Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Oh, this is ridiculous

This morning, I am sitting in the ladies' room at work, peacefully minding my own business, when the door begins to unlock. "Just a minute," I yell.

I stagger out. One of my coworkers, who has been under a LOT of stress due to general administration hostility, is standing there crying.

There is a brief shuffle at the door. I attempt to put a hand on her shoulder and say something helpful, but she brushes past me, marches into the ladies' room, locks the door, and sobs that she's not coming out.

She repeats it a couple of times, just in case.

I am in a bind. A colleague is in the ladies' room, crying. She says she's not coming out. What to do? At a more normal school I might have gone to the principal for help, but in this case that would be sort of...counterproductive. "Excuse me, Mr. Javert? Mr. Valjean is in the bathroom, crying..." Not that I want to compare our principal to Inspector Javert. I have a soft spot for Javert.

So I got one of her colleagues from the horrible reading program that sparked the whole damn mess. He's a friend of hers, I think. He apparently got another (female) teacher on the hall to go in, and talk to her. We got through the rest of the day.

Then I went to the doctor, was prescribed Paxil, told to lose weight (but gently and in passing, because it's Kaiser), and reminded that my eggs will start to drop off in three years, and I should remember to reproduce soon.

Paxil. This should be interesting. I now have Paxil, Xanax, and beta-blockers, but must knock off alcohol. Too confusing!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A boyfriend of valor

Who can find, for his price is above rubies...

He observeth that the girlfriend is twitching and writhing from pain in her side, and encourageth her to call the advice nurse,

While she speaketh on the phone, yea, he riseth from his bed, and getteth on his clothes without discussion, and goeth to the computer to look up the directions to the emergency room in Richmond,

While she apologizeth tearfully for letting this happen on the erev of his thirtieth birthday, yea, he sayeth unto her, "Get in the van, sweetie, and if you say you're sorry again, I am going to turn around and drive you back home and let you suffer."

He parketh skillfully, and leadeth her to the ER check-in, and he watcheth MASH and Roseanne reruns without complaint until two in the morning.

He cheereth her up, and holdeth her hand whilst the urinalysis draggeth slow in the watches of the night, yea, he rejoiceth with her when the antibiotics are brought, and his paper cup is overflowing in ice water with, for some reason, a straw in it.

Plaid and denim are his clothing, and he shall get a mint chocolate cake in time to come...

(Note, it is just a UTI, and now that I have Cipro, (and three huge Tylenol in the ER), I am feeling quite a bit better. Apologies to the King James Bible translation team.)

Monday, February 20, 2006


Today the Balabusta and the fella went to Ikea.

I like the movie _Fight Club_ very much, but I find it largely ridiculous, and one of the things I find ridiculous about it is the contempt expressed for Ikea by the less civilized alter ego. My God, what's the problem with Ikea? The fella tries to explain. Ikea represents the mass-marketed world. OK, but these guys, when they try to get back to essentials don't start to craft old-world furniture with antique tools. They beat the hell out of each other bare-knuckled. So who cares where their furniture is from?

Anyway. I like Ikea. I like the many things that you can buy there. I like the ridiculously reasonable prices these things are offered at. I like the beautiful little mini-apartments they put in the showroom, where you see how you can have a fabulous and fashionable home in 200 square feet of livable space. I like the weird and often unpronounceable names given to each model item. I enjoy buying weird lingonberry-flavored things in the little food store.

And the Balabusta and the fella had a gift card from the Balabusta's parents, so off we went.

We wanted three things: a throw rug for the living room, curtains for the computer room, and a desk chair for the fella, whose chair, after meeting incredible abuse, died in transit between homes. The fella has been sitting in a kitchen chair at his computer desk ever since. This is not a good idea, particularly since on a day off, he can rack up to ten hours of sitting time in front of the computer.

We found, almost immediately, the "Bonney", a perfectly nice desk chair. It comes in blue and black, also red, but the fella was not going to pick red. He tried out a couple other chairs, while the Balabusta sat in the "Jules" and scooted herself around using her feet, but the "Bonney" it was. We proceded.

We then found an area rug. Well, not before a brief showdown, when the Balabusta mentioned in passing that the rug we had admired when we moved in the summer was $500.00. The fella declared that he would never pay that much for a rug. This led to a brief bout of snarling, when the Balabusta pointed out that

a. The fella had picked out the $500.00 rug last time
b. had suggested they save up for it and
c. had discouraged the buying of a temporary rug, since they should put the money toward the rug they wanted

No one was hurt in the resulting fracas, although a Sturvikk cushion was thrown. We found an area rug. It is blue and mustardy-gold, and quasi-Persian in design. The fella found it, then was offended when the Balabusta said she didn't like the border, and refused to shop anymore. The Balabusta hunted the area, and came back to the fella's pick. It is now in the living room, on the floor. Name of "Brattsby". It is made of 100% polypropelene. The fella has been warned that in the event of fire he is NOT to stand on or near the living room area rug. We're trying to get it to lie flat, using technology, namely several heavy textbooks placed on the corners. So far, it appears to be adapting to its new environment.

