Category Archives: Disgruntlement

Little Incivilities

It’s raining, blustery, and cold. I pull into the parking lot of the local Safeway. I’m in a bit of a hurry, but who isn’t at five P.M.? I’m in luck! A young woman is loading her groceries into her SUV. She returns her cart to the corral, climbs up into the driver’s seat, switches on the ignition…and sits there. Behind me, a line of cars is building. I scoot to the side as far as possible and put on my turn signal. Gusting winds shake my little sedan. I wait, hopeful.

What is she doing in there? Something on the seat beside her requires her urgent attention, it seems. She’s not tending to a child; in fact, she seems to be alone in the car. Her motor is running, her lights are on, but—no movement. She hunches forward.

Ah. The phone.

Perhaps she absolutely must attend to some urgent business. Maybe she’s just received a job offer, and is consulting her mate or her mom for advice. Perhaps negotiations at the office have broken down, and she must act now to save the project from utter failure.

But how long does that take? It’s going on five minutes now since she climbed into her car.

Maybe she’s just received some tragic news via text, and needs a moment to process her emotions. She doesn’t look very emotional, though. In fact, she appears to be frozen. Is she in distress? Has a huge spider crawled out from under the seat? No, surely she’d exit her vehicle if that were the case. I wait.

Oh, I get it—she’s no doubt waiting for someone who’s still inside the store. Perhaps her friend had to pee, or ran back to grab a forgotten item on her grocery list. I wait. No one joins her.

Most of the drivers behind me have given up by now, have passed me and are heading for the far reaches of the parking lot. But damn it, I’m not going to give up on this prime parking spot that’ll save me from getting drenched in the driving rain. I wait.

Behind me, someone honks. Look, Dude, I left you plenty of room to pass me, and my turn signal’s on. Am I blocking someone’s egress? Nope—all clear. I wait. The SUV non-driver hunches. I give my horn a little tap, just a tiny toot, and then give her the “What’s up?” shoulder shrug. She does not look up from her phone. She does not shut off her engine, to demonstrate her intention to stay put. She hunches. I wait.

Another shopper emerges from the store. Alas, I’m blocking her access to her car. She glances up at the SUV-sitter and shoots me a sympathetic look.

I admit defeat. Clearly, the SUV driver has some sort of extraordinary problem that requires intense concentration. I can’t keep this other driver waiting because, as Mama taught me, it’s rude to keep people waiting.

I drive off, breathing deeply, trying to keep this little mishap from spoiling my day. I find a parking space at the far end of the lot and brave the nearly gale-force winds that rip my umbrella inside out and plaster my glasses with icy rain. Just as I reach the front of the store, I spy the SUV driver—putting down her phone at long last, a carefree expression on her face, and driving off.

I really want to believe there’s such a thing as karma. May Princess I’m-the-Only-Person-in-the-Whole-Wide-World-Who-Matters get what’s coming to her. And thanks to all those who give a thought to their fellow humans and wait to check their phones until they’re no longer holding up traffic. Your mamas taught you well.

The Frugal Retiree v. the Webinar

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One of the issues I’m learning to deal with in retirement is the switch from a monthly paycheck to a smaller pension. It’s a tradeoff I’m pleased with overall: less money for more time. We have enough savings to cover our needs, and even our wants, if we’re wise about our spending. But I now have to think more carefully about my purchases, rather than just mindlessly buying stuff because I can. If I were to blow a few hundred dollars on clothing I want but don’t need, for example, then I wouldn’t be able to afford a trip or a concert—which I really prefer to more clothing.

I think that this sort of prioritizing is good for me. Rather than just buying stuff willy-nilly in an effort to entertain myself and polish up my self-esteem, I’m forced to consider which things and experiences will give me the most satisfaction. This kind of self-knowledge makes me a happier person.

And I really think that “retail therapy” is bad—for the planet, for the closet, and for the spirit. I know that buying crap helps the economy, but perhaps an economy based on buying crap we don’t need is an economy that needs to change.

