New shoes


Yes, that one.

I know I’ve mentioned that my sophomore class is a new prep, and that I’m teaching some texts I’ve either never taught before (The Canterbury Tales, in a fairly inert translation), or never taught in high school (Macbeth, awesome as always).  We’re about to embark upon a great English epic…by a writer who was a child when Shakespeare died…I’m sure you know the one I mean.

Until a few weeks ago, I had not opened this book for about 25 years.  I spent maybe six weeks on it in a college class in which I failed to be enchanted by it, and that’s all.  I know some of the writer’s shorter poetry, but I’d never gone back to this.

Come to think of it, this is where I was with the Odyssey when I came to SA–they had read the first eight books when I got there, and I had read it in college but not given it much of a thought since.  By the time I stopped teaching ninth grade, I’d read it maybe six times and come to love reading it with that level.  I am actually a little more ashamed of not knowing PL better, given that it’s a major English poem, than I was of not remembering the Odyssey that well.  (We read the Fitzgerald translation in college, but I fell in love with the Robert Fagles translation we use at SA.)

It’s awkward knowing that this will probably be my clumsiest pass through PL, but exciting, too.  I’m really going to get to know this poem–or at least, at first, the parts we have them read.  I’ve been reading and preparing, and thinking about which paths in I want to take with them; I’ve also been reviewing materials prepared by Lucinda, Dinah, and even things that Viola (now working at the place that made her the offer) left behind on our shared drive, and I’m totally going to cannibalize Dinah’s PowerPoint, but I’ll be doing a lot of inventing as we go along, too.

I did finish grading all my exams yesterday, which has made today much, much more pleasant, although I did have to chime in on an issue that Orsino and Lucinda were dealing with on the matter of curving their shared multiple choice section.  And with the end of my one-semester overload, I get an extra free period this semester!  It’s just a case of dropping back to my regular workload, so I’m sure it will soon come to seem normal, but for a week or two, at least, I expect to savor it.

In the unlikely event

So it looks like for the first time, I may actually surpass, not just meet, my own grading plan for exams!  We have January exams (that’s a whole ‘nother story); last year I actually stuck to a schedule for grading them, and this year the whole schedule thing has been feeling even more urgent, since the English exam was scheduled late in the exam week (also a whole ‘nother story) and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for getting it all done.  Ivanhoe indicated that he’d be willing to extend the deadline for filing grades for us, but at the time, we all felt that that was not really a solution, given that we are beginning the new semester at the same time–much better to get it done.  I encouraged teachers to consider revising exams to streamline grading, maybe taking out short answers or other small pieces that are worth less and add to total grading time.  As long as we’re assessing what we think is important to assess, we are not stuck with any particular exam format.

So on Friday I received 68 exams and immediately went into action.  The Snork Maiden was celebrating the birthdays of two friends, so I stayed at school and started organizing–ran the Scantrons for the multiple choice sections, tidied up the electronic gradebook so that it was ready to calculate semester grades when the exam grades were added, and so on.  There’s a new electronic gradebook (wow, is that a whole ‘nother story!), so this was a bit of a task.  I was interrupted a couple of times by Orsino and by a flurry of emails about an eighth-grade student issue, but I managed to buckle down to my one-semester senior class (the overload, also the smallest class) and grade that.  Then on Saturday, I went to campus and spent about five hours (not counting more Orsino interruptions) to grade my two tenth-grade classes, except for three exams for students who have a learning accommodation to write their multiple choice answers rather than bubbling them in on the Scantron–I was bleary enough at the end that I decided to leave those for today.  (I was also feeling a little sick–headachy and flushed–though I feel fine today.  I did get my period and am now wondering if those symptoms could possibly have been hormonal rather than viral.)

