college.

But we did move back home, and open a dental practice.  We've put down roots where our roots first grew.  We're here. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Where I Went, Part One

I went to Susquehanna University, in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.  At Susquehanna, more than professors were teachers.  I learned just as much outside of class as I did sitting in a classroom in Bogar, Steele, or Fisher Halls.  I was still pretty immature, all four years I was there, but I think overall, I did all right.  Wore my Sassy Pants way too much and my Humble Hoodie way too little, and yet, I was super-insecure.  When I should have exercised wisdom, I defaulted to smart-assery so as not to give myself away as a dullard... wisdom's one of those things that's earned usually, though, and usually earned by doing and saying a bunch of stupid stuff and then next time a similar situation presents itself, you make a different choice.  As with High School Me, I'm not sure if I met College Me, I'd like myself any better, but maybe this is just one of those weeks where my lowlight reel features more prominently than my highlight reel.  There were highlights at Susquehanna, things I'm really proud of, but when I'd not do or say the right thing or act with grace, those are the things I wish I could go back and fix.  They're the things that haunt me when the house is too quiet and I'm left to just think.

But like I said, it was a good experience, overall!  I learned from so many people!  I still have dreams where I'm back at Susquehanna University as a student, and they're so real, I can smell the gingko berries underfoot (not a pleasant smell!).  When I wake up and realize it's over a decade since I graduated, and I'm never going back there as a student, I've been known to weep bitterly.  I really did love it there.

I didn't go to Susquehanna planning on being a Writing major.  They didn't even have Creative Writing as a major when I was an incoming freshman.  So I opted to be a Public Relations major, because a book I'd read in high school said that PR was going to be big in the Next Century!  I had one class that first semester in the Communications Department, where the Public Relations emphasis was housed.  It was Public Speaking with a woman named Emily Anderson.  I'm so glad I got to take Public Speaking.  Everybody should.  That class has helped me speak with confidence at readings and in front of large groups of people.  A few years ago, the principal of my high school was in a pinch for a commencement speaker, and two days before graduation, in a Hail Mary moment for her, she called me up and asked me if I'd do it, that the original speaker had taken ill.  Despite having no qualifications to be a Commencement Speaker other than having commenced myself, I said, "sure," and did a pretty darned good speech with an adrenaline rush, but no stage-fright, no mic-fright.  The graduates didn't pay attention to a damn word I said,  but I didn't expect them to.  I heard from a few parents that they liked what I said and I said it well.  And that's Emily Anderson's doing, there.  First semester, Freshman year.  She was quite a character, that Emily Anderson.  She was of that generation that goes to the salon every week to have her hair done.  Even in sturdy high heels, she was less than five feet tall, and yet she commanded the room of us freshmen, who would have rather been anywhere but there from 3 to 4:05 on M-W-F, Fs before a break, especially.  She taught us to have confidence when we spoke.  The thing my friend Ann and I still talk about, when we get talking about Emily Anderson, is the car she drove.  It was a big dark blue Cadillac ElDorSomething.  Huge.  If you wanted to, you could divide that car into three equal parts- a spacious trunk, a spacious passenger compartment, and acres'n'acres of hood.  Each segment of the car was as long as the last.  And that tiny little Professor Anderson would come driving down the main driveway of the college, and go to the parking space that always seemed to be open for her, in the parallel-parking only area in front of the gym and nearest to Bogar Hall, where our class was taught.  Nine times out of ten, Dr. Housley's little red Ford Probe would be in the spot on the very end, the one where he'd just drive in and set the brake.  Somebody's Volvo was invariably in the spot at the front, where you could fudge the parallel parking if you wanted to, and especially just drive straight out after class.  But Professor Anderson always seemed to park in the middle spot, where you HAD to parallel park.  Now, I will circle the block until a pull-up spot opens up in my Jeep, which I think must be shorter from tip to tailpipe than her Caddie, and it definitely sits up higher, for better visibility.  We'd watch in awe as little Professor Anderson would slip her giant Cadillac into that parallel parking spot, slick as a whistle, first try, every try.

I switched my major from Public Relations to Creative Writing when my Writing Seminar professor, Jim Lee, announced one day before Fall Break that first semester, that the English Department had just created it.  Now, I hadn't really set the world on fire in Professor Lee's class.  He gave me a D on my first draft of my first paper.  I went into the Bell Jar, because of that whole immature, insecure thing.  What a bucket of cold water!  Somebody having the audacity to give ME a D on a paper!!!  And say that I wrote wordy, convoluted sentences and emasculated my verbs!  What did that even mean, emasculating verbs? Oh, how I hated Professor Lee!

Except, I didn't hate Professor Lee, and after a phone call home tuned me up, in which my parents told me to grow up and LEARN from the criticism instead of just calling it unfair and wanting to drop the class, I re-read Professor Lee's notes.  I took a deep breath and realized there was no fixing this paper, so I just started it the hell over, careful not to write convoluted sentences, really careful not to emasculate my verbs by taking away their agency and giving it to forms of the verb "to be."  In case you're not an English nerd like I grew up to be, I was addicted to the passive voice: "I was hit by the ball." "He was surprised by the our present."  "The freedoms were taken away by them."  Read those sentences and pity the poor, emasculated verbs.  Now see how it should be done: "The ball hit me."  "Our present surprised him."  "They took away our freedoms."  There's no subject-object entanglements in the second way.  There's no question who did what to whom.  So that was the first way I cleaned up my writing for that paper.  I ended up with either a B+ or an A- in Writing Seminar.  I know I improved even more than my grade showed.  I went on to take two more classes with Professor Lee: Journalism and Intro to Nonfiction.  I learned to be direct, and say what I mean and own my writing.  To "show, don't TELL!!!"  I'm glad I stuck with Mr. Lee, even after that first D, and I'm glad he put up with me for those three classes!

Dr. Karen Mura taught my "Autobiography" class freshman year, and also "Literature and Culture" sophomore year, and "History of the English Language" junior year.  I liked Dr. Mura and all the classes I took with her, but "History of the English Language" is my favorite.  I learned that for me, at least, it isn't enough to know what a word means, but to know where it comes from, its biography.  I also always admired her soft-spoken but rather powerful manner.  I've never been "soft-spoken" nor particularly powerful, and here, Dr. Mura was, all at once.

In Dr. Susan Bowers' "Study of Literature" class, which I took in the spring of my sophomore year, I learned for the first time how being literate is not the same is knowing how to read, and that with the right tools, a whole new world opens up when you read something.  I kept the textbooks from her class and used them not only for my remaining time at Susquehanna, but also those textbooks saved my bacon more than a couple times in graduate school.  I still have those textbooks, and I still reference them periodically.  I got only one semester with Dr. Bowers, but was it ever an influential one!

Dr. Rachana Sachdev was my Shakespeare professor, first semester senior year.  She reminded me in a lot of ways of Ms. Sitler.  Her class was demanding, a lot of work.  But before her class, I'd always treated Shakespeare as something of a deity: you don't mess with Shakespeare!  She taught us that there were no sacred cows, and to get into the text and get messy.  Tear things apart to see how they were put together.  Don't be afraid of going out in search of an answer and coming back with more questions.  This was as revolutionary to me as finding out that it was okay to write in my books!

Dr. Hans Feldmann taught Grammar.  I always thought of him as a teddy bear that could growl.  He looked all cuddly, but if you were sloppy with your work, would he ever let you have it.  But he taught me what a comma splice is, which is something I'd always heard bandied about (probably even in reference to my own writing), and I never knew what it was.  Are you curious?  It's when you put in a comma where it just doesn't belong.  Like this: it's when you put in a comma, where it just doesn't belong.  Once you know what they are, you find them everywhere, comma splices.  They sort of give me a little stroke, each time, too, especially if I see I've unwittingly done it!

