Two Dogs Dreaming

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There is a dog dreaming next to me. Her muzzle is nuzzling my thigh. Her paws are intertwined and her back is hunched. She is not a small dog, but she’s made herself small so her presence on the couch is less assuming. As if somehow I won’t notice that she’s breaking the rules about being on the couch.

To my Graduating Seniors of 2015

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Dear Seniors of 2015,

I need to make a tiny confession. You were already winners before the contest began, and you’ll continue to be winners long after it’s over.

I need to make another confession: I’ve been manipulating you to think that I am “The Keeper of the Words.” And yet, I struggle too–just like you–when faced with a prompt. And today, the cursor blinks patronizingly as I try to answer the prompt instructing me that somehow I must “Say Goodbye.”

I’m older than you, and by extension “wiser,” and I’ve got your captive attention for probably eight more seconds, so allow me a moment to share the thesis that you, your wisdom, and the time we have shared together has helped me to articulate.

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. 


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I feel like I’m Isaac Mendez learning to paint the future without heroine. What’s that? You mean you haven’t been watching “Heroes” reruns on Netflix because you have a real job and you go to real school and have a real life? …Me too.

Just not right now.

Let me explain what I meant by the simile. One of my major roadblocks to becoming a “real” writer/blogger is that, before this summer, I could only write when I had “Writer Fingers.”When my “muse” of sorts with me. And lots of times, my writer fingers would come and go during the ebbs and flows and tidal waves of homework. Most days I didn’t have writer fingers, but when I did, I could usually tap out a blog.

I’m not sure if I will look back at this summer and think that I was incredibly accomplished. I feel like I cooked a lot. And I baked a lot. And I kept the apartment clean(ish). I read lots of books, and I got some unit planning done. I beat my first video game (Harry Potter Lego Wii Years 1-4).

Sadly, it doesn’t look like I will finish my novel (But not because I haven’t been diligently writing! But through the act of writing, I learned that there’s A LOT more plot/themes left that I had originally designed, and the book will be better for it).

I may still plan the best high school curriculum the world has ever seen, but right now, not knowing my students is a little crippling to this effort. Also, I’m just such a noob.

Also, I did not cure cancer (to be fair, I wasn’t trying).  And I didn’t start that blog with my friend Kristi, which I am still sad about, but know that it was my fault.

But I did conquer my crutchy belief that I could only write when my muse was with me. This summer, I’ve forced myself to just write. My novel. Lots more blogs than I usually do. And with the friends I’ve made, I’ve been grateful.

…But at least this summer I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve made friends!

*This post has been edited because it appears that I have committed a blogger faux pas. Hahahaha. To be honest I’m amused by the rules that I’m woefully ignorant to.

PS: A sincere, sincere thanks to those of you who have donated to or shared the Aurora Shooting campaign. We are so close to our goal. I feel so grateful for you all.

This is My Cork.

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I wish I could bottle moments, memories. Not like putting them in a Pensieve. This is different. Because if you get to bottle the moment, rather than put it in a shallow basin, you get to give that cork a satisfying yank for the release of the bottle’s content. You get to let the moment you bottled wash over you like a caffeine fix when you open up a Dr. Pepper. You get to put your bottled moment on the shelf, and it looks pretty. I wish I could bottle this moment, so I can have it for always. As a novice writer, and non-bottle beverage drinker, this post will be my cork. 

Very recently, I was having a moment–a different kind of moment, an italicized moment. Not the kind of moment that you bottle up. You’ve had them too, so please don’t judge. Just a moment where Finals week because a grim, impossible reality, and life becomes too insurmountable to do it all. And even if you have a very good track record of pulling it all off in the clutch, in these italicized moments there seems very little possibility of it happening this time. And every time I realize that I can’t possibly do it all, a little bit of self-hatred creeps into my soul.  For the Type A, medium-smart but very driven girl, not being a prodigy has been something that has been very hard for me to cope with. My whole life.

So I stumbled to Jeremy, shame-faced, because I’ve had one or two of these little meltdowns this week (IT’S FINALS, OK?!). And I cried. I just cried because I really don’t think that I can possibly do it all. And even though Jeremy has heard it all before (in the last 24 hours), he didn’t sigh. He didn’t get frustrated. He didn’t tell me “Yes! Yes you can, Sierra.”–which I would have hated during the moment so I am glad he didn’t. 

He said,

“I love you whether you can do it or not. I love you the same if you get a C or an A. I wish you loved yourself that much.”

