...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Monday, July 30, 2007

Guinea pigs and tzaddikim

I was frustrated almost to tears today as I closed up my classroom and prepared to leave school. My hands were shaking as I took off my apron and stuffed it in the cupboard (we’re required to wear aprons, which maybe doesn’t make sense until you realize the frequency with which you will be handed special woodchips to save, and Legos, and how it really is a good idea to always keep a pack of Band-aids and a rag on hand, and you come to appreciate the extra pockets, even if sometimes you end up holding some kid’s soggy, sandy socks or used Kleenexes). I mean, my frustration was really not commensurate to the stimuli. I didn’t want to mop, I didn’t want to sweep, and I definitely didn’t want to clean out the guinea pigs' cage—but it hadn’t been done for a week, and the little guys were whistling at me to muck them out, so I got down on my hands and knees and started scooping their soiled shavings into the trash.

A few minutes later I gathered my things and left the class to sign out for the day. The time cards are kept by a shelf next to the school’s kitchen, and as I was signing out, T, the afternoon dish-washer, caught my attention. “I read your biography,” she said. A few paragraphs about our personal interests, education, and background are printed outside our classroom doors. “And I have a question about religion. Is it true that, in some Jewish communities, the rabbi is such a central figure, and is respected so much, that it’s like he’s an intermediary between the community and God—like getting the rabbi’s answer to a question would be just like getting God’s own answer?”

It was such an unexpected question, and it made me so happy. For the first time since defending my thesis, I got to use words like Hasidic, tzaddik, and rebbe. I got to talk about the differences between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. I wanted to name-drop Weber, but I didn’t. It struck me that it was such a funny juxtaposition, coming out of my classroom with guinea pig poo on my hands, practically, and getting to talk about Judaic Studies; and a fitting parallel for the day two months ago when I defended my thesis before the Religious Studies department then left campus and jumped on a bus to North Portland to interview for my job at the preschool.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sometimes you feel like a nut

Sometimes you're in the mood to read a book like The Man Question: Visions of Subjectivity in Feminist Theory, and sometimes you just wanna read Mafia Princess: Growing up in Sam Giancana's Family.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I just got back home from Powell's--it's crazy!! There are several hundred (thousands? I'm not great at estimating large quantities) of people wrapped around the store, waiting until 12:01 am, when the store will begin selling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At least a third of those people were in costume. There were face painters, tarot card readers, vendors; a news truck had pulled up and blocked off 11th and Couch. Actually, all of Couch between 10th and 11th had been blocked off from traffic and was jammed with people.

I was there just to see what was going on--I'm not buying a copy and I won't have a chance to read it until after August 4, when my brother will pass off our family copy to me (he and my dad are coming up that day to help me move). Realistically, at least some elements will probably be spoiled by then, but I'm going to try to do as much as possible to avoid spoilers--so if you've read the book, don't tell me anything!!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Party's Crashing Us

Check out Daniel's new blog, linked here and in the sidebar. I'm also adding a link to Passive Aggressive Notes--having been both author and recipient of passive aggressive notes, the site has quickly become one of my daily reads, although the comments get irritating quickly. I've also added a "Currently reading" thing right below my profile.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Two years ago / hace dos años atrás

Two years and a day ago I hadn't finished packing by the time we needed to load up the car and head to Portland, where my family and I were going to spend the night before my flight to Chile the next day. I also hadn't called to confirm my airline reservations and double-check the flight time, something I should have done a week earlier. I threw the overflow clothing, toiletries, and books I was sure I would have time to read over the next six months (I planned on mastering Rilke's complete body of work; I also was positive, for some reason, that I was going to read Anna Karenina) into plastic trash bags and we tossed them in the back of the car. I was frustrated with myself for not having packed earlier and better, stressed about the rush, and scared out of my mind about the next six months. I double-checked the flight time from the phone in the hotel lobby and took a bath.

Two years ago, my family dropped me off at the airport and we said good-bye. I met Mariah at the terminal (each of us had forgotten the other's name) and we sat making tentative small talk. Carla, Mariah and I rode the air shuttle at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and we talked about Amelie; I remember the relief of feeling like I had found two friends. A day or so later, Carla, Jon, Alisa and I all sat together in the dining room of Hotel Bonaparte in Santiago, and conversation and laughter flowed so easily that I felt that I would be okay if these three people were the only friends I made in Chile. Thankfully, that was not the case.

It's strange for me to think that I left for Chile two years ago. At the time, six months in a foreign country seemed like such a daunting undertaking that I couldn't imagine life on the other side of those six months. Sometimes when I was travelling, or talking with Ronald or Daniela, or just walking down the street or riding the bus, I would be overcome by the strangeness and wonderfulness of it all. I would think, "This is me. I'm doing this right now. This is happening in my life," simultaneously stepping out of the moment and trying to horseshoe myself back in. Now, two years later, looking back on my photos, I have to remind myself, "You did that. You were there; you took those pictures." I can hear the Chilean inflection in my Spanish when I talk with my Guatemalan co-teacher, and I will always call a strawberry a frutilla instead of a fresa, yet it seems, still, like a dream. I can't remember exactly how good cazuela, or a warm sopaipilla tasted, and sometimes my Spanish feels slow and heavy, like I'm speaking underwater.

In January, I sobbed when I left my host family's apartment for the last time, carrying my five-year-old host sister up the stairs of the complex so we could say good-bye. As six months earlier, packing had been rushed, and a nightmare; the handles were popping off the enormous overpacked black suitcase I had bought on the cheap in Buenos Aires and hauled all through Uruguay and Argentina. I was wearing several layers to carry as much as possible on my body, and sweated in the mid-summer (since the seasons are reversed) sun. My family's nanny and I kissed good-bye for the last time, and I was gone. The end was as rushed as the beginning.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Let it not be said that working at the preschool is nothing but hugs, snuggles, art projects, and bon mots, all "Kids Say the Darndest Things"-style. It can also be frustrating, nauseating (it's difficult to maintain a neutral face and positive tone of voice while cleaning up a kid's poop accident), and frenetic. Today was record-breakingly hot and, as the kids noted during afternoon snack, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so we all had to put on sunscreen before we went outside. I sat down with the sunscreen basket (each kid has their own tube, as per their allergies and parents' preferences, etc) and was mobbed by outstretched arms and legs. Kids who got their sunscreen on first ran around in a frenzy, yelling and yelping despite reminders that "Inside the classroom, we use inside voices." My co-teacher Charley was cleaning up from snack, so he couldn't take a group outside while I finished distributing sunscreen to the others. I started letting some of the older kids apply their own sunscreen--looked away for a minute while I helped little S, the youngest child, rub it in to her arms, and when I looked back, 4-year-old C was wearing a white mask of sunblock all over his cheeks, forehead, eyelids, nose, and hair. I sent him over to Charley, who tried to wash it off with minimal stinging; still, for the next hour, C screamed and cried that there was sunscreen in his eyes and was inconsolable. I went over to help little B, who is too small to turn on the water by himself, wash his hands at the sink. B stared at the soap bubbles in the basin of the sink for a long moment while the soap slid off his little hands and the water ran. On the other side of the classroom, C was screaming and four friends were running in circles. "B, wash your hands," I said firmly. B looked at me for a moment and burst into tears. "Teacher, your voice hurts my feelings!" he cried. I felt immediately horrible and knelt to hug his body. "B, I'm so sorry," I said. Sometimes this job makes me feel like the most callous person in the world.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I hold a Rogersian view of the state of nature

Me, describing the philosophy of my preschool viz-a-vis the Enlightenment philosphers: "...So we're not Hobbesian. We couldn't tell the kids that life was 'nasty, brutish, and short.' We're more...Lockeian."
Daniel: "The social contract? But Locke saw the social contract as a means of reconciling the state of nature. He agreed with Hobbes that it was 'nasty, brutish, and short.'"
Me: "You're right, he's not necessarily more optimistic. So which one are we like? We're the most optimistic about the nature of man..."
Daniel: "You're kind of like Rousseau...well, mmmmmm, kind of, but not really. You're mostly just sensitive and really like kids and innocent. You're more like...Mr. Rogers."

Also, earlier in the same conversation, in a devastating error, I misattributed "nasty, brutish, and short" to Thomas Paine, rather than Hobbes. (A Christian homeschooling blogger recently described Thomas Paine as "...the ungodly and licentious pamphleteer who had some influence on stirring up citizens to fight, but not necessarily for the right reasons.") Is it possible to retroactively fail Inventing America? Lewis & Clark already gave me my diploma; I'm not handing it back!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

With the thoughts you'd be thinkin', you could be another Lincoln

E: "My favorite president is the one who looks like a vampire."
Me: "The president who looks like a vampire. I wonder if you mean...Abraham Lincoln?"
E: "I don't remember his name. I have a president placemat. The only ones I remember are GEORGE WASHINGTON!! and...the bad one."
Me: "Hmmm...who's the bad one?"
E: [shrug]
Me: "I wonder if his name is...Bush?"
E: "Yeah, that's him! That's the bad one!...My mom hates that guy."
Me: "Many people dislike Bush."
E: "I hate that guy too. But why do people dislike him?"
Me: "Well, hmmm. He started a war."
E: "I bet everyone at our school doesn't like him."