Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Complicated: Update

Well, I got a kind of apology email from Pat yesterday morning. I think Cleo talked to her. In it, she said that she knew the 21st Century material was not ideal, was not giving our teachers everything they needed, but that teachers could glean the good stuff and ignore the rest. She also told me that she had called the publishers and they had said, in effect, "I'm sorry you don't care for it."

She has said this many, many times--every time the discussion has come up, in fact. I wish I had the gumption to ask her, "WHY are we still sending these people our money???" If she herself says that it's not a worthwhile thing...what? Why? WHY?

So, I don't know what will happen now, regarding the curriculum thing, whether we'll have a change or keep sending our church's money to these charlatans.

She closed by encouraging me to continue to teach, but somehow, I feel incredibly discouraged.

What am I even doing here? Generally, in life, in this blog?
I had entertained ideas that this blog might become a book someday--Rob put that idea in my head, and I fell in love with it. What kind of book would it be, though? I don't really know. Memoir? Resource? How-to? And who would read it (other than you, Phil, and thank you for your sweet comment)? What kind of credence would I have in putting forth ideas about how to better one's church education program when I can't even better the one in my own congregation? If I write a how-to, I'll have to put in something about dealing with people who are resistant to change...but I obviously don't know anything about that.

I feel that my call is to help children learn--the scriptures, yes, but also how to read them. Interpretive skills, history, introspection. I don't think this only applies to the 2-10 kids in my class. I think I want to have some kind of larger impact.

But how? I hardly even want to go to church this week.

One thing Pat wrote in her email was that she didn't have the education to make fancy graphs, but she knew what she was doing teaching the kids because she's done it forever. This seemed like a jab at my own education (masters degree, but not a terminal one), and her own insecurity about how it must make me view her. The funny thing was that I had assumed that she had a bachelor's. I thought that she was a teacher, before retirement. I actually don't know a thing about her background, but most churches ask someone who is a teacher to guide the church education program. From her comment, I'm guessing she doesn't. But still...why assume that I'm a snob because I went to school for 17 years? I know lots of very intelligent, imaginative, curious people who never went to college, particularly here in Virginia, where I think there are still plenty of opportunities for people without that education (less degree inflation, at least here near the Allegheny).

The funny thing is, I get that all the time. It's to the point that I don't even mention my graduate degree (in Shakespeare. I'm not even making that up. Talk about useful.). Of course, everyone at church knows about it because I moved here to pursue it.

Why should I be ashamed of that? And why should others assume it makes me look down on them? Really, I don't know how much grad school added to my education and personal development, though my undergrad (at the excellent and tiny Hiram College) was definitely a formative experience.

The heck with this. I don't even know what I'm doing.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I just got in to work, and found an email from Pat, the education coordinator, waiting for me.

She's apparently stepping down, because she thinks that I want her to, and that I've been scheming to get her out of there for some time. It's a really sad email, and it's a heck of a way to start a Monday. She accuses me of thinking that she's incapable and that I could do better.

This is particularly upsetting because I have been trying really hard to NOT make her feel that way.

And you know, I just don't have time for this drama right now. Seriously, my world is too complicated anyway, why should I have this going on too? And yet.

I feel really bad about the whole thing. I had no idea. If she was so upset, why didn't she ever say anything? Why didn't she get that considering alternative curricula was a suggestion, an idea? I have a really hard time dealing with people who assume that just about everything is ad hominem. Why can't this just be about an idea?

I wrote her back, telling her that I didn't want that job, and that I didn't mean to make her feel marginalized, thanking her for the times when she's been supportive, and asking her, if she had a problem, why didn't she just say so? Even if not to me, maybe to the former elder who is officially in charge of education, who has been encouraging me in my research?

