September 26, 2003

Air Lilly

See Lilly fly? Fly Lilly fly! Just more evidence to prove that women's sports are more physical than most give it credit for!

Lilly soars toward the goal

Just as a side note... when I played, I was the mess of arms and legs and orange on the bottom of the pile :-)

Anyway, I had a whole post all done, but it got zapped by the voodoo computer gods. So, here's the gist of what I said. The US toppled Nigeria yesterday in a 5-0 victory. The women have cinched a quarterfinal appearance, but they will play South Korea's team in Columbus on Sunday.

Here's what the Washington Post had to say about it. (That's also where the image comes from... ). Also, you might want to check out the US Soccer Federation Website to learn more about the team's success. It includes an article on the team's youngest player Cat Roddick, who is enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill this semester... and apparently keeping up with her classes.

Finally, here's an interesting thing I ran across in my searches. It's an appeal for funds and support for Ghana's women's team. They are the only African nation other than Nigeria to have wrestled a bid to the Cup. I hope the article worked!

Posted by c_jane at 5:34 PM | TrackBack

September 25, 2003

Women's World Cup. Update

A few links for those interested in keeping up with the Women's World Cup series.

A USA Today article gives a brief overview of yesterday's games.

A quick overview of Brasil's successes (and bravado) from

Recap of the Germany match on

An article on France's Marinette Pichon, who won MVP in the WUSA this year and whose clincher goal in the 84th minute saved France from elimination.

Posted by c_jane at 11:33 AM | TrackBack

Guilty Pleasure

Ok. I admit it. Sometimes, when I log onto Instant Messenger, I read the "entertainment" news in the pop-up windows. Yes, I know. I'm a gossip monger. It's not something I'm particularly proud of. It's that voyeuristic impulse... the desire to know more about the lives that seem so glib and perfect on the screen in your living room at night. Or maybe not your desire... maybe just mine. But then again, there's an entire industry built up around this stuff, so enough of us must fall prey to the voyeur in ourselves in order to keep the industry churning.

In any event, for today's guilty pleasure, I decided to see why Jennifer Aniston showed up for the Emmys without her hubby Brad. Last year, he was her crutch... this year he was absent. The desire to know hit me hard. So, I clicked on the link. The reason was, of course, harmless hype. (Wanna know? Brad's in Mexico shooting a new movie.) Anyway, more of the article was dedicated to Jen Garner's "secret" budding relationship with co-star Michael Vartan and romances that "went public" on the red carpet. And then I came across the following:

... "Friends" star David Schwimmer wasn't as shy as Jennifer [Garner]. He hit the red carpet with girlfriend of one year, 24-year-old model Carla Alapont.

"You are one lucky guy walking around with this accessory," said Pat referring to Carla.

"Well, she's amazing," said David.

Well folks... there you have it. In all the years of feminism, gaze theory, art history, you-name-it-we-have-a-discipline-for-it studies... we haven't progressed one ineesy weensy little bit. According to "Pat" from Access Hollywood, Carla Alapont, a model by trade, has sacrificed any kind of personhood and become nothing more than an object. An accessory. Something for the male artist to drape on his arm and use to demonstrate his power, prestige, and virility. Schwimmer's effete response "Well, she's amazing" only frustrates the situation further. To praise Alapont is to praise himself. It accentuates her position as object in the service of proving his own significance.

Ok, so you're thinking... "What did you expect, CJ?" That’s a good question. I don't have an answer to that one. I suppose I had just assumed that it would be more subtle. I assumed that we were really making progress in terms of reclaiming the female body as a site of selfhood. Wrong. I suppose that I believed (maybe hoped to the point of convincing myself is a better way of saying it) that such blatant objectification was passé. I was wrong.

Posted by c_jane at 10:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

Women's World Cup, Part I

Yesterday, I took the day to support a group of women who I've admired for a long while--the women's US national soccer team. I've been a soccer player since I was 6 years old. I played in county leagues, parochial leagues, high school, college and adult co-ed indoor and outdoor leagues. This could very easily turn into one of those testimonials about how there were no soccer heros for little girls to look up to. That's not entirely true... I do remember after winning our 8th grade championship game going back to a teammate's house and watching Victory--the movie about Pele, for those who aren't soccer enthusiasts. It's well-known, though, that soccer (or football as its rightfully called anywhere else in the world) has struggled for significant status in the United States. The game is slower, requires sustained activity and constant strategic repositioning. American culture (the best example of ADD I can offer) doesn't have the patience for such a thing.