Paul Klingensmith.  Mr. Klingensmith.  Before I even was in his class, I adored Mr. Klingensmith.  He looked every bit the English Professor.  Tweed jacket with leather on the elbows, white hair, big glasses, mustache.  He had a quiet demeanor and was unfairly billed as "dry" by some students.  He was quiet, and wasn't at all the flash-and-dazzle type, but you could learn a lot from Mr. Klingensmith if you listened.  Another thing about Mr. Klingensmith was that he smoked a pipe.  Vanilla Cavendish.  I'd follow him around sometimes, when he'd walk around campus, smoking his pipe.  I love the smell of Vanilla Cavendish.  He never let on that he knew I was there, but I'm pretty sure he did, because subtle is one thing I am not, and he was one to play along with any joke, his eyes bright and twinkling- yes, twinkling eyes!  Senior year, when I did my reading, Mr. Klingensmith came to it, as he did to every senior reading.  I sent him a thank-you note for attending, and he sent me back a long letter.  I felt that MY thank-you note was necessary.  That he sent back such a long letter in return was above-and-beyond, in my book!

Dr. Laurence Roth was always kind of an enigma to me.  Everybody called him "Larry," which in my head just didn't fit.  To me, a "Larry" cuts the arms out of his flannel shirts and has a mullet and drinks PBR piss-warm from the can.  Dr. Roth, as I think of him, was none of those things!  He was cool, and hip.  A hipster, I think, thinking about him now.  So maybe "Larry," with a nod and a wink to the guy with the sleeveless flannel shirt.  I don't remember being stellar in Dr. Roth's class, and I regret that.  It was spring semester, junior year.  I think I had the smartassery cranked up to eleven then.  I felt totally outclassed and inferior in Dr. Roth's class, so of course instead of buckling down and working harder, I was just a smartassy jackass in that class.  I wish I'd been better in his class, worked harder. 

Dr. Scott Manning was my Italian professor, and also my "Futures of the Text" professor.  I had a blast in his classes.  In Italian class, he helped us cook an Italian Feast (I was a disaster at the cooking part, but the language part, I did fine in).  In Futures of the Text, I wish that had been a whole semester-long course, instead of just seven weeks.  It was already an interesting subject, but Dr. Manning made it come alive.  I remember he had an e-book.  I think it was a Sony e-Book or some such device.  We all thought it was THECOOLESTTHINGEVER!!! and we all wanted one (they were prohibitively expensive at the time, especially for college kids), and we debated on whether or not e-books would ever take off.  We all said the e-book was a really cool idea, and would revolutionize college kids' lives, just in being able to have all the books you need for a semester in the palm of your hand!!!  But we still all preferred the experience of turning an actual page.  That first e-Book reader fizzled.  And then came the Kindle, and the Kindle App for iPhone, and so on and so on.  I would LOVE to be in Dr. Manning's Futures of the Text now, to find out where he thinks the text will go from here, because in the spring of 2000, what we have in 2012 seemed like it came straight from Star Trek.

Speaking of Star Trek, I cannot think of Star Trek (or Highlander) without thinking of Dr. Anne Collins Smith.  She was a philosophy professor who could make her subject come alive by using science fiction to illustrate philosophical thought, and make sci-fi that much more relevant by teaching her students to find the philosophy in the stories.  For me, she was my Greek professor.  I took Ancient Greek for six semesters, beginning in the fall of my sophomore year, and ending when I graduated.  Greek was my minor.  I didn't have to take it to begin with.  I thought it'd be fun, and the rest of my class thought I was nuts- they were all either philosophy majors or pre-Seminary students who were either required or strongly encouraged to take Greek.  I was there because it sounded like fun. And it WAS fun for me.  I took up Greek out of curiosity and because it sounded like a fun way to fill four credits.  I declared it as my minor and stuck with it because of Dr. Anne Smith.  I hope her students in Texas know how lucky they are to have her!  Professors, teachers, PEOPLE like ACS don't come along all that often!

Dr. Fred Grosse, a physicist, was pretty amazing.  I was in his astronomy class in the fall of my junior year, and it still is in the books as one of my favorite classes ever.  I had to work really hard in his class- it was one of the dreaded sciences, and physics, no less, and I was scared to death of the class and also because I was using Higher Math Skills I hadn't had out of the box since high school, but I worked at it, and this time around, if I needed help, I went straight to Dr. Grosse.  The big thing that struck me with Dr. Grosse was that he showed that you can have science and you can have faith, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive. 

I cannot think of "faith" without thinking of Reverend Raymond "Padre" Shaheen.  He'd been the University Chaplain before, and was the Special Assistant to the President while I was there, and my first semester, Padre was the Acting Chaplain.  I went to Chapel every Sunday when Padre was the Acting Chaplain.  Later on, when I worked in the Office of Public Relations and Publications, I was always running in to Padre, and we got to be friends.  I adored Padre.  He was just an all-around wonderful person.  I always felt as though when I was around Padre, I was in the presence of somebody who was touched by the light of God.  There was no feeling of being judged with Padre, no feeling ashamed of oneself.  There was just love.  Padre is the measure by which I compare any clergy I meet nowadays to.  It's probably against Padre's nature to be one to whom one compares others, but I can't help it.  Padre made a big impression on me and showed me you didn't have to be judgmental to have a strong moral compass; our chief concern around here is to love one another and let Someone Else do the judging.  He was a treasure.  That's all there was to it.  Padre Shaheen was a treasure.

I worked for three years in the Office of Public Relations and Publications.  I had my schedule set up so I worked every day.  I was a gopher, a johnny-on-the-spot. My people at the "PR Office" were just like my family.  I loved them all- Betsy, Karen, Gwen, Mike, Betse, Jenn, and MaryAnn and Brenda.  Betsy was very classy, and I knew that in order to work in her office, I'd need to step up my game.  Gwen was the Publications Manager, and I learned a lot from her, by osmosis, about graphic design.  Mike was the Sports Information Director, so I learned a lot about university sports from him, and also that coffee is rocket fuel, not to leave his file cabinet drawers in his office open and then wander off to answer the phone for Betsy, and if I wanted him to see a message, leave it in his chair.  IN his chair.  He's the only boss of mine for which that's ever worked.  Mike was ENERGETIC!!! and if you were going to work in his office, you had to be, too.  Best thing for a cloudy-headed afternoon was going in to work at the PR office. If we could all work in the same place again, I'd join up in a heartbeat.  Karen was my direct supervisor, and later Brenda.  From working in the PR Office, I learned important phone skills, and how to quickly and efficiently stuff and seal envelopes, and how to sweet-talk a surly Print Shop into jumping our Football Release to the front of the production line, and how to make double-sided copies, and how to fix a copy machine that's swallowed a slice of paper and gotten sick on it, and how to make a good, clean copy of a newspaper clipping.  I learned a lot more while working there.  I loved every minute of it.  The PR Office people were my Family at Susquehanna!

Senior year, Tom Bailey was my mentor for the second half of the year.  He really got me to hunker down and write a whole entire novel for my Senior Thesis.  Many have come along after me and written better Senior Thesis Novels, no doubt, but I guess I was the first.  Two-hundred fifty pages that I'd still be proud of today.  Tom encouraged me to pause in moments of my stories and develop some style instead of just going about the "caveman approach" to story-telling, where it's "and then this happened, and then this was next, and then..."  I am very proud of my work that I did with Tom, and yet I feel like I could have and should have done more, done better.  I can look back and point out spots in that semester when I phoned it in or defaulted to smartass instead of buckling down and doing Better.  I wish I could have a do-over.  The kids in the Creative Writing department at SU now are lucky to have Tom Bailey there.  He has this way of motivating you, of making you feel good about the work you've done, but kind of nudging you to do even better, to do even more, to be your best.  Even going on thirteen years after that semester, I still choose books to read with a thought to "what would Tom say about this book?"  I try to read my own work and criticize it the way he would.  I don't settle for the "loose, baggy monster" that's first to roll out. 