Grading on campus, as long as I don’t get interrupted, seems much better for me these days than grading at home.  I’m going in again today, with the plan of grading my two remaining senior classes (the AP ones) and those last three sophomore exams, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to–it’s just about the same number of exams I did yesterday, and I will probably have the place mostly to myself.  Last year’s estimate of 4-5 exams per hour seems to hold true, including organizing and recording time–if I am just plowing through exams, I can go faster, but that’s only under the best conditions and after getting a feel for the range of ways students have responded to the essay. And I still need breaks, which are not included in the estimate.

If it all goes well, I will not grade on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and I’ll be able to go to a friend’s party without remaining exams hanging over my head.  The thought of how pleasant that would be should serve as a good motivator for me today!


Tiny beautiful things

Mazel tov to What Now?, who converted to Judaism on Wednesday!

My happiest moment today was when Lucinda came in after school to tell me that she and her husband decided that they’re not going to leave the area when he retires from the military this year and that she’d like to stay at SA for at least one more year.  Sweet!  With Olivia returning from maternity leave, it is possible that we won’t need to hire this year, but of course it is way too early to tell.  I know of at least two teachers who would like to have a baby and one who will probably go to grad school at some point–and those are just the most obvious candidates for change.

My second-happiest was reading some short personal essays responding to Hazlitt’s essay on Hamlet–in a few students the assignment seemed to evoke a particularly thoughtful and genuine response, and these were students who are not usually the most eloquent about literature.  I might want to play around with more short essays like this–more mindful of an audience than journal entries, more freedom to use a personal perspective. I do need to write that rant about the word “relatable,” though.

I wanted to go to yoga tonight, but I think I’m just too tired.  I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep since we started back to school.  Every day has been a solid block of prepping, teaching, grading, and meeting–except I did get to take 35 minutes for lunch with colleagues on Tuesday and Wednesday. I submitted my first residency application, and I have worked on the book every day in January.  I have work to do before class tomorrow, but I think an early night followed by an early start is my best plan for getting it all done with some measure of serenity.  Yoga-induced serenity will have to wait for tomorrow.


The first day back after winter break was a bit of a shock to the system–one forgets how much energy it takes to be among so many people!  Lucinda wryly observed, “This is harder than sitting in my living room in sweatpants, playing with my two-year-old.”  Yeah, this was harder than lying around reading and occasionally going to a yoga class, writing poems, doing a bit of housework, and all the other things I did during the break.  But we’re up and running now.

The first summer application is nearly ready to go–it’s the paragraph about the current project that I’m not happy with, but I’ll get there.  I might have finished this evening except that I spent forty-five minutes on the phone talking down a worried relative who is a parent of a high-school senior who is freaking out over college stuff despite already having a couple of great acceptances to schools that are hard to get into.  Really feeling frustrated about the way that kids and parents get caught up in the college admissions frenzy.  Realistically, kids at this student’s school, like kids at SA, get good preparation and good advice, and they all get into multiple schools and have good choices–they are very fortunate by any measure.  But some of them–some of the very strongest students–define success as this or that Name School and in their minds everything rides on that.  This student could be happy with her acceptance to a school that rejects over 85% of its applicants, but she is in anguish over the possibility of not getting into a school that rejects over 90%.

It just seems like such a waste of emotion. But of course I am not 17.  I am much older and I have applied to so, so many things.  I’ll send this one off and I’ll dream about it a bit, but mostly I will focus on other things.  If I get it, I’ll be thrilled (and panicked about logistics).  If I don’t get it, I will sulk for a day and be done.

And I know that teachers at places like SA are somewhat complicit in the whole dynamic–but truly, I believe that kids should go where they will thrive, and I define college admissions success as finding the right fit that you can afford.  I try to hit the exact same notes of congratulation and excitement with the kids who tell me they got into Podunk College as with the kids who tell me they got into Fancypants U.  And in fact it comes naturally–I can see certain kids will blossom at PC who would be lost at FPU.