Happy Monday, everybody. Let's hope the week gets better from here.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I've been mentoring a teenage girl. Her name is Erica. We've been trying to do some Bible study online. I didn't really know how to start this study, unguided by any specific book other than the Bible. Erica has been to a few of our teen events and comes to Teen Girl Squad regularly, but she's not a member, and her parents aren't either. I'm trying to think back to being fourteen, to the sorts of things I was wondering about; at fourteen, I had just started occasionally attending church with the young man who would grow up to become my husband. I still was a pretty serious non-believer. Erica says she knows she needs to be baptized, but she needs to study more before she feels ready. I remember that stage--I was about seventeen. What, then, do you want to know, Erica? Where should we start? "I just want to know more about God, and what we can do to make God happy."

That's a question I really haven't thought about in a while--it's both very simple and very complex. I started with the simple answer--the greatest command. God is all about love. I wrote her a rather long email on that. If she ever writes me back, we'll take a nice long look at the Sermon on the Mount. What makes God happy? Peacemakers.

I don't really know how to give her the answers she's looking for. I get the feeling she wants kind of a shortcut--one that doesn't involve the text. She won't get it out of me, poor thing. We've been studying the Sermon on the Mount, and she writes, "I know I'm supposed to like the people I hate, but how do I do that exactly?"

I wish I knew...I guess it's trying to see their humanity and their beauty despite their flaws...but it's not easy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Mighty Mommy

I don't know how many of you out there listen to podcasts, but I'm a real fan of "The Mighty Mommy" from Quick & Dirty Tips. I don't have any kids, of course, and most of her tips are for parents of young children (this week's topic--weaning breastfed babies), but I find it interesting and useful. My favorite Mighty Mommy tip to date is this one, for a young child who is upset (not "I want that toy and you won't buy it" upset; more like "The world is too much for me right now" upset). She recommends blowing bubbles and getting the kid to blow bubbles with you. Bubbles are endlessly entrancing, and if you get the kid to blow them, they'll breathe deeply, which has a natural calming effect. I actually used this in the nursery last time I served there. One of the kids was just in a mood--not crying or anything, but definitely not interested in the other kids. I happened to have bubbles that JC's sisters had given me in my purse. I pulled them out and started blowing. It was like magic. Mighty Mommy--check it, yo. And while you're over there, have a listen to Grammar Girl. She makes grammar fun! Just the other day, I was telling Robin that I would really love to have a job where I explained grammar to people. I'm more interested in *why* the rules are a certain way than what the rules are (though I'm into that too). Is there a job like that in the world? I think I might actually have the closest thing to it...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Teen Girl Squad: The Epistilary Form

My mom was visiting us on Wednesday, so she came to teen girl squad with me. I was supposed to start teaching them from a book called GIFTS: Girls in Fellowship and Teen Study, by Hannah Colley. Unfortunately, the youth minister and I got our wires crossed, and he ordered a book called "The G.I.F.T.ed Woman"--not the same thing. That one was mostly my bad; I didn't realize how obscure (as in, not available on Amazon) the Hannah Colley book is. Luckily, I still have Special Delivery, by Jane McWhorter, on loan from Kassi, so I did the first lesson from that. Special Delivery is a pretty good study, mostly about the power of writing letters. It contains advice about what to put in a letter depending on the situation (what do you say to a grieving family? To recently divorced people? When you're admonishing someone?), and samples of the letters. Before we started, I told the girls that the teen girls at Kassi's church had used this book for their Girls' Day. "For their Girls' Day, the teen girls did everything--they taught, cooked, lead singing, decorated, planned the craft, wrote the invitations. Everything. The whole year leading up to it, they took turns leading their girls' class, so they could learn to do all the things they needed to in order to run their Girls' Day. I'd like to do something similar here. Each week, one person will lead the discussion, another will lead singing, someone else will plan an activity, and somebody else will plan the snacks. So, the really good news is that we're going to start having snacks." I went on to tell them that, just because they were assigned a task, it didn't mean that they were all alone in it--I would meet with them and figure it all out. I want them to learn to be adult women in the church, to do the things that adult women in our church do. They weren't overly enthusiastic, but they at least seemed receptive to the idea. We'll see how it goes. We're going to use the GIFTS books, which have at last arrived (the right ones!). Kassi recommended those as well, and so did Amanda.