In retirement, I’m becoming a careful, mindful consumer. In fact, I don’t like being called a consumer. Is that my function: to buy stuff? I like to think I contribute more important things than spending. And, now that I have more time at my computer, I’m bugged more and more by the unrelenting wheedling of online marketers. Wasn’t the internet supposed to be about the free exchange of ideas?

Sure, I get it—everyone’s got to make a living. If a local plumber wants to drop a flier in my mailbox, that’s fine. I may actually need his services someday. If that flier arrives in electronic form, that’s OK too. And I enjoy hearing about local events I might want to attend: concerts, festivals and the like. What makes me sad, and a bit nauseated, are the unrelenting online pitches I must climb over to get to the information I’m looking for. So often I click on what appears to be an interesting article or video, only to find a sleazy sales pitch for an overpriced webinar, conference call, newsletter, or some sort of “amazing, life-changing experience” that I can have for the low, low price of $299.

How could any two-hour video be worth $299? There are many fine self-help books out there, and if a favorite blogger or columnist takes the time to edit and organize her best work into a book, I’ll probably buy it.  I’ve bought indie-published books and e-books on fashion, healthy eating, writing advice (most not worth the money, alas), and organizing. What they all have in common is a reasonable value-to-price ratio. And the bloggers/authors offered plenty of free samples of their work before pitching their books—not just a long, tedious sales pitch promising to “revolutionize” my fitness/writing/health/closet…whatever.

But a conference call, video or audio recording for hundreds of dollars? Perhaps if Sue Grafton or J.A. Jance want to offer me an hour of their time to talk about my novel in progress. Otherwise, that seems ridiculously overpriced, and brazenly greedy.

An example: I enjoy weight training, and I’m interested in expert advice to help me get stronger and fitter without hurting myself. There’s not that much out there geared toward the needs of healthy older women who want to improve their fitness, but aren’t starting from zero. I tend to see the same basic advice over and over again, whether online or in print. Recently, I clicked on a website that looked promising, but what I got was a series of slickly-produced short videos and an ensuing barrage of emails, all designed to sell me an overpriced series of instructional videos. And you know—if she’d offered a book or a reasonably-priced video, I’d probably have bought it. But I can go to a bookshop or a sports shop and purchase those items for $30 or less, not the $300 she’s demanding.

Who buys these overpriced webinars and recorded “lessons”? As for me, I’ll take my cheap self to the library. If I really like your work, I may buy a copy of your book or video. But for $300, I expect something worth the effort it took me to earn that sum: say, a weekend at the beach, with live music and a few marvelous meals—so much more fulfilling than sitting at my computer, watching some “life-changing” video. Meh.

 

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I used to be quite the magazine junkie, whiling away my free time with the likes of O, More, Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, Self, Shape, Vanity Fair, and even the occasional issue of Vogue. Lately, the only magazines I read regularly are Writer’s Digest, Saveur and Sunset—the latter two because my niece was selling magazine subscriptions for her Girl Scout troop. I still love magazines’ glossy, carefully composed images—windows into the perfect life (as conceived by advertisers). There’s something seductive about all these scenes: friends laughing, drinking and sharing nibbles in a lantern-lit garden; a mother and daughter peering from their tent as dawn paints the mountains pink and gold; a sassy woman strutting down a rain-glazed Parisian street…

Before I retired, I’d start my day with a cup of tea and a magazine—a bit of precious alone time before the busy workday began. Look! Here’s the key to spiritual enlightenment on page twenty-six. And here on page thirty-four is a heart-wrenching piece by a cancer survivor. Here are some lovely suggestions for the perfect Provençal-style garden, and here’s a travelogue, and here are twenty questions that will reveal my true calling. All this entertainment and wisdom, laid out in easily-digestible bits of no more than 1,000 words. What fun!

What I love about women’s magazines is their optimism, their constant reassurance that I’m just one make-over away from a shiny new me. And I do love to start my day with a little inspirational reading. Not being a religious person, I find inspiration in tales of self-improvement, of weathering storms and emerging stronger, of finally mucking out the closet and finding one’s ideal wardrobe.

