9/11: Never Forget

My shirt makes me look fat. I hate my hair. Why do I have to have Spanish class with all the popular junior boys? I hate being a freshman. 

The litany of self-abuse would have continued until, well, college, if my mom hadn’t walked through my door, her eyes wide, her fingers opening and closing into awkward fists at her sides.

“I’m ready for school,” I said.

She met my eyes. “Do you know what the World Trade Center is?”

“No.”

“The twin towers in New York City?”

“Oh, yeah, I see them on Friends. Why?”

“An airplane just crashed into one of them.”

My brothers, standing behind her, heard and sprinted downstairs to watch our family’s single TV. I chased after, and saw for the first time that iconic replayed footage of the first tower standing confidently as an airplane pierced its side on that awful morning.

The second plane hit while we were listening to the news on the way to school.

That Spanish class I’d been dreading all day, the one with all the junior boys who scared the hell out of me, was spent like every other period, teachers and students alike unable to tear their eyes off the 10″ TV screens in one corner of each classroom. We all watched the towers fall, and we all cried.

Everything changed that day.

The dress code at our high school–collared shirts and no shorts–normally strictly enforced, melted away for a while as even our California school adopted “I ❤ NY” t-shirts.

The first Friday football game after 9/11 included no less than 3 patriotic songs after the National Anthem was played, and even the football players, ready to crack each other’s heads open, were wiping tears from their eyes.

My history class became a discussion on foreign relations, English class became a philosophical debate on retaliation, and Spanish class never resumed any sort of academic pursuits (thanks to said junior boys).

Islam, to me as well as many other adolescents, transformed from the largely ignored religion of 2 nice kids in our school to a nation of enemies hell-bent on ruining the American way.

For months, the newspapers and magazines glorified and eulogized American heroes, and we were beyond proud to be Americans. And Americans did not tolerate Islam.

We were all Bush supporters back then. In a small, agricultural community, and in an even smaller Catholic high school, very few students contested Bush’s moral right to the throne of America. And he responded to 9/11 so brilliantly. He bandaged up our hearts and sent us to war faster than we could think about it.

We all talk about how Americans came together on that day, how we all embraced each other in this time of tragedy and lifted each other up. We didn’t do that, though. We became an intolerant nation.

It pains me to admit that I was on that anti-Islam bandwagon, which blended seamlessly (somehow) into anti-gay and anti-feminism and anti-tolerance-in-general.

We’re still dealing with these consequences. Our nation is more torn than ever.

Never forget 9/11. Never forget those lost and the heroes who lost their lives that day. Never forget, and never ignore the even darker side of that dark day. Never forget how we exacerbated racial divides and started an endless war.

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Elementary

I’m a big fan of words, which makes me a logophile. Isn’t that a great word? Matt and I often spend delightful hours scrolling through antiquated English appellations, marveling at either their beauty or their artlessness.

I have separate favorite words for speaking, for writing, and for listening. Although they lack a certain visual aesthetic, for example, saying the words ricochet and shenanigans out loud makes me giggle. Allele, however, looks so beautiful written down, although spoken aloud, it sounds like the inadvertent sound your throat makes when you’re trying to appear confident while presenting a high school research project–more of a hiccup than a word.

By far, the most entertaining word to write is my own first name–in cursive. 68507_1732939041113_1277224_n

Maybe it’s because I’ve written it so many times, but Lorelle flows from my hand as if the hand’s sole purpose for existing is to produce that one particular word.

On top of being fun to write, though, it’s also not bad to say. It’s not pronounced like the plant and more common name “Laurel,” as so many people insist on calling me; rather, it has a decidedly French emphasis on the second syllable, making it less “LOR-el” and more “lor-ELLE.”

Forgive my obsession of the awesomeness of my own name. The reason I bring it up is that I’ve recently discovered a new favorite word. The word is element, and it has nothing to do with its many connotations. Forgetting all we’ve learned of periodic tables and 70’s bands reminding you about the 21st night of September, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

We need to remember the song that was invariably of the utmost importance to every now-literate person in the English speaking world at some point in her life. I’m talking about the ABC’s.