Meanwhile, the fella was looking for curtains. This is a kind of a tricky item, since the Balabusta feels that curtains are to cover windows (like the wall of glass leading out to the deck from the computer room), and to lend some color and grace to a room. The fella feels that curtains are meant to block out as much light as possible from entering a room. By the time the Balabusta caught up to him, toting the Brattsby, he had found the curtains of his dreams. Dark, indigo blue, plain and heavy.

OK, fair enough, except that they're out of them. I vaguely remember they were also out of them in the summer. These are some popular curtains. We considered indigo LINEN (more expensive, and I imagine, prone to wrinkle, but nice), but eventually find some heavy cotton ones in a shade of much-washed denim.

So we got out of there, and decided to spend the remainer of our gift card money on dainties from the food shop. Gravlax! Cloudberry jam! Weird torte stuff! Swedish meatballs! Get to counter! Learn that they won't accept gift card! Stand for five minutes while we wait for supervisor! Learn that supervisor is only coming to reset cash register! Go through line again! Pay for gravlax!

And so we came home. A good day's shop, and a lovely Christmas present from the Balabusta's family.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

I Don't Like Butter Cookies

Just never have cared for them that much. So I'm unlikely to be doing as Michelle Malkin suggests, and buying lots of Danish products to balance out the fact that the Saudis are now boycotting Danish goods due to the Great Cartoon Schism.

Look, you know there's some Saudi woman out there who loves her butter cookies, and will get them through the blockade somehow, so can we consider that she's eating mine?

I briefly considered that the fact I'm planning to go to Ikea tomorrow to buy a throw rug might count toward supporting Danish industries, but then I remembered that they're Swedish. Do they maybe have a chair factory in Denmark?

What do they MAKE in Denmark, anyway? Besides butter cookies and blond furniture that's probably made in Sweden anyway. Lutefisk? Electronics?

Never mind. This cartoon thing...

I finally saw the cartoons in question just now. Michelle Malkin posted them all to her site. Not real impressive. Two are just classic cartoony sketches of a man who looks pretty much as Mohammed looks in all the medieval Persian drawings I've ever seen. (And at least one modern Persian cartoon I've seen--which has so far not incited anyone to do anything.)

A couple I would indeed call offensive. The infamous bomb-turban is one is trashy. The 'stop the suicide bombings, we're out of virgins' one is an old joke.

Several are self-referential--the one where the artist draws himself furtively drawing a man in a khaffiyeh is interesting, as is the one of the artist in a turban labelled 'PR stunt', holding up his sketch.

Now that I am a big qualified expert, allow me to pontificate:

1. I STILL do not understand the exact reason this silly and unpronounceable paper decided to do this damnfool thing. Westerners have been portraying Mohammed for a long time. (So have Easterners.) This strongly smacks of making a big fuss out of breaking a taboo that never actually inconvenienced you in the first place--something I became familiar with in college, but still think is stupid.

2. Supporting freedom of speech does not, thank heavens, actually involve having to support the specific speech itself, or tell the people whose rights you defend that you think they're clever.

3. None of these pictures was worth anyone dying over.

4. The pictures didn't start the fire, any more than Sharon strolling up the Temple Mount started the intifada. This was a publicizable flash point for something already in progress.

5. The Italian government dude who made a t-shirt out of the cartoons didn't start the fire either, but still deserves to have his tuchis kicked for being annoying and stupid. I would do it myself, but suggest a more neutral observer--perhaps a Shintoist--should do it instead.

6. Somehow, I'm not really in a mood to exalt Denmark for this particular blow for free speech. It's not that I strongly disapprove, I just don't feel this was such a clever thing to have done that I should go out of my way to put a Danish flag on my blog and eat lots of butter cookies. As mentioned above, not crazy about butter cookies. Why don't Danes make caramels with real butter and sea salt? Why do they leave that to the French? They have butter and sea salt too.

7. The Balabusta hereby condemns all the usual suspects for inciting violence, hypocrisy involving cartoons about Jews, blah, blah, blah. Folks, we knew these folks did not like us, so what's the point?