Dr. Gary Fincke was my advisor from the time I switched majors until I graduated, and he was also my independent study mentor the first semester of my senior year.  Like with Tom, Dr. Fincke (even though he signs off on all his emails to me as 'Gary,' I just can't call him by his first name- he'll always be Dr. Fincke!), he was very influential to me, and both of them deserve their own posts, or their own books of how they helped me be Better.  Even though it was Jim Lee who gets a lot of credit for making me clean up my writing before I even got to Dr. Fincke, it was Dr. Fincke who taught me to take criticism gracefully.  Also, not to fear revising.  I got really good at it.  I will never forget the time I was in his Advanced Fiction class, and I wrote this steaming piece of shit historical fiction for my story to be workshopped.  He'd always meet with you first, so you could clean up your story to present it for workshopping.  I went in for my meeting, and Dr. Fincke was sitting there in his desk chair, his one ankle resting on his other knee, with my story resting on his sneaker.  His hands were folded, and he had that look on his face that told me I should just save us both some time and snatch that story up off his sneaker and scamper off and start again, but he motioned for me to sit down.

"Well, what do you think of your story?" he said.  I could feel the uncomfortable 'I'm so wrong' flush filling up my face and neck.

"Um, I think it's a steaming pile of shit, and I will write something new and better and have it on your desk first thing Monday morning?" I said.  It was Friday afternoon.

"Email it to me when you get it done," he said.  "I'll meet with you Monday morning."


He tossed the story right in the garbage can.  Thank you, Dr. Fincke!  Then he started laughing.

"What possessed you to write that, anyway?" he said.

"I don't know," I said.  "I had nothing, and was watching the History Channel, and it seemed like it was better to turn in something than to come here saying I've got writer's block.  Shoulda gone for a walk instead, I think."

"Well... Genre Fiction is tough.  It's not what we're into here."

"I know.  I KNOW!  I won't do that again.  I'll stay away from the History Channel for story ideas."

Dr. Fincke and I had worked together enough that I knew he meant it when he said "no Genre Fiction," and he knew that if he told me to email him my story when I finished it, which was code for get it done ASAP, there'd be something in his inbox from me before the end of the weekend.  I didn't leave his office feeling awful, because he'd long ago gotten it through my head that criticism isn't to be taken personally.  I felt in kind of a panic, because I didn't want to wait until Sunday night to have something to turn in.  And it was Friday night.

I was at dinner with my friends Ann and Karen P. when the idea hit me like a ketchup bottle to the back of the head.  I rushed out of the caf.  Ann and Karen P. understood that when an idea hit me, I was crap for conversation after that, and we'd see each other at brunch the next morning anyway.  I got back to my room, and wrote well past midnight.  I read it over and sent it to Dr. Fincke before I went to bed.  It was a fifteen-page story about a county fair.

"Wow," Dr. Fincke said at our meeting Monday morning.  "I didn't believe it when I checked my email Saturday morning.  You are prolific."

I wasn't entirely sure if Dr. Fincke meant that in a good way or if he were just being tactful.  But he went on to say that I was a "fearless reviser," and that "with a little polishing, this story'll be a knock-out."

What-whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  Now, Dr. Fincke was no ogre, but you'd never get a whole A from him, and while his criticism could be harsh but fair, a compliment from Dr. Fincke wasn't just handed out like candy.  If he said something like "with a little polishing, this story'll be a knock-out," it meant he truly believed that if you did your work and tightened and tweaked, it'd be something.  He'd wouldn't tell you what you wanted to hear and wouldn't pass along something that wasn't up to spec, just to avoid hurting feelings.

It took all I had in me not to jump out of my chair and clap my hands.

"ThankyouDr.Fincke!" I said.  Dr. Fincke nodded and handed me my story, full of his ink marks and suggestions, so I could get it turned around and copied to hand out in workshop the next day.  We both knew that for me, a revision like that was a piece of cake.

"Relax a little!" he said, as I picked up my backpack to head home to get to work.

"Ha!  Have you met me?"

"Right," he said.

I was fortunate enough to get to be in Dr. Fincke's workshops all four of my last semesters at Susquehanna.  I was lucky to get to be one of his advisees.  I'm really glad that in my time at SU, I got to know Dr. Fincke both as a teacher and as a person.  Besides my PR Office family, when I think back to SU, the ones who really feel like family to me are Dr. Fincke, Tom Bailey, Anne Collins Smith, and Padre Shaheen.  It's things the four of them said to me while I was at Susquehanna that have gotten me over rough patches and through some dark moments. 

It hurt a lot to graduate and have to leave Susquehanna.  Those four years were ideal.  More grown-up than high school, but not really saddled with adult responsibilities yet, at least not the ones that come in Sams Club-size packages.  Couldn't ask for a better place to Grow Up.  But nothing stays green.  We all know this. 

Tomorrow, like it or not, we're goin' to grad school!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Where I Come From, Part Two

High School.  See me on the street and ask me if I'd ever go back, and I'd say "hell no!" and keep on walking.  That's the knee-jerk version, anyway.  The thing of it was, while I was there, in Grades 7-12, which was how our high school was set up, I had my good days and bad days, just like everybody else.  The thing we fail to realize when we're teenagers is that all of us are fighting our own battles.  The kids who seem to get everything they want, have everything they want, get the best grades, get all the great boys/girls, they're all fighting battles and struggles, too.  You see each other every day.  Most of the time, people like to keep it a "representative" of themselves that they see at school, but sometimes, the tempers flare, and things can get Turbulent. 

I guess upon further examination, if you asked me if I'd ever go back to high school, I still wouldn't want to.  Not really.  But I'd like to sneak back and have a little talk with myself about lightening the hell up, not being so uptight, not being such an ass, giving everybody else space to go through the same growing I was going through.  I'd tell me that ALL of us were wrestling with something, even just insecurity and hormones, but most of us had bigger fish than those to fry, and that stuff just compounded the other things going on.  I'd tell myself that things get better, that I, along with everyone I knew, we'd all grow into ourselves someday, and for the most part, we'd all become really good people.

Seriously.  I DO have quite a vivid memory, and sometimes, when the house is quiet, and I don't have anything better to do, a memory slips in where I was a complete horse's ass, where I didn't handle something right, where I could have been a lot more mature or nicer or less uptight.  I'm not sure I'd like the junior high-high school version of me.  I really am not.

Before I start on what my high school teachers mean to me, I want to say to everybody that knew me back then, I'm really sorry for being insufferable.  I know I was.  I had some real immaturity to grow out of, a sense of entitlement to have corrected, a dose of humility to take.  Make that a bottle of humility.  I think there were times I left wakes of ill feeling, and I'm really, really sorry about that.  I'm trying to be a better person now.  I'm trying to be more judicious.  And when I remember what a puddle of puke I was in high school, I really and truly thank from the bottom of my heart anybody who knew me then who still talks to me.  And for anyone who knew me back then and dodges out of the way to avoid me seeing you first, I get it.  I totally get it, and again, I'm sorry for being insufferable back then.

So I think that given the climate in which high school teachers teach, they really deserve a lot more respect than what they get.  They get us at that age when we start sharpening our teeth on the bones of the adults in our lives.  Our parents bear the brunt of it, and then our teachers have to deal with our rebellion, our poor attitudes, how we're ill-equipped to deal with stuff that fifteen years down the road, we remember and think "why'd I get so wrought-up over THAT?!"  And people are people.  In high school, really, personalities start coming out more, we get more outspoken, and there are true clashes, personality-wise between students and teachers.  I had my teachers I got along with better than others.  But I learned from every single one, and there's not a one of them I'd avoid to this day, talking to as People and not so much as a Teacher.  So here we go.