We then continued with our lesson, mostly about how God is always telling people to write down the cool things He is doing. About midway through Habbakuk, God tells the prophet to write down his vision and send it out to everyone in the world. None of the girls had read Habbakuk--and a few of them didn't even know what neighborhood of their Bible it was in. We also discussed the moment where Jesus stands up in the temple and reads from Isaiah, saying "Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your hearing." That reminded me of something my friend Jack, who is Jewish, told me about the Torah reading. It is set. They read the same scripture on the same day every year--for example, each Yom Kippur, they read from Jonah. In the scripture it sounds like Jesus was paging through, looking for the right passage--but knowing that about Judaism, do is it more that he went on the right day? I was gratified to find that one of them (Amanda) knew what an epistle was--but she learned that from her high school English class, NOT any churchly teaching. None of them knew who wrote most of the epistles--and when I asked to whom Paul was writing in Romans, there was a ton of silence until Hanna finally said, "The church at Rome?" I'm glad she knew, but everyone else???? So, then we talked about the different things that Paul wrote about in the epistles, from admonishment to encouragement.

We talked about why Paul's letters were saved, and the letters that they had saved from friends and family. I'm a writing-letters junkie (in fact, there are several I should be writing right now!), and I told them what my mom always told me--You have to send mail to get mail. It turns out, in adult life, that that is not really quite true. My first major publication was a piece griping at the friends who don't write back to me! Still, I encouraged them to write to people. The first assignment was to write to a woman who was turning 100 this weekend (her niece goes to our church, and she was passing out the address and asking people to write). The second was to write to each other--I asked them to put their names and addresses on a piece of paper, and then I passed them out randomly. I'll remind them mid-month...I wonder who remembered. :)

On the way home, my mom and I talked about the class. It was definitely weird teaching with her in there. She told me that I was doing a good job, that I should be a teacher. Maybe she's right, but I'd rather be a writer. I like teaching them, though, and I hope I get through a little bit at least.


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Sorry I've been so non-updatey. Things have been busy, and I also haven't been teaching as much as I was in for the past year. Here's a quick look at what's been going on (and more updates to follow, on specific subjects).

Here's the general update on life. We are almost done staining the house, though I think we're on hold for a few days until the likelihood of rain blows over. It looks pretty good. I about cried when I laid on the first few strokes--it looked so orange! But it mellowed as it dried, and now it's a nice warm brown (semitransparent). The inside of our house still looks like the set from That '70s Show, but that's ok. One step at a time. We're going to do the main bathroom this winter, and JC's family is giving us a clawfoot tub that they pulled out of his great-granny's house a few weeks ago! :)

Our garden is doing well, though we've made minimal progress on the (grass-free) "yarden." The yarden deserves an entry all its own, but let's just say that, due to my husband's grass allergy, we're trying to replace our yard with flowers that we can walk on and alternative ground covers, like ajuga and clover. Some day, I think I'll start a business selling plants that are great for ground cover, but hard to buy--violets are a good example. I'll call this business "Please Tread on Me" and use that Revolutionary snake thing as an icon. The veggies are looking good--we planted late, but already have a few tomatoes, a summer squash, a pickling cucumber, and a bell pepper.

I had my wisdom teeth out the week before last, and my mouth is still a little sore. Apparently they had a hard time getting them out. It was seriously painful. The craziest thing about the wisdom teeth is that I didn't have *any*, not even the little nubbins where they would form, when I had my last Xrays two years ago. My former dentist thought I would never get them. Then six months ago, there they were on the Xray, bigger than any of my other teeth! I've also grown an inch this year (after being an even 5' since I was about 16, I'm now 5'1", no cheating!). When I told my friend Jack about this, he said, "Marriage. It's a growing experience." That's one way of looking at it.

