Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Northern Weather Demons

I have come to the conclusion that I am a regional chauvinist. I'm sure that none of my friends and acquaintances will find this the least bit surprising. However, I had deceived myself for sometime that I was an open minded person. I had this picture of myself as someone who could easily acclimate to foreign ways. I mean, I moved up north and got used to such oddities as unsweetened tea, crisp vegetables and meals which did not include cornbread. I even adapted to the insane pace at which people walk and talk up here. But yesterday I finally had to own up to the ugly truth.

It all started with the weather. I found myself getting extremely exercised about it. You can all understand it though. I mean, really. People talk about how hot and humid it is in Tennessee and parts of the really deep South like Mississippi. Well, that's true. But down there you expect it. I mean, if you complain too much down there people can say "Good Lord you're living in Memphis, what do you expect?" But up here it's different. You get lulled into a sense of false security by a mild Spring, and then BAM, it's 80 degrees. You don't even have time to switch the clothes in your closet. Pittsburgh, especially, has some of the most bizarre weather I have ever experienced. A few days ago we had turned our furnaces back on because it was so cold at night, and then yesterday it was 80 degrees. This is not right. What happened to transitional weather? See, this is why it's better to live in the South. It's hot, it's always hot, and we know it. We can prepare, we can brace ourselves. And we don't have those ridiculously cold winters. And when it snows down there we have the good sense to stay in the house. People up here actually go to work when there is ice on the roads. Then they get all upset when they have accidents. Well, if you would stay home, you wouldn't have that problem! Once when I lived in Chicago, I was actually forced to stand at a bus stop when the snow was drifting up to my knees. So now it's out there. I suppose I have no choice but to repatriate. I'm thinking of starting slow. Maybe Maryland...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Katherine Dunham

I was logging on to my yahoo account and saw a news headline that said that Katherine Dunham had died. She was 96. I spent my college years as a dancer. I remember studying the Dunham technique for the first time under a Black choreographer in Memphis. It was like being hit with a mac truck. This was a movement vocabulary that celebrated me! My body, my internal rhythms, my history. Suddenly it was all right to move your torso and dance from your soul. I loved it, and it was what caused me to turn to African dance when I could no longer pound on my body with "classical" techniques.

Dancers are like storytellers in that we pass along our history face to face. There is a dance notation system, but not many people use it. Instead we teach each other by show and tell. This is a very intimate way of passing along a tradition. We must see and hear and touch each other, and each time a movement goes from one body to another it changes just a little bit. Imperceptible modifications have to be made to accomodate the individual's quirks. The struggle is to make that modification transparent. You leave traces of yourself in another person when you put a piece on them. As part of my college degree I studied choreography. I was never anything great in that department, but I came to understand the frustration and joy of depending on other people to articulate your vision.

Ms. Dunham left a legacy of art, social action and courage. She died in poverty having depended on former students and various celebrities to help her meet day to day expenses. She spent most of her time from the sixties forward in East St. Louis, IL, trying to pull a horribly defeated community up through art and education. I saw her onstage once when she must have been in her mid sixties. Her company was doing a retrospective and she came out at the end and danced down the stage on the arm of a young corps member. She was magnificent.

I don't dance anymore. I gave it up reluctantly when I got too sick to keep up. I've never gone back even to social dancing because I married a man with no rhythm. But sometimes when I'm cleaning the house and a certain type of music comes on, I feel my body move in the way that one of Miss Dunham's students taught me, and I remember who I am.

Goodbye Katherine, we'll miss you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Job Search

OK, I know that everyone has at one time been on the hunt for a job. So, tell me am I the only one who thinks job hunting is like internet dating only much, much more painful? This is especially true these days with more and more employers using the internet to collect and screen resumes and applications. You read an ad online and it sounds like a perfect match. You respond only to find that the handsome guy with the high income is really a bald, fat nerd with a job at Best Buy.