Still, you hear over and over again that soccer is rising to real prominance. More boys play soccer than football now. That number changes the older children get, but early on, soccer comes first. Soccer, however, has been the number one female team sport in the United States since the late 70s and early 80s--and has done nothing but increase in popularity among young women since the early 1990s. There is such a thing as female idols in women's soccer now. Young girls recognize names like Mia Hamm and Brandy Chastain.

1999s Women's World Cup was such a success among American audiences across the country (selling out the Rose Bowl for the final game between the US and China) that sponsors were even willing to attempt a women's league--the WUSA. It was a small league, only 8 teams to start. The league didn't just grow out of nowhere... it had a large network of college and semi-pro teams to recruit support from. Still, this week the league announced that they have not had the support from sponsors or fans that was necessary to keep the league going. It will be disbanned.

That didn't take away from yesterday's World Cup opener for the US. In an excellent demonstration of focus, committment, and athleticism, the women's national team carried off its first victory of the 2003 World Cup. Despite the loss of Brandy Chastain to a broken foot, the team perservered with all the dynamism and grit expected from a World Championship team. Yesterday's victory even comes against Sweden... a country where women's sports are actually treated with respect. In Sweden, the professional women's soccer league is well-established.

So this week, I've heard a lot of discussion about, "What's wrong with women's soccer?" and "Why can't women's soccer succeed?" and it's about driven me delusional with anger. Let's rephrase the question... what's wrong with the league? Why didn't the league succeed?

If this post is a little scatter-brained, it's because I'm really angry. As I was looking through articles all across the internet about the WUSA's end, I happened across this real "brilliant" piece by Ted Dunnam in the Galvistan County Daily News. If there's any justice in this world, it's Ted's ignorance that has kept him from doing any better than writing for this local, slap-dash periodical. In any case, it made it even more clear to me that we're asking the *wrong* questions. People like good 'ole boy Ted, over here, think that the problem with women's sports is either lack of interest or lack of money. The problem has nothing to do with either. Ted believes that it's only the financial support of male basketball supporters that keeps the WNBA afloat. Perhaps that's the case. But that has nothing to do with the position of women's sports in the US.

Women athletes are athletes first. Men athletes... they get older, pot-bellied... and they turn into couch potatoes who sit in front of ESPN Sports Center every night and watch box scores... living vicariously through the men who have the talent to do what the average male never can or will. Women? They're still out there playing, coaching, teaching their children how to play. Quite frankly, women aren't watchers. Women do. They like to be involved. They like to participate. Without an element of participation, you'll never get women involved.

It runs counter to what women in the past have been told about themselves. Women in the past have been taught to go to the men's games and watch... and if they're athletes, they can run play their game, and come back to the barbacue celebrating the loss of the men's team. I'm not kidding. I may be painting with very wide brush strokes here, but let me give you an example from personal experience.

I mentioned before that I've played soccer for a long time. I also participated on swimming, basketball, lacrosse, and softball teams. Usually, when you're younger, the games take place either on weeknights or on Saturday mornings. Games are scheduled for the fields where men's teams aren't playing. Fathers, brothers, families, when they come to the games, come and make a family day out of the event. Still, many dads come with radios and headphones or schedule the games so that they can get home to watch... "said sport"... on TV. That's how it starts.

Later, in high school... there's the matter of game time. Women's sports... they take place on weeknights or alternate times on Saturdays. Generally not Friday and not Saturday during the varsity football game. Rallys are held for the varsity football game... and women athletes are usually expected to show up at the men's game later to meet up with the crowd. Women's sports have garnered more attention, but there's one thing we haven't done very well... We don't know how to watch each other. In point of fact, we'd rather be playing than watching. Now, again, that's a broad stroke... There were 34,444 people who showed up to yesterday's World Cup Game. But is that 34,444 people representative of all the women who play soccer in this area? Not hardly.