I’m sure my kindergarten teacher will be pleased to know that the song she taught me as the foundation of my education is still significant to me. It is, in fact, the inspiration for my new favorite word.

As a child, I often jumbled together the letters at the fastest, most assonance-heavy part of the song. You know what I’m talking about. “N, L, M, O, P” might very well be the way I alphabetize today if it weren’t for the fact that I have siblings, and siblings ruin everything. It’s not my fault that L, M, and N sound similar, and, sung along with the rest of the class, no error was perceived by my loving and attentive teacher. Therefore, no correction came from her.

Correction can never be far off from anybody with an older brother. My brother David could never be described as cruel, though to call him (or anybody else in my family, for that matter, myself included) competitive would be a dire understatement.

“No! That’s not how you say it!” My brother so rudely interrupted my performance of my song to my parents. Honestly, David, I was four. Give me a break.

“Yeah, huh!” was the correct retort to any sort of contradiction. Even without proof, in my mind, a simple “Yeah, huh!” would suffice to prove my superior knowledge on any subject at hand. Therefore, my brother received an especially emphatic “Yeah, huh!” delivered with my diminutive fists pressing tightly into my hips.

I was livid. My parents had been smiling, finally enraptured by me, the oft-forgotten middle child, and my stupid big brother had to go and ruin it for me.

“Nuh-uh!” came the all too expected, yet nevertheless formidable five-and-a-half year old response. I’ll spare you the insights we covered in the argument that followed. Suffice it to say, we both recapitulated our go-to phrases as loud as we could while our two-year-old brother Devin wandered over and started repeatedly headbutting my seated father’s knee, laughing and yelling to join in whatever fun game his siblings were playing until my mom had the presence of mind to ever so gently butt into a fight that she very well knew did not concern her in the least.

“Actually, sweetie, it’s supposed to be “L, M, N, O, P.”

At least she didn’t say “David’s right.” That might have killed me.

I resisted the idea of changing the lyrics to my favorite song for a minute, but only because I didn’t want David to win.

As soon as he got bored and turned his attention back to the neglected Nickelodeon cartoons on the other side of the room, I finally conceded to practicing the letters correctly with my parents. Though I accepted the change, I still held the idea that my way was better.

As we practiced, something in my head clicked into place. The succession of letters started to slip off my tongue as if they were meant to be. Of course! L, M, N, O, P! It’s brilliant.

To this day, I wonder if people, in deciding the order of the alphabet, might have started with this combination in mind. And they’re perfectly in the middle of the song! –er, alphabet. It can’t be a coincidence. No, that was definitely planned.

Over and over, I uttered the poetically perfect progression of letters, never once losing my enthusiasm over them. The ABC’s were never the same to me again.

Later on, David would try to provoke me with an “I told you so” sentiment. Of course, I denied that I ever got it wrong in the first place.

I have, ever since that day, tried to make words express my emotions, and I’ve never quite succeeded in the pursuit. Somehow my words have never dripped with the magic of L, M, N, O, P. My constant failures cannot and will not stop me from trying, though. At least I’ve found one word that captures half of my muse-inspired letters.

Element.

Road Trip Regrets

I blink, and the sandpaper that my eyelids have become tells me that I should probably do that more often. The green digital display on my ancient dashboard informs me that I should be sleeping. Incessant, second-long blinks of the colon between hour and minute make me long for a bed that I won’t see for another 56 miles.

I curse under my breath as a sign informs me that this tiny town in the middle of nowhere has the last gas station for 25 miles.

Cramped for hours, my legs don’t want to reach their full length. Though I want to hurry, I force myself to slow down, breathe, and stand up slowly. I feel very, very old.

Three boys around the age of twelve stand around the entrance to the gas station’s convenience store sharing some fries. The smallest one, after some jostling from his friends, shyly meanders closer to me to ask if I’d buy them some cigarettes. I don’t particularly feel like getting arrested, so, eyes averted, I decline, buy a Coke, and leave as quickly as I can.

The only radio stations available in these long stretches of blank desert, black as space in the night, are Mariachi bands and, oddly enough, a cappella hymns. I opt for the livelier Spanish music to help keep me awake. Dashed white lines become hypnotizing surprisingly quickly when they’re the only thing you can see.

As the road markings fade into my subconscious, the image of three little boys in front of a convenience store dominate my mind’s eye, and I find myself worried about them. Why are they out alone at this time of night? Doesn’t anybody care about them? The little one smelled like old sweat and gym socks, and his crooked teeth brought me back to the third grade.

“Joey smells like pee! I don’t wanna sit next to him!” A little girl with two braids and a blue dress complained about the new seating chart.

“So what? It’s just a smell. I don’t have pee on my face like you do!” Joey retorted, smiling at what he must have thought was the world’s greatest comeback.

The whole class laughed, except me. I knew three of Joey’s brothers and I knew he had two others in middle school. The ones I knew all wore the same clothes to school every day, sometimes inside out, always stained and smelly.

My attention snaps back to the road when I see headlights appear far in the distance. Once again, I remind myself to blink as those same dashed lines stretch out before me.

Joey and two of his brothers used to hang out at our local 7-11, bumming cigarettes like the boys I’d just met. I wonder how many people treated him like a worthless, subhuman being, as I had just done to some other little boys, denying his request without the decency of eye contact.

Regret washes over me as I recall the one time I actually spoke to Joey after being in his class for two years. Everybody was watching; I couldn’t just invite him to play with us. I wanted to be nice, but I also wanted to have friends. Nobody would play with me if they suspected I was Joey’s friend.

“We already have enough players, Joey. Go play with someone else,” I said, the disgust I felt for myself projected into my words to the poor boy. Eyes downcast, Joey walked to the drinking fountain, took a drink, and then leaned back against the wall, hands in his pockets as he watched the rest of the kids play.

After that, I was too ashamed to ever talk to him again. In fifth grade, I switched schools, putting Joey behind me forever.

I like to think he made it. I picture Joey a millionaire giving scholarships to poor kids like he once was. In my mind, he’s happy, clean, and never alone anymore.

Regret stabs my heart once more as I recall how nearly impossible it is to succeed in life when you grow up poor. I could have at least apologized.

Blinking again, I vow to bring eye drops on all future road trips. I also vow to make eye contact with all smelly kids hanging out in front of convenience stores.

Evolution of Ideas

I don’t know how anybody could sympathize with the monsters that the Nazis were and, unfortunately, are. It’s happening, though.

Until recently, I held the philosophy that no matter how vile somebody’s ideas are, we should always treat them with kindness. Disparaging them only throws fuel on their fires of hatred, so loving them is the only way to get them to change their beliefs. I believed that we needed to seek out friendships with them in order to expose them to new ideas and bring them around to a more loving and accepting outlook.

My viewpoint has evolved.

Recently, a friend of mine told me about a racist friend of hers. Although said friend’s occasional despicable comments disgusted her, she tried to have friendly conversations with the racist about it. The person never changed, and she started to understand my friend’s continuing friendship as condoning her activities. My friend eventually had to tell that person that she wasn’t comfortable being her friend anymore.

When she told me this, I had already written a nice blog post about how the only way to change the world is to communicate with these people. Her experience led me to reflect on what little good this does. I then remembered what it felt like for me to feel victimized by an institution.

Before I go on, I must express that I know my experience is nothing compared to what the victims of hate groups all over the country (and world) are facing. I will never truly understand what it feels like to be in that situation. However, something happened to me to make me change my mind on how to deal with the awful people in our midst, and I want to share that.

I’ve written before about working at Camp Hi-Sierra. If you know me personally or if you follow my blog, you know how much this place means to me. I love it unconditionally and I always will.

The summer of 2016 was my last summer working there. It started off wonderfully. I got to reunite with several of my old friends, and the new staff members were awesome. I loved my position, and I was reveling in seeing the stars again as I had been living in the middle of Casablanca, Morocco, where stars are rarely visible.

One night, I headed to bed earlier than most of the staff. My bunk was in the room right next to the common room, so I could still hear ebullient voices joking and laughing into the night. It didn’t bother me, though. I rather enjoyed listening to the murmurs of staff members creating crazy memories out there. (Camp staffers get weird late at night.)