My seventh grade homeroom teacher was Mr. Ripley.  In high school, they did homerooms by last name, so it was never a surprise who would be in your homeroom, but your teacher could be kind of a surprise.  Mr. Ripley was the junior high "resource room" teacher, so I wouldn't have had an opportunity to know him, except for homeroom.  Mr. Ripley was really good about greeting each of us by name, saying hello to us in the hall.  He was good at small-talk, which is something I've always struggled with (and yet, I was always getting called out in elementary school for being overly chatty.  Hmmm.) He was really good about making each one of us feel important for a minute or two.  When I think of Mr. Ripley, the first words that come to mind are "good sport, good guy."

Mrs. Bloom was my Pre Algebra and Algebra I teacher.  She was a fun person.  I liked her as a person.  I hated Pre Algebra and Algebra I.  It was the stuff of my nightmares, and we played a lot of kickball in Pre Algebra and Algebra I those two years.  Kickball was also the stuff of my nightmares.  It was one of those situations where a brilliant teacher was having a couple of awful years.  I appreciate that now, and I understand.  One thing that's stuck with me that Mrs. Bloom taught me is a set of tricks for being able to tell at a glance what numbers will divide into another number.  Everybody knows that if the last number's even, you can divide it by 2.  And if it ends in 5 or 0, it's evenly divisible by 5.  But there's one for knowing if a number is divisible by 3.  You add up the digits, then divide the sum by 3.  If you get a whole number from dividing the sum of the digits, then the original number divides evenly by three.  Also, Mrs. Bloom was always saying she wished she could drop a Midol in the water and have all of us junior high girls drink out of the fountain.  It was funny when she said it, even back then, when we WERE in need of Midol.  Even in the midst of everything she was going through at the time, Mrs. Bloom still had a good sense of humor and a quick, contagious laugh.  And her tricks for knowing if a certain number is divisible by another saved me a lot of time on calculations when I took my pilot's written test, believe it or not.

Mr. Baker was our ninth grade science teacher, but only for part of the year, because there was something with certification, and the Grades 7-9 science classes got all jumbled up that year, and we ended up with Mr. Baker for only half a year, and then Mr. Bennett for the other half.  But I remember the giant Periodic Table of the Elements painted on Mr. Baker's back wall.  He was a stickler for calling "soil" "soil" and not "dirt," because "dirt is an invention by Madison Avenue to get you to buy soap!"  And also, "not all chemicals are toxic; water IS a chemical, and you drink it every day!  You need it in order to live!"  Mr. Baker was also a volunteer firefighter- he might still be.  I think it takes a really great person to do that, volunteer firefighting.  And he had really good stories from that.  Those stinky farm-pits (where farmers store the cow-poop until they spray it on the fields) were just a nuisance to me before I was in Mr. Baker's class.  But he told about how you could literally DIE from falling into one, and not just die of embarrassment because you fell into a pit of poop, but the methane gas could suffocate you.  I'm not really sure why it's THAT story that's so prevalent in my memory from Mr. Baker, but it is.  And then junior year, he was the lunch monitor for my lunchtime.  I had an early version of a Brita water filter, and he told me that those water filters were great for getting chlorine taste out of water, but they didn't do anything for microbes, so if I ever took my water filter out hiking, not to trust it to filter out any microbes that would be in any water I'd think to fill my water bottle up with.  That's stuck with me, too.  I'm an indoor girl and I don't "hike," but I've had a filtering water bottle along other places with water fountains, and if the water fountain looked skeevy, I'd remember Mr. Baker telling me "those filters won't do anything with the microbes that could be in that water!" and just shuffle right past those skeevy water fountains.

Mr. Wood was the guidance counselor.  He was always there to chaperone a trip, to head up a boy scout troop, he and his wife volunteered their dogs as pick-me-up animals at the local hospital, they themselves were volunteer firefighters, and members of the Potter County Clown Organization.  How fun is that?  To me, Mr. Wood was more than a guidance counselor.  He lived service.  I mean Service, with a capital S.

In Mrs. Fessenden's Home Ec classes in seventh and eighth grade, I learned that if you're having people over to your house for dinner, don't serve broccoli or other pungent vegetables that can make an unpleasant impression when they come through the door, and also, make sure if you're serving milk, that it's cold-cold-COLD!  I still use my recipe for Saucepan Brownies every so often, and I will always remember that the carambola is known as the "star-fruit," because of its distinctive shape.  The other night at Wegmans, I wheeled Zoe past the carambola in the produce section and told her the yellow fruits were called "star-fruit."  She clapped her hands and reached out.  I thought she wanted a star-fruit.  As it turned out, Shane was standing right there, and Zoe wanted out of the cart.  But still, I kind of wish I'd paid more attention in Home Ec.  It's kind of an important class, once you're out on your own, but it seems like that class is always one that gets pre-empted for achievement testing or other interruptions.

On the flip-side of Home Ec was shop.  Back when I was in school, Shop Class was still Shop Class!  We even got to use the real and dangerous tools.  Back then, Mr. Gamble was the shop teacher, and if you thought you were going to blow off shop class and not respect it, like maybe you'd blow off Home Ec and flirt with the boys at your table instead of paying attention, you had another thing coming in Mr. Gamble's shop.  Like I said.  We used real and dangerous tools.  A classmate of mine left part of his finger or thumb on the bandsaw.  Someone else had an unfortunate incident with the forge and suffered a burn to the hand.  And Mr. Gamble didn't let you off the hook for doing shoddy work in his class, just because you were a girl.  If you tried to turn in a project that had "half-assed" written all over it, he'd make you either try to selvage it, or start it all over again, from blank wood.  The thing I learned from Mr. Gamble was that even if you didn't want to be in a class, even if you didn't think you'd ever use in your life the knowledge of the workings of a drill press or sand-block, you have enough respect for your work to give it your best.  You don't make excuses for yourself.  You don't just phone it in, brush your hands off and call it a day.  You do your damn best.  Mr. Gamble's the guidance counselor now, and I know that especially with the college-bound students, he pushes them to Think and Do Big.

Mrs. Shirk.  Mrs. Shirk!  The larger world might remember Mrs. Shirk for her brief appearance on Survivor:Palau, where she was packaged as "Wacky Wanda," which I've always thought was horribly unfair to her.  Mrs. Shirk was my seventh and eighth grade English teacher (and is the mom of one of my BEST friends!)  That whole thing about "Wacky Wanda" and her indiscriminate and incessant singing is just a thread in her fabric that got plucked and blown out of proportion.  The REAL Mrs. Shirk taught with ENTHUSIASM!!!  every so often, she'd pull out the ukulele and treat us to a chorus of "Eatin' Hog Bellies with Stuffin' Inside!" but most of the time, she did her best to make things like grammar and spelling matter to us.  Besides the hog belly song, I bet there's not one of us who was in her class that can't recite what an adverb tells: "Who What Where When Why TO what degree, To what extent, and UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS?!"  A, an, and the are articles!!!  Besides that, Mrs. Shirk always cared very deeply for her students.  She would go to great lengths, even sacrificing her own personal dignity to get a point across and make it memorable.  She instilled a sense of personal responsibility in her students, urging us to think for ourselves, to be ourselves, to stay true to ourselves.  There's nothing wacky about that!

In seventh and eighth grade literature class, my teacher was Mrs. Wilcox.  I didn't think Mrs. Wilcox and I were going to hit it off, the third day of school in seventh grade.  I really didn't.  She had a system of "detention points" that you'd get for infractions ranging from minor to major, although for the Major Infractions, I think she just wrote you up for detention.  Anyway, three detention points got you a night of detention, and on the third day of school in seventh grade, I grabbed the wrong comp book out of my locker- so many comp books!  Only three minutes between each class!  Reading was eighth period! Wha-a-a-a-at?!  So, I realized too late that I'd grabbed the wrong comp book- I grabbed my math comp book instead of my Reading Journal (*stupid, stupid!*).  When I told Mrs. Wilcox, she scowled that scowl only a teacher can wield, and sent me to my locker to get my Reading Journal, but informed me that I had One Detention Point.  I was snuffly as I went and got my journal, and when I got home that night, I made sure I never made that mistake again.  My college friends always laughed at my propensity for color-coding, but there was a reason behind it- I clear-taped a different color construction paper to the spine of each of my otherwise identical manilla-colored "Modern" composition books so I would never again earn another detention point for bringing the wrong book to class! 