Another example. In college, my team won our regional division (NCAC) outright during my sophomore year. We were 19-2-1 on the season. We were ranked #1 in our bracket for the NCAA tournament. As rankings go, we had earned home field advantage for the first round of the tournament. This was the kind of break we'd been working for all season. The season had started with a grueling pre-season camp with 4 practices per day. The heat was extraordinary, but our coach continued practices inside, in the pool, or right out on the field. We watched the football team take abbreviated practices... only 2 per day. They practiced without pads... and quite frankly, I don't remember them doing much else other than standing around! In any event, it wasn't like we got to watch much... it's just that they occupied the larger practice field next to us. They would come out for warm-up after we'd already begun practice, and would head (walking) to the locker room before we'd finished.

The seasons went much the same way for both teams. The football team eeked out a win against Oberlin (the losingest school in football history) somewhere during the season, but that was their only win for the year. We were undefeated within our conference. Trainers would comment on the women's soccer team's committment. One time when I had to go to the training room to treat a partially torn ligament in my wrist, the trainer commented that he had to "drag" women into the training room, while the men were using the training room to try to avoid getting slaughtered on the field.

In any case, it came time for the NCAA tournament, and guess what? The football team had a home game that weekend. University, NCAC, and NCAA officials determined that a tournament could not take place the same day and time as a home football game. As a result, the game site was moved to 2 1/2 hours north to a rival school. We did well that tournament. The 2 1/2 hours made a significant difference weather-wise. It snowed. At home... clear skys... at the game, we needed snow blowers to find the lines on the field. We won the first game. By the second day, however, after 3 games had been played on the wet, snowy field, the conditions were miserable. Our team's edge was our quickness. Our game was based on finesse and skill in combination with being faster than our opponents. Field conditions change that. We played a remarkably good game anyway. It came down to the last one minute and eleven seconds in overtime when a stray ball made its way into the net, and we were defeated. No one wanted to say anything about it on the way home, because it was too difficult to come to terms with. It would have been a different game if we had played it at home.

Meanwhile, back at the University... where all 50 spectators of the football game had had plenty of seating space for the team's home game... the football team was slaughtered, again. 50-0.

The women who are interested in soccer don't go to big games that cost lots of money (yesterday the ticket prices ranged from $35 to $175). They aren't used to having to pay to watch themselves play! Paying outrageous fees to watch a game isn't the way women see sports. It's the male model. As long as we continue to impose male-sport models for spectatorship, we'll continue to kill out leagues like the WUSA... and (as predicted possible) the WNBA. There are two possibilities. Either someone decides to bankroll womens sports long enough to aculturate women into watching themselves play sports... or women's leagues wise up to the fact that women aren't used to it. Women are used to playing their sport and then watching the men. Does that mean they don't want a league? No. It means that they'd like to have a chance to play in it first.

What will make women's soccer leagues work? Participation. When professional women's soccer games have local women's recreational teams come to play during half-time, when women's one-on-one tournaments are held directly following a game, when players sponsor camps and workshops for improving your game that are attached to coming to view the game... that's when the league will take off. Make it open. Make it something to participate in. Stop trying to mimic male methods of spectatorship. Learn what works for women... and then use the method that will actually attract a group that comprises over 1/2 of the population world-wide.

Oops... it's way later than I had hoped... again... warning... this message is making very broad generalizations about "typical" men and "typical" women athletes. I've met plenty who break the mold--just not enough.

Posted by c_jane at 12:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

Deja vu all over again!

Ok… so I’ve had these two books that I took out of the library for my chapter on “Ekphrasis by Women and the Self Portrait Poem: 20th Century Poets Refiguring the Artist as Model” (title not yet definite), and I’ve been doing all kinds of research on the self-portrait. During the course of this research, I checked out two books from the library. The first, Flaeshin-g Mirror: Women Artists’ Self-Representation in the Twentieth Century is written by Tiziana Agnati and published by Selene Edizioni in Milan. The copyright date is 2001. I also checked out a book by Marsha Meskimmon titled The Art of Reflection: Women Artists’ Self-portraiture in the Twentieth Century published by Columbia University Press in New York. The copyright is 1996. Now, there’s an acknowledgements section at the front of this volume, but that is the only thing that separates it from the other text. I mean, the covers are different… the shape of the book is different… but the 2001 publication gives absolutely no acknowledgement to the 1996 version. Both authors take credit for the work. Both works are in English. And, both book covers include brief biographies of both authors as author of the text in hand.

They are almost exactly the same.