Soon enough, somebody who, up until that moment, had been my friend, decided to come to bed. The voices outside irked her, though she herself had just been the loudest participant out there. She walked back out and loudly declared that I, not she, was annoyed and that everyone should feel lucky that she came out to tell them because I was about to be a b**** (her words, not mine) to everybody if they didn’t shut up.

I shouted over her shoulder that I was fine and that she was the only person who was being too loud anyway. Everybody then laughed at her as she got caught in the lie.

This was a big mistake; one that cost me more than I’d ever be willing to pay. It cost me friendships. It cost me my job. It cost me camp.

You see, said crazy person worked in the air-conditioned office, not in the actual camp, and the camp director hung out in there playing Portal and Candy Crush all day. The two of them were thick as thieves. Naturally, this seemingly insignificant bunk spat turned into a Draco Malfoy-esque, “Wait ’til my father hears about this!” situation. Roughly every other day for the rest of camp, I started getting in trouble for things that never happened.

This occurred a year ago, and today, as I type this, my heart again pounds with rage, but not for the specific things the office minion and her pet director did, but because they got away with it.

Whereas I lost a place that I considered home and a group of people that I considered family, they didn’t lose anything, not even an ounce of respect. Some of my best friends in the world sat by and did nothing. These bullies, however, continue to go back, as welcome and embraced as ever. That crooked director remains the director, and that tattle-tale continues to be a perennial staffer. Nobody cares what they did to me. My erstwhile good friends still count my attackers among their own friends.

I lost everything and my bullies lost nothing.

I’m not over it. I wish I was, but I haven’t stopped actively despising those two individuals, and my persistent anger burns towards everybody else who knows what happened and didn’t say, “Hey, that thing you did to Lorelle wasn’t cool.”

I recognize that the emotional baggage I carry regarding camp pales in comparison to what any minority in America (and everywhere else) has to face, but it still hurts. A lot. Even a year later. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like if it’s not the director of your camp but the President of your country who does this to you. I can always just not go back to camp; that’s not the case when it’s your country.

This is what made me change my entire philosophy on race relations in the US. Although I fervently believe in not spreading hate as the neo-Nazis are doing, I no longer believe they deserve love.

They deserve to become unwelcome in their own families’ homes. They deserve to be fired from their jobs and lose every friend they have. Of course, ideally none of this should be done in the vitriolic tone I can’t help but express. As I said before, hate begets hate. If they are able to renounce their awful ways, they would then be worthy of re-acceptance into society.

Bigoted people don’t get to be that way and retain my friendship; it makes the victims suffer twice. More than twice, surely; they suffer exponentially. They suffer when they’re targeted, and they suffer continually for the rest of their lives as they watch their attackers get embraced and shown love and compassion. It adds insult to injury as the victims become alienated from physical and metaphorical places where the bigoted are allowed to roam freely so that bystanders can attempt to show them how to be nice.

Loving attackers isn’t fair to the victims. I’d rather lose friends and family members to stand with the oppressed than watch the bad guys win everything while the neutral embrace them.


Please note, again, that I still love Camp Hi-Sierra. Most people involved there knew nothing about what went down that summer, and I bear them no ill will. CHS is a wonderful place that I will recommend to any Boy Scout troop or anybody who wants the most amazing yet lowest paid summer job of their lives.

My Favorite Moments as a Teacher

For those who don’t already know, I used to be a teacher. I taught at three schools in three continents, with assignments ranging from 6-12th grade. Those five years were the best and worst years of my life. I’ve previously written about why I gave up the noble profession, so now I want to recount why it was wonderful.

Here are my top 5 favorite teaching experiences.

5. My teaching buddies

Jouelle in Malaysia, Anna in California, and Lolomi in Morocco were tremendously helpful and supportive in crazy situations. I’ve seen several articles lately about how the best thing for your career is to have a “work wife,” and I’ve been blessed with three amazing women. Together, we shared burdens and successes, we collaborated and complained, we celebrated and grieved. Although working from home suits my current needs much better than teaching, I miss my teaching buddies.