As gruff as she came off as being that first week of seventh grade, Mrs. Wilcox soon showed she had a wicked sense of humor.  I remember one time in our 8th-period 7th-grade reading classes, one of us girls got snippy with her- I don't remember which one of us, but I DO know it wasn't me- she'd put the Fear in me that third day of class and I minded my Ps and Qs in her room from then on- but somebody pulled an attitude with Mrs. Wilcox, and she rolled her eyes and intoned under her breath "well, excuse me all to hell, anyway!" and when my friend Danielle said "What was that, Mrs. Wilcox?!" Mrs. Wilcox cleared her throat and grinned and said "I burped."  Brilliant!  Another time, my friend Jeremiah had apparently had enough of his day, and enough of our five minutes of compulsory journaling.  And it was a day that Mrs. Wilcox was doing one of her random journal checks.  She stopped at Jeremiah's desk, picked up his journal, and read, "Dear Journal, today was a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY, very, very, very, very, very (....) long day.  The end."  Our whole class sort of took a collective breath, waiting for Jeremiah to get a Detention Point, but Mrs. Wilcox tipped her head back and laughed.  One day, she gave our entire class Wienermobile whistles and instructed us to play them.  Oh, you haven't heard Wienermobile whistles until you've heard a classroom of them whistling along in chorus!  I don't think it was for any other reason than that it was wintertime, and we'd all settled into the doldrums, and Mrs. Wilcox and the whistles shook us out of them!

It was in eighth grade that I had another disagreement with Mrs. Wilcox.  Nothing that caused a rift or anything.  But I did resent having to read Johnny Tremain.  It wasn't my thing, it was boring, I just didn't want to read it, and I wasn't going to!  Mrs. Wilcox told me I WAS, in fact, going to read the book, and she'd dare to bet that I'd end up liking it.  Well, I read it, but hated the ending, and I told her so.  "So write a new ending," she said.  And I did.  And I've been writing and re-writing my version for the last two decades, for no other reason than it's my safe place, they're my old friends, writing-wise.  Before that, writing never occurred to me as something that I wanted to DO, let alone that I was any good at.  In eighth grade, she sent me to the Mansfield Ready Writing Contest, and I went (with mixed success) every year following, through senior year.  It was from Mrs. Wilcox that I learned that writing was something that I could do, that I was good at, and that was kind of an escape from being an obnoxious teenager, a way into another world.

We lost Mrs. Wilcox too soon, in the summer between tenth and eleventh grade (for me).  She was fifty-six or fifty-eight, I think.  At the time, it seemed a lot older than it does now, but still too young. I think there might be more from Mrs. Wilcox, maybe another day.  But the kernel here is that I thought we weren't going to like each other, and she turned out to be one of the most influential teachers in my life.

In ninth grade, it was Mr. Parsell's last year of teaching.  He was a hold-over from when my parents were in high school.  In the Sixties!  Woah!  The first day of ninth grade (he taught history for ninth graders and Problems Of Democracy for seniors), he asked me if I were Gerry's daughter or Wayne's daughter, and I asked if my answer would affect my grade, and he said he didn't have to ask further.  I was obviously Gerry's daughter.  Mr. Parsell used a lot of colorful expressions.  "Shooting fish with a hammer."  "Lights out, the party's over."  "Goodnight, Irene!"  Looking back, he was kind of the Rick Jeanneret of Northern Potter, both for long tenure, and for the colorful turn of phrase.

Mrs. Walizer was a legend.  She was the librarian of the school from when it was built until a few years after I graduated.  That's over four decades.  When you went into the library to buy index cards, you'd tell her how many you wanted, and she'd pick up her deck of index cards, and I can't really describe the motion, but they'd kind of whi-i-i-i-ii-r onto the library table, and there would be the EXACT number of index cards.  I tried it once, when I was on her morning announcement crew, junior and senior year.  Index cards went everywhere.  She made me pick up every last one (rightfully so!) and make sure they were all lined-side up, with the top line at the top.  I still don't know how she did it.  She never missed!  The index cards never just clumped and spread all over like when I tried it.  Another thing Mrs. Walizer said, when we had seventh grade library class, was that she pulled the books out on the shelves so their spines were even with the edge of the shelf; that way, no dust would build up on the edge of the shelf (that you could see, anyway), and you wouldn't have to dust the shelf.  And that was good, because she said she "hated dusting!"  She was another of those teachers who could appear gruff, but then show a really wicked sense of humor, too.  I adored her, and not to take away from Mrs. Walizer's successor, or the current high school librarian (a friend of mine!), but to me, Mrs. Walizer will always be the once and future librarian of my high school.

Mr. Duperron was the Ag teacher, and I never took Ag, but I had a couple individual study halls with him when my regular study hall teacher had something else to do.  The Ag kids loved him.  I thought he was a funny little round man with mutton chops, and I was scared to death of him because I couldn't understand a damn word he said.  I didn't want to get thrown in the pokey for insubordination for not doing something Mr. Duperron told me to do, because I honestly didn't understand the words that were coming out of his mouth.  He was from some foreign country like Rhode Island, or somewhere.  Everything was "Dumas," (pronounced DOO-mas).  He'd send you down to the office for some Dumas Paper (what the hell?!- the secretaries would just smile in that way they would that all but said "bless your heart," and you KNOW what that means, and hand you a ream of regular paper).  If you weren't doing what Mr. Duperron thought you were supposed to be doing, he'd call YOU the Dumas.  Wha-a-a-a-aa-T?! When I was at college, I was telling my advisor about Mr. Duperron, and how everything and everyone was "Dumas," and stopped right in the middle of my story with a realization.  "Oh, my God!  Duperron called me a dumbass!  THAT'S what 'Dumas' was!"  And I just burst into laughter.  My advisor got a chuckle out of that, too, because I think sometimes, he would have liked to have a word like Dumas to throw at me.

Mrs. Kibbe was around to teach French (and German for the kids who opted for that language) for my ninth grade year.  I liked French class, and really liked Mrs. Kibbe's twisted sense of humor.  She had this thing about Peeps.  She suggested if any of our relatives had a Velvet Elvis painting, we ought to bite off half a Peep and stick the other half to the painting (to promote family harmony and good taste, I think).  She told us that the best way to eat a Marshmallow Peep was to open the package, and put it up on top of the refrigerator for a few weeks, so they'd get a little stale, and then they had a good crunch.  I tried it (of course!), and aged Peeps DO have a pleasant flavor and quality all their own, a little like the inside of a vanilla Oh Henry bar that you put in the freezer.  At Easter time, my friend Amy brought in enough yellow Peeps for the whole class, and Mrs. Kibbe pulled out a bunch of miniature French flags with wire stems, and we each impaled our Peep with the French flag and sat it on the windowsill.  The plan was that on the last day of school, we'd burn all our French papers and have a Peep roast. 

I think that someone must have gotten to Mrs. Kibbe and told her we were "that class," because one Monday, we came in, the Peeps were gone, and there was no more talk of us and open fire for the rest of the year.  She also pointed out one day that Ramie Solis and I were anti-establishment.  Ray was, because his Sabres T-shirt was sewn so it looked like he was wearing it backwards and inside-out, with the logo upside-down.  I was anti-establishment because I wore white shoes before Memorial Day.  I allowed as to how I thought it was Easter, and she correctly corrected me.  Noted, Mrs. Kibbe!  At least now when I break that rule, I KNOW I'm breaking it, and for that, I thank you!