So, who do I attribute the ideas to? I read the Agnati first, but it couldn’t have existed without the presence of the Meskimmon. Have you ever heard of such a thing? It strikes me as utterly bizarre. Quite frankly, I don’t know who to credit. I suppose, credit could go to Meskimmon because her book was published first. Her book is published by a more well-known publisher… but at the same time—does the other deserve mentioning, since that’s the text that I actually read? Amazon lists the Meskimmon text, but not the Agnati, and more people have checked Meskimmon out of the library. I suppose that somehow at this stage I shouldn’t be quite so perplexed by problems like this, but it concerns me. How does this happen? How does a near exact duplicate of the text exist without any attribution? Finally, how do they both show up under entirely different call numbers in the university library?

So, that’s my mystery for the day. I have to get back to writing about mirrors and self-portraits….maybe I’ll just attribute it to “?” until I have a better idea what to do with this.

Posted by c_jane at 2:13 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 9, 2003

You will be assimilated

Well, when I first started teaching, this is something that I never in a million years thought that I'd say: "I'm sorry, but I just can't let you into my class." I always imagined myself as that teacher who would allow students to add my class if they were dedicated and interested. I wanted to be the generous teacher who could find time for her students, despite the number.

Today, I realized I can't be that teacher. It's clear that because of the recent budget cuts at our institution that fewer classes are being offered that fill the necessary CORE requirements, and those of us who teach the lower level courses feel the crunch. Students during the "drop/add" period are running from teacher to teacher begging to be let into a course that fits their schedule. The result resembles the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Today, I had an onslaught of such students. I had one student email me two times and come to my office two times to beg that I make a special exception for her and allow her into my class. She was not on the wait list, but someone told her that if I were a "nice" teacher, I'd let her oversubscribe.

Here's the catch. There are still 2 more people on the waiting list to get into the class. Both of those waitlist people showed up for class today. I couldn't very well let the first student in without letting the two students who've been waiting patiently on the "waiting list" into the class as well. Currently, I have 35 students in the class who are taking it for a grade. I have an additional student who is auditing the class through the "Golden ID" program (a program in Maryland where retired persons can return to school and take college courses). So, really, my class is already 36. An additional 3 people would push my class to 39.

So it was decision time. Do I sacrifice 1.) the class dynamic (it's a discussion-based class, so it requires that each student have ample opportunity to participate, and currently we're barely fitting everyone's comments into a 75 minute period as it is) 2.) my sanity (this adds a total of 9 additional papers plus 3 additional final projects, 3 midterms and 3 final exams to grade) and 3.) my current students' opportunity for individual attention? Or, do I become the "stingy teacher" and say no?

I said no. I feel miserable about it. It's not the students' fault. They just want to take the class. It's not my fault. I have a responsibility to protect the rights of the students already registered for the class. It all comes down, again, to the budget. I had to decide if the budget was going to make me insane, or if it was going to hinder 3 students' education. I had to settle for the latter. Maybe... just maybe these students have parents who vote. Maybe, just maybe these parents will be angry enough to use that vote and make education a priority in this state. Or, maybe my students will just go away hating poetry, hating the school, and consider me akin to the Grim Reaper.

I suppose that's what it means to be a teacher sometimes. Not what I pictured during those bliss-filled days of naivete 6 years ago. Instead, I feel like one more teacher at a big school who can't seem to make the system work for her students. How *insanely* frustrating!

Posted by c_jane at 5:41 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 8, 2003

In a Parallel Universe

I'm giving myself over to my *gasp* sci-fi imaginings today and thought I might share. If we lived in a parallel universe, what would the newspaper headlines read today? How about this: "Bush Requests $87 Billion to Fund the War to Improve Education." The article would read: " In his address to the nation Sunday night, Bush said the national community had a duty to make sure education was stable so that schools do not become an "exporter of ignorance and illiteracy." Bush might argue that "We are fighting that enemy in schools today, so that we do not meet him/her again in our streets and in our cities."

Of course, in my own version of the story, Bush would have the expository skills of someone more like Tony Blair and FOX news would actually know the meaning of "fair" and "balanced." But, I suppose, this is asking for far too much.

What got me started on this? I read an article from the New Yorker about "standards" in education. I'm not an enemy to the idea of standards by any means. I completely agree that theoretically, standards are a requirement of education if that education is to mean anything. I think there are plenty of times that I've done well at something and wondered by what standard I was measuring myself. This article in The New Yorker brings this debate into relief.