Oh, but the ads. While they can be pretty, they do clutter up a magazine. I get it—magazines are financed by the advertisers. Much of the content of a magazine is designed to sell the sort of stuff the sponsors offer. And that’s where magazines have lost their shine, as far as I’m concerned. I get so tired of the constant sell, sell, sell—as if a pushy salesman keeps poking me on the shoulder and interrupting my enjoyment of the articles. Ugh.

Just for fun, I’ll sometimes tear out every magazine page that contains ads on both sides; this results in a much slimmer magazine. Have you noticed how many of these are ads for medications? And we’re not just talking about Tums or Advil, fine products that I would actually use. No, these are ads for serious medications for very serious conditions. Can you believe those long pages of tiny print listing the many side effects, and how often those side effects include suicidal thoughts?

But I digress.

How marvelous it would be to find a magazine containing no ads—a magazine full of the hopeful, optimistic, light content that I find so relaxing, without any promptings to buy, buy, buy. I know, I’m just fantasizing, here. But wouldn’t it be great to find an ad-free magazine filled with articles like these?

  • The Miraculous Health Benefits of Afternoon Naps
  • Gorgeous Goodwill: How to Restyle Used Clothing
  • Fun, Cheap Potluck Parties
  • You Look Marvelous! Twenty Ways to Appreciate Your Own Gorgeousness
  • Easy Homemade Holiday Gifts for under $5
  • Ten Quizzes that Reveal How Brilliant and Talented You Are
  • Interviews with Fascinating Women Who Don’t work in the Fashion, Beauty or Entertainment Industries
  • Mentor of the Month: Mature Women Who Shape Lives
  • Smart, Creative People Who Are Building a Better Future for Us All
  • The Joy of Volunteering: Neighborhood Heroes
  • Fun Crafts Made from Stuff You Already Have Lying around the House
  • How to Attain Inner Peace and Enlightenment in a Supine Position
  • Celebrate National Buy Nothing Day
  • Plump, Sexy Role Models
  • The Joy of Inter-Generational Friendships
  • How to Host a Fashion Swap Party—New Clothes for Free!
  • How to Take Photos That Are Not Selfies
  • Fifty Gourmet Recipes to Transform Your Leftovers.
  • You Won’t Believe What You Can Get for Free at Your Library!
  • How to Lose Weight and Get Fit by Dancing to Music on the Radio
  • Amazing Skin Cream You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen

Perhaps someday we’ll see an online blog collective/e-zine that isn’t cluttered with pushy, obnoxious pop-up ads. A woman can dream…

Winter Solstice – Time for Reflection and Homesickness

Trier Christmas Market

The Christmas Market in Trier, my former home.

It’s eight-thirty, and the morning light is feeble and steely gray. The trees outside my kitchen window are dancing in the wind off the Puget Sound. Today is the shortest day of the year, mild and blustery. It’s also been about six months since I started this new life: retired after twenty-six years of teaching in Germany, back in the U.S. in a new town, new friends – just a few, but meeting more and more interesting people – and a completely new lifestyle: nearly every day is a Sunday! What I mean by that is that I have the gift of time, and no more excuses for not going after my goals and dreams that I’ve nattered on about throughout my working years.

I recall that after my last big shake-up, moving away from my longtime home to start over in a new community, the shock and homesickness and regret hit me hard right at the six-month mark. And it’s happening again – how I miss my old life in Germany, my old friends, and especially the German way of celebrating Christmas! Yesterday at Doug’s lovely Christmas party, we all sang Christmas carols to the accompaniment of some very talented musicians. When the piano player led us in a chorus of Stille Nacht in German, I launched in enthusiastically, but couldn’t finish – my voice choked by tears. My homesickness is still too raw for me to sing German Christmas songs. The mourning for my life in Europe comes in waves, as was predicted by other returning ex-pats, and Christmastime is a big wave indeed.

Trierer Weihnachtsmarkt

Christmas market in front of the Trierer Dom (cathedral).