As you may be able to tell, I am in a state of general annoyance with almost everyone involved with this. I am not impressed.

All this has made me nostalgic for a favorite cartoon, which I should try to find some time. In it, Moshe makes his way down Sinai, clutching tablets. He addresses the people. (No speech bubbles yet.) One of the people raises a hand and apparently asks a question. (No speech bubbles yet.)

"Good question," says Moshe. "I'll ask."

He turns around, and takes the tablets back uphill with him. The people wait. He returns, slightly singed, hair standing on end. He addresses the people.

"Yes. You have to obey all of them, all the time. This concludes the &&*#&*#&*# question and answer session."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'm on Drugs

Around Sunday I started to freak out completely with work-related stress. Mr. Balabusta Sr., who is a big believe in better living through chemistry, marched me to Kaiser and had me spill the whole wretched story to a nice doctor who gave me some anxiety meds and strongly recommended I talk to my general practitioner.

Who I have never actually met. Name of Fong? Something like that. Anyway.

I now have generic Xanax, and some beta-blockers. I have been taking them in small doses. I have really mixed feelings about this, but I have to admit the world has improved about a hundred and ten percent. I am calmer, and able to think of sensible solutions. I do not cry when I get to school. I do not have a panic attack when my principal walks by. I stay calm, and fairly stable. This allows me to go home and--well--act like a human being.

The fella is somewhat baffled. After months of weeping wailing snarling girlfriend, he has a happy, stable, rather playful woman wandering around the house.

I'm moderately disturbed by how unlike myself I feel, and by how nice that is. Appt. with therapist on Shabbos, will discuss.

Anyway. This isn't a permanent solution, but for the time being, it's allowed me to get through the week, which I would have bet against on Sunday.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Perfect Storm

Yesterday was more than a little surreal. I left the house at 6:25 AM, and returned 15 hours later, practically gibbering. In between--oh yeah--in between.

It was a 'minimum day', where we have no lunch and short classes, and the kids get out at 12:25. I taught. Then there was the language arts department meeting.

We're having some bad problems at our school site right now. Chief among them is that we have been ordered to teach 'strategic' cores next year. It was expected that we would vote on one of three methods of doing this.

It turned into a two-hour meeting. Two people cried. One of them was male. It was not fun.

After the meeting, I zipped off to my next meeting, the ELD meeting for the district. I like most of the people I see there. There is this one woman, though, who has my equivalent job at another middle school across town, who bugs me in certain ways.

She's extremely confident, and she lets people know, frequently, in no uncertain terms, just how good she is. She's one of those people who mistakes MY self-depreciation or non-confrontationality for timidity and general incompetance. She likes to help me, by telling me just what to do. She also tends to talk a lot of losh about people in the district. She's not intolerable, but she's someone I find it kind of hard to cope with.

Yesterday, I mentioned at the meeting that we have a new group of language arts classes, which are essentially sheltered or strategic classes, (long story), and that it's been stressful for the teachers working on it to create the curriculum and materials as fast as needed. I THINK that's all I said.

She comes up with a bright idea. We should use the most advanced level of the crummy program I teach in ELD as the strategic core text.

This is not a good idea, and it will not be taken kindly by the people who are teaching this class, but I vaguely murmur that I will mention it, that's an interesting idea, and I'll see if there's any interest.

This gal grabs my hand and says, assertively, "NO, Balabusta, you have to TELL them what they need to do!" I say, with a touch more acid, that I will ASK if they are interested.

So, we finish that meeting, and then go to a parent meeting, and then I get home and collapse.

Next morning I go to the teacher who's involved in the new core class, and ask if he's interested in my books. That would be a NO. OK, I say, and go away, mission accomplished.

Next thing I know, the daft woman who suggested it has e-mailed my principal and my VP, mentioned my name, and promoted the whole stupid idea to them again.

Eeeeeech. I e-mailed back, telling her I had floated the idea, and they AIN'T INTERESTED. She, by return e-mail, hopes I didn't mind, but thought I might want some support from my 'ELD colleagues'. Translation: I am too timid and stupid to transmit the idea and make it stick. She also implies that the teacher I approached can't be well-qualified to teach English learners. I shoot back another e-mail, defending him, and mentioning a little more aggressively that this kind of a touchy moment at our school, and my name should probably not be linked to attempts to push semi-scripted curriculum on other teachers.

Note to self: stay away from this woman. Combination of self-righteousness and chutzpah is not good news.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Cinnamon Dolce

Today I left school after an intensely weird staff meeting. (Coworker to principal: "This whole year was a joke! There has been no support! No respect! No organization." Principal: "Thank you. We have two minutes left. Does anyone want to add another question for the committee?" Coworker stuffs paperwork into shoulder back and leaves meeting two minutes early.)