What the article doesn't mention, however, are the vast differences in the support students get at home depending on the school district. The article raises the issue of North Carolina where smaller schools have a higher likelihood of scoring both higher and lower on state mandated proficiency exams. Larger schools (with higher numbers and therefore lower rates of result fluctuation) tend to maintain something of a status quo. Still, I remember visiting a friend in Charlotte, NC who taught the fourth grade. I remember what it was like in his classroom to "teach to the test" when there were students who clearly would benefit from other forms of teaching. I also remember my friend's frustration. One half of his class had electricity at home. The other half had no electricity at home. The first half could always have homework completed and extra help, because it wasn't difficult for working parents to help them later at night. The other half couldn't expect that kind of help from home, because there was no light for them to read by.

Anyway, wouldn't it be nice if we were willing to take this kind of dramatic stance to clear up some of our own domestic problems with a sweeping one-time $115 billion over the course of 9 - 12 months? And as possible as it is being made to seem here, do we really believe that $115 billion is going to "fix Iraq" the way that we seem skeptical that it could "fix education"? Talk about throwing money at a problem. But who am I to say... I mean, I'm probably someone a patriot like Ann Coulter would consider a a "commie spy" for this type of utopian thinking... and such thinking is treasonous under her new definition of the word... so I'm clearly committing treason by asking such questions...and, of course, such treason must be born out of a desire to dismantle this Union. Otherwise, why would I bother writing something like this that questions the status quo?

Posted by c_jane at 12:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 3, 2003

Incoming Freshmen

Gee... who's procrastinating now? I've gone for nearly a month with nary a post, but now I've got 3 in one day. I'm either obsessive compulsive or I'm really avoiding my work today. I took a gander at the Chronicle today after reading Matt's most recent post. What caught my attention was a list put out by Beloit College called the "Mind-Set list of 2007." It describes things that are beyond comprehension for this incoming class, born in 1985.

I won't quote the whole thing here, of course, but I thought it would be interesting to post the last piece, where Beloit officials attempt to determine what students feel separate them from their instructors. The list is as follows:

Beloit also issued a short list that describes, from the entering students' perspective, what sets them apart from most of their instructors:

  1. For many of them today, it's all about the "bling bling."
  2. They know who the "heroes in a half-shell" are.
  3. Peeps are not a candy; they are your friends.
  4. They have been "dissing" and "burning" things all their lives.
  5. They can expect to get a ticket for "ricing out their wheels."
  6. They knew how to pop a Popple and trade a Pog.
  7. They can still sing the rap chorus to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the theme song from Duck Tales.

These kinds of things always come out at the beginning of the school year. I should be used to them... but somehow I'm always caught off guard by the rapid pace of pop culture.

Posted by c_jane at 6:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Intro to Poetry – Day One

I’d have to say that of all the classes I’ve taught, Introduction to Poetry is my favorite, primarily because the kinds of students who take the course are my favorite to teach. Students who sign up for Introduction to Poetry generally sign up for one (or more) of three reasons: 1.) It’s poetry, so there’s not as much reading (which generally intimates that the student plans on doing the reading). 2.) The student really has confidence issues about poetry, knows that he or she has difficulty understanding it, and recognizes that learning is necessary to pass the course. 3.) The student has a genuine interest in poetry because he or she either already enjoys reading it or—more likely—writing it. The first group generally has never enjoyed reading, and I happen to like the challenge of teaching them how amazing the craft of reading and understanding what you read can really be. The second group is ready and willing to be helped. They’re anxious to learn, because they need to do so at first. Later, though, I find that their increased confidence in their reading abilities extend to other areas. You can see these students visibly change as students over the course of the semester. The third group is sold right away, but oddly enough, they’re more difficult to reach than the other two.

Students who already love poetry for a particular reason frequently find it difficult to find “other” reasons to enjoy poetry. These students, unfortunately, find the class much less satisfying at the beginning than the others. Many of these students have been taught that the word “poem” and “poetic” (despite being different parts of speech) can be used interchangeably. Many of them enjoy poetry because poetry is raw emotion. As one of my students explained to me yesterday, “Poetry is whatever makes you feel something. It’s more than words. It doesn’t have to be words.” According to the student, it’s just that the person writing the poem or the person reading the poem is able to express emotion. But I don’t allow these students to settle at this conclusion. As I did yesterday, I asked, “What separates poetry from anything else, then?” My students responded by saying, “Nothing, as long as it expresses emotion.” Frequently, as was the case yesterday, students feel that we commit a kind of act of hubris by trying to “limit what poetry can be.”