4. All the funny things kids used to say.

I pulled these gems off of my Facebook memories:

Student: 10 year old boys don’t exist!
Me: 10 year old boys do exist. In fact, all the boys in this class used to be 10 year old boys.
Student: Not me.
Me: No?
Student: I skipped that year.
Me: Did you?
Student: Yeah, I’m like that guy who goes backwards. Like he was old and then becomes a baby.
Me: Benjamin Button?
Student: Yeah, that’s me. He wrote it about me.
Me: Oh, do you know who wrote it?
Student (confidently): Harry Potter.

Student: Miss Lohman! Do you like my shirt?
Me: I do! It’s the brightest pink shirt I’ve ever seen. Is that your soccer jersey?
Student: Yep.
Me: And you’re wearing the shorts, too! Why are you wearing your soccer jersey to school?
Student: Because I’m a pony!

Student runs into my classroom half a second after the bell: Owww!!! Miss, I was twerking and now my cheeks hurt!!!

3. Teaching teenagers how to handle emotions

One day at a parent/teacher conference, one of my favorite students (yes, I had favorites, but I worked hard to make sure nobody knew who they were) walked in the door near tears. He was fifteen, and widely regarded by the whole staff as a trouble-maker. To me, he was a darling. Oh, he was just as mischievous in my class as the rest, but he and I had an understanding. I’ll call him Ahmed, though that’s not his real name.

Ahmed threw himself into a chair and stared down at his hands. His father sat gingerly next to him, his face grim, yet calm. Before the meeting started, I decided Ahmed needed some loving attention more than an overview of his academic achievement. I explained to him that, as a teenager, he feels emotions more strongly than he did before, and that it’s perfectly normal to cry when your emotions are just too big. I told him that every boy in my classes (a bit of an exaggeration) needed to leave the room to cry sometimes, and that he’s not alone. I told him that everybody makes mistakes, and as long as you work harder next time, nobody will love him any less for those mistakes.

Then, I let him walk outside for a few minutes before I started the official meeting. Even though I had to tell his father the same disappointing news his other teachers told him, his father thanked me profusely for understanding his son. The next day at school, Ahmed brought me a bright red, handmaid, Moroccan leather wallet. I still use that wallet, and Ahmed still sends me messages sometimes.

2. Helping kids fit in

I’ll call her Allie. On the first day of seventh grade, Allie, who had just moved here from Long Beach, had red-rimmed eyes and puffy cheeks. Her parents walked her to my classroom door, and she was obviously conflicted about it. On one hand, she was too scared to come alone; on the other, it was embarrassing.

After 2 more days of watching Allie show up to school with red eyes, I decided class could start a few minutes late. After the morning announcements, I found a reason to start talking about my brother, who played baseball for Long Beach State. Several times in the conversation, I asked Allie questions about growing up in Long Beach, and she got to share some cool things from her hometown. The kids around her turned and asked her some questions, too.

The girl sitting next to her became her best friend within a week.

1. Students
letters from kids

I kept every sweet note one of them ever gave me. Here’s just a fraction of them.

I had issues with administrators and with parents, and I don’t miss them at all. In my opinion, the school administration profession tends to attract awful people, and parents, even if they used to be completely rational human beings, are terrible people. Just the worst.

I miss my students, though. I spent more time with my students than parents usually do, and I knew all about them. I knew that one boy loved the way his name looked in my handwriting, so I’d occasionally walk by and write his name on his paper for him. I knew that another boy was drawing a comic book, so I’d ask to see his new pages every once in a while. I knew their crushes and I knew when they got grounded. I knew their favorite colors and the music they listened to.

They knew me, too! They knew who my favorite Ninja Turtle is (Michelangelo) and which Hogwarts House I call my own (Ravenclaw). They knew that a well timed pun would crack me up and that talking about one of the two fandoms I just mentioned would delay class starting for a few minutes. They knew about my gluten intolerance, so they brought me gluten-free cookies.

And the look they got on their faces when they finally understand something after struggling for a while made all the heartache worth it.

Honorable Mention: Teacher Puns
abandon all gum sign

The principal asked the teachers to start cracking down on gum chewing. I did it English teacher style.

 

 

Exploding Chickens

I wrote this story for a little boy named Simeon. Simeon, at 8 years old, couldn’t read very well because See Spot Run just didn’t excite the mind of a child raised in the Call of Duty generation. I asked him what he’d like to read about, and he said, “Exploding chickens,” so I wrote this story. I hope you like it. He did.

