Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Big News

Well, I meant to write this post earlier in the week, but it’s been hard to get done all the things I really want to do given that I’m sleeping ten hours a night, that a sudden urge to bake a loaf of banana bread tends to trump whatever other task I’ve set out for a given hour, and that figuring out what to wear to school tomorrow currently involves 45 minutes of rifling through my closet trying to find those pants I used to wear back when I wore my pants much baggier than I have been lately.

That’s right: I’m pregnant. I’m at the happy point where my two months of horrible nausea seems to have abated, and at the awkward point where none of my real pants fit me but it’s a little early to bust out the maternity clothes. I’m excited. My Old Man is excited. Both of us are a bit daunted. O. is really, really excited, and not a bit daunted. “I’m going to teach the baby everything you guys taught me!” he says. And he’s already decided how this new development will impact the family rock band: the baby will play keyboards.

And so the big decision has been made. If you know me and have asked whether we planned this (and a surprising number of people ask that question), you have received one of two answers:

1. “It wasn’t planned, but it wasn’t really unplanned, either.”

2. “Yes, and boy did we get pregnant quickly!”

And we did get pregnant quickly. Like several months before we thought we'd turn the big decision over to fate and have that marvelous six months of unprotected sex. The night this baby was conceived, I can assure you that procreation was the furthest thing from our minds. But it also happens that I’d recently started taking prenatal vitamins (a bottle I’d bought months earlier on sale, thinking we might need them before long) and that somewhere in the vicinity of that night I can recall remarking to my Old Man, “You know, having Christmas at home this year really made me feel open to the possibility of having another kid.”

So it seems that fate has spoken, perhaps in unison with our own unconscious impulses. And we join an established family tradition of not-strictly-planned children. My mother-in-law at the slightest provocation will tell the story of how she and my Old Man’s dad deliberated over whether to have a third baby or to buy a woodstove. They picked the woodstove. “And then a couple months later, we found out we were getting the baby, too!” Luckily for everyone, that baby turned out to be an easy child and a sweet person. I myself was a resoundingly unplanned baby, conceived as I was during September of my mother’s sophomore year of college and outside the bonds of holy matrimony (but not for long!). I also like to think of myself as having been conceived in the backseat of a car in the Steak 'n Shake parking lot, but there is no factual basis for this. (What? You know me and I’ve told you that I indeed was conceived in the parking lot of the Steak 'n Shake? And you accepted it as gospel truth? Well, aren’t you glad you read my blog so you get to learn the real deal?) And, from what I’m told, I ended up being an easy child and something of a sweetheart myself. So hopefully the family tradition will continue, temperament-wise. Our arms and hearts are open, in any case.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

There's Something I Have to Tell You

Oh, readers. Dear readers. I have not been telling it like it is. Or rather, I've been telling it like it is in one small corner of my orally hygienic life but not here in the spotlight, where I am actually spending most of my time. I have all sorts of... stuff going on, stuff I've not been at liberty to tell you about, but now it's time. But all this not-talking-about-the-main-stuff has been constipating my blog writing, and it's hard to get over that and just let it flow.

Here it is, the very last day of my Spring Break, and I have not written that post, the big post, the one with updates and details and spilling of guts. I'm feeling a little guilty. But I will write that damn post soon. I just wanted to get online, toss off a few mea culpas and raise the curiosity of the small band of devoted blog readers who still come here despite the fact that I've been posting once every 12 days or so.

So feel free to guess what's up. You never will. It's too strange. It's too complex. It's too unforeseen. Maybe I'm quitting teaching to pursue my real dream of becoming a dentist. Maybe my Old Man and I have decided we can't live without the Ferals, so we're moving to LA and have been scrambling to get our head shots done and find affordable digs within a bike ride of the ocean. Maybe I've become addicted to online porn and have finally given it over to my higher power and admitted I have a problem. Maybe I'm really a 20-year-old actress with no handsome, guitar playing husband and no adorable four-year-old drummer son, who in reality does not floss. Ever.

I'll let you know, soon.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Learn a Poem

If you like poetry, you should learn a poem by heart. Or if you already know a poem by heart, learn another one.

I went to a Chinese doctor for acupuncture recently, my first experience with getting stuck with long thin needles for theraputic purposes. I wasn't scared, since I have friends who've done it and claim it doesn't hurt at all. (It actually hurt more than I expected it to, but still not much.) The only thing that was tricky was the laying still for forty minutes.

The doctor stuck me, in the feet, the legs, the wrists, the top of my head. All good. Then he said "Now you will lay still for forty minutes." His Chinese accent gave me the glimmer of hope that he had said "twenty minutes." I checked. No. "Forty minutes. And relax." Relax? I am not a naturally relaxed person. If I am going to lay remotely still for forty minutes and relax, I need to be surrounded by hot water or aided by some mind-altering chemical. Otherwise, I fidget, twitch, and itch.