This conversation usually begins on the first day of class because I ask my students to consider for a moment the following question: “What makes a poem a poem? How do you know a poem when you see or hear it?” Students answers range from pointing out visual clues like line breaks and stanzas to figurative language to rhythm. Still, every time, students return to this issue of emotion, and wanting to totally explode the definition of poetry. As my students will support their argument, they say: “but even instrumental music can be poetic.” At which point we tease out the differences between poetic and poem. But students are very uncomfortable with limiting poetry. I think they feel that it also limits the emotions that can be expressed by poetry.

I ask students to consider the poem by Archibald MacLeish called “Ars Poetica” on the first day of class. The poem, named after Horace’s argument over the purpose and usefulness of poetry, creates a definition of poetry that is the sum of sweeping contradiction. It’s not an obviously emotional poem. In fact, I ask students what profound emotion the poet is attempting to express in the poem, and students are often left speechless. Usually, they counter by saying that “The poet must have felt the emotion at the time he was writing the poem.” The gist of my students’ comments is that we just don’t have access to those emotions. This is the point at which I bring MacLeish’s comments to center. MacLeish writes that “A poem should not mean / But be.” Usually a student points out that what MacLeish means here is that poem shouldn’t be hard work. The poem’s emotion should be readily accessible to the reader, and eventually students come to the conclusion that to make the reader feel that emotion is actually hard work. So, despite the contradiction of the statement, it captures the essence of poetry. Emotion is inextricable to poetry, but the art of creating that emotion is actually more definable.

So the question becomes, if it’s hard work to make a poem, doesn’t that mean that a poem is something in particular. At this point, I step in and ask if we do a disservice to poetry by making its definition too broad. In fact, don’t we make our own jobs as students of poetry much more daunting because we have no real way of knowing how or where we might encounter it? In fact, we do poetry a service by creating some boundaries. For example, poems are in the particular medium of language. Perhaps an instrumental is “poetic” but it is that way because it contains an aspect of poetry, not that it is poetry. We do a service to poets by restricting what we call poetry to a degree, because we understand that they have something in mind that they wish to communicate, and that the form, the genre matters—not just to us as readers in order to understand, but to the writers, as well.

I think we foster this “poetry can be anything” attitude to students early on in an attempt to “demystify” it. But we end up doing students a disservice in the long run—especially these students who have the inclination to enjoy poetry to start with. In our incredible desire to get students to “like” poetry, we make it more daunting. It’s much more difficult to approach poetry when it could be “anything at any moment that makes you feel something.” The possibilities are too large and the implication far too difficult to wrap one’s own head around. Students end up assuming that poems aren’t meant to be understood, and as Marianne Moore argues “we / do not admire what / we cannot understand.”

Unfortunately, the student who has learned to love poetry “because it can be anything that makes you feel something” is slow to relinquish this open-ended interpretation of the term. It causes the student to resist interpretation, and ultimately they want the poem to mean whatever emotion comes first. We spend a great deal of the semester trying to re-center poetry in language. To explain that language has boundaries for the purpose of communication. It is true. The definition of poetry, as the definition of many other words (words that poems frequently use to expose language’s slippages) is frequently debated. But we do keep coming back to something. We must if we have any hope of being understood.

One of my goals for this semester is to try to reach these students. I don’t want to close them off to all the emotive power and flexibility that poetry has to offer, but I also want to demystify poetry in another way. I want them to know that there are ways to encounter poetry. That without boundaries, there is no communication. Without communication, the poet is useless… and while there are poets with anxieties about uselessness… even those persist with the hope that communication, understanding, and empathy is possible through language. We know they do, because they continue to write.

Posted by c_jane at 11:02 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Too much nostalgia on my part

It’s daunting to try to post about the first day of class after so many people—like dave, George, Eloise, and others—have commented on it so aptly. But the first day of school always sticks with me. It’s one of those recurring occasions that I look forward to and dread simultaneously. I resent the end of the summer freedom, while simultaneously feeling overwhelmed by expectation, excitement, and the newness ahead. I’ve been like this since I was little. Much like dave, I have a recurring image that comes back over and over again each new September. For me, though, I remember a sleepless night when I was 6 years old. I remember the night before my first day of first grade, and I remember walking into the classroom for the first time.