Miss Hopple, who taught us how to type (on typewriters!) in ninth grade, was the business teacher, and also the soccer cheerleading advisor.  I was a soccer cheerleader!  I was a disaster at typing on the typewriters, and I was also a disaster at cheerleading, but I made kickass cheerleader-posters.  I'm proud of me for my posters.  But I remember Miss Hopple told us at a soccer game one day, that we could keep our canvas cheerleading sneakers white by spraying them with Tilex when they got all crudded up. And I used Tilex on many a pair of white Keds until I decided I needed a shoe that added about four inches of height to my meager height allotment.  But the Tilex thing works on other white shoes, as well.  And another tip from Miss Hopple was that when you got a new pair of dress shoes, put your biggest, thickest socks on and wear the dress shoes around the house for a day, to get them stretched out so they won't press and rub so many blisters.

Mr. Doud was a math teacher, but he taught the maths I didn't get to take.  Instead, he was my homeroom teacher in Grade 9 and also again senior year.  But senior year, I was on the announcement crew, so I was never actually in homeroom.  My locker was RIGHT beside Mr. Doud's door, though, so I had to mind my Ps and Qs.  Mr. Doud has always reminded me of Tom Hanks.  If they made a movie about Northern Potter, Tom Hanks would play Mr. Doud.  Also, for two different years, as my homeroom teacher, it was Mr. Doud who'd hand me my report card every six weeks, except for the one at the end of the year that got mailed directly home.  In ninth grade and in twelfth (all the grades, let's be honest), there was always a grade on my report card that was startlingly low, by my standards, and I'd hyperventilate.  I was *that* kid. And Mr. Doud would talk me down and tell me my parents WEREN'T going to kill me for the bad grades.  Always did it with a straight face, too, and looking back, what he probably really should have done is smack me upside the head and say, "these are good grades, Wynick!  Get a grip!" But he never did.  He'd let me have my moment of self-pity, then tell me I'd be all right and send me on my way.  Teenage girls need to be dramatic, and it was good of him to let me be.

Oh, Mr. Lynch.  He and I didn't get along.  It was ninth grade Algebra II, eighth period, a time when all us obnoxious teenagers should have been taking a nap or in gym class, not in a class like Algebra II.  It was hard for me to think heavy-duty after 1:30, and this class was scheduled right before bustime.  Mr. Lynch expressed his distaste for this at the beginning of the year, and then we pressed on.  In retrospect, he did the best he could with what he was given.  And I think a lot of our clash came from me Just Not Getting Algebra, and him giving me more credit than I deserved and thinking that "not getting it," and asking him to explain it again, different, was me being a smartass.  I know I could come off like a smartass at 14 when I didn't want people finding out how much of a dumbass I really was.  But one day, when we were working on Matrices, NOBODY in the class was getting the message.  And instead of all of us, especially Mr. Lynch, just banging our heads against the wall or floor or whichever hard surface was most punishing, Mr. Lynch did something pretty amazing.  He asked for help explaining it to us.  He left our classroom, went down the hall, fetched Mr. Kosa, and Mr. Kosa explained the magical, mysterious matrix to us, and we all did pretty darned well on that test.  So even though Mr. Lynch and I had our differences and to this day he probably thinks I was a smartassy dolt, I have to admire him for realizing that we'd all reached a dead-end together on the matrix, and that he needed someone else to help us get past that roadblock. It wasn't poor teaching.  I think that was a BIG lesson he taught us that day.  When you've gone as far as you can and don't know what else to do, the strongest thing you CAN do is send up a flare and let someone help you out.  That's a big, BIG important lesson, Mr. Lynch.  Thank. You!

Mr. Curry and my class have an interesting history.  He was our science teacher for seventh and eighth grade, and then was furloughed while we were in ninth, and came back to teach senior high science.  Mr. Curry and my class butted heads a lot, and Mr. Curry and I butted heads a lot (he told me once I was lazy, and I resented it... because he was right).  But the thing about Mr. Curry was that he had integrity.  He tried to make us "get it."  He gave us projects like building an atom, and he gave us "magic square" quizzes.  He advised us to think for ourselves instead of going along with mob mentality, something my friend Kim famously lampooned all the time, Mr. Curry's "You're born alone, you'll die alone" speech.  But he was right.  In the end, the only thing we have to go on is our own moral compass, because the thing about mobs is that over time, they tend to disperse and you're left standing on your own.  Mr. Curry is another of those teachers that I didn't always like as a teacher, but I always adored as a PERSON.  And to this day, when I have to study something, I use the SQ3R method: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review!  Hated it when I just wanted to plow through bio or chem homework, but it, and keeping obsessive notebooks, has never done me wrong.  For my college friends, it was Mr. Curry who got me on to making flash-cards!

Miss Barker was the girls' gym teacher for my first few years of high school.  She always let us do archery at the beginning of the schoolyear, as archery was one of her passions in life.  Even though gym class wasn't one of my favorites, Miss Barker was.  She had a sweatshirt she'd wear sometimes that said "Progress, not perfection," and I've always reminded myself of that when I slip up on something I've been trying really, really hard to get right.  She was our health teacher in ninth grade, too.  My friend Berb, on a vocab quiz in Health class one day, facetiously defined "starvation" as "living in Somalia," and Miss Barker marked it wrong but conceded that she admired Berb's sense of humor.  Miss Barker was always really upbeat in our gym classes.  And I still think it's pretty cool that she taught girls' gym how to shoot a bow.

Miss Brenner/Mrs. Bieser took over for Miss Barker as girls' gym teacher when Miss Barker left to pursue other things.  Miss Brenner's (that's how I knew her in school) approach to gym was different from Miss Barker's.  The first thing Miss Brenner did was teach us how to use the weights in the weightroom!  WOW!  She taught me how I could use weights to strengthen my quads and hamstrings, so my knees wouldn't be such weak spots.  For a little while, our gym classes were thirty-five minute-long aerobics sessions!  (Miss Brenner was an aerobics instructor, too!)  I couldn't walk at the end, but I LOVED it!  She once said that sometimes, when you're feeling crappy, instead of laying on the couch, get up and move, and you'll feel so much better.  It's so true!  And on the days when I kind of don't want to go workout at the gym, I hear Miss Brenner say that, and I think 'you know, she's right. Time to get movin'!"  And I feel so much better when I'm finished!

Because junior year, there were only 6 girls in my gym section, our class combined with the boys' gym class for most things, and senior year, we also did a lot of joint classes with the boys.  Mr. Burdick was the boys' gym teacher.  I didn't know him very well before junior year, and he was another one that kind of scared the crap out of me.  He took a lot of guff for it from the parents of the softer kids, but he graded gym class like he meant it, damn it!  (in those days, the thing that scared me most in the world was a poor grade)  I knew him mostly from watching him coach the JV boys basketball team on pep band night.  He'd get ANGRY!  And now he was pretty much my gym teacher!  I was done!  Except I wasn't.  I found out Mr. Burdick was actually a lot of fun.  He wasn't so much about having you be excellent at gym class, but he was all about having you be excellent at TRYING.  Mr. Burdick is the one that introduced me to hockey.  We'd play with the boys.  I think that's what you need to do.  Throw a bunch of drama queen teenage girls in with the boys for hockey in gym class.  If this happened regularly, say, once or twice a week, there would be NO drama!  None!  I went into gym junior year as one of the soft kids.  I got hit in the face with a floor-hockey puck, mauled by a hockey stick, creamed into a wall during a particularly rough game of basketball, and rode down a ski-slope on my face on our gym class field trip to Ski Denton (after that last one, I asked Mr. Burdick to point me in the direction of the bunny slope.  "Wynick," he said.  "You just came DOWN the bunny slope!  On your face!")  Much as I wanted to, during all those things, I didn't cry.  You don't cry when you take gym with the boys.  You don't cry, for God's sake.  No crying.  You get back up.  You take a breath.  You walk it off.  You get back in there.  I wasn't such a soft kid after eleventh grade gym.  Above everything else he ever taught me in gym or 11th grade health class, that lesson, 'get up and don't cry and get back in there!' has served me the best.  And also that you don't have to be excellent at everything, but you DO have to be excellent at TRYING.  There's no excuse for half-assery.

