Sunday, February 19, 2012

The AMPM Downtown

The AMPM downtown 7/11/11

I have refined the "don't ask me for money" look.

After trips to Paris and Istanbul and Oxford where beggars wait for dumb Americans,

I have learned a curt headshake and frowning distant eye look that clearly says, "don't ask me."

I try not to go to the AMPM in downtown Bakersfield because

I'd rather just avoid the streetpeople or the conmen who make up convoluted stories about why I should give them my money.

And who treat me like I'm cheap if I give them less than a five.

"I just need enough gas money to make it to Riverside where my sister has a job roofing her house for me."

"Don't you have any more? Come on, I just need a little more."

But sometimes gas is cheaper there and it's more convenient to stop there, so I go.

And there is this young man who looks scruffy and unkempt and perfectly healthy enough to get a job

and I see him approaching out of the corner of my eye as he mumbles something hard to understand,

"There's a motel down the street, we just need-" but I cut him off with my effective headshake and he moves on.

As I finish pumping my gas, he walks over to a young girl standing under a yellow streetlight,

with her hands on a baby stroller.

I feel a wave of bile guilt rise in my throat as he shakes his head sadly at the girl.

They walk away and they are nearly to the end of the block before I drive behind them in my car.

I open the window and hand the man a twenty.

I wrote the above piece last July and I am proud to say that it was accepted to be in the Blinking Cursor Anthology, which just went to print. My copy is already on its way to me.

This was, of course, a biographical piece about a real event which I found haunting and upsetting. I don't want to ignore the needy; I hate being hard-hearted, but there are so many people out there who will take advantage of kindness that it's hard to know who has a legitimate need and who doesn't. If you've ever struggled with this dilemma, you will understand what I was trying to say.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Don't Teach What You Love.

Try to avoid teaching what you love. That's my advice to other high school teachers. Because when you really love something, like a book, or a poem, or a play, to the point that it's a part of who you are, it hurts too badly to have it spit on or criticized.

I learned that my first year teaching, with the book Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I love that book. I first read it in middle school and from that time, I have related to Jane on almost every level of my being. I want to BE her. The book launched my entire interest in Gothic Female literature, which I have read voraciously since that time. I wrote my senior thesis on Gothic Female Literature. And it all started with Jane.

So when I taught it to high school seniors...I was excited to share Jane with them.>.And devastated when they were bored, when they didn't get it, when they didn't care. When they said it was "stupid."

Of course, you can teach things you like. I like Shakespeare. I have taught Romeo and Juliet 13 times now and I like it a lot, I like it more every time I read it. But I don't love it. I don't relate to it on a personal level. So if the kids don't like it...I don't really care.

But last month we read poetry. And I love poetry. I am a poet. I know how hard it is to write. And I know how hard it is to get your poetry published. I have had 4 or 5 pieces published and every time, it's like a miracle. It has literally taken me years to get to this point, and I am still barely at the foot of the mountain. So when we read poetry by writers who are not only published, but who also make money writing poetry, they are like superheroes to me. Nobody makes money writing poetry. Unless you're Robert Frost or Maya Angelou or somebody like that. You have to be INCREDIBLE. I am awe of these people.

And yet again, I have little scrawny idiot students who say, "it's stupid." One particularly lovely darling said, "This poem doesn't even make any sense. I could write this in my sleep."

I had just spent 15 minutes explaining the meaning of the poem and discussing it with the class, so naturally, I couldn't help but chew his face off.

"Oh, really? You could, huh? You could write a poem that is so good that it's not only published the first time, but multiple times, and eventually put into one of the literature books for high school English? I'd like to see you try. You do that, kid, you write a poem that a legitimate literary magazine publishes. Then you tell me that you could do this easily. Because I am a published poet and I know, it's extremely difficult to do."

He seemed alarmed by my outburst.I am not sure how long I stood there sputtering my frustration and rage at him. After he left I punched a filing cabinet and threw my roll book on the floor. Very mature. I have been teaching for 6 years, but I just can't not get upset about stuff like this.

That is why it is best that I don't teach what I love. Let me teach computers or something that I am vaguely interested in, but that I don't really care about. It's probably better for me and the darling idiots.