I have changed careers several times so that means I've done a lot of job searches. In the past I've had some truly scary interviews. People have asked me illegal questions, propositioned me, asked me to be a front for shady operations ("I want to get a city contract, but I need a Black Female to be my front") and told me they would definitely hire me only to never call again. The Black Female guy ended up in the news a couple of years later. So glad I passed on that one. This time I'm not so vulnerable to scammers since I'm looking for teaching jobs. But the pickings are slim right now. And anyone who has ever applied for a teaching job can probably attest to the difficulty of just filling out the paper work. In my area you have to fill out a ridiculously long standard application and then assemble a packet of information that is different for every school district. Some want the application, resume and all your clearances, transcripts and test scores at the time you apply. Some want just a resume, some want a supplemental form all the other stuff PLUS your letters of reference in a sealed envelope. Each ad or website contains the ominous warning that "Incomplete packets will not be processed." By the time I had filled out several of these I was a nervous paranoid wreck. "Did I put all the right forms in that envelope? Were they stapled? Did they want them stapled?" Since there are relatively few jobs for a lot of candidates you could really work yourself up into a tizzy about this. Today I hand delivered the application for a job that opened Monday and will close on Friday of this week. It took me 2 hours last night to assemble the packet because they wanted such weird stuff and several of the standard application answers had to be tweaked to fit their specific format.

I guess you really have to want to be a teacher to get through all this. Meanwhile I'll keep trying. Maybe I'll write my own ad.

Energetic, warm and caring educator with a passion for children and deep dedication to helping them succeed seeks school district of like mind. Send all information about every student you have ever graduated to me immediately. Incomplete packets will be graded and returned to sender.

Wish me luck.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Bed of Roses

In case you don't know, I have become a gardener in my later years. People think that growing up in small town Tennessee is the same as growing up on a farm. After all, you were "out in the country". The truth is that for most of my life I could not have told you how to plant a seed if my life depended on it. Then we bought our first house and all my latent fantasies came to the front. I yearned for roses. In fact, I found that I had a strong desire to live in a rose covered cottage.

When we bought our current home I inherited two rose bushes and added four more spread throughout the various beds in my front and back yards. I soon found out why some people hate roses. They are like temperamental teenage girls. Over the winter they sit sullenly in my yard resembling nothing so much as rusted rebar. I swear at that point that I will rip them out. Around the beginning of May I begin my enslavement to them. Each week I feed them with smelly concoctions, I watch carefully to see which ones have developed any horrible rose-specific cooties and then use gentle organic (read time-c0nsuming) methods to get rid of them. I prune them and coddle them and swear once more to get rid of them and plant a yard full of daisies. And then they bloom. The cottage roses at the front come in all full and flashy, the hardy bush rose bursts out in a riot of deep pink. The two old roses that came with the house fill my back yard with this wonderful spicy sweet scent. And I am hooked again. The two roses that I inherited are old roses and only bloom for a month in June. The others will bloom all summer if I am a faithful servant. I'm beginning to accept my relationship with the roses. A couple of years ago I bought them lavendar bushes to keep away pests. The lavendar completed the "scent garden" I had put at the front of my house. As you walk up the front path you brush against a creeping thyme and then you smell the roses. There are lilies later in summer which give off a less cloying scent.

You can tell a lot about a person from their garden. And often the act of planting a garden tells you a lot about yourself. I always thought that I would plant well ordered rows and boxes. I assumed I would do formal plantings in well contained beds. Indeed that's how my first garden started. But once I got enough space, my inner Byron came out. My well ordered beds morphed into a cottage garden in the front. The rock garden I inherited overflows now with lily of the valley and succulents. I have a cutting garden in back that is home to my sacrificial daffodils. In spring I cut every one of them and fill up a cobalt blue vase. Then I spread the rest through the house. This year I also had giant red emperor tulips back there. Those landed in my front hall. I am a glutton for color but somehow it all works. And I have no idea who this person is who plants these flamboyant plots. I'm beginning to think that a garden is the perfect path to self awareness.