Well, the world ended almost a year ago. Sort of. I mean, the world is still here, duh. I’m still here, my two brothers are still here, and, unfortunately, the Creeps are still here. Everything else is gone, I think. My parents are gone, my dogs are gone, my school is gone, and TV is gone. Some of that is good, but most of it is bad.

There was a disease that killed almost everybody. I don’t know why I din’t get it. Some people survived, but their goodness died. They are left with only evil. We call them the Creeps because they’re really quiet, and they sneak up on you and try to kill you.

zombie

Only my brothers and I never got sick at all, as far as I know. I hope there are more of us out there, but we haven’t found any yet.

My brother Alex is the oldest–twelve. He always carries a big backpack stuffed full of… I don’t know. He won’t tell me, and he never opens it. Anyway, one day, he was really grumpy.

My other brother is older than me, but not as old as Alex. He’s Brandon and he’s nine. Brandon came running back to the cabin we found in the woods far away from the creeps. He was carrying his bow in one hand, his arrows tied to his back, and in the other hand he had a dead, bloody chicken.

“Alex! Casey!” Brandon shouted. That was stupid. Creeps can hear if you’re too loud, and then they can find you. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. I’m Casey, and I’m eight. “Hey guys! I shot a chicken! We can have chicken nuggets for dinner!”

Like I said, Alex was not having a good day. “Brandon!” he hissed. “Are you crazy?” Alex ran to Brandon and clamped his hand over Brandon’s mouth. “You’re going to bring all the Creeps back here and we’ll have to move again. Do you think we’ll be lucky enough to find a cabin this good again? We’ll have to live in a cave or a tree!”

“Sorry, Alex,” said Brandon, more quietly this time. “But we can have chicken nuggets!”

Alex looked over Brandon’s shoulder and his eyes went really wide. “Run. Get Casey and run to Checkpoint A,” Alex muttered way too calmly.

 

Checkpoint A is about a mile past the cabin. There are some big rocks next to the river. Really big rocks. If I stood on Brandon’s head, and he stood on Alex’s head, the rocks would still be taller than we are. But there’s a space between two of the rocks halfway up where Alex keeps an extra bow and arrow, a blanket, and a knife.

There are two more checkpoints that have the same supplies in them. If Checkpoint A is too dangerous and we can’t get there, we try Checkpoint B, then C. I don’t know what would happen if Checkpoint C doesn’t work out.

Brandon didn’t even look to see what Alex saw. “Run, Casey! Checkpoint A!”

I dropped my pencil mid-drawing and ran. I was drawing a really good shark, but I know if one of my brothers says run, I need to run.

Alex made me practice running to Checkpoints A, B, and C so many times, I could do it with my eyes closed. I’m the fastest runner of all of us, so I got there first. No Creeps. I climbed up and turned around to see Brandon running as fast as he could through the woods. He still had his bow and dead chicken in his hands.

Good. At least we can still eat chicken nuggets tonight.

“Throw me the chicken, then you can climb!” I told Brandon. The chicken was bloodier than I thought , and it sprayed all over my face. “Gross,” I said. Brandon finished climbing up and laughed at me.

I tried to wipe the blood off my face with my sleeve. Just then, I caught sight of Alex, also covered in blood. He got to the rocks, jumped up, and pushed us all the way to the back in less than two seconds.

“Shhhhhhh!” Alex said. “There are Creeps. Lots of them. More than I can count. Stay quiet.”

I could hear the Creeps crawling around the forest. I had to hold my breath to hear them, though. They were so quiet.

After what seemed like a year, the creeps all moved on.

“Sorry, Alex,” Brandon whispered.

Alex glared at him. Like I said, he was grumpy. “Guys, it isn’t safe here anymore. We have to move on. We have to find out if there are more people alive like us.”

Just then another Creep wandered past us. Luckily, she didn’t see us, and she walked on.

“How are we going to get past all these Creeps?” I asked Alex as Brandon started to cry quietly.

Alex looked at the chicken in Brandon’s hand. “We aren’t going to have chicken nuggets,” he muttered as he took the chicken from Brandon and flipped his knife open.

