Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sort of, Semi, Back on Track

This is starting to feel like an annual to semi-annual ritual at this point, the resurrection of my teaching career, which I had, this time, figured was pretty much down for the count, with a stake through its heart.

OK, bringing you up to date. A year and a half after my dramatic departure from St. Attracta's, I've taken another full-time teaching job. This is not an ideal job. Perhaps that's best. I went into St. Attracta's expecting a lot. This time, I am expecting relatively little. The school is a small charter with high academic expectations and an exceedingly high opinion of itself. The administration is lackadaisical, the students polite and well-prepared. I do not expect to be treated well, but I think I may enjoy the actual classroom teaching.

This is disappointing in certain ways. I thought I was running away from teaching, and by doing the MFT program, preparing myself for a different career, one hopefully more lucrative, and suited to my strengths. A year and a half later I am about halfway through the program, unsure of my ability to finance the rest of it, unsure of how I will manage to do the required clinical hours to complete the course, and more deeply in debt. And going back to teaching. But this needs to happen. I can't support my family on student loans and the money from a part-time tutoring gig down the street, and this is something that will work for a year, maybe two. I will figure things out, perhaps not in the short term I had hoped for, but I did accomplish a lot during this impromptu sabbatical.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Still Coughing, Outlook Unclear

First, I am still coughing. So there's that.

Secondly, I interviewed for a job at a high school, and I'm waiting to hear from them. If they call back, I will need to start almost immediately, which is going to be tricky on a number of levels.

It's going to be a weird job. And yet, I'm desperately hoping it comes through, because a year and a half in random free fall is enough.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Sick and Sniffly

Second day of Shvuos, and I'm down for the count. Got a lot of sleep.

Tomorrow, life begins again, and I am yet again wrestling with the financial aid people at my graduate program. This has been an ongoing disaster, and every time we do a new bit, I get hysterical all over again.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Throwing Stuff Out

I've got a bag of things that I'm planning to take tomorrow to the Gaia box.

One of them is a sweatshirt from a school I taught at many years ago when I was a very new teacher.

I kept it all this time, because even though the design was stupid, and I hated the school, it was a perfectly good sweatshirt, and also very roomy and comfortable.

But I resented it. It was a gift from the principal, who I disliked. She came around to my room, delivering them to everyone, and dropped mine off. I thanked her, and put it on the desk.

Some of the kids asked why I got a sweatshirt, so I explained all of the teachers got them.

And a little schmuck used his limited new English to ask, "Is it an EXTRA large?"

I've remembered that for six years, and have determined that now would be a good time to ditch the damn sweatshirt.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jewish Women's Lit Review--The Dovekeepers

This week I read The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

First things first, and since I'm going to get somewhat critical and nitpicky soon enough, and then start talking my own emotional response, I should first offer much-deserved praise: I read this book with enormous pleasure. The writing is lush and dreamlike, and the evocation of the Judean desert and Herod's palace fortress is amazing. I was delighted by the sense of visceral connection to the land that was communicated through the characters' eyes. The Dovekeepers traces the experience of four women following the destruction of Jerusalem, and throughout the siege of Masada, Yael, the daughter of an assassin from Jerusalem, Revka, a grandmother from a smaller community, Shirah, a midwife and witch with a complicated past, and her daughter Aziza, raised as a boy in Moab, and now struggling to find a place for herself on Masada. For all of my criticism, I would absolutely recommend this book.

Reading (and writing) historical fiction about Jewish communities is always odd for me. The people, the names, the language and the cycle of life is always at once utterly familiar, and (sometimes wildly) exotic. Some details of Jewish life portrayed in The Dovekeepers I find odd and unexpected, and I'm not sure if they are actually errors, or if I simply don't know enough about the period to know what I am reading. (I chalked up the presence of a northern European legionary, taken prisoner and sent as a slave to work in the dovecotes, as a somewhat silly plotline, and too reminiscent of The Bronze Bow, however apparently one of the artifacts discovered at Masada is a scrap of plaid fabric, apparently originating in Wales. So see what I don't know?)

Unmarried girls go the mikvah following menstruation, which seems odd to me, but may well have been the custom of the day. (More that I don't know.) At one point, bafflingly, a single, pregnant girl is subjected to the Sotah trial. There is a passage in which it's stated that women are not allowed to touch weapons, and those they handle will have to be purified before men can use them again. This is, in fact, a custom in a lot of places. Polynesia, say, or among Jean Auel's Neanderthals. But where in Torah does it say any such thing? The closest I've been able to find to this is an argument in the Talmud that a woman carrying weapons is beged ish, it is a man's 'clothing', and therefore assur. (I'm not sure that this would rule out one of those cute little 'Hello Kitty' assault rifles you see online occasionally.) However, a woman is allowed to pick up, wash, carry around, etc., a man's clothing. This prohibition has the feel of something randomly made up. Once again: I'm not sure. But it makes me wish that Hoffman's world-building felt more stable, as I attempt to sort out the ways of people who are as familiar as cousins and yet impossibly distant in terms of time, way of life, and religious practice.