There are no Weihnachtsmärkte in Tacoma – those wonderful German Christmas markets in the historical city/town center, with booths that look like little alpine cabins. I’d visit as many of those as possible each year, soaking up the atmosphere, and the Glühwein, steaming mugs of sweet red wine spiced with cinnamon, anise, nutmeg and orange rind. Nothing drove away the bite of the winter cold like Glühwein, and nothing made me feel instantly Christmassy like a stroll through the booths where artisans sold all manner of hand-crafted gifts and decorations: carved wooden tree ornaments and nativity scenes, hand-made soap and candles, gingerbread and fruit cake (The German version is really delicious!), knit hats, scarves and gloves, jewelry made of semi-precious stones and silver, or sparkling glass beads, fluffy slippers made of sheepskin and fleece – I could do all my Christmas shopping right there, outdoors, and then fortify myself against the cold with a sizzling Bratwurst, a paper boat of mushrooms swimming in creamy garlic sauce, a flatbread hot from the wood-fired oven and topped with goat cheese, bacon and walnuts, or perhaps a Dampfnudel, a steaming, fluffy wheat bun filled with sweet cherry goo and topped with hot vanilla custard sauce. And don’t forget the candied almonds! All the delicious smells are drifting back to me on the winds of memory.

Sure, there were stores in Germany, big and small, over-decorated for the holidays and offering the usual gift items, both useful and useless, but to get to these stores we strolled down the streets of the pedestrian zone at the city center, past beautiful historical buildings, past buskers of all sorts, past tents and booths where this church group or that civic club was selling hot chocolate, more Glühwein, and homemade German Christmas cookies – the kind made with ground hazelnuts and dipped in dark chocolate or kissed with jam and powdered sugar. Here in Tacoma we have some pleasant shopping streets, but they’re plagued by traffic, and no one has set up booths outdoors so that we can enjoy the winter weather – which is mostly rainy, so what would be the point of an outdoor market? And we have the mall, which I avoid at all costs. Nothing cheapens the holiday mood like a mall, with its too-loud Muzak and its too-tacky decorations and its schlocky merchandise. Ugh!

And so, for me, this Christmas is a time for regret and longing for Christmas past. You can’t live in another culture that long and not have its ways seep into your soul. But it’s not a bleak Christmas for us – far from it! The invitations and holiday concerts have been coming thick and fast. Tacoma has a lively theater and music scene, and we’ve enjoyed two lavish Christmas shows: the Seattle Men’s Chorus presented Our Gay Apparel, and the Tacoma Christmas Revels took us back to the Italian Renaissance. The former was just as fabulous as you’d expect, and more. My favorite number was “Marvelous Holiday Sweater,” in which dancers paraded across the stage in the most outrageous Christmas outfits you can imagine while the chorus (very large and very talented) sang the glories of dressing up for the holidays. The latter show – well, when I saw the program, I braced myself for a long afternoon of dreary madrigals, but I could not have been more wrong! The large, gorgeously costumed cast presented a lively progression of Renaissance music and funny skits that had us singing along and dancing in the aisles. It was great fun! And generous friends, old and new, have been including us in their celebrations. There’s lots to do here, and lots of holiday spirit – as long as I stay away from the mall. And we’re nearer to family now. I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and daughter, and we’ll spend Christmas with D’s brothers and their extended families here, which means I’m able to borrow some grandchildren for the holidays. (Take your time, dear daughter. I’m content to borrow grandchildren until you’re ready to produce some.)

And so, dear friends and family, I wish you a Christmas steeped in whichever traditions are dear to you. May you enjoy a blessed yule, a reflective solstice, and the warmth of friends and family. Frohe Weihnachten!

Culture Shock?

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anatole France

I’ve been back in the US for two months now, after having lived in Germany for over 28 years. People have been asking me, “So, are you experiencing culture shock?” The answer’s not as easy as I’d anticipated. Yes, there are things that I miss about Germany and about living in Europe, but I’ve been too busy settling into my new home and new life to focus much on that. I’ve read that expats who return to the US often go through a period of mourning. Wow – mourning. Will readjusting to live in the US really be that difficult? For the time being, I’m trying to focus more on what I enjoy about this new situation than on what I miss about “home.”