I heard it, but I didn’t really hear it. “I know, I know you love me. But I just… Why can’t I be a prodigy?”

And Jeremy looked at me. I watched his expression–I watched his eyebrows sink into soul-reading concern. I felt his thumb slip beneath my eyes and snatch my tears. Quietly, ever so quietly, he said, 

“Sierra, don’t you get it? You’re a prodigy to me.” 

So I must cork these words up and keep them close to my heart, not just on my shelf where they look nice. Because for the first time in my life, I felt capable of being what he saw in me.  And for tonight, and for tomorrow, and for whenever I uncork my bottle: It doesn’t matter one hoot if I am a prodigy to Professors Johnson or West. Because I’m not and I will never be. 

But it doesn’t matter. I am a prodigy to him, as he’s always been to me. 

I’m Supposed to Be Writing a Poem.

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“I am supposed to be writing a poem.”
A Devotional Lyric, to be precise. 

Nothing makes you stare at a the wall quite like writing a mandatory poem. Nothing makes you notice the sirens outside your apartment. The footsteps of the neighbors. The breathing of the self.

I have thought through the poem process thoroughly.
I have engineered my every variable to be as conducive to “Poemy-ness” as possible.
Which means:

  •  I am dressed down–a comfortable T-shirt, Jeans, and Jeremy’s jacket, but not PJ’s because that is not formal enough for poetry, or at least, devotional lyric.
  • I found a suitable notebook after trying several different ones. This notebook was formerly poem-less, so it has no poems to compare to. Though I can’t say this notebook has been exceptionally inspiring in the past, so I am open to reconsidering my notebook choice. This is probably the most important variable. A notebook is supposed to speak. 
  • I am using a pencil. Because who can write poetry in pen. For Heaven’s sake, it needs to be dirty. 
  • I debated, heavily, the proximity of my computer to self. It was on my bed. Now it’s at my lap. After I (hopefully) garner some writer fingers from this blog post, it will return to my bed. And I will return with my knees huddled to my chest, pencil in hand, non-inspiring notebook in tow, and I will continue not writing my poem.
  • I am not reading the requirements of my assignment until after the first draft of the poem is written. But my backpack is close in case I change my mind. 
  • I decided I needed my blankee. Because writing a poem can be brutal, and my own personal poetry usually hurts my feelings. Blankees are good for that.
Engineer though I might, 
Force though I try, 
Sometimes there’s just no poem inside.
I’m hoping I’ll find the poem that hides. 

My First Chapter

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A Preface: Maybe I will regret this, but at the time being, I submit to you, the first draft of my first chapter of my novel. I am looking for feedback, but do remember to also be kind, since I am putting myself extremely out of my comfort zone. 

Also keep in mind, my audience is teenage girls. 