I went into downtown (small East Bay community, name withheld) to pick up a prescription at Kaiser, and even though I felt like hell, it was warm, and breezy, and the whole world smelled like spring. And I stopped at Starbucks and got a cinnamon dolce latte, and it was marvelous, and the buses were running for me.

Down the street, a magnolia tree has started to bloom, and the cherry and almond trees are going berserk.

I wish I wasn't so stressed, and that I could open my classroom windows and let the spring breezes sweep in--but a little sweet goes a long way right now.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Is this what burnout feels like?

It's my second year of teaching, same school I started in. Right after finishing my credential, I bopped all over the Bay Area, interviewing everywhere.

From the start, I felt--I don't know--inadequate. As though I wouldn't be good enough and wouldn't get what I wanted. My credential program didn't really seem to have taught me what I needed to know--how to create a classroom system, how to enforce rules, how to manage paperwork. I loved my credential program, but it was very academic, and not real practical. Lots of political correctness. I'm good at that. Not so much 'what do you do when the kids won't ****ing sit down'?

Some of the people in my classes seemed really confident. They loved student teaching. They felt as though everything they were doing was right. They may have been delusional, but GOD I envied them. I related a lot more, though, to the redheaded guy from Boston who showed up to class drunk a lot, and was losing his marbles in student teaching because the high school kids couldn't understand mercantilism, no matter how loud he yelled. (We voted him 'most likely to become a college professor out of sheer frustration'.)

And I wanted to be like the woman who taught religion classes at a local Catholic high school, and was always correcting papers about symbolism in the Bible, and really seemed to love the girls she taught.

My lifetime goals are pretty simple. I want to raise a child, maybe two. I want to publish a novel, maybe several. And I'd like to buy a house (given the Bay Area, this may be the least realistic, but the fella and I have talked about it). But I'd also like a job that feels okay and pays the rent.

I don't have one. It pays the rent, it just doesn't feel remotely OK.

So, this is how I got here. I interviewed EVERYWHERE, and finally, just after Labor Day, got a half-time job teaching ELD at a middle school in an undisclosed community in the East Bay. I was told that I would have sixteen kids in my class, and that they were choosing me because I had a 'sweet manner' that they thought would be soothing to the poor, scared little immigrant kids.

Two weeks later, I had twenty-nine kids in my class, and they ranged from NO English to native speakers who'd been dumped on me because their grades were low. I struggled through the year, managed to wheedle myself a full-time job, and came back for more.

Big mistake.

I'm drowning.

Keeping order is pure hell. The administration sucks. The kids aren't afraid of getting in trouble. The kids are wild, many of them with undiagnosed LD and SPED problems. I'm the ELD coordinator this year and I'm drowning. The principal is hard to handle. The VP is affectless. The counselor quit at the beginning of December, so basically, all hell is breaking loose.

I assume I will not be hired back next year. Except for the cringing, horrible, ego blow, this is probably good, because otherwise some misplaced optimism might lure me back. I don't want to get up in the morning. I'm working constantly, and getting farther behind. I hate teaching.

I hate teaching.

I think I might like it if, say, I had just one or two behavior problems in a class, if I had more photocopies, if I had kids who didn't throw their silent reading books out the window. If I had a principal who just once said "What can we do to help?" rather than "You need to be able to control your class." If I spent an hour in transit every day instead of three. If I even had individual desks and chairs for the kids, instead of tables that make it impossible to group them or make sure everyone is facing forward.

I am tired of being the Wicked Witch of the West. I am tired of fighting with the kids every day. I am tired of everything.

I cry in the shower. I cry on BART coming home. If the fella weren't job hunting at the moment, I swear I would quit tomorrow. (Or would have quit last week.)

I think high school might work better for me. If I had the kids for fifty minutes, instead of two and a half hours. If I had students who understood my jokes, and parents who could talk to me.

I think this is burnout, and it makes me crazy. I went to so much trouble for this job, for teaching. I borrowed a lot of money to do this. I changed a lot of things. I can't stand the thought of losing it. I don't know what I'm going to do next. And I'm trying to stay calm, but I don't feel calm. I feel like hell.

Somewhere in my mind there's a picture of how this was supposed to be--me in a skirt and sweater set, teaching a bunch of kids who had mostly done the homework and could all read for a certain amount of comprehension. I drive a dinky little car, and help the kids try out for the drama club. I show the kids 'Throne of Blood' after we read "Macbeth".

I still want to be her.