Here are some things I love about living in Tacoma:

  • The weather. Really – it’s hardly rained at all! I know that I can expect some serious dampness in the coming months, but summers up here are warm and lovely. Right now I’m sitting in the back yard, listening to the patter of the lawn sprinkler and enjoying the late-summer warmth. And back “home” in Bitburg, my loved ones are starting their school year in the high 50s. Blech.
  • The huge, mature trees. They’re everywhere, soaring over even the dumpiest neighborhoods. I’m sitting under a tall ornamental cherry tree, and over my shoulder is a magnificent magnolia. The evening air is still, but when the wind blows, the tall firs down the street wave hello. And there’s a mimosa tree across the way – I thought they only grew in hot climates. Living in the Pacific Northwest is like living in a green, well-planted park.
  • The parks! Tacoma has several, and we’ve only begun to explore them. Today we walked along the Puget Sound in Point Defiance Park. The Tacomans (Tacomites? Tacomians? Tacomazoids?) of the 1800s and early 1900s gifted us with some lovely green spaces in which to relax. Thank you!
  • The sea. OK – it’s the Puget Sound, but it’s salt water, and it smells like the sea. This will be the first winter since my childhood that I’ll be able to visit the sea; that was always a summertime treat, living in landlocked Germany. The sea speaks to me, and I can visit her every day if I wish.
  • Friendly, helpful people. Now, I’m not going to start in on German standoffishness. Most German people I met were at least pleasant, and many were salt-of-the-earth, warm-hearted, generous people. But there’s a certain correctness, a certain distance in everyday dealings with German strangers and acquaintances. Sometimes I like that, such as when waiters are not overly chummy and intrusive. (For goodness sake, let us eat a few bites before asking, “How are we doing? Anything else I can get you guys?”) On the other hand, I find most people here to be relaxed, friendly and helpful in a way that’s very welcoming. And even though I value learning other languages, it’s a relief not to have to constantly think about how to phrase what I want to say. It’s so relaxing to be a native speaker.
  • It’s fun to work out at the Y!M!C!A! Oh my gosh, I love this place! The Morgan Family Y in Tacoma is a huge facility with great equipment, a big pool, a plethora of fun exercise classes, and the members are so diverse – everyone from little tiny kiddos to very elderly people can be found working out and playing at the Y. This is what fitness should be about – it’s a welcoming place for the whole community. And now that we’re retired, we’re working out pretty regularly.
  • Sixth Avenue, Proctor Ave, and the theater district in Tacoma – all full of funky, quirky little shops, cafes, nightclubs, restaurants. The walkability of these areas and the attractive old buildings give these parts of town a “European” vibe, so we can get a bit of the feeling of “home.”

On the other hand, there are some strange foreign ways here that puzzle me. For instance:

  • My fellow Americans, your wardrobe choices are often perplexing. I’m all for freedom of expression, but do y’all look in the mirror from time to time? For example, what’s with the knit caps, young people? The weather’s been in the 80s most days, and yet I keep seeing young people wearing warm knit hats. Today I saw a young woman at the beach, standing in the water, wearing a bikini and a knit hat. ????
  • No umbrellas? We’ve only had a few rainy days, but the other day when I entered a coffee shop I looked around in vain for a place to put my dripping umbrella. You see, in Germany, where it rains a great deal, every café, restaurant and office has an umbrella stand right inside the front door. That way you don’t dribble all over the floor. But a few natives have already informed me that “We don’t use umbrellas around here.” Well, y’all go right ahead and get wet if that makes you happy, but I’m going to carry an umbrella. I don’t obey silly rules.
  • Wow, groceries are expensive! I’m learning how to shop all over again, and I’m afraid it’s going to involve a lot of driving back and forth across town. This place offers a decent price on fish; that place way over there has affordable produce, and Trader Joe’s has all sorts of culinary treats – but it’s way over on the other side of town. Grocery shopping takes strategy around here!
  • Speaking of prices, how do they get away with charging so much for very ordinary restaurant meals? Just sayin’ – as the young people in floppy caps (and bikinis) say.
  • It’s spelled Puyallup, but it’s pronounced “Pew-allup.” How come? Either spell it like it sounds, or say it like it’s spelled! But I’m looking forward to going to the state fair there next month.
  • Noisy people. In Germany, anständige Leute (respectable people) do not yell in restaurants. But here? With your tasty lunch you get a free side of – pandemonium! We went to a “nice” pub-style restaurant the other day, and the people at the next table over, well-dressed middle-aged people, were shrieking and hollering at each other! And the general noise level was what I’d expect to encounter at a football stadium, right after the home team scores a winning touchdown. Hush, people! Use your inside voices! I feel my German sensibilities bristling when I can’t tune out those loud voices. And don’t tell me to just ignore them, dear reader – their noisiness is inappropriate for the setting and occasion, and it’s inconsiderate.

I must admit that I already miss that German sense of Ordnung, a sense of order and occasion that makes daily life a bit less chaotic. Intellectually, I respect people’s freedom to express themselves, but at the gut level, my inner German is having a hard time with some of my fellow Americans.

Well then, I guess there is some culture shock at work here after all.

 

We’re having a heat wave.

What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.

– Jane Austen

So much for the cool, rainy Pacific Northwest that I was warned about. Today’s weather in Tacoma reached the upper 80s. Ugh.

What not to do on a hot summer’s day:

  1. Paint the bathroom. But that’s what we’re doing today. The little drops of paint that patter down onto my face are not refreshing. Neither is the smell.
  2. Cook a hot meal. But that’s what I’m doing today. You see, I’ve vowed to stop wasting food, and there are these odds and ends that would make great turkey burgers with a fresh tomato-pepper sauce, and a potato gratin to use up the leftover cream cheese and spinach dip. It’ll taste great in the cool basement.
  3. Try to think of something to write. Unless it involves murder. I’ll bet a lot of mystery novels get their start on an oppressively hot day. I’m not at all angry – in fact, I’m feeling quite mellow. And yet, wouldn’t it be thrilling to shake off this lethargy by doing away with someone who really needed doing away with? (In a strictly fictional sense, of course.)
  4. Garden work. I hear you slithering down onto the lawn, you big ol’ magnolia leaves, but I’m not going to rake you today. You can just lie there until you rot.
  5. Argue with your computer. Fine, you want to put the curser there, you miserable, second-guessing slab of electronic trash? Go ahead! Jump that curser all over the page! And then decide to turn my bullets into numbers – I’ll show you… Hey, perhaps a novel about a woman who goes berserk after arguing with her computer on a hot day, then poisons the sneering, unhelpful computer tech by feeding him a potato and death cap mushroom casserole, and then buries him out in the back yard under the pile of magnolia leaves!
  6. Oh, but corpses attract flies, and there are too many flies here already. Ah well.

 

 

Do What You Love, and the Money Will (Not) Follow

You know, I did not want to make my profession the subject of this blog. Rather, I wanted to focus on the joys and challenges of being a middle-aged woman, and on the exploration of ways to increase the enjoyment of life despite the demands of being a full-time employee. But when I read Miya Tokumitsu’s essay In the Name of Love, which so cogently articulates the poison of this elitist attitude toward work, I had to chime in. (Read the essay here.)  And so, here is my response to “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

Balderdash! Bullshit! This ridiculous claim devalues the work that I do – the work that most of us non-elite, non-privileged working stiffs do – and is a blatant ploy to coerce even more underpaid or unpaid labor from us. We must resist this poisonous propaganda.

I work as a public school teacher; that’s my profession, my “day job,” not my passion. I don’t come from a wealthy family; I don’t have a trust fund; I don’t have the luxury of doing what I love all day long. I have to earn money to pay the bills, and teaching teenagers is what I do to pay those bills.

My profession is particularly subject to this kind of blatant exploitation – not only from our employers, but from our clientele. All teachers have heard this sort of claptrap: “Well, no one goes into teaching to get rich. Everyone knows that teachers don’t make much money, so you should only go into teaching because you love children.” Bullshit! Teaching is a job, like any other. My job is to help students improve their reading skills, their written communication skills, their oral expression, their critical thinking. My job is to help them understand literature, history, and current events. My job is to foster their creativity via dramatic performance, and to develop their ability to speak, read, write and understand another language. It took a lot of training to do all that – both at university and on the job – and I do my job well. It’s important to me to do work that furthers social justice and makes a positive impact on my community, and teaching young people fulfills that obligation in a way that, say, designing advertising campaigns for lingerie would not.

But my administrators, the parents of my students, my students, and the hateful teacher-bashers who populate the media and social networks – from them I hear that I should willingly, joyfully give more time, more work, my evenings and my weekends, the time I should spend on my family, friends, fitness, personal errands, and even my passions – I should gladly give up that time to sponsor after-school activities, to provide one-on-one tutoring, to create a classroom blog – to do all manner of time-consuming, exhausting, soul-sucking projects – and I should want to do this for free out of love for the kids.

I like most aspects of my job. I like young people, I like most of my students, and I’ve really loved some special students that I’ve been privileged to know. But I do this work to earn money. I would not do it for free. To imply that I should do so is to devalue the twenty-five years of physical, mental and even spiritual labor that I’ve put into doing my best at this job. Teaching our children to write essays and understand literature is not my passion – it’s my job. And that guy who drives a truck to deliver organic produce to your Whole Foods store? That’s not his passion. And that nurse who works the night shift at the ER and comforted your feverish toddler? That’s not her passion. And that computer tech who set up your home computer network? That’s not his passion. That kid who makes your fancy coffee just the way you like it every morning and serves it with a smile? That’s not her passion. Get real, privileged people. We working stiffs do what it takes to pay the bills. Most of us take pride in our work, but don’t you ever imply that we should willingly work for free or for a pittance out of love for kids, coffee-drinkers, bumbling computer users, consumers of organic produce… That ridiculous propaganda ignores the fact that we work because we have to. My passions have to wait until I get home from work. Keep your greedy hands off my passions, and respect my work.

Bitburg, Goa, Malaga

Today is April 5th, and the thermometer on my car’s dashboard reads 1.5 degrees Celsius – that’s 34.7 decrees Fahrenheit. Damn! The sky is the color of old sweat socks; the daylight is feeble and dim; the trees and shrubs are clenched tightly – nothing has budded out except the snowbell flowers. The crows flap and scudder across the brown lawn outside my classroom window, grumbling and complaining. Today I feel like a scruffy old crow, my feathers puffed out against the never-ending cold.

How are we to keep our spirits up during a prolonged cold spell like this? I wonder how people in Finland do it – or Alaska, or Saskatchewan. The cold and dark sap my will to do anything but veg on the couch with a good book, or perhaps with some bad TV. I’m gaining weight – who wants to go out walking in this crappy weather? And our base gym isn’t heated. I know, I know – there are plenty of things I could do to raise my spirits and my energy level. I could put on some salsa music and shake my ass like Shakira. I could throw away the lesson plan and put my students into groups to write horror stories. I could put on every bit of bright-colored clothing I have, all at once. I could cook up a spicy Thai curry.

But I digress – I’m actually sitting at my desk listening to Suburbs of Goa Radio – funky, soul-warming South Asian music. It tamps down the frayed edges of my pre-flight nerves. In a few hours I’ll head to the airport and fly to the Costa del Sol for spring break. Malaga, here I come. All week long I’ve been annoying my students by humming “Que Viva España” – badly, I’m sure. The prospect of this vacation has kept my spirits up all through the frantic last week before report cards.

But for now, I’m huddled at my desk, wrapped up in a big turquoise shawl that I bought last spring break in Rhodes. It’s the color of shutters on whitewashed Greek village houses. It takes me back to a happier place and time, and the possibility of sun, warmth, relaxation and fun. I think that if we didn’t have spring break, the students would just put their heads down on their desks and weep – surrendering to the cold-weather blues, the interminable march of school day after school day, and the snarky commentary of the crows. I know that I would.

Happy spring break, everyone!