Chapter 1
The Russians were arguing again. Loudly. Outside my window. In Russian. 
I could see the thinning patch of Alexandre’s head shaking in dissent, and occasionally the end of Sasha’s broom as she jolted it skywards, when words simply weren’t conveying her message well enough and she needed a little extra “umph” to her argument. I consulted the clock in order to determine the nature of the squabble. From 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM they typically argued about the order in which they should complete their ground duties. From noon to four, I guessed that they were arguing about their son, Ivan, and whether or not he should attend an American university, or pursue his education back in Russia. And at five PM exactly, I surmised that they began a new dispute entirely, about a whole hodge podge of subject matter that my untrained English-speaking ear was not skilled enough to recognize. By six thirty PM, work day over, Sasha and Alexandre walked back to their apartment, hand in wrinkled hand, and Sasha’s synthetic cherry red (or clown nose red, depending on the way the light hit it) head of hair was resting delicately on Alexandre’s shoulder. It was a daily ritual.
It was not, however, ritual for them to commence their workday outside my window at six AM, which is what they were doing today. This hardly seemed fair, since my body was finally starting to register my new summer/ new time zone sleep schedule. My internal alarm clock had been waking me up forcibly at five thirty every morning, telling my morning brain that it was eight thirty and that I was already late for school. Sasha and Alexandre’s boisterous argument today would set my sleep adjustment back for days now, and I would continue waking up too early until Thursday, at least.
I groaned and drew the pillow over my head in attempt to drown out the Russians, but Sasha appeared to have taken to whapping her broomstick against my window when she got especially frustrated and thus, it happened often. Rather than chastising the Russians as I wished I could, and risk Alexandre never coming to help us change our light bulbs or fix our air conditioning, I solved my problem and rolled out of bed. Zombie-walking into the kitchen, I flipped the switch of the coffee maker, (which my mother filled nightly with coffee beans and filters so she wouldn’t have to open her eyes in the morning until she was appropriately caffeinated) and watched the heaven-sent substance dribble into my mug.
“It’s ok,” the coffee maker chirped when my mug was full. “Your day is going to be ok. You have me.”
I gave the machine a grateful pat and let the mug sear my fingertips for several seconds. It was another daily ritual. But this one was solely my own.
 A thud issued from the back bedroom, which could only mean that my mother too had decided to flop out of bed.  She stumbled into the kitchen, eyes shrouded by a sleep mask and her fingers dragging along the wall so she could feel her way to the coffee. She looked like a hangover personified. Selflessly, I handed her my mug, and waited for the coffee maker to dribble me out another one.
“Morning, sweetie,” she sighed, finally removing her eye mask and conceding to let the light in.            
“Rough night?” I asked.
“Filled with nightmares,” she replied, consulting the coffee cup and seeming to decide she wanted it blacker. She traded it back to me with the fresh brew I’d just poured myself and took a ponderous gulp, seemingly un-nettled about the scorching heat.
“About dad?” A trace of a wince flickered in the corner of her eye.
“About work,” she corrected.  Mom had taken on a new managerial position at a local clothing store called “Melvin’s.” With it, she took a pay cut, thankless hours, and an unflattering uniform, but she insisted that it was all worth it to get away from that “insufferable brute,” otherwise known as Phil Steinmetz, otherwise known as my father.
“The customers were returning the new Grace Ellen line because the seams of the fabric would wind around their neck and strangle them in their sleep,” Mom elaborated, sinking into a chair in the middle of the table. Even though she was the newly instated head of household, she was also a creature of routine, and would never let herself occupy the head seat.
I didn’t tell her about my dream about all my friends back in Fairfax hanging up a cast list for their production of Robin Hood, and who specified that you had to be a resident of the state of Virginia in order to be cast, effectively kicking me out of the play and their clique.
 But I felt like telling her.
I changed the subject instead.
“So besides dealing with possessed Grace Ellen lingerie, what’ve you got going on today?”
“I should be asking you the same thing,” Mom stated. “You’re the one without an agenda.” She seemed to accuse me of this, like it was somehow my fault that I’d been moved from my safe haven in Virginia and uprooted to Hell’s foothills in Colorado.
“Season twelve of the Bachelor finally came to Insta-play on Netflix.”
“Don’t overload yourself, now,” Mom cautioned sarcastically, then tipped the now nearly drained mug into her mouth to eviscerate any remnants of coffee that might cling to the mug’s dregs. She pushed in her chair and disappeared again into her bedroom, leaving my question unanswered and a day of eternal boredom before me. Television seemed my best option.
The TV set was demon possessed. For the life of me, I could not figure out how to turn the cable on. My mom inherited the forty-inch flat screen TV from the divorce, which took up more than half our living room wall. Because it sat so directly on the wall, I swore mold that inhabited the ceiling would certainly descend and creep around the edges of the TV screen until only faint images flickered behind a layer of bacteria. The apartment smelled like its previous occupants may have caught the black plague and died from it, and the corpses were now rotting in the air conditioning system, which might explain why it was sputtering out occasional lukewarm wisps of atmosphere rather than substantial cool waves of air. The walls of the apartment looked ready to collapse into each other at any moment, but the apartment was so small, and the walls so thin, that even if they were to collapse on top of me, I doubted very highly that they would do much damage to my body. Everything about the apartment was dank and depressing, and especially if the TV was not working, I didn’t really feel like staying inside of it today.  
A dilemma: The coffee had apparently worked its way through my system, which meant bladder ants were now marching through my bloodstream, making me feel exceptionally… wiggly.  Which meant that I had to use the toilet. There were two problems with this: firstly, I wasn’t entirely sure that the apartment’s previous occupant’s STD’s weren’t still lingering on the toilet seat, even after I had squirted the expanse of porcelain down with enough bleach to sear the skin. Secondly, this toilet made an exceptionally large flush, and being a quirky creature by nature, I admit that loud noises frightened me a lot. It was a childhood fear, admittedly, stemming back to some deep-seated faith that a monster lurked in the hole at the bottom of the toilet and could only reach out and grab me when I flushed the toilet and set him free. This toilet seemed to remind me of the childhood monster, and sometimes I put off going to the bathroom just to avoid that particularly alarming rumble.
In the end, Mother Nature got the best of me.
“Elly!” My mother called from the bathroom a few moments later, “I don’t know what it is about this place that has rendered you incapable of flushing the toilet, but I want you to target what it is, and nip that habit it the bud!” I cringed as the water thundered through the pipes in the walls.
Needless to say, it took little to no coaxing to propel me from the new, yet decrepit apartment that morning. After my mother had exhausted the hot water supply and left me with a tepid shower, I placed my foot upon the doormat and decided to spread my wings; I was off to discover what Colorado had to offer.
            And apparently, all Colorado had to offer me was a nosebleed.  After wandering underneath pine trees for twenty minutes, blood came pouring from my nose as though blinking had flipped a spigot in my sinuses. Cursing the Rocky Mountain altitude and trudging back to my apartment, I ripped off my t-shirt, which was already a lost cause to the O-negative bloodstains and used it as a tissue. Thank goodness for camisoles.
            I lied upside down on the cement steps outside my apartment, hoping that this gravitational resistance would quell the bleeding. Tiny haloed pigtails appeared above me.
            “Did you escape from the crazy house?” the pigtails asked.
            “Did you escape from the mental institution?” The pigtails amended. I righted myself, so this small seven-year-old child didn’t have a halo of sun glaring in my eyes and I could get a better squint at her. She looked concerned.
            “Is that a metaphorical mental institution, or an actual mental institution?” I asked her, relieved to find that my nosebleed was starting to clot.
            “I dunno,” she said innocently. “Do you live there?” She pointed at the gated building across the parking lot from us.
            “No, I replied. I live there.” I pointed at the crap hole.
            “So, you aren’t crazy?” She considered me deeply, as if she was strapping my soul up to a lie detector inside her brain.
            “No.” I stated firmly. “I just have a nosebleed.”
            “Darcy!” A mother called from the balcony on the third floor, and she darted up the steps, pausing to add an “Ick!” and a droplet of blood on the pavement, a droplet that had escaped from the t-shirt dam I was currently jamming up my nose.
            As the nose ooze subsided to a minor trickle, I turned my focus to the building across the parking lot that had, thus far, completely eluded my attention. As if this place could get any worse, apparently, now I was living in close proximity to a loony bin. How charming.