There is a complex interweaving of women's magic and religion, which I am not totally comfortable with as an historically and critically minded reader. Shirah, 'the Witch of Moab', is described in lavish detail as having been raised and taught magic in Alexandria, by her mother, a kadesha, a biblical term defined by Shirah as a holy woman who is 'available' to priests. Shirah describes these women as, in her lifetime, being outlawed by the religious authorities, and going from being considered sacred to being considered ordinary prostitutes. Shirah's mother also teaches her daughter the worship of the goddess Ashtaroth, whose cult is presented through the novel in a jumbled way, sometimes forbidden by the priests of the Temple, sometimes accepted as an ordinary although private form of worship by the other women.

Remember, this is supposed to be happening in the first century CE. I'm not an expert on that era, but given how much earlier the emphasis on pure monotheism began, I am having a really hard time imagining that these specific (and highly appealing to a sizeable modern audience) religious practices survived to just about, but not quite the end of the Second Temple Era. It's not quite as insanely anachronistic as Clysta Kinstler's The Moon Under Her Feet, (little is), but it is unconvincing in this era. I bought it, (the concept, not always the portrayal) in The Red Tent. In a novel set during the early days of the First Temple, I wouldn't blink. In the life of a woman living through the siege of Masada, no. And there is something truly miraculous about the way the reverential worship of the divine feminine always seems to last just up to the period of any given novel that wants to include such elements.

Beyond my kicking of the tires of realistic portrayal of time and place, I found myself immediately sucked into the premise, and protective of the characters, and to some extent, the novel itself. Despite my own gripes, I found myself decidedly angry with the author of a dismissive review in the New York Times. I knew what was coming at the novel's end, and it gave the struggles and conflicts of the characters an added intensity for me. All of the characters are suffering recent trauma, in their own lives, and collectively, in the loss of Jerusalem. Hoffman refers to the fall of the city and the destruction of the Temple only glancingly, as in one reference when a character comments that this is the first Pesach when they cannot bring offerings to the Temple. For me, the single passing reference was gut-wrenching. I don't know if it would have had the same effect on a reader further removed from the material.

The fall of Masada was difficult for me, both in terms of reading, and in terms of how Hoffman handles it. Given the determination to survive of some of her characters, it doesn't seem unrealistic that they would disagree with the communal choice of mass suicide, but it troubled me in particular that one young man, chosen by lot to kill others, is treated by the narrator of this section almost as though he were committing a crime for personal satisfaction.

I suppose I wasn't going to react in any sort of a neutral way to a novel about Masada, but I was fascinated both by the novel, and the intensity of my reactions to authorial decsions. The story, realized, belonged to me in my mind, and I was both thrilled that someone was writing, and publishing, a novel about it, and deeply picky about how it should be done. A good read. Recommended.

So, I Did It

I actually departed the house, wrangled the buses, and made it to Netivot Shalom's twice-monthly Kabbalat Shabbat/Friday evening maariv.

It was nice.

We shall see.

The Husband is pleased that I am 'being a good Jew'.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Full Circle

So, I've decided that I need to make it back to shul.

I haven't been in a long time, except for the chagim and such. And it's time.

It will have to be Friday night services, since I'm working Saturday mornings, and will be for the foreseeable future. And doing this, still carless, and dependent on AC transit, is going to require a little bit of thinking and planning, and most of all, the willingness to stand on a street corner for far too long, but I think it needs to happen.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fat Shaming, Health, and the Atlanta Ad Campaign

So there's a little scuffle going on at the moment, because Children's Healthcare of Atlanta has been running the ads above, ostensibly as part of the fight against childhood obesity.

Fat activists are upset, but they don't seem to be the only ones distancing themselves from this. As the just-linked article comments, Dairy Queen approves this ad campaign, while Kaiser Permanente disclaims it, an odd pair of reactions if there ever was one. I can see why, though.

The Balabusta, having successfully lost ten pounds since the beginning of 2012, would like to report that she is still bothered by the degree of fat-shaming and blaming, and the ham-handed crappiness of these ads.

Caperton, over at Feministe, has a very good analysis of the ads, and I think it is well worth a read. My key problem with this, aside from the fact that I sincerely doubt it was a good use of funds, is that that, as always, people who like the 'fat will kill you, fatties' approach seem to have no clue or care what an already desperately negative environment for fat children they are projecting their additional, hopeless crap into. The idea seems to be that if you can make life bleak enough, with constant mockery, chiding, reminders that you're ugly, and reminders that this is all your fault, people will change.

