Now is Now part I

Published October 16, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

It’s been awhile (Great. Now I have that Staind song stuck in my head.) Since my return to the Mother Ship, I have been inundated with paperwork, lesson plans and learning the ropes at a new school.

I am on a mission that is very very very important I not screw up.  This is giving me a bit of anxiety, loads of happiness and some damn terrific moments.  It also takes a lot of my focused, coherent thought time (I know, it was news to me that I had ANY of that. )

It is half past early in the morning and I have a eight luxurious minutes before I have to blaze out of here and jump in the line (New, better song, my favorite version is by a little Austin band called Schrodeniger’s Cat. ) of a Monday.  A lot has been happening, most of which I can’t specifically talk about, but I did kick off a weekend of the whumps (A term coined by Esther Hembree to mean something on the sad side of grumpy) by watching The Green Mile.  Great movie, not much of a knee slapping comedy.

It didn’t do much to lighten my mood.  BatBeard wants me to stop watching the news. I can’t, because I promised my students that if we are on the verge of apocalypse, I would bring cupcakes.

Which brings me to Now. I’m writing this in pieces because I don’t have a lot of time.

Now it’s time for my mission.

It occurred to me a few days ago that a large part of my job is to teach my students how to be kind.

And sharpening pencils.

Priceless? Maybe,

Published September 19, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

aI was trying to get the bits and pieces of my brain together to write an essay for Real Simple magazine’s current writing contest, themed “Your happiest moment”.  It had a 1500 word limit and a $3,000 prize. No sweat. I even knew what moment I wanted to write about.

I started a rough draft in an actual notebook. This is how I started most of my better work. I really wanted this to be one of my better works, because after a long long time of trying to figure out what happiness was and how to maintain it and years of therapy and driving miles back and forth to various parts of the Southwest and millions and millions of gallons of coffee and God only knows how many trips to the thrift store/bookstore/doughnut shop, and being called crazy by someone whose job is to give advice at actual commitment hearings (That really happened! It put a joyful feather right there in my crazy aluminum hat.)

I had it altogether. It was very important because my very careful budgeting has revealed that I am short about $400 a month. And I ‘m not dead sure what that is going to come from. (Tutoring is a possibility but not for at least another few months until I get into the swing of things.) The extra cash would certainly help.

Guess what happened?

My best laid plans were nudged, pushed and kicked out of the way by three of my students needing to retest (I blame the pencils) after school and discovering that I needed to fit in two extra lessons into my packed day to get everyone caught up and I somehow dropped a weird glitch into the grade book causing a zero that wasn’t really a zero to pop up in Progress Reports and crush the spirits of a cadre of 9 year olds. So I had to fix all of that. And then I had to go home and re-heat my noodles and chicken for dinner as I made my lunch, fed my cats and pull some things together to wear to school, because, did I mention I have Morning Duty this week? Which means I have to to get to school at 7:15, entitling me to leave at 3:45 unless, of course, you have kids to test or have a meeting.

So here I am 18 hours too late to win the big prize. But it is important to me so here it is:

I am living a blessed life. I have I roof over my head and I kind of know where my meal is coming from. I even know where the cats’ next meal is coming from.  I know that Happiness doesn’t come from other people. It doesn’t come from a place, and it certainly doesn’t care if you’re wearing make-up or if you remembered to shave your legs today.  Happiness pops in and out when you least expect it. I have so many happy moments in my life to chose from, how could I possibly narrow it down to one?

When I finally found the one, I realized that it was many years in the making.

I have always enjoyed singing. When I was a child, I thought singing was simple, just open your mouth and go.  When I was in the third grade, one of my fellow students said I wasn’t singing right. Well, what was that all about? I was smart and in the best reader group, how could I possibly be doing something wrong?

I remember very clearly, my third grade teacher, the beloved Mrs. Craven (she lived next door to the Von Erich family, they of the wrestling dynasty) standing next to me, listening for a moment and then declaring that I was off-key. I had no idea what this meant and being a small bear, I didn’t know how to fix it, so I kept getting worse. Mrs. Craven advised me to just move my lips during that song.

I do not recall what event required third graders to belt forth a musically superior rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but I do recall I did not sing it. I didn’t move my lips either.

Many years later when I was in high school, the Band Director decided that we had the talent to put together our own jazz vocal group. (I have no idea why a school that had a Clown Ministry, really, we did, did not have a choir director) One of my fellow vocalists was listening to me sing and not understand what the director was asking me to do.  She said, “Listen for the note and hit it when you hear it and and you feel it.”  She convinced me that if I could feel the note, I could sing it.

Fast forward to That Time My Head Blew Up. I had many, many challenges, including regaining the ability to to talk clearly and with inflection. I never even gave a thought to being able to sing again. I just wanted to be able to do something by myself that remotely resembled normal. At this point I couldn’t even fasten my own bra and didn’t have permission to shower without someone within shouting distance.

I was not concerned with singing.

One day I was in my hospital room listening to the soundtrack to “Oh Brother, where art thou?”  and just enjoying the blue grass and the song “Down to the river” by Alison Kraus came in. I listened for a bit and right when the bridge swelled, I felt the note and I could sing it.

That was my happiest moment.

I think that’s what you call priceless.

 

Sometimes it IS just the pencils.

Published September 17, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

I have been teaching for twenty-six years and in that time I have the need for pencils. (I know this sounds weird, but it’s true.) When I taught theatre, pencils were imperative for preliminary sketches for storyboards or first drafts as well as for taking blocking notes.  For some reason, actors never have their own pencils.

When I began teaching full-time and I was having to push a mule uphill while trying to teach 160 students per day and communicate to the administration that a Theatre classroom looks different than other classrooms and trying to shove us all in the same size box was damn near impossible, I had a hell of a time keeping up with pencils.  Kids don’t bring their own pencils, and due to some very bizarre verbage in the FWISD manual, no student should be denied the lack of education because they don’t have a pencil. (No one is at all interested in my retort that the students can’t keep track of them because they don’t have any motivation or real commitment to their own education. Ah, that’s a can of worms for another time.)

Last year I worked at  a charter school that was striving to be a paperless campus. I say striving, because, really, nice idea, but how, exactly does that work if you are trying to differentiate education and there are so very many students who are tactile learners who need hands on choices and it’s hard to be hands on with one eye on a computer screen. It’s even harder when some of the kids don’t know how to type.  Seriously. Nice idea.  But either way, I needed pencils for the percentage of time that the computers didn’t work. And kids who were told they are on a paperless campus NEVER NEVER NEVER have a thought about where pencils come from.

Now I am in a more traditional classroom and the mountain of necessary supplies are provided, but I have been blessed with a group of cherubs who take five minutes longer than the rest of the world to do anything, anything at all. I’m comforted by the fact that I will get to live five minutes longer because nine fourth graders will make all of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse wait for them to get a drink of water and use the restroom, or go back for their sweater.  Except it will dawn on someone that Armageddon is likely to be toasty warm, so then everyone will have to take off their sweaters and fill up their water bottles.   Something tells me I’m going to spend that last few seconds of my earthly life shrugging at Conquest and War while Famine and Death roll their eyes at me.

So we have the pencils, but since I don’t have the extra hour a day it would take for 9 students to decide at differing times that they need to wander about the room trying to decide if they should sharpen their pencil, or should they maybe use pen, unless it’s math or a rough draft and then they need their pencil and if the pencil doesn’t sharpen to rapier’s edge, they  have to stare out the window while the mangle the wood , yet somehow do not manage to sharpen the pencil into a workable instrument.

That is why I spent most of last weekend and all of my test monitoring time. (Yes, we had that already) sharpening well over fifty pencils. I started with three for each student, and then that accelerated into sharpening the pencils that were on the floor in the room at the end of the day, because why would it ever occur to a child to pick something up?

Maybe i should warn the horsemen so they don’t trip.

It’s really easy; just look at the side

Published August 15, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

I tend to ponder as I wander. (I know the rhyme thing is goofy, but I’m teaching younger kids these days and it takes me a bit to switch the brain back over.)

So much has been happening in the world at large and in my world at small that is making me wonder if I’m actually trapped in an episode of Rick and Morty.  And every day it gets harder and harder to sit down and write something that doesn’t make me want to slam my head on the nearest flat surface.

I can’t even think about the state of the union, because once I process the series of thoughts about a particular day’s insanity, something new and even more horrifying has happened, and then the whole business starts all over again.

Part of the process of teaching includes many, many, many workshops and policy briefings and rules and regulations and a whole alphabet soup of procedures that all boil down to mean, “KEEP THE KIDS SAFE,” The second thing we learn is, “Teach them something important.”

I have to say that I did panic a bit at the overwhelming amount of information, mainly because I have not always worked in/for institutions that felt this way.

As I processed all of that and then the madness in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. (If you have been in a cave on Mars, with your fingers in your ears, on Saturday, August 13, James Alex Fields, Jr, drove into a crowd of protestors, murdering Heather Heyer.   Heyer was among people demonstrating against a white supremacy rally.

It makes me a little bonkers to have that in my head while my primary objective is to KEEP THE KIDS SAFE.

I think what I will do for the second part is teach them to be kind.

That’s important.

And then maybe I can teach some Reading, Spelling and the rest of that.

Out,Standing in the field.

Published August 5, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

I had an interesting conversation with my father a few days ago. We tend to meander from topic to topic, but since we both enjoy documentaries and have similar opinions, (We once had an entire conversation conducted with eye rolling.) we sometimes come to rather astute conclusions.

In an earlier blog I wrote about the fallout of a Facebook post. In the post, I took no sides, just simply mentioned that I found an article thought provoking. As my father and I discussed this, particularly the fact that both sides of the mud-sling were missing the whole point, I had a revelation that I shared.

I told him that I thought Z nation, The Walking Dead, and the other dystopian shows, movies and teen series were taking up the allegorical baton, metaphorically speaking. (I like to use multisyllabic words so my dad can feel like the investment in my education was worth it.)

The point that the sayers of nay (No, I’m not insulting the horses) on the political front, and majority of the cast of the shows, series, etc is that the arguing over minutiae is masking the bigger picture.

The survivors are spending time fighting each other for power when they should be focusing on the fact that the undead are a constant, consistent threat. Because it’s in all of us.

Now in the real world, you know the one where we all wake up hoping that a little bird isn’t going to tell us that we are officially at war with everyone, the various loud politicos and their supporters are busy insulting each other and we miss the bigger picture.

There are monsters out there.

Because it’s in all of us.

What side is this?

Published August 2, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

About a million years ago, back when I was in the middle of my other career, I attended Graduate school for a M.A. in Performing Arts. (I was still young and had hope.)

I wrote a paper in support of my proposal for my final project.  I could not get my graduate committee (The three faculty members who were like some kind of three headed hydra.) to tell me what format my paper needed to take, so I just free formed it.

The paper was subsequently rejected and I was directed to a variety of academic papers written to support modern dance projects. (I, too, was surprised that such a thing existed.) I read the papers and noticed that they were written in the traditional MLA format.

I rewrote  the paper using the format and was commended on the amount of scholarship I had demonstrated.  I wanted to snort with the laughter and direct the Hydra to my undergraduate transcript which stated I was a McFadden Scholar.  I have no idea why people are so shocked and amazed to find out that I do have a fine mind nestled snugly under the crazy.

Anyway, they accepted the paper and approved the project.  After I put  200 plus hours into the project, including written and photographic documentation, the Hydra said they were not going to approve my project because, “We don’t do that here.” They didn’t want to align their Drama department with a public service theatre project that brought together Developmentally Disabled adults and At-Risk youth. Both groups met weekly to design puppets and develop a script that was then performed for school age children throughout the city.

I can’t expect a State University to get behind that. I don’t know how I could be so foolish.

I told them I needed some time to regroup, so after a full blown tantrum conducted at a high speed ride home and face down on the floor at home. I debated and discussed with everyone and finally asked the universe for a sign. (At this point I only lacked a final project to win the race and get my MA) In the meantime, I still had grants to write for my ongoing programs.

One of my friends from the ARC, the organization that worked with my kids in the hood, was a McDonald’s employee. At the time there was a supply grant available through the company, but you needed an employee’s endorsement. I helped my friend, Michael, write the letter and I asked him what he wanted to use for his closing signature. I explained that when I finished an official letter, I signed it, OutReach Director.  I asked him what title he wanted.

He said, “Your Friend.”

It took me a moment to recover and process and when I did, it became clear that this was my sign.  I didn’t want to be on the side of a group of people who would deny credit for hard work because it didn’t jibe with their perception of art.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately because I recently had a similar crisis of conscience when dealing with the problems at my previous job.  I did what I knew was right.

Because when it’s all over, and our current world/political situation indicates it will be soon, I know where I will stand.

Because I’m Michael’s friend.

 

Sorry, Mr. Manilow

Published July 27, 2017 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

I woke up this morning singing, “It’s brain day! If you wanna believe ,you can have brain break, and struggle to breathe, I said it’s brain day, even if you have to sneeze it can be brain day and I can walk on my knees, yes it’s brain day and I know I can smiiiilllee out of both sides of my head!!!!.”

The cats were not entertained, but Actor Boy sang his song where he rhymed “crazy” with “hazy.”

It’s not every day that you can celebrate potentially fatal brain damage with an interactive musical

Fourteen years ago, while performing Parallel Lives with my co-star Merritt Glover, I had a hemorrhagic stroke caused by a burst aneurysm. Read more here.    After I had recovered enough to be released back into the wild, I was told that at the five year mark, I would likely reach the top end of my brain rehabilitation growth curve, and that it was highly improbable for me to pass a standardized, timed, test.  (I defied within a year by passing both levels of the New Mexico Teacher’s Assessments. The room was filled with the most irritating group of people ever assembled.)

At the ten year mark, I was dealing with the defection of EH and was having a serious life upheaval.  I celebrated with Actor Boy, and immediate family. When I left the house to go the restaurant,I heard that a local actor, the fantastic Ryan Roach, had suffered a stroke. Ryan and I were in a show together years ago and he was a kind, generous human being.  My heart was filled with prayers and good wishes for Ryan.

By the time I got home, Ryan had died.

Here I am at 14 years.  I have a neurologist appointment on Monday.  At my last visit I asked what the protocol for this stage of recovery. I was told that there IS no protocol. There are so few survivors of this kind of stroke, and many stroke survivors succumb to other maladies, so I’m kind of in a group of my own.

I am very grateful for my miracle. Actor Boy made me a pop tart and fetched me a big cold soda. I will be joining my family for dinner and then we are off to Karaoke. Lots of fun and excitement! But no Batman (:()  He is still buckling the swash and will be for a few more weeks.

I am grateful for my world. Even if it’s covered in cat hair.