I hope that I look at this post in a year, when the Snork Maiden will be in the thick of it all, and feel the same…


But why should I be dragging my feet so much about completing applications for summer residencies?  I will do myself the courtesy of assuming it’s not pure laziness.  Something is snagging me and if I think I know what it is, I can move forward.  (I have about two hours left this afternoon before I have to venture out to run a couple of errands on the way to pick up the Snork Maiden.)

Possibility: Is it long-shot-application syndrome–the reluctance to sink time and effort and commitment into applying, knowing that the odds are against getting it?  That’s often been in play, but the process has paid off a few times–not in the last several years, true, but enough that I know that the long shot sometimes finds its target.  Still, it’s not pleasant to get all worked up over something when you know the odds are against it.

Course of action: Focus on what’s in my control: completing the application as well as possible (and on time, of course).  Small, manageable goals (I already have a checklist of tasks: update CV, revise statement, etc.).

Possibility: Am I avoiding the never-psychologically-comfortable condition of explaining why I am so very deserving of these opportunities, how much I need the time and peace they provide?  Poor-mouthing is unpleasant, but necessary in this process to some extent.  And I know I’m never satisfied for long with one narrative of my life–there’s always some part of me that knows there’s more to the story, another way of telling it.

Course of action: Treat it like any other writing task.  Think about this audience, this story. Make the best case for why, this time, it should be me.

These seem like the two most likely roadblocks–I really can’t think of any others right now unless you count the problem of sitting, and that is addressed by stretching and standing.  All right, here we go again.

To begin where I am

And today has been my second-most-productive day of the break, which is not saying a lot, you understand, because it has not been a wildly productive break, but it’s been very pleasant and there has definitely been progress on book #3.  I am really enjoying the process of writing this book, when I’m not confused and frustrated by it–which is to say, maybe 20% of the time, which isn’t bad.

I can’t remember if I have mentioned before that my first book was written as most first books of poems are–you write poems for years, thinking about each one as an individual artifact, and then at some point you spread them all over the floor and try to figure out if there is a book in there somewhere.  A few poems, the last ones, were written to fill in what seemed to be missing pieces, but most of them were ens causa sui, if I’m using that phrase correctly–written for no other cause but themselves.

My second book, which I have just sent out again–it is under submission with five different contests–was written quite differently.  I thought of it as a book from the beginning; although there were definitely poems that came forward to be written that needed to be worked in to the overall pattern (and a few that never seemed to fit), I was also aware that I was writing a book as I worked on it, and I enjoyed that.  I just made a few minor edits to that one in preparation for sending it off again, and I feel satisfied with it.  I wonder when it will finally find its publisher.  I do need to look ahead and figure out where it goes next–some more contests, yes, but possibly a few publishers that look at manuscripts outside of contests as well.  I’ve done that a few times and had some friendly responses.

Now this third one seems to have a center of gravity that neither of the other two had.  I’m not sure if that’s more reflective of the project itself, or of me, how I’ve changed as a writer.  Though so much about writing unsettles one’s confidence, there’s something confidence-building about having published one book and completed another (however long it takes that one to find its way to print).  On any given day, there’s as much uncertainty as ever, but underneath it, there’s a certainty that wasn’t there before, that what I’m writing is a book.

And yet–sometimes there’s also the effect of reducing the gravity of any individual poem.  I see it partly in terms of its function in the book, which was something I did less in book #2 and only at the end of writing book #1.  I don’t love that–because part of my process has always been to get closely, obsessively focused on the individual artifact.  I feel relieved when I look up to realize that I have managed to come into that state of intense obsession, and troubled when I have moved through several drafts of a particular poem without getting there.  Then I have trouble believing in the poem.

So you can see how I might spend 80% of the time in confusion and frustration.  But hey, I’m working.


Writing a bit about it seemed to help in getting unstuck.  I ended up having the best work day of break so far.

Now I need to turn my attention to finishing a few applications for summer things.  See you in the New Year, and best wishes for 2016!


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