So I lay there, itching and feeling the urge to writhe, wishing I'd thought to bring my Old Man's iPod. Then a thought struck me: I will recite poems in my head. There's something very satisfying to me about having a poem I love at my disposal at all times, about running its syllables and images over my tongue, or even just through my brain. So I began, starting with poems I've learned more recently: Stanley Kunitz's "Touch Me," Ted Berrigan's "Sonnet III," Ron Padgett's "Love Poem," Sylvia Plath's "Nick and the Candlestick," Poem 14 from John Berryman's The Dream Songs, Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays." Then I moved on to poems I've known for awhile longer: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Musical Instrument," Charlotte Mew's "The Farmer's Bride," Edna St. Vincent Millay's "The Courage that My Mother Had," Plath's early villanelle "Mad Girl's Love Song," Countee Cullen's "Incident," Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Richard Cory," a few of Shakespeare's sonnets, various of Emily Dickinson's small poems. It was lovely. It whiled away the time, and I was actually able to relax, no itches. But eventually I ran out. The doctor came in for his every-so-often check, telling me that I had five minutes left. But no poems left.

Then I remembered. It was maybe the first poem I ever memorized, with my dad when I was nine or ten. "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert W. Service. A long poem. A five minute poem, easy. I was set.

Given that I'm teaching a poetry class this semester, and that I've assigned my students to memorize a poem to recite for the class, the timing couldn't have been better. It was a great anecdote to share with them the next day. And based on the reactions on a few faces, I think it may have convinced some students who weren't already sold on the value of memorizing poetry.

Of course, they would have all brought their iPods. But still.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Gender Studies

I’m currently teaching a Gender Studies class. It’s the third time I’ve taught the class, and this semester I have ten students. Because our high school is very small, it’s difficult to add new courses into the regular schedule, and so far I’ve had to teach Gender Studies as an Independent Study. This means two things: 1. we only meet once or twice a week, and 2. I don’t get paid for teaching the class. I don’t really mind not getting paid; I love teaching this subject, and invariably the students who seek out this class are among our school’s coolest juniors and seniors. I try to offset the relatively small number of class hours by giving my students plenty of outside reading and independent research assignments.

Last week we were only meeting for one day, one fifty-minute class period, and we were discussing a passel of readings I’d given the students on transgender identity and the sometimes complex distinctions between sex and gender. The afternoon of our meeting a Gender Studies student, one of three guys in the class, came up to me a few minutes before class. “Um, I’m really sorry, but I think I’m going to have to miss some or all of Gender Studies today. [Girlfriend’s name] has a lot of stuff going on right now, and I really need to be with her to talk it through.” I paused and briefly contemplated giving him an alternative assignment – a short written response to the week’s readings sent to the rest of the class via email, for example – but some impulse led me to say instead, “That’s fine. I understand,” and leave it at that.

My first year of teaching, I pretty much just said “no,” any time a student asked for an extension or a special favor; maintaining my authority was more important than a nuanced consideration of every request. At this point in my career, after more than a decade of teaching experience, I often follow my instinct in such cases. I don’t want to stand around assessing the validity of a student’s request, thus wasting time and inviting persuasion, but I also don’t want to fall into an automatic “yes” or “no” rut. This time my instinct told me to give this kid a break.

Later that afternoon, I mused on what led me to let my student off the hook without some compensating assignment. Largely I think it came from knowing something of my student’s girlfriend’s situation. She’s also a student of mine, from my Creative Writing class, and I know a bit about her life as the only daughter of almost maniacally strict parents guided by their severe interpretation of their religion and by a set of social codes learned in a culture very different than the one their daughter has grown up in. This young woman is truly in a difficult situation, and needs all the support she can get. I was also guided by my sense that the relationship between these two kids is a strong and healthy one, which in the two years they’ve been together has helped bring out the best in both of them.

As I thought about it, though, I realized that in helping his girlfriend weather this crisis, my guy student is probably learning more about gender, its effects on people’s lives, and its role in shaping his own identity, than he ever could in a fifty-minute discussion of our Gender Studies readings for the week.

Heterosexual relationships are not necessarily a way for individual men and women to come to a better understanding of gender; in fact, they often serve as an opportunity to play out the most tired and even destructive gender scripts out there. But in some cases, a stable, trusting relationship between a man and woman (of whatever age) creates the opportunity to move beyond the assumptions about our own gender and the “other” gender, to question how we feel about those assumptions and consider possibilities for resisting them.

I know my own early, long-term boyfriend was instrumental in helping me feel secure and accepted enough to explore my own early feminist inclinations. I probably would have grown opinionated and outstpoken, stopped wearing makeup, and embarked on my history of relative indifference toward body hair removal even without his support. But I know I was able to do all those things with greater confidence and less angst because I had a guy I was really into who continued to be really into me, even though I was a mouthy feminist with hairy legs and acne-riddled skin that I no longer covered with a face full of concealer and foundation. And I know that my old boyfriend sees his relationship with me as the source of his own commitment to feminism and his habit of relating to women with respect and consideration. In fact, I’ve had more than one of his subsequent girlfriends thank me for “training” him so well. And although I give my Old Man full credit for his superior level of coolness and his total lack of toughguy bullshit, I also think it can’t have hurt that in his youth he had a serious long-term relationship with a kick-ass Women’s Studies major.

So I don’t in any way regret giving my student a pass on class last week. I hope that he and his girlfriend were able to talk through her situation and, if not come up with solutions, at least reach some understandings that help her cope with it for now.