Kangaroo Testicles

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“Good luck, sweetie,” my mom told me, “I’ll rub my kangaroo testicles for you.”

She said it so off-hand, as though this were a perfectly normal thing to do for your daughter.

Of course I spluttered back, which I am sure was gratifying for her. Apparently my mom’s friends from Australia sent her a pair of Kangaroo Testicles, the Australian equivalent of a rabbit foot?

“I love them,” she admitted. “Sometimes I hang them from my chandelier to see if the ladies during my book club notice. Here, I’ll send you a picture.”

She forgot for a few hours but then finally did send me the photo of her good luck charm. I felt strangely–so strangely–comforted. Maybe Kangaroo Testicles would do just the trick.

I’ve never been one to believe in luck, to be honest. I believed in hard work, and grit, and sure things. That’s part of the reason why I went into teaching. Teaching was a defined path with a clear outcome–one that could be obtained by hard work and grit. And I think, save for a few tired weeks, I was mostly a good teacher.

I’ve dreamed up blog posts where I offer up an explanation the hiatus I’m taking from teaching, but I’ve agonized about how to write them. Ultimately I realized that I don’t really owe anyone an explanation, and what’s more, I couldn’t give you a great one except that taking a break felt like the right thing to do. And Un/Fortunately, taking this break has forced me to take a little step onto an unknown ledge. A ledge that I’ve always steered far away from.

I’m learning what it’s like to sit in uncertainty, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t deeply uncomfortable. What I will say for myself is that I’ve gotten much closer to a part of myself that I’ve always liked maybe even more than my teacher self-my writer self.

I’ve done some great freelancing in the past, but I’m hoping to break into more professional writer circles, so I’m looking to pick up a few more freelance gigs. I’m looking for leads. I’m going to (gulp) network. Here I am, on the edge of discomfort, asking any of you for leads.

I think I am going to need my own pair of Kangaroo Testicles.


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Last Thursday, I walked home from classes and saw traffic backup piling into an intersection. It wasn’t Times Square Status by any means, but there was a bit of kerfluffle, since it’s not an intersection that is usually very busy. It was easy to peer ahead and see the source of the commotion was a row of ambulances (ambuli?) huddled around a storefront, pulling someone out on a stretcher and loading him or her into the vehicle.

Dearest Utah

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Utah Valley experiences something called “Inversion.” It has something to do with the Great Salt Lake and pollution. Scientifically, I can’t explain it to you, but imageistically, it looks like you are peering into the distance with a pair of glasses covered in soot. Inversion feels like crunching six or seven flecks of sand between your teeth. Inversion is like bugs on a windshield hiding a really great view.

I’ve been Captained, and I’m a Puddle of Happiness

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There’s something completely irresolute about finals week; as such, unless explicitly directed, I avoid giving final exams. Instead, I like to leave my students thinking about the final chapter of their high school career with something less final and more… open-ended, more upbeat. I want my students to leave my literature class thinking about morals and the self–because, at least for me, that’s what literature actually is–words that express morals and self, and those concepts can’t really be tested by an end of year exam.

Performance at the Center

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I liked walking on the grates in the sidewalks in New York, and once I realized this, I instantly began searching for ways to make this observation into a metaphor: walking with a world beneath me, walking on top of shaky foundation? Nothing really fit, so I gave up and let it be simple:

I liked walking on the grates in the sidewalks. I liked sliding my fingers along the stone of the building next to me. I liked looking up, but I liked looking down too. I grew to appreciate my humidity hair.

It’s hard to verbalize what it is about the city that spoke to me so much. Maybe it was the creaking of the train or the hum of an intersection. Maybe it was the smell of bagels and cronuts and giant sticks of lamb rotating in a street cart. Or perhaps it was the subtle joy of meeting and visiting your soul people.

A Post for Peter

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For me, High School was not this gaseous pit of endless misery. I liked it. By-and-large, I don’t think I would tolerate teaching in a high school if I didn’t appreciate most of my four years of deep teenagerism.

But there was that time. It was the first time that I ever really could ask myself, “Am I depressed? Is this what depression feels like?”

And for no reason at all, Peter Spear was there for me. 

I was a sophomore in the height of my silliness. Peter was a senior, super cool, musical. I can picture the way his fingers pluck mildly, deliberately, smoothly at his upright bass that was taller than me. Even his fingers had soul.

I don’t know what Peter Spear saw in me as a person. I wasn’t funny or clever. I was my worst self.

Peter took me in anyway.

One day, Peter told me he wanted to show me a song. He led me down to his bedroom and I remember feeling instantly nervous. I’d been warned about upperclassmen boys and I’d been warned about their bedrooms. I’d been warned about basements with boys.