That night—it may as well have been Christmas morning the next day—there was no way I could sleep. I napped a couple hours here and there, but mostly I lay on my side staring at the clothes I’d be wearing that next morning. I would glance back at the faux digital clock radio (the one where the numbers literally flipped over one by one making a small, tapping noise against the backdrop of faint orange light) on occasion, but mostly I stared at the clothes. I went to Catholic school from the time I started kindergarten through high school, but I changed schools between kindergarten and first grade. First grade was the first year I “was lucky” enough to start wearing a uniform. The average person probably wouldn’t find it exciting to wear a uniform, but to me, as a 6-year old, waiting for that first day, wanting so desperately to belong… that uniform was like an automatic ticket to “belonging.” My mom had hung the navy blue, powder blue and white plaid jumper along with the requisite white, see-through, Peter Pan-collared, polyester blouse on the doorknob to my closet. Underneath it laid my brand new saddle shoes and stark white knee socks. Throughout the course of the night, I worked out the exact order of the morning’s events. I’d get out of bed and go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, comb my hair, (baths happened the night before), and run back to my room to pull on these brand new clothes. Right next to my bed was my (also new) book bag, filled with a pencil case with 3 razor-sharp, fat, pencils and a copy book. I’d pick up my bag, run downstairs, eat my cereal, pick up my also brand new pink, Holly Hobby lunch box with the thermos, and jump into the car. When we got to school, I knew that I would get out with my mom, but I would force myself out of nervousness. I was going to walk into that classroom and meet all my new friends, my new teacher, my new desk… so much new… and I was going to do it. Whatever “it” was, I was determined to learn.

When my mom tells the story of my first day in first grade, she tells it with one of those mom-smiles. She explains how when we walked to the classroom, I said goodbye and walked straight into the room. No tears. No apparent fear. No looking back. I just wanted to meet new people. Standing just outside that door was a girl who years later would turn out to be one of the best friends I’ve ever had—Erin Duffy. She, unlike myself, was not so sure that the experience would be a good one. She stood at the front door crying. As soon as her mother would turn to leave, a new fit of tears would come over her. Eventually, poor Mrs. Duffy had to just turn away from her daughter and get back in her car and drive away. My mom watched the whole thing. I think there was a little bit of her that wished for just a moment that I’d cried, too. Of course, she wanted me to like school. She wanted me to feel confident and excited. But it’s tough watching your little girl make that first step without any fear of loss.

What my mother didn’t realize is that before I even left for school, I knew I would love it. I knew it because learning was a part of our every day life in my house. We would read together daily. We went to the zoo to learn about animals, on nature walks to learn about flowers and birds, to the puppet theater, to the museum, to the store… there was something to learn everywhere we went. Learning wasn’t a classroom activity. The classroom was someplace where other people your age got together to learn about the same things, but for me, learning had been fun and was never limited to the classroom—so really it was an opportunity to meet new friends, new people, and learn in new ways. I was already sold on school before I started, because it seemed like what I did every day, but now I did it with people who would be my friends—not just my mom and my brother.

Every first day of class since first grade, I’ve continued to have insomnia. It isn’t exactly the same. The classroom is a very familiar place now, and I don’t get to buy a new book bag each year. I certainly don’t wear saddle shoes (or knee-high socks for that matter!). But the first-day feeling is always the same. I’m eager for that bit of the unknown, for the things I’ll have the chance to learn this year, and the people who have gathered together not because they’re the same age but because we’re all interested in learning.

That picture of Erin crying at the front door of school hasn’t completely disappeared, either. Erin had a point. I know now that it wasn’t just her mother that she lamented, but her freedom. Erin always had a strong, independent streak, and she valued her freedom more highly than I did at that age. So now, when I come to school that first day, I feel that same excitement I felt my first day of school when I was 6-years old, but I always stop to remember Erin… to think about the summer, it’s freedoms, the fact that we can never go home again to that time. Invariably, that nostalgia only lasts for a few moments, because the allure of the new… new students, new friends, new books, new topics are too enticing to regret the loss of the summer for long.

Posted by c_jane at 9:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack