Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July 31. I couldn't even start

And a few books I couldn't even start.

From Book Club:

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
2. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
4. Dawn by Elie Wiesel (I did read Night and am glad I did)
5. The Giver by Lois Lowry
6. The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough

From friends' recommendation (ok, I'll admit, mostly my father and my ex-husband):
1. The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester (but I did read Demolished Man)
2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
3. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
6. Stranger in a Strange Land by by Robert Heinlein

Monday, July 30, 2018

July 30. I couldn't finish

The books I couldn't finish:

1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
3. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
4. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

5. July's People by Nadine Gordimer (earning my only F in high school)

6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (but I handled Tolstoy just fine)

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (to my mother's chagrin)

8. 1984 by George Orwell (although Mrs. Slocombe once compared my writing to Orwell's, saying "in that it is like a windowpane, not that it is feverishly dystopic")

9. No One Gets Out of Here Alive (Jim Morrison's biography) (I tried...a friend really wanted me to read it...I just couldn't).

10. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. I didn't even go to the book club meeting about it.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

July 29: The Search for Wond-La

I had read all my childhood books aloud already. I asked Sophia's teacher for recommendations for bedtime reading. She gave me a list copied from the internet most likely, but I took it anyway. This was one of them--a book I never would have picked up on my own (dystopian scifi fantasy? Nope).

The story of Eva Nine, a child raised by a robot in an underground facility waiting for earth to be inhabitable again. And then the facility is attacked and she is on her own.

It's a hero's journey. But the hero's a girl and I like it when that happens. And she gets help from aliens and bugs and things like that but not from a love interest who saves the day. It's good like that.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

July 28: Books I was forced to read

Certain books I never would have picked up if I had not been forced to. Some I was happy to put back down again but others became my favorites:

1. 100 Years of Solitude - Senior year of high school
2. Floatplane Notebooks - summer reading before junior year
3. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - summer reading before senior year
4. The Van by Roddy Doyle
5. Emma by Jane Austin
6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin --4, 5, 6 all from the same college lit course
7. Devices and Desires by P. D. James. Junior year of high school. One of two mysteries I've ever read.

Friday, July 27, 2018

July 27: My brain

It started with the writing. Nah, it probably started with the boring stickiness in conversation. I'm an extrovert and I love people and I can start talking and I just don't stop. Or at least I used to be that way--I have taught myself to catch social cues and I'm better at conversation now.

But then the writing. Notebook after notebook of diaries and silly stories and letters and doodles. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote every day. It was like I couldn't help myself. Some of it was good--my sixth grade Old Testament teacher loved the stories I turned in, the essays and confessions and fiction. I was especially interested in, and focused on, rewriting biblical stories from different points of view. At least for him.

I moved after 7th grade and wrote to Carol, Leslie, and Marita until the pens ran dry. Until I exhausted them. I moved during 9th grade and kept writing. I moved again after 10th grade and by that time maintained 14 overseas penpals as well as 4 former classmates who hung on for dear life. Sometimes my domestic mail would be 20 handwritten pages long.

I started typing to keep up with the thoughts. At night to go to sleep I would type out words with my fingers on my thigh or on a pillow. And I would think a lot about religion and wonder about deep things.

In college, this channeled into a Theology minor, lots of papers I had to edit down to size, and lots of late night conversations. I never thought anything was wrong with me.

I developed migraine auras without headache when I was 22. I was briefly medicated and then weaned myself off because the side effect of lethargy was too hard. I underwent EEGs and an MRI to see if maybe they were seizures. Inconclusive.

In my family, seizures run wild and crazy. All kinds--generalized, partial complex, clusters, absence. My dad's family has 8 siblings, 16 cousins, and 10 second cousins thus far--at about a 50% seizure rate (at least one, you have to have at least one to count). Some are medicated, some are told they have a low seizure threshold. I went in ready to battle the epileptologist when Maeve had her second seizure, but she was on my side. Maeve would let us know if she needed medication. She didn't--she hasn't had another in 8 years.

I never got answers. Later on, I was medicated for anxiety and some of the symptoms--hypergraphia especially--subsided. But there is something strange about my brain that medical science cannot pinpoint.

These two books helped.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

July 26: Bake and Be Blessed

In 2006, a storm hit St. Louis from the wrong direction, knocking down hundreds of trees and cutting off power for days all over the region. The first night, I lay in bed sweating, listening to sounds outside I never heard before (there's a manhole cover loose out there on the main drag, for instance, that clunks when people drive over it), and I read this book and felt good about God for the first time in many years.

I fluctuate a lot in my religious feelings, drive, desire, and belief. But this book started a renaissance for me, lasting 7 or 8 years and making me realize I was ok the way I was and the place where I was in my head. I was ok. And I needed to live in the now...and bake more.

It will probably be my gateway back. This or something like it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

July 25: Update on Whining

Not a book. An update on my whining.

1. Neighbors: they have left a camouflage backpack, a t shirt and two pairs of shorts for me, and several pounds of football and hockey cards.

2. Birds: I have house finches and an occasional downy woodpecker. And a chipmunk.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

July 24: Trithemius

In the 15th century there was a monk named Trithemius who loved books. At a very young age he was made abbot of his Benedictine monastery and later curated its library.

He hated the printing press. He thought it would make monks' souls get lazy if they didn't have to spend their lives hunched over in the scriptorium copying books by hand. Not only that, but he hated the feel of the printed book, the look of the standardized pages, the quickness and availability of these newfangled products.

He bemoaned this at length, publishing his thoughts using a printing press so that more people could read them.

Like everyone I know on Facebook whining about how e-readers are making us lose touch with what makes reading important.

What makes reading important is the transfer of ideas. Hand copied or digital or anything in between.

Monday, July 23, 2018

July 23: Material World

I am a sucker for photo essay books, I will admit. I borrowed this one from the library on a whim years ago while I was still home with my kids, thinking to myself that if I ever wound up at a private school where I could set my own curriculum, this would be my 6th grade social studies textbook.

The authors went around the world, finding families that matched the average family for that country--socioeconomically, size, location. Took all their stuff and put it outside in front of their houses. Took photos.

So many discussions of poverty, of course, could spring forth from these photos. But also hierarchy of needs. Climate, religion, politics, how ethnicity evolves and influences behavior, consumerism, leisure, what makes a good life--there is a lot to untangle here.

Then I found out they had a sequel: Women in the Material World. The focus was on, obviously, women's experiences across the planet.

And then another: Hungry Planet. This one actually did influence a curriculum--a friend was a home economics/culinary arts teacher at that private school I dreamed about but never found my way into. She used this as a framework for her older children's study of food waste, conservation, packaging, and distribution.
I teach math--more specifically, special education middle school math. A far cry from culinary arts or the 6th grade social studies dream job. It's where I fit, where I belong. But I dream of riches.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

July 22: Veterans Vision Project

It was a kickstarter campaign and I don't remember how I heard about it or who sent it to me but having known a few recent veterans as well as an uncle who was still sifting through his Navy experiences, I donated. I forgot all about it and then one day this book arrived at my door.

Inside, no words. Just pages of photos of veterans posed in front of the mirror. One side of the image, a photo in uniform. The other side, a self-selected depiction.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

July 21: The Trial Notebook

In the summer of 2004, my sister Bevin got a knock at her door. She was living in Columbia in a house broken into separate spaces for students to rent together, and she was staying there over the summer to fulfill a science credit. It was 2 police officers holding a photo of a body. They asked her if she recognized the man in the photo. Bevin's roommate didn't, but Bevin looked again. "That's Jesse," she blurted--Bevin is a wonderful blurter, and I can hear her voice saying these words even though I wasn't there.

Her neighborhood turned into an crime drama serial episode. She had to show an ID to get home for a week. It was horrible on the face of it: a college student, Jesse, had had his throat cut and left to die between two of the sagging student houses on her street. Jesse was her friend, and her roommates' friend and was at all their gatherings. Jesse was gay, which isn't something I would usually bring up except that it was key to his death.

Police came to talk to them and they of course started talking to each other. Jesse was promiscuous and the friends were worried it would be cast aside. In one conversation between friends, it became clear that they were all thinking about the same missing piece--there was this cop Jesse was seeing on the side, and he bragged that this cop was going to fix some tickets or else he'd be talking to the chief about the affair.

One detective kept talking to the friends, Detective Short (he was), trying to get information on Jesses' life, patterns, job, etc. So the friends called Short and started telling him on the phone that this cop, Ted Anderson, had arrested Jesse at a party at Bevin's house and then they developed a relationship.

Detective Short, to his credit, took them seriously and had them come down and look at a photo lineup of cops. They didn't pick out Anderson. But one of the boys leaned over the desk and whispered, "None of these guys, but he just walked past in the hall." Short leaned out to see, saw who it was, and told the friend he'd be in touch.

Turns out, the cop was sneakier than they suspected, and had stolen Anderson's nametag. He had never told Jesse his real name--but the college students knew his face. He was Steve Rios and everything went quickly from that point.

My sister was a back up witness a year later--she was a potential rebuttal witness if the party was brought up at some point, the party where they met (and she spent the end of in handcuffs on her porch cursing at the officers). This was a horrible place to be, because she couldn't attend the trial until she was dismissed. So I kept a notebook for her, which probably isn't legal, but it allowed me to keep notes straight in my head to talk about that night to her and her friends. I also used it to write down carry-out orders, jot notes to my mom in court, and praise the prosecutor, Morley Swingle.

He was found guilty in 2004; in 2008 he was retried on appeal and given a heavier sentence. He has run out of appeals. He maintains his innocence (as Morley Swingle says, "because he's a scumbag."). Jesse is buried in Kentucky. The story was so richly sordid, interesting, creepy, and horrifying, it was so hard to realize that Steve's and Jesse's families were both sitting in the gallery with us. It was a real story. Each night over the course of the week I would cook dinner for Bevin and her friends; I had Maeve with me, 9 months old, and she got passed around as a reminder that there was still good in the world outside that ugly courtroom. It was so hard it makes me cry even now when I remember it. How many lives Rios ruined. Where those ripples never ever end. Tread lightly.

Friday, July 20, 2018

July 20. Names

My two girls have literary names. Actually, I'm going to go ahead and say all three of my children have literary names. Like on Law and Order, here are their stories.

My oldest's middle name is Esme, for my favorite Salinger story, "For Esme, with Love and Squalor" about a precocious young girl, an English orphan, who writes to the narrator, a sergeant in WWII who has had a mental breakdown. She writes "from a land of triple exclamation points and inaccurate observations" and is the thread that obviously brings the narrator back from the brink. It's a heartbreaking little story, nothing more than a glimpse.

My oldest's first name is Sophia, which turned out to be the 6th most popular name for girls the year she was born. This annoyed me and I was determined to not do it again with my second child. I went through a book of Irish baby names, circling all the ones I liked. My husband went through and crossed out all the ones he didn't, and we were left with one name: Maeve.

For a middle name, I couldn't find something I liked well enough. The blunt sound of Maeve called for something interesting. Sitting in the little loft library above my front hall, I glanced up at the shelves while fighting pregnancy insomnia. The collection of Beatrix Potter. Beatrix. With an x.

Knowing that my third baby was my last, and my only boy, he has three names. He shares his father's first name, but does not go by it. He goes by his first middle name, Leo, which is a quadruple family name--on four different branches, most recently my husband's uncle who died right before I got pregnant). His other middle name is Cassidy, which isn't technically literary, except that I'm a latter-day deadhead and I think the Grateful Dead writes some damned fine poetry, including "Cassidy". Thank you Bob Weir.

Fare thee well now, let your life proceed by it's own design.
Nothing to tell now, let the words be yours, I'm done with mine.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

July 19. A bookshelf

I moved in February and very few books made the cut because boxes are heavy and I knew the books were safe with my ex because he loves books as well.

This picture is about an eighth of the books at my house right now, not including whatever my two daughters might have upstairs in their rooms. My choices were sometimes sentimental, sometimes interest-driven.

This shelf is above the couch in our basement ratskeller--St. Louis for "basement hang out room" (which turns out to actually be a German term for kind of just that). You can see the painted foundational brick behind the books. My basement is very dry (one of my non-negotiables when I looked for a house). It is Leo's favorite place because that's where the TV is.

Anyway, some books:

a: quilting books, simple how-tos.
b: nature journals kept by me and Sophia
c: photo album from my mom's side of the family
d: Family of Man, a photographic collection from the 70s.
e: Listomania, a graphic depiction of all sorts of categorized things (weird ways to die, or how much of the following liquids are consumed in the US), one of my favorites when I can't sleep
f: Chelsea Handler's discussion of her sex life. I'm not ashamed
g: The Giving Tree, from a friend to Leo
h: The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales. One of my favorite kid books
i: Volume One of a series of veterans' photographs as they look in the mirror (and the image is different--I'll have to show you before the month is up)
j: Vogue Knitting's dictionary of knitting stitches
k: Home Ground, a dictionary of sorts of terminology used in US geography (for instance, what is the difference between a cliff, a bluff, a bank)
l: Dandelion Wine
m: a butterfly field guide
n: roadside flower of Texas
o: another nature journal
p: Powers of Ten, the book that goes along with this short film
q: A book of hobo signs made into quilt blocks
r: The best tree field guide
s: short essays about the periodic table. Also not ashamed.
t: nature journal
u: Another tree field guide but the first one is still best
v: a photocopy of the American Dialect Society survey from the middle of the last century. It is fascinating.
w: unsure. I know it's a field guide of some kind
x: Butterflies and moths of Missouri

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

July 18. Bootheel Man

After Sabine blogged about 1491, I immediately thought of this book. To be honest, speculative historical fiction is not my favorite or my go-to. But I was casually browsing in the library and the name of the author made my jaw drop.

Morley Swingle is a prosecuting attorney. He prosecuted, in fact, the case involving my sister's friend who was killed by Columbia, Missouri police officer. After the trial, which was horrifying twisted together with really masterful storytelling and law-talkin', I remarked to my mother that Morley Swingle could do anything and I would go along with it. He could run for any office. Fly a plane. Do my taxes. Take out my wisdom teeth. He was amazing and could do anything.

So standing there in the public library seeing a fictional novel set both in modern day Cape Girardeau and pre-Columbian Cahokia written by the same man who managed a trial of a police officer in a college town where everybody kinda knew everybody and the lies were about shoulder deep...I had to read this.

And it was good! It wasn't earth-shatteringly brilliant, and I'm uncertain of the cultural appropriation problems inherent in writing a fictional account about pre-Columbian societies, but it did make me look at Cahokia with new eyes. We've got these mounds right across the river and I never thought about them. I never saw them for what they were until this little book.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

July 17. Lord of the Rings

When I was 8, a strong reader, living in an era of few challenging books that were not adult-themed (nowadays the choices for kids! If I had access to Harry Potter and the like!), my father handed me his hardback copy of the Silmarillion. I remember lying on the top bunk of the wooden bunkbeds he built for me and my brother (and which my middle daughter still has in her room) and having him show me the enclosed map and explain how the book worked.

I tried.

That Christmas, his dad gave me the boxed set of the trilogy plus the Hobbit. My grandparents never gave us gifts (we didn't know until later that they subsidized Christmas for their 8 children and all the grandchildren instead of trying to handle gift-giving), but that year alone I received a gift from them. I opened it there and I was so enchanted by the gold cardboard box and the kid-friendly paperback size. I told my dad on the way home that I thought I would read these first.

I read them over the course of the next few years, starting with the Hobbit. I had a hard time with The Two Towers, so boring. But I read the whole thing and the appendices and loved them.

My 6th grade year, we were supposed to come dressed up one day as our favorite book character and I made my outfit and came as Aragorn. I even carved a walking stick and cut runes into it.

When my daughters were young, I read aloud the entire series. I think I lost Maeve in the description paragraphs, but man alive, Tolkien wrote his stories to be read aloud. They are once upon a time stories like no other.

Monday, July 16, 2018

July 16. Worlds to Explore

Girl Scouts is a mixed bag. They have recently tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator while also insulting the true believers--the point is that girl scouting is successful with a successful energetic leader, and can be total crap without one. There isn't the safety net of a troop/den hierarchy like with Boy Scouts (Which by the way rubbed me all the wrong way when Leo tried BSA...for one year. I kept looking around wondering why all the creepy old men were still involved at the local level, whilst in GSUSA, the crotchety old ladies move on to district or camp positions and don't do the day to day meetings etc).

So it's either really good, or it's lousy and girls drop out.

When I was a junior (4th-6th grade) I was in a perfect troop. This book was our handbook and I read it cover to cover. I loved all the details and smatterings of ideas--knots, morse code, first aid, arts and crafts. It was a great jumping off place for future hobbies and interests.

When I was a troop leader for my daughter's amazing rocking inclusive urban troop, I used this book even though it was already decades old. The current programming cannot compete. And we were better than that.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Heisenberg talked a little bit about it. Schrodinger had his cat. Or you could look to the Hawthorne experiments and their effect. None of them exactly have to do with my old book club, but it seemed that the more you paid attention to the book club, the worse it got.

When I joined, it was already several years running and I had been invited a couple of times before. They tried to limit their numbers to about 12, and met once a month. There were loose themes over the course of a year. We moved alphabetically through the members by last name, and that person would pick the book and host the following month. Simple and fair.

I always just called it "my book club" or sometimes "Rachel's book club" since Rachel was the person who invited me. As time went by, it became more and more "Francine's book club" because she made book club a regimented strict every four week gathering. But not yet. At the beginning when I joined, it was good. We read memoirs. Books we should have read in school. Banned books (in the end, our summation: "Books that really needed to be banned" because so many of them were so bad...).

I met people through book club that I still am friends with, but mostly just on facebook since everyone's lives are busy. And that's what made book club fall apart.

First, Jenny left because we all offended her. As a group. I don't even remember the book but we wound up talking about race relations and she was a little bit, tiny bit, racist. But people leave and join regularly.

Then, I had my book out on the coffee table one day when the fiancee of a friend of mine saw it and essentially joined my book club. I couldn't say no. It was a huge mistake. 

Then, Rachel started inviting more of her friends from her other circles--church, knitting groups--including two men, totally queering the vibe of what had been an all women's social club. Rachel also suggested that due to her house being the biggest (meaning: nicest) and best set up for entertaining (meaning: full bar) that it should just be at her house from now on (meaning: control). Her house was the nicest and the most inviting, it was true.

Francine, obviously threatened by this move, decided that we should plan out our meeting dates for the entire upcoming year. Scratch that. She planned them out and printed them on bookmarks with the acronym IITBCSIRALOBAM on the other side. She explained: I'm in this book club so I read at least one book a month. Lol, right?

Some long-standing members bailed right then. Rachel invited more of her people. Then that fiancee of a friend of mine, remember her? She got incredibly pissy about my existence and when it was her turn to host, told me I wasn't invited to book club that month. This upset ALL the other members (meaning, the members who cared about the books, not the weird knitting and choir member friends who just came for the full bar and great food). Fiancee was told to put on her big girl panties or find a new book club.

She found a new book club.

Francine adopted a baby...and brought him to every meeting (no one else brought kids, ever, because it wasn't a mommy and me group, it was a fucking book club).

Side conversations started, outside of book club. Rachel was sick of Francine. Francine didn't like Rachel's new friends. Beth didn't want the men there but didn't know how to say that.

And then the Nine Stories fiasco, subtitled: "Everyone knows more about Salinger than you do".

I was done. I had made the mistake twice of nominating books I loved and each time had gotten slapped down.

I quietly withdrew, and found out from Rachel at coffee a couple months later that the whole thing had fallen apart and was now a knitting circle.

I've had other things evolve over time--my mah jongg group disintegrated after 12 years of active play. People move, change, get busy, have new ideas. It's ok. But I'll never do another book club. Nope.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

July 14. Percy Jackson

Today is my eldest's birthday. She is 17 today and a voracious reader. She has dyslexia, and did not read on grade level until 4th grade, but beat the odds and this past year read Lolita, Catch-22, Brave New World, and Slaughterhouse Five, just because.

When we were trying to figure out why she couldn't manage reading, she went to a Title One program, a pull out reading remediation class, in second grade. I visited, observed, and realized they were focused on all the wrong things for her. She couldn't decode. But she could listen to a passage and answer questions, pick out themes, plot, character, setting, and fucking design the costumes and stage set for the live musical she composed based on the story.

Seriously, the girl could think. She just couldn't read.

We got her diagnosis in 3rd grade, wrote a 504 plan, and I tutored her at home in the Orton-Gillingham method of spelling.

We turned it around.

She became a capable reader within a year, but she still didn't like reading very much, the private act of consuming literature (she loved a read-aloud for sure, but didn't even like sitting with headphones and listening to a story that way).

Then came Percy Jackson. And everything changed. Rick Riordan gets kids with LD, better than any author I've been exposed to. He writes confessional first person adventure novels hung on the framework of ancient mythology.

He made her heart sing. He made her a reader.

Friday, July 13, 2018

July 13. The 21 Balloons

This is the book that gave me a love for future utopian literature.

I hate dystopia. No Hunger Games for me.

But I love a good positive socialist dreamscape. Whether it be Bellamy's Looking Backward or Star Trek: Next Generation marathon, I'm there.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

July 12. Read Aloud

I introduced the read alouds at bedtime. Of course I'd read to my daughters when they were younger, and then a little bit to Leo. When John and his son Johnny moved in, I continued. Leo was 4 when they moved in, and Johnny was almost 5. They loved it. It was also a way to distract from the gun games and the arguing.

I read aloud one night to the two of them in John's bed before I sent Leo up to his room on the third floor for the night. I read three Dr. Seuss books in a row. I sent Leo up and I left Johnny to settle in for the night. I walked out of the room and found John on the couch in the little library/computer room/loft above the stairs, his eyes closed.

"It's so good to just listen to a story," he said.

"Yes it is," I agreed. I loved reading but I also loved listening. "You could give it a try too."

So the next evening after he got home from work and cleaned up, after the boys got baths and ready for bed, I had them bring him books downstairs in the living room. They read book after book, starting with Curious George.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

July 11: Shiloh

It's a story about a boy and a dog. It is set in West Virginia and I didn't read it as a kid--I read it while I was student teaching a fourth grade classroom. I loved this book, and in my mind, Marty's family lived in that little house I lived in when I was 10--tight, too small to breathe in or relax, just enough to get by. Marty's dad is a mailman and it is clear that the family isn't in dire straits but is not middle class as we define it in the US.

The villain in the story starts out very black and white and as the story moves, the reader realizes that circumstances make the man. It's a good lesson for kids, actually, and it was the focus of my reading this book to my class that year. Why was Judd the way he was? How might things have been different if...

They made it into a movie. I went to see it, alone as an adult, feeling silly and a little creepy but I went anyway.

Judd was just a bad guy. Nothing redeeming or gray about his character at all.

But worse: the family lived in a big rambling country house, beautifully furnished and bigger than they needed by far.

It was gross.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

July 10: Bridge to Terabithia

I was ten. We had lived in a rental house with lots of kids on the block, endless games of kick the can and corkball and all varieties of tag. Age range of 13 down to 6 and everyone spent time together. I loved living there.

We moved. This time not across the country, but it was a rental and the owner gave us notice--he was getting married and planned to move in, so we house-hunted in the general area since we were attached to the Catholic grade school my brother and I attended. My parents bought their first house, smaller, but with a dry basement and a huge backyard that sloped sharply down to a creek. It was common ground--from my perspective, it led into endless woods while in reality, having driven around it as an adult, it was only a hundred yards deep at most.

Although it was our first house we actually owned, and my father was getting his MBA and things in reality, looking back, were really on an upswing for us, it was when I felt the poorest. It was probably the size of the house, plus my mother had another baby while we lived there, so it was 6 people in an 800 square foot two bedroom one bath house with a cramped eat in kitchen and an unusable living room space not big enough for a couch along a wall.

But it did have that basement, and more importantly, it had that creek.

That creek had a bridge, an old concrete bridge that connected two fallow fields. The bridge grew grass on top and it never occurred to me that someone mowed it. I never once encountered anyone over the age of 12 in the common ground or in the creek. Mostly it was my brother Ian and myself--the neighborhood we moved into was overwhelmingly empty nesters and single people. I was the only inhabitant of my own imaginary forest. I was a fan of Tolkien and LeGuin and of course had a knowledge of European fairy tales. Those woods held all of it.

We only lived in that house for a year--from the spring of my 4th grade year to the August before my 6th grade year--but I also read this book, about a fantasy land created by two outcast pre-teens and even then I knew I was living it. That creek, that bridge, those woods--they were a space of my own, in a time of my life when nothing was certain. They weren't anything like my own but they were mine.

Monday, July 9, 2018

July 9. Fish in a Tree

I taught his older brother--one of those BMOC's waiting to blossom in high school and college. Smart as a whip, funny, athletic, cute, just everything you would want in a son.
This one showed up in my sixth grade homeroom the year after his brother graduated. His mom tried to persuade him to write something on my bulletin board (equipped with chalk and prompts) and he said, "Mom, I'm not ______" and named his older brother I loved so much.

I vowed then and there I would never call him by the wrong name, I would never compare him, I would never make him feel like he was less than that large personality he followed.

Within the first week, I realized there was no possible way I was going to make that mistake. I loved this kid and he was nothing like the older brother, in all the best ways. I loved him and his class that year and I learned from his mom that following summer that on the last day of school, after he turned and shook my hand and thanked me for the year, he went home and cried on his bed because it was over and even though I would continue to be his math teacher, it would never be the same.

But before that happened, before the religion class journal project and before I identified him to his mom as possibly being a lot more dyslexic than previously thought (meaning, at all...), before any of that, when we were just starting to bond as teacher and student, there was a book fair at the school. It coincided with teacher conferences and I was sitting in the hall waiting for the next parent when I saw him walking down the long hallway with something in his hand.

He thrust his hand out towards me, and in it was this book. "For me?" I asked. He nodded, nervous. "Thank you," I said his name. And he walked away.

"Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid."

It's about a student with dyslexia who is finally identified by her 6th grade teacher.

I identified his dyslexia the following year.

I still tutor him--and I find myself, partway through math problems, having him verbally explain the answers. And I know that his high school teachers won't do this for him, not fluidly and naturally like we do. It's a beautiful dance between the right student and the right teacher, one that Vygostsky describes and I ascribe to because all good teachers should. But there don't seem to be enough good teachers.

I'm learning though that it really only takes one to make you believe. For my Sophia it was Mr. Rouse. For me it was Br. Stephen. Perhaps I'm the one for this young man--although I hope he does have more along the way the next four years, I take my responsibility seriously.  Because it is vital to be seen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 8: Odsplut

The sow came in with the saddle
The little pig rocked the cradle
The dish stood up on the table
To see the pot swallow the ladle.

The spit who stood behind the door
Through the pudding-stick on the floor.

"Odsplut!" said the gridiron, "Can't you agree?
I'm the head constable, bring them to me."

I've never seen that nursery rhyme anywhere else but this book, my favorite night time read-aloud when I was very, very young. My mother indulged me with that rhyme again and again, calling out "Odsplut!" like it had some sort of magic power and I would laugh and laugh.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

July 7: Ramona

I am Ramona Quimby all grown up.

I realized about a year ago that this is one way to say "I have adult ADHD" but I like the description better.

I am always packing my bag too heavy to run away. Squeezing the toothpaste, all the toothpaste, into the sink to see what that would be like.

I have zero sense of time--scratch that, I ALWAYS know what time it is, innately, creepily, but I don't connect the time with how much sleep I will get or how long it will take to drive there or if I can do all the things I said I will do.

I say yes to everything.

I see where things will go. This will be fun, my brain tells me. Give it a try. Whether that's a stained glass class (a good idea) or letting a girl scout grandma buy 1000 boxes of cookies (a bad idea).

I am Ramona. There's no stopping me and I love to raise my hand and give it a try and help you do something cockamamie that you have no business doing and I will stand there and not just cheer you on but be a part of it.

I am Ramona. I am confused when people don't like me, it takes a long time for me to take a hint, I feel often misunderstood and frustrated when I can't articulate what's going on in my head.

I am Ramona. I love deeply and forgive little things forever and ever and it hurts so bad when I have to shut a door because damn it, I tried so hard.

I dive in. I leap first then look. I love shiny things and conversations that go on forever and I live for connection.

I am Ramona.

Friday, July 6, 2018

July 6: Nine Stories

This book sat on my mother's shelves throughout my childhood and I found myself attracted first to the weird cover with the pathetic sixties colors on the cover (why isn't Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes the GREEN box?). I picked it up in high school and have devoured it several times. I have never read Catcher in the Rye and it is unlikely I ever will. But these little stories have woven their way into my thought patterns.

My oldest daughter's middle name is Esme, for God's sake.

It is filled with midcentury themes of ennui, loneliness and disconnection--the idea that we can't really know each other at all (which I don't think I believe), snappy dialogue, precocious children and immature adults.

My book club that I don't belong to anymore, the way it worked was each month a new person picked the book, A-B-C order by last name. Each round through the members had a theme--one year was "books we should have read in school" and another was banned books and so forth. A couple years in, the theme was historical fiction. After we survived Pillars of the Earth, I tossed Nine Stories in the ring. It's historical...kind of...I mean, not really but now it is, written completely steeped in its own time.

My fellow members rejected it completely. They compared it to root canals and Mad Men.

I sat there with the old paperback copy, split down the middle through overuse, held together with a hair rubberband listening to a former English teacher break Salinger down into his base materials, finally admitting that she hadn't read Nine Stories, just Catcher in the Rye.

I dropped out of the book club after the next month, in which they read Cold Mountain, but I didn't even try to read. I was done talking about books in people's living rooms. Now my book discussions are "did you read that too? What did you think?" one on one with my mother or sister or friends.

Or here. Here is good.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

July 5: L.I.W.

I know that Laura Ingalls Wilder is now declasse, but I want to hearken back a moment to 1981. I was in first grade. I'd just moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. I spent half the day in a first grade class and the other half in a second grade class and in the process had zero friends beyond my 3 1/2 year old brother. But I could read on a 4th or 5th grade level and I received this set for my birthday. I made it through the first three that year (Big Woods, Prairie, Farmer Boy) and finished the set over the next few years.