But Peter was genuine. He genuinely wanted to play me a song. He popped in a CD, and lit some incense (this is not a euphemism for marijuana), and he laid down on his nasty couch repurposed as a bed that he’d literally found. He wanted to listen to the song all the way through without talking. He called this a “Chill Session.” And for an hour or two every day, we’d go listen to music and obliterate our cares and annihilate our heartbreaks. It was better than yoga. It was better than a lot of things.

We’d spend a lot of time in his basement bedroom with a nasty couch instead of a bed.  This probably would have HORRIFIED my parents if they knew, but nothing happened but healing.

I promise Peter fixed me.

Peter Spear was the only person in the world who had shorter fingernails than me. I keep thinking about them.

I don’t know how else to process what happened to Peter Spear. But I like to think that he’s still here, still the same boy, helping everyone else with their sad feelings.

And then he doesn’t really feel so gone.


Peter played my big brother, George Gibbs, in Our Town. Here we are, looking at the moon.


End of Year Earmarks

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It must be acknowledged: Sometimes teaching sucks. Sometimes the amount of your paycheck represents only 1/10 of your ink, sweat, and tears. Sometimes students are mean, and sometimes they are manipulative. Sometimes (all the time) you work through lunch and sometimes (too many times) the students never seem to learn. Sometimes teaching sucks.

(Yes, I do need to cool it with the anaphora. Find a new literary device, Penrod, sheesh).

To be frank, most teachers have that period of the day that doesn’t jive like the others. That class period of hell filled with (individually lovely but compositely grumpy) students that simply refuse to think that what you are teaching them is worth anything. That hour of the day that not only reminds you that sometimes teaching sucks, but ensures that it does.

And then there are Michael Rudins* that wash away the sins of “Nth Period” in one fell swoop. In one fell binder full of ink and sweat.

I try not to write about individual students very often. I do this for a couple of reasons.

  1.   Students’ personal lives are their own, and I imagine there would be a reasonable amount of horror were they to know that a teacher blogged about them.
  2. By picking one student to write about, I worry that sometimes it invalidates the beautiful experiences, kindness, and worthiness of all of my other tremendous students, many of whom slipped by expressive, kind, affirming Thank You Notes my way on this their last day of high school.
But today, I simply must. I must write about Michael Rudin. He is a metaphor for all the other many wonderful students that have made this year worth it.

He is shy. I do not identify with shyness. I am not shy. But for some reason, I love my shy students. It’s perhaps an unfair generalization, but I am fascinated by their untapped depths.

Michael Rudin is shy, but not quiet. Throughout the year, whenever I called on him, he always surprised me with ready, boldly stated, poetically worded responses.

I was briefly out of the classroom today when a ragged binder and a Dr. Pepper appeared on my desk. As I thumbed through the pages (some pages earmarked) of my desk’s new arrival, I found “Youthful Thoughts: the Complete Works of Michael Rudin.”  A binder full of poetry and short stories, of secret, untapped depths collected over the years.

I won’t embarrass the student by posting my favorite poem, “English Class,” in its entirety (even though it’s insightful and perfect and made me cry), though I will include the charming refrain: “In Penrod’s class is a chance to learn.” I won’t detail the joi de vivre I experienced as I thumbed through each of his earmarked pages. I won’t belabor the pride I feel for this student (and all of my students’) ability to feel the world.
But I will share this one tenderest of moments of my own experience with Youthful Thoughts. Michael Rudin had about 50 poems, and had earmarked about 20 of them for my perusal. And then, I came across this:
To you, this is nothing. An unbent earmark. Big deal.

To me, this is Michael Rudin carefully sifting through his poems, deliberating, deciding, and changing his mind. This is Michael Rudin, in a quiet, pensive moment, unsure whether or not this poem was a good enough representation of himself. This is Michael Rudin folding and then unfolding an earmark. This to me, is a moment of tenderness, of attention to detail. This is a moment of care.

I am not sure why I am so taken by this unearmarked corner, but the corner itself is poetry to me. Because it speaks.

I hope forever these students, not my students anymore, but these continuing students continue to speak boldly, quietly, articulately, and joyfully.

I am reminded everyday why I continue to teach. 

Novels and Noodles

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My mom, my working mother, my corporate powerhouse mother, spent a lot of money and spent even more hours on my childhood hobbies. She frequented the sweaty YMCA while I “played volleyball,” and massacred basketball. She sat through one too many poorly rehearsed renditions of Easy Note “Just Breath” in poorly executed piano recitals. My mom carted me to singing groups and dropped me off at school extra early so I could learn Spanish and practice the Oboe. If I wanted to be well rounded, well, darnit, she was going to see to it that I was.

But the key part of the above sentence is:

“If I wanted to be.”