How's that working out so far, Georgia?

"Fat children turn into fat adults" Fat adults get the same blaming directed at them. My interactions with doctors as an overweight adult have ranged from the mildly annoying to the horrifying.

(I especially cherish the woman who, along with a variety of other bizarre behaviors, many of them directed at my size, told me, when I called her office to ask if I should be concerned that my upper arm was double its normal size following a tetanus shot, that it was probably because of 'the fat on your arm preventing the vaccine from being absorbed'. Since you're supposed to shoot the stuff into muscle, I always kind of wondered about that. Luckily, I haven't gotten tetanus.)

I've been nearly yelled at, and told that I couldn't be helped when I expressed a distaste for Weight Watchers' program. I've suggested exercise ideas and been told they were 'too dangerous', and that I should take 'short, gentle walks'. (This to a twenty-something with the health of a horse.)

I've been dismissed for picking target weights for weight loss the doctor felt were too high, apparently on the theory that someone who decides to diet down to 120 pounds is more likely to do so that someone who targets 180. I've been shamed, insulted...and offered help exactly once. When I was in a graduate program at USF, I mentioned wanting to lose weight to the doctor there, who nodded agreeably and offered at once to set an appointment up with a nutritionist who could discuss my goals and help me put together a good food plan. The memory of that kindness still seems utterly startling.

In general, much of the 'healthcare community' seems to think that offering any kindness or hope to fat people will only encourage them to continue being fat. You know what kids do, Healthcare Atlanta, when their pediatrician tells them they're going to die, the TV tells them no one will ever love them, and the kids at school call them whales?

They go home and eat all the Hostess cupcakes they can get their hands on.

Think carefully before perpetrating this cruelty that pretends to be helpful into another generation. The obesity situation in the US is real. We no longer have the leisure of trying to fight it by attacking people.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Physical Therapy

As a Christmas present this year, my mother sent me to a physical therapist. All I can say is "Wow."

Briefly, my right lower back has been acting out like crazy for something over six months. Somewhere in the middle of that, my right ankle decided that now was an excellent time to develop tendonitis.

The tendonitis started when I was in college, and got very, very bad in my early twenties. I blame the tendonitis for a number of things, not least of which being that I gained a lot of weight gradually after college because moving was damn near impossible for several years on end. We tried a lot of stuff with the tendonitis, and eventually it receded, possibly due to a course of what I like to think of as electroshock therapy for my ankles--a process involving a TENS unit, little electrodes taped to me, and a cheerful lab tech who hooked me up and left me to be zapped while I read the paper.

Anyway, it was back, albeit only in one ankle, plus my back hurt. I was hobbling around like I was eighty, and not one of those spry eighty-year-olds who take tennis lessons either.

I went to a doctor in November, who barely glanced at the back. She bent me in a couple of directions, didn't know what it was, and shrugged. She was, however, worried about the ankle, which was, at that point, at its absolute tendonitisy best, so freaked out that I could hardly put weight on it, let alone use it to lift. She recommended the physical therapist. (She also wanted to discuss my weight, or rather, pass comments on it, and the screaming fury this sent me in to may well have been one of the culminating events leading up to my current diet.)

The physical therapist I was almost in tears during the exam. He took the pain seriously. He asked a lot of questions. He gave me exercises, and they are actually working. For the first time in months, I'm waking up without intense pain in my hip.

I'm sold.

(Also, eight, possibly nine pounds lighter since the beginning of the year. I am mighty.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Teaching--It's Not A 'Privilege'

A friend draws my attention to this:

When I send my children off to school in the morning I expect a few things to happen:

1) They should have fun at school

2) They should feel inspired and challenged

3) They should be allowed to explore their passions

Is that too much to ask! I don’t want to hear why my second grader needs to take benchmark exams (which are more like midterm exams you take in college), simply because you want your school scores to test high so that you can receive more state funding. This is not why I send them to school and this is not the definition of teaching. If you have teachers who love to teach and do their job well… then get the hell out of their way and let them teach. If you have lousy teachers who do the bare minimum then fire them before they taint the minds of our children. An education is the right of every child, but teaching those children is a privilege.

My Question: If a doctor doesn’t do her job well and harms her patients she loses her license. So, why don’t the teachers who harm the education of our children lose their licenses?

First, this person seems to have her blame leveled at several different people in this short piece. A classroom teacher does not decide if a second grader needs to take benchmark exams, or whether it would be better to have them learn with all their senses by doing a great unit on butterflies. So the 'why does my kids have to take the exam, just so you dumbos can get EVEN MORE state funding for your free public school' whine really has nothing whatsoever to do with the teachers. Or the administrators, in most cases. This is a state- and federal-level fight here. 