I know it's full of racism and I find them, as an adult, troubling not just for that but for the fact that Laura's father, Charles, is a lunatic. He's a fucking lunatic! He left a completely normal enclave of relatives and supports in Wisconsin and trespassed into Indian Territory. He made it out west and Laura's depiction of the "long winter" (I know she has some historical fiction issues as well regarding which winter that would have been) describes a man who was willing to put his family at risk for no fucking good reason.

I related to these books, not seeing Charles that way as a child, of course, but the constant moving. The disappointment driving away from a house that I'd grown to love and feel comfortable in. Leaving relatives behind that I wouldn't see for years. Friends I would never see again. The adventure of a new place soaked in the misery of being the new girl. The hope that I could reinvent myself or try harder this time or find good friends or be important somehow.

I know she's a mess, and I'm not apologizing for "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" or any of the rest. Just, at 6, 8, 9 years old, I didn't even see that. I saw a frustrated young girl who idealized her father and went along, with each step just growing tired and wanting the stability of one place, one man, one house, one kitchen window. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July 4: Up the Down Staircase

I've read a lot of teacher books and watched a lot of teacher movies (To Sir, With Love; Goodbye Mr. Chips; Bridge to Terabithia--more on that later; Stand and Deliver) and there are a lot of idealized rosy pictures of teachers out there. There are also shockingly depressing accounts (Savage Inequalities and anything by Kozol, frankly).

And standing between them is Up The Down Staircase. As in "you can't go up the 'down' stairscase". It's the story of an idealistic young teacher who starts her career in an underfunded overcrowded urban high school in the 1960s.

But it's not a period piece.

Because it is my life in book form. Not all of it, of course, and not in the same way (I'm middle school, she is high school; laws are different and so are populations), but damn it is true to life.

Best part: it is not a narrative story. It is told through administrative memos, notes from kids and others from teachers, faculty meeting minutes, and letters the main character writes to a friend living out in some sleepy suburb. I LOVE books like this, that turn writing around one way or another.

When folks ask me what the best novel about teaching is, it's this one. I read it again and again.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

July 3: Nickeled and Dimed

This book changed my heart. Concept: a journalist puts her own life on pause for three separate months, each time finding a place in the US filled with working poor, where she then finds a job without education or experience, and tries to survive for a month. In the process, not only does she come to the conclusion that it's not possible to do this and live a life, but also learns all these skills the working poor use that the rest of us have no idea are even a thing.

It made me realize that many of those skills, that I always just called "hustle", are things that I already knew. Because family history is a thing.

It made me realize that many of the decisions I made when I went to college, like the education degree because it gave me a direct pathway to a job, just like an apprenticeship would; or especially the early marriage before I even know who I was--these decisions were based on fear of poverty, a fear so great that the idea of trying to make it out there in the world alone without a safety net was too terrifying to consider.

Monday, July 2, 2018

July 2: Floatplane Notebooks

This book makes its biggest impact on me by being written in a shifting first person perspective. Each chapter is a different narrator, including a wisteria vine on occasion, a vine that watches over a family cemetery through generations.

It's the story of a southern US family leading up to and going through the Vietnam War era, but it keeps hearkening back a hundred years prior. It is heartbreaking. The narrative style rings true--so true that my book club hated this book, with one reader exclaiming, "There wasn't a single character likeable enough to keep reading."

Not true, in my heart, not true. This book was my summer reading assignment the summer before my junior year at a new school, me with a broken collarbone, living in a one bedroom corporate apartment with my parents and three siblings until I got shipped off with my brother to live with relatives while my family managed to find a house in Houston, which was to be my last stop in the moves with my family.

This book is what made me want to write more than lists and hypergraphic scrawls. This book made me want to be a writer, want to hear and record and live in dialogue and description.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

July 1: One Hundred Years of Solitude

The only book I enjoyed my senior year of AP English, taught by a woman who declared openly that she did not use standards-based grading but graded each person's writing based on what she perceived as his or her ability. This of course allowed her to give students whatever grades she pleased. This was my only B in high school.

But this book. It is a love it or leave it book. I've never met anyone who thought it was "ok...". For me, this is my favorite book (starting July with a bang). It was my favorite the instant I finished it, and no book has passed it by yet.

It always leaves me wanting more. And while this is bad in the bedroom, this is perfect in literature.