In high school, I was a "music major," meaning I was in band and chorus and all the special groups I could be in.  Not Show Choir, though.  I was not nearly coordinated enough to dance, let alone dance and sing at the same time.  Mrs. Galley, the chorus director, taught me how to breathe.  She taught us ALL how to breathe.  Sit up straight, and don't breathe from your shoulders.  Breathe from your diaphragm.  If you have to, lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent- we did this one day in chorus.  When you breathe, pay attention that your stomach rises and falls with each breath.  Get a feel for that.  Now do that while you're standing up.  And don't slouch, because it keeps you from breathing right, and also adds ten pounds to your middle.  I'll never forget that from Mrs. Galley.

Mr. Miller, the same who was the excellent sixth grade teacher, came over to the high school when my class did, and was the band director.  Mr. Miller made concerts fun.  He knew how to unwind a room full of nervy, wrapped-too-tight high school band kids.  He always wore a tuxedo to our concerts, an over-the-top velvet jobbie, with a bowtie and a ruffled shirt.  That alone was enough to make you grin (but somehow was EXACTLY what Mr. Miller ought to wear to a band concert!)  I still think, for my money, he shined brightest as a sixth grade teacher.  But he did make band fun, and I think I'd have the worst case of stagefright in the world if it weren't for Mr. Miller. 

Miss Valentine started out as my ninth grade English teacher.  She taught me creative writing and expository writing in tenth grade, and in eleventh grade, she became the school principal.  Before she was principal, she was the Student Council Advisor, and I was a fixture on Student Council all six years at Northern Potter.  There's so much that Miss Valentine taught me over the years, oceans of encouragement.  She was my first true mentor.  I mean Mentor with a capital M.  Not just with writing, but with just how to be.  I see Miss Valentine periodically- mostly when we do our annual school dental exams, and the school nurse PRAYS we get the exams out of the way before we find Miss Valentine, because once we see her, there's no getting a word in edgewise.  Miss Valentine and I pick up our conversation from the last time we saw each other, and it's like it hasn't been so long since last time.  As a teacher, she was dedicated and enthusiastic, and driven by a deep desire to give her students the best, to make them be their best.  As principal, she's no less dedicated and enthusiastic and driven.  And this isn't coming from blind adoration because I never found myself on the wrong end of one of Miss Valentine's dark looks.  Like I've said before, when I was in high school, overall I was one of the "good kids," whatever that means, but I had my moments of being a bitch on wheels.  And I'll tell you what, nothing let the air out of my tires like just a look from Miss Valentine.  If you've been on *that* end of that look, you know which one I mean.  Instant bowing of head.  Instant slumping of shoulders.  An "I'm sorry, Miss V," in a small voice.  Lesson learned.  I will be better next time!  I didn't get that look very many times in my career, because I hated feeling like I'd let Miss Valentine down. 

Mr. Donald Miller taught me French after Mrs. Kibbe left.  Mr. D Miller always talked to us like we were real people.  His was always one of my favorite classes.  Junior and senior year, I WAS the French class for my grade, so I got a lot of leeway, a lot of independent study.  I read Madame Bovary in French (my friend Berb was outraged that he made me read Madame Bovary- Berb had Madame Bovary confused with Lady Chatterley's Lover.  *red face!*)  He was one of my favorites, Mr. D Miller, because he never hesitated to call me out on my moments of bitchery and bullshit.  He didn't use those words, though. He would call me out, but before the conversation was over, he made sure I was out of the bell jar and that tomorrow was a new day.  When I started watching Family Guy, the Stewie character reminded me of Mr. D Miller.  In a good way. I like Stewie.  He has a dark and dry sense of humor.  That's Mr. D Miller to me.  And if you wanted to learn, he made sure you had the opportunity. 

Mrs. Garner was my study hall teacher in seventh grade.  For about a week.  I was chatty and social during what was a Study.  Hall.  She called me out for it, and I took up an extra instrument so I didn't have study halls.  We still laugh about that.  Besides study hall, Mrs. Garner taught us Computers in ninth grade, and tenth grade English.  She also taught Shakespeare and Journalism, and I don't know why I didn't take those classes.  They would have been right up my alley.  Mrs. Garner just hated Radio Shack.  Hated them!  And I don't know what she did to get herself banned from Radio Shack, but she was banned from Radio Shack, so she'd go stand just outside the store and wave at the Radio Shack drones inside.  To this day, that image makes me cackle like Woodstock from the Peanuts cartoons.  The most practical thing Mrs. Garner taught me, though, in tenth grade English, was the proper use of apostrophes and how to correctly pluralize things.  We also had to read a book called Follow the River in her class.  She read us the first chapter because she said if she didn't, we'd all throw down our books and never pick them back up because the first chapter was so violent.  It was.  I didn't like the book the whole time I read it.  It still isn't one I'd pick up again, but I think my life's a little richer for having read that book.  More importantly, I think that finishing something I started and wasn't wild about makes me a better person than if I'd just stopped reading the assigned book and swallowed the poor quiz grades.  Another form of integrity, that, I think.

Mr. Lander was our social studies teacher for seventh and eighth grade and then we were in his class for Problems of Democracy.  Boy, there's another class I wish I'd have taken more seriously, because look at everything that's gone on in our democracy since 1996.  I mean, WOW!  The thing that really stuck with me from Mr. Lander was that he was registered Independent.  At the time, most people around here were Republicans.  There were a few Democrats.  I thought it was crazy that Mr. Lander was an Independent.  He said it was because he couldn't agree with either party enough to side all the way with one or the other.  That's kind of lost on a bunch of seventeen year-olds who'd rather be doing anything besides talking about government, but it's something I've thought a lot about since.  I originally registered with one political party, but after years of giving it a lot of serious thought, when I moved back up home and needed to change my address again, I decided to switch parties.  To Independent.  Like Mr. Lander, I'd come to be more comfortable in the political gray area, choosing how I think on the issues for myself, instead of having my opinions passed down to me.  In his way, Mr. Lander was teaching by example to think for yourself.  Even if you don't get to vote in the primaries, and to understand why, as Indies, we do not get to.  What I wish is that Mr. Lander could teach an Adult Refresher Seminar on Problems of Democracy.  This time around, I wouldn't be skipping out on POD for class officer meetings and the like.

Mrs. Simonetti, the same one from the elementary school, came up to the high school, too.  She was our class advisor, junior and senior year, and I was always the class secretary.  As a class officer, we got to spend time with Mrs. Simonetti where she was more of a person than just "teacher" to us.  I know I say this a lot about teachers, but Mrs. Simonetti had a really fun sense of humor.  She made sure we kept our class prom classy.  She taught us how to get the wrinkles out of our graduation gowns (a steamer- never an iron!)  She braved us on our class trip.  She used to "tan," and she had a T-shirt that she'd wear that said "U Can Never B 2 Tan."  I'd always follow it up with "Yes I can, Nan!" (her name's Nan!)  It would double me over, because there was so much unintentional rhyming, and also because even back then, me being a redhead, tanning and I don't mix.  Too, she was pleasantly surprised when our class chose "I'll Stand By You" by The Pretenders as our song for the prom.  "The Pretenders?" she said.  "From MY day?" Teachers ARE people, too!  They have music from "their" days!  They get a kick out of it when their students find out they like the same music!