However, Mrs. High Expectations also seems to have absorbed the popular fantasy that the real problem in schools is bad teachers who somehow cannot be removed from the classroom. Hence the coy little whine about how doctors who are bad doctors lose THEIR jobs. (No, chica, that's not actually true. Even doctors who kill their patients usually settle through their malpractice insurance. You have to screw up more than a second-grade teacher generally does to lose a medical license.)

But never mind. This is someone who wants her kids to have a great school experience, and she wants everyone who's not contributing to to that out of the way, and as someone who hopes for her own future kids to have a good school experience, I can relate, and I'll keep my own thoughts about 'bad teachers', and what that really means for another day.

What I'm looking at is the 'privilege' statement.

Look, as someone who just spent eight years in education, and is now bailing, it's hard in some ways to say that teaching is not a privilege, if by 'privilege' we mean something special and wonderful that not everyone gets a chance to do. By that standard, many professions are privileges, as are many life experiences.

However, it is relatively rare for someone to write a blog post telling their doctor that practicing medicine is a privilege. They may tell their doctors that they are crappy doctors, or that they're getting sued, or that they're miserable excuses for human beings, but even pediatricians don't get the 'but taking care of my children is a privilege' nonsense nearly as much as teachers. (I am reminded of Brendan Behan, commenting on how people always remind you that 'a priest is a worker too'. He points out that people rarely feel the need to remind you that a ditch-digger is a worker too.)

This is because 'privilege' when we talk about teachers usually has other subtexts. It means "You're getting paid too much." It means "I blame you for my child's problems." It means "I blame you for our school district's decisions." It means "You're a Madonna or a dirtbag, depending on how I feel about my child's educational experience this week." It means, "I read online somewhere that teachers are getting paid $50,000.00 to sit in offices in New York because there's something wrong with the union there."

Teaching is not a privilege. It is a job. It is a moderately paid, highly responsible, extremely difficult job. If you do not like the job your child's teacher is doing, do something about it. Do what my friend Drora recently did, and get you kid transferred to someone else's classroom. Talk to the teacher. Engage politically, and find out WHY the second-grade teacher has to teach to the test, and what would happen to her in your district if she declined. But do not stand there and simper about how privileged teachers are, and how grateful they should be for the opportunity to do the job they were trained for.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Batoks and Stuffed Calimari

I watch a lot of cooking reality shows. Love 'em. "Hell's Kitchen, "Master Chef", "Top Chef", and "America's Worst Cooks" are all regulars on my Hulu list. But I'm often pulled up short by issues that come up on the show with contestants whose religious backgrounds conflict with the foods expected to be eaten on the show.

One of the contestants on a past season of "Master Chef" was Hindu, and had never eaten, much less cooked with, the incessant meats that feature on the show. Sheetal finally had to kill a Dungeness crab on the show, describing her decision to do so (and forgoing Chef Ramsay's offer to do it for her) as 'growing up a little'. Joe Bastianich even reassured her that the crab was happy to give up its life for her dish. I was, to be honest, a little aghast at everyone except Ramsay, who offered what he, at least, thought was a good solution. Killing the Buddha has a good commentary on the episode here, by Jessica Miller.

This season, "Worst Cooks In America" has Joshy, a young Jewish guy who was raised frum, and appears to have gone off the derech. His confusion about different cuts of pork seems to baffle his fellow contestants (how can you not recognize bacon instantly?), and his disgust over trayf seafood is apparent. He eats it, but he grabs a bite and swallows as quickly as possible. On the most recent episode, he has to stuff calimari.

I suppose that everyone who signs up for one of these things knows what they are in for, and the subsequent bafflement about people who don't know from bacon and have qualms about killing animals is par for the course, but it does rather annoy me. "No food is off limits to a CHEF!" Chef Ann announced in a recent episode of "America's Worst Cooks", and in the calimari episode, people were pushed to cook with foods they don't care for, or find challenging. Here's the thing though: the food on these shows never challenges the cultural assumptions of the assumed 'mainstream' participants. I have yet to see a show in which these aspiring chefs are encouraged to create or eat a batok, to do anything with insects, to cook with dog (for which I am, personally, profoundly grateful), or horse (ditto) That would be gross, disturbing, and (since mainstream food taboos are upheld by law as well as custom, making them even more invisible), probably illegal. (Mind you, I'm not complaining about this.) Food like this is saved for others shows, "Man Eats World", or "Fear Factor".

 I don't know why they don't do a vegetarian version of one of these shows. In the meantime, at least a little awareness would be charming. Chef Ann comments several times that Joshy is agitated during the calimari episode. Well, honey, it's pretty obvious why. Would it kill you to say, at least, "Joshy is working with food he has strong religious/cultural taboos against, and he's doing pretty good?"