I’m Kinda Tired of Not Being Famous

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I never was much of an actor in high school, and people tire of hearing about it. I was just a little girl with such ambitions, and probably a little case of big britches. I knew I wasn’t good enough to be a famous actor, so I decided to conquer the world in other ways.
I seldom get jealous, but I will admit, as all my friends flock to the coasts and pursue their post-graduate careers, sometimes little demons of envy poke their pitchforks in the pit of my stomach. I have so many friends having success in the actor-realm, who are truly brave enough to live their bicoastal dreams. I have friends doing internships with Big Deal Art Curators in Santa Barbara and Big Name Magazines in New York. And here I sit, in Little Old Utah not graduating yet and working at a restaurant.
I’m jealous because I’m impatient. 
I want it to be my turn for a big, exciting career. 
There is this obnoxious worldly part of me that recognizes that I’m not getting any name recognition right now, I’m not building my ultimate awesome resume, and I’m not adding tremendously to my arsenal of talents at the moment. I’m not making any effort to go after my personal career goals, and for that reason, sometimes it feels like they are passing me by. And you know what, it’s all my fault! If I really want to do something, then I’ve really got to do something, right?!
So I am beginning today, truly and zealously pursuing one of my biggest dreams: I am going to finish my novel. I am going to force myself to write something every single day, even if my muse is not cooperating with me. Even if it’s just a paragraph per day. Because that is something that I can do. And I don’t have to be on a coast to do it. 
Does anyone have any tips on how to stay motivated, and… you know… finish something? 

Writer Fingers

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I’ve never felt quite at the top of my writing game as I did when I was in France. I was an au pair for a lovely little french family, the Michea’s, and they had a charming little balcony that overlooked their little villa. I could lean over the railing and touch the romantic laundry billowing from the romantic laundry lines. Nightly I would pull up this little table, while Laetitia would make me a cup of Lipton herbal apple cinnamon tea (a treat I still cannot find in the states), and I would light this little lantern and write by tea light. And it was magical. All the writer powers that be were with me those nights.

Yet writing is a fickle talent. 

Sometimes the words through your veins like blood cells, and sometimes they clot the second they reach the page.

But tonight, I’ve got the fingers. So I put on my french singer mix, lit myself a tea light, and I am going to let the words come out.

Tell me, dear readers, what are your talents? Are they fickle too?