Senior year, Mr. Bennett taught us physics.  He also taught us, out of the blue, that if you're a girl, never erase the blackboard side-to-side.  Always erase it in vertical strokes, because you don't want to give perverted boys a free-show.  Random, but true.  He also had this complex where he wouldn't go to any of the basketball games for a while if the one he'd gone to most recently ended in a loss for our team.  He didn't want to be a jinx.  He'd pretend that a lot of our sophomoric, adolescent humor went right over his head, and then he'd sucker-punch us with a zinger of his own when we'd least expect it.  He got a new red Blazer right before school started our senior year, and while the weather was still nice in September, he decided to teach us about momentum and acceleration by taking our class (there were only 6 of us) on an impromptu field trip to Tastee Freez in Coudersport for ice cream.  That wouldn't happen these days, but that's why I'm glad I grew up when I did.  It was fun to see Mr. Bennett so gleeful.  Gleeful.  That's the word that I think of when I think of Mr. Bennett.  Sly grin, dancing eyes.  Also, 'mad scientist,' in the best possible way.  If Harry Potter were real and Mr. Bennett were in it, he'd be the one to invent and manufacture the Marauder's Map, I just know it.

When I was in school, she was Mrs. Hopkins.  By the time my sister got to senior high English, she was Mrs. Coyle, but a rose by any name is still sweet.  Mrs. Hopkins was the quintessential English teacher, I've decided.  She was kind, but her kindness was not to be mistaken for weakness.  When there were boys who didn't like to read in our class, she'd suggest to them that they try Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair.  I've never read it, but she mentioned it so much, I think I ought to.  She really tried to make sure that everyone in the class was engaged in the subject.  She'd been Mrs. Wilcox's best friend.  In eleventh grade, she had us do a project where we went into the woods and became "the transparent eyeball" the Transcendentalists were so fond of.  It was around Thanksgiving break time, and I did go sit outside, in the woods, and become the transparent eyeball.  That one English assignment really changed my life.  The point of it was to observe without interfering, without calling attention to yourself.  There are lots of times in real life when you need to observe without interfering, without calling attention to yourself.  There are even more times in writing when you need to do.  Mrs. Hopkins always encouraged me.  As my student council advisor the year I was president, she let me go off on my whims, no matter how ill-advised, and I learned lessons that way.  By falling on my duff when I needed to. And when I'd get mired down in self-pity, which was kind of my thing in high school, Mrs. Hopkins was there with a pat on the back, a "there, there," and then a good brisk shove when it was time to move out of it.  I think Mrs. Hopkins was one of those universally-beloved teachers.  She was definitely an example to me of how to be.

Mr. Kosa.  Geometry, Trig, and Calc.  The three Wicked Sisters, as far as I was concerned.  I didn't have a "math brain," but somehow I managed to stay in the High Maths until the bitter end of high school.  I got through it, and that's in no small part due to Mr. Kosa's teaching ability... and patience.  I remember one standoff with Mr. Kosa, where I was spazzing out about not being able to get trig, and I whined that I didn't get it because I was stupid.  "You're not stupid!!!"  he nearly shrieked.  "You're just lazy!!!!!"  That made the air leave my lungs.  There was no smartassy answer for that one, because boy, had he hit the nail on the head on that one!  By the eleventh grade, I'd developed this poor habit of just hanging something up if I didn't naturally get it.  A piss-poor attitude to have.  Definitely the wrong one to have in Mr. Kosa's class. 

Mr. Kosa valued and respected hard work and had little time for excuses.  He was tough, but it was more a tough-love thing.  He's say things like "You're not stupid!  You're just lazy!" because he wanted us to be our best, not because he loved being an ogre.  Not all medicine can be effectively given with a spoonful of sugar, and even though it would make me knot up inside, and spit blood at times, I really respect Mr. Kosa for knowing when the sugar isn't going to cut it anymore and letting the straight-up medicine fly.  Another day in trig, he reached the end of the line with our blank stares, and shouted "Math is not a spectator sport!  If you're here to spectate, then you can pay a dollar at the door to just sit here!"  Thing is, when I tried paying a dollar the next day, so I could just spectate, he gave the dollar back and growled that "I was kidding, April!!!"

There could be a whole book on Mr. Kosa, and in fact, I think he should write and market a book of his own, even one just full of his sayings.  My favorite was "This makes me mad enough to stomp on baby chicks!  This just FRIES me!"  My friend Berb's favorite is any of the quotes about staying out of the Free Cheese Line.  He should do that.  In the meantime, for my purposes here, I've got to say that besides all the straight-up medicine, like calling me out for being lazy when I absolutely was lazy,  there was a lot of laughing that went on in Mr. Kosa's classes.  Things most certainly got Intense.  But he did this thing where when he saw ALL of us had had Enough for the day, he'd change the subject, bring us back off our cloud of steam.  There were some days when we'd all get laughing so hard in Mr. Kosa's class, our sides would hurt.  After I'd graduated, my sister was in his calculus class.  She also played basketball.  She wasn't a basketball star.  She WAS a math star.  She got ten varsity points in her whole basketball career, and Mr. Kosa baked her a cake for her ten varsity points.  It wasn't to belittle her, but it really was to celebrate those ten points, even if it was in a tongue-in-cheek way.  I thought it was one of the coolest things I'd ever heard.  Colleen had fought for those ten varsity points, and Mr. Kosa, a basketball coach himself, was acknowledging that.

The big lesson I learned from Mr. Kosa, he wrote in my senior yearbook.  "You don't have to apologize for everything, just some things."  I used to apologize for everything.  I've become more judicious about the apologizing.  Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself seriously.  That, and I know I'm not stupid, and every time I feel like being lazy and phoning something in I shouldn't just phone in, I hear Mr. Kosa yell at me "Don't be lazy!"   That is something that someone like me needs to have stitched on a pillow.  Or across my forearm.

Mr. Kibbe taught us tenth and eleventh grade history and Senior Selected Topics.  In an age before The Tudors, he could get kids by the classful to remember the names and order of Henry VIII's wives, and how each was un-wifed.  He taught us how to look for and remember details.  He was already famous for his Current Events assemblies, a kind of high school quiz-show style head-to-head to see which class's team knew the most about Current Events.  He later expanded into Jeopardy assemblies.  When I was in school, Current Events happened twice a year, and Jeopardy once.  Each was an EVENT, enormous undertaking.  They were epic.  And a lot of fun. 

Mr. Kibbe's energy is what really always has stuck with me.  Mr. Kibbe is another one that could have a whole book to himself, and he's the quintessential "Dad," I believe.  But what always amazed me about Mr. Kibbe was that he worked all day at school, would ref volleyball and basketball, depending on the season, and then get up at 4 in the morning to tend to his family farm.  "I like to get up that early in the morning," Mr. Kibbe would say when we'd ask him why in the heck he'd get up willingly at 4 am in the morning.  "I like to breathe the air before anybody else does!"

When I was in college, I'd get up at 5:30, which is ungodly early for a college kid.  And when people would ask me why, part of it was because I didn't like to be hurried around in the bathroom, which turned into Grand Central Station around 7:30, 8:00, and also, I'd say what Mr. Kibbe always would say.  "I like to breathe the air before anyone else does!"

These people were my family, all of them.  You don't go to a school for six years and expect to just walk out the doors a last time and not have it feel like you've had a limb taken away for a while.  That feeling hit me hard, right after I stepped off the stage a last time at graduation.  I was leaving and I wasn't coming back.  All these people, who'd acted as stand-in parents during the school day, friends, I wasn't going to come back in the fall and get to see them every day.  I could always come back and say "hey," but I couldn't expect to disrupt other kids' time with these teachers.  And coming back and saying "hey" wasn't at all the same as being there, day-in, day-out.

I think high school teachers are especially great people, given that they have rather hostile working conditions, by nature of their pupils.  Half-formed humans running around thinking they have all the answers.  Won't be told anything.  I feel very lucky to have had so many teachers who could get past that, and teach me before I swam off to a bigger pond. 

Tomorrow, I'm taking you to college with me.