After I had the wisdom teeth yoinked, we spent a few days in the Canaan Valley with my in-laws, in a rented "cabin" (four times the size of my house...). I was happy to recouperate there, and to spend time with JC's family. They're good people, and I was grateful to them for taking care of me.

In other EXCITING news, my manager's manager approved my trip to Ghost Ranch for the writing festival in October!! Ghost Ranch is, if I'm not mistaken, Georgia O'Keefe's old house or something, in New Mexico. A good writer friend of mine, Colleen Anderson, offered me a tuition scholarship, and now my work is going to pay for my plane ticket and let me take three days as "personal development." That's about the coolest thing ever. The workshop I'm hoping to take (need to get my registration in before I will know for sure) is called "The Sacred in Everyday Life," taught by Laura Apol. It sounds sort of like what I'm into, yes?

Ok, I'm going to stop rambling and go write a few letters that I've been meaning to get to. Ciao.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Caught on the web

I've been writing a lot lately, and some of it has recently posted:

“Why Food Co-ops Matter” is up at Conserve Magazine for all of July, at least.

“The Absence of Women,” a story about my wedding and a few others, is on the Common Ties story blog.

I've also sent a travel piece about Staunton, VA to National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog, but it hasn't posted yet...keep an eye out.

Last, but not least, a major item on my to-do list is writing an editorial for FaithVine...need to get on that, yesterday. What should I write about?

inspiration and desperation

Sometimes, I watch documentaries that are simultaneously inspiring and depressing. Regular movies can make me feel emotional sometimes, but documentaries, the stories of real people, are what deeply move me. Recently, the husband and I watched The Hobart Shakespeareans. I highly recommend it. It's a PBS documentary about an award-winning teacher, Rafe Esquith, who has his fifth-graders performing Hamlet, weeping over Huck Finn, treating each other with respect and courtesy. At one point, the interviewer asks the children what their favorite book was, that they read that year. Other than Huck Finn, the close second was Of Mice and Men, followed by Lord of the Flies. I remember when the documentary originally aired, a bunch of people on SHAKSPER (it's a listserv for Shakespeare scholars, mostly) grumbled that the kids didn't really understand the text, or that they could get their students to do Hamlet too, if Ian McKellen randomly dropped by *their* classroom. Having seen the documentary, I would say that's all sour grapes. I was so inspired by Mr. Esquith--but also depressed. I saw this movie, and I thought, "Well, what's my job about? I help the wealthy learn foreign languages for their pleasure cruises." I felt that way about The World According to Sesame Street, my favorite documentary of all time, as well. It's about doing Sesame Street internationally, focusing on Kosovo, South Africa, and Bangladesh. The people on the Bangladesh crew were risking their lives during riots and floods to bring literacy to children in a nation where most five-year-olds work. That's cool. As you may have gathered, I'm a big fan of literacy. Again, what's my job about? I comfort myself by saying, maybe, when I teach Sunday school, I can be a bit like Mr. Esquith. I can set high expectations and know that they are capable of reaching them. I can demand that they behave in a courteous manner to each other, and to JC and me. I also have the advantage of Josh, who will be my only returning kid. I'm definitely going to enlist him on my side. Maybe some day I can figure out how to teach Sunday school professionally. I've thought, recently, about trying to get my teaching certification. Though I have a master's degree, it's in Shakespeare; none of my education is really about educating other people. Still, all the jobs I've had, excluding possibly working at the bakery, were mostly education. I was a literacy educator for AmeriCorps, I've worked at arts summer camps, I work for an educational software company now, and most importantly, I was a director, which is all about teaching. My friend Stacy was a high school history teacher for a while. He's read Mr. Esquith's books, and we discussed them a few weeks ago. Stacy said, "That's the teacher everyone wants to be, and everyone goes into it thinking they'll be that teacher...but they're not, of course. I'm not. I was a little bit, but not as much as I would like."

As to my job, the one that's not about anything...the kicker is, it used to be about something. I used to feel like I was changing lives and helping people interact and making the world friendlier. Lately, though, I've been having a really rough time at work. Things have gotten awfully political, and some of my friends have been canned or reassigned. With all that going on, I'm having a hard time focusing on and believing in the idealistic notions of this company. I respond to situations like this by becoming a very different person, a person I don't much care for. When I was in high school, I felt like I was surrounded by inefficiency, and by people who refused to take me seriously just because I was fifteen. I heard a lot of "no" with no reason behind it. Though my grades were great, I felt fragile. Also my parents were getting divorced--a situation that didn't make sense, tore my life up with lies and broken promises, and left me seriously ticked off. I got angry with people really easily, and I fought mean. Then I went to Hiram College, where I was loved and rewarded for being myself. I heard a lot of "yes" there. I found mentors, professors who would talk with me about my work and my dreams, who would challenge me without shutting me down. I blossomed at Hiram, and if I had to make the same choice again, I would go there in a heart beat. I had my share of frustrations there; I even had enemies, people who were out to get me. Those enemies never succeeded, though, because they didn't have any real power over me. They couldn't dominate my spirit--or yank funding for my plays. When I left Hiram, I thought I would never find a place like that again--a place where my work earned respect and privilege, where people knew that they could come to me with their questions and problems. When I started working at my current job, I felt like I had found that place again. I thought I had found the perfect job for me--it wasn't the Peace Corps, and it wasn't the Stratford Festival, but it was pretty good. I had friends and a loving community; my team was like my family. I had meaningful and challenging work, complex linguistic problems to solve. I was seriously happy. I actually got bored on the weekends and wished I could be with my team at work. Now I don't have that. I do repetitive tasks, cleaning up other people's mistakes, and try to maneuver through the lies that filter down the chain to me. The whole situation is that much worse because I know what I lost--I had the best job I could have dreamed up for myself for a whole year, and now, without my job title changing, I have one that makes me crazy. I've been starting to act out of anger and fear again. I'm becoming someone I don't much like, again. It's like high school all over, except that now I know I have betterness within me.

So, I was off for five consecutive days last week, recovering from having the wisdom teeth yoinked, and those were really great days...not just because of the Vicadin. The freedom from the stress of everything made me feel better--despite the shooting pain in my jaw--than I had in a very long time. When I realized that I had to go back to work today, I started crying. I didn't want to face that, I didn't want to deal with feeling so out of control. So I prayed about it, quite fervently. I prayed, not to change the situation, but to change myself. During church on Sunday morning, God put Craig, the manager of one of the three projects I'm working on, into my mind. Craig is about one of the kindest human beings I know. Last week, he emailed some notes I had written to a translator, copying me on it. He told the translator not to be offended if my remarks seemed harsh: "she's really not that way at all!" I felt awful about it--what I was responding so negatively to was NOT the translator, but a corporate environment that set her to translating with out any training in our method. I was really angry at the people who had failed to provide the ounce of prevention...So this morning, I went to Craig, and I explained the short version of this story to him. I asked him for some help--could he please just ask me to revise when I seemed a bit out of control, and also, could he help me to train the translator, even in a short and quick kind of way, to make our work together run more smoothly? Craig smiled and agreed--I get the feeling he's just as abused as any of us, and just as aware of it. He thanked me for coming to him, and he talked a bit about his own struggles with the pressures we're under.

My day went pretty well after that. I went for a walk with Bethany. "Something has broken," she said. "I think we're making progress. I think things might get better." I understood what she meant, and agreed with it--broken like a fever breaks, when the worst is over. Did the power of my prayer encourage God to do all that, or was He going to anyway?

I hope that this is the beginning of something better. I read the classifieds daily; my company is definitely the most interesting game in Harrisonburg (other alternatives include...milking cows...working at a poultry processing plant...). I don't want to leave, because I'm still so deeply in love with the people here. I hope that God helps me have the strength to stay, and to transform this place into somewhere I would love to be again. I'm sure this is, in some way, a test of my patience. I feel like the last threadbare bit of my patience is ready to give out; I'm hoping God agrees.