I had no idea what that meant, but I watched as he cut open the chicken’s belly, and all its guts spilled out.

“Nasty!” I mouthed.

Brandon looked like he was going to puke, but he didn’t. Alex opened his backpack and pulled out enough fireworks to last two Fourth of July’s.

“Alex, where did you get those?” Brandon whispered.

“They were Samantha’s.” Samantha is our cousin. WAS our cousin. She’s gone, too. She was sixteen and had been arrested twice for blowing up mailboxes.

Alex stuffed the chicken full of fireworks and put a piece of string in there, too, but only one end. Then he sewed up the chicken’s belly. The string was long.

“Now what?” Brandon asked Alex.

“Climb down,” he replied. “GO about one hundred feet downriver as quietly as you can.”

So we did. There were Creeps everywhere, just as I thought. “Now what, Alex?” I mouthed the words, too afraid to actually make a sound.

Alex didn’t say anything; he just held up one finger, telling me to wait. He handed me the string and walked away with the chicken.

When he pulled the string tight, he was fifty feet away. He put the chicken down as quietly as he could, then he came back quickly and set the string on fire. We watched as the fire ate the string slowly until it got to the chicken. We held our breath, and the fire disappeared.

Nothing happened. Oh no! We were stuck in the middle of the biggest Creep camp we’d ever seen, and our chicken bomb wasn’t working!

I think some Creeps smelled the chicken because they all swarmed it. We started to panic. The chicken was too close to us! They could surely see us, then we’d be dead!

I looked back and forth between my brothers, Alex wound up tight like a cheetah ready to pounce, Brandon more like a statue. Alex, never taking his eyes off the Creeps fighting over the chicken, motioned with his hand for us to back up.

As we crept backwards, we made a bit of noise, but the Creeps were too busy with the chicken to notice us.

Suddenly, as the Creeps tore at the chicken, Alex’s stitches ripped out, and we heard the biggest BOOM!!!!!!!!!

boom

Blue, red, purple, and green sparks shot into the air, and a whole pack of screaming fireworks filled the forest with deafening shrieks. Creep arms and legs and heads flew everywhere, and they smelled terrible, like they had already been dead for a long time.

The chicken head flew all the way over to us and hit Brandon in the stomach. This time, he did throw up.

“Run!” Alex screamed as he grabbed his backpack.

The explosion killed a bunch of Creeps and momentarily distracted the rest, so this was our chance!

We ran for almost a day. I couldn’t breathe. “Alex!” I called, panting. I stopped running. I had to bend over and rest my hands on my knees. “I haven’t seen a Creep in hours. Can we stop running?”

“Yes,” Alex managed to squeak out between his wheezing breaths. He and Brandon both collapsed to the ground next to me. “But keep an eye out. There could be creeps anywhere.”

That’s how we left our hometown for good. We haven’t killed all the Creeps yet, but Brandon is getting really good at making animal bombs. I’ll tell you all about it later. Right now, I’m going to go eat some chicken nuggets.

Exploding chicken

I figured this new edition deserved some updated art by the author.

Unoffensive Title (NSFW)

(I didn’t want the real title to pop up where it’s not welcome. I wrote this in college, and it’s actually a true(ish) story. Edited today to make it flow better.)

Penis Pops

When I was a kid, the word “sucks” invaded the world’s lexicon and became the only word to describe anything and everything unpleasant.

I don’t know where I heard it first, but I sure remember the first time I said it in front of my Dad. I knew nothing offensive about the word, but he sure did.

My Dad wasn’t exceedingly fond of any sort of slang; he thought most of it was unoriginal and made its speaker sound unintelligent. His distaste for the word “sucks,” however, extended beyond a merely apathetic distaste, and reached into the realms of shocked, horrified, and appalled.

My 5’10” father might as well have been 13 feet tall when I was barely 3 feet and he was angry. When his eyes widened the first time I innocently let the word fall from my lips (product of my generation as I was), my eyes did, too. Confused and terrified that I was going to get spanked and not knowing why, I cowered in the heat of my Dad’s glare.

“Does it ‘suck’? Do you even know what that means?”

“It means it’s bad?” I squeaked, now doubting everything I had ever known.

“No, it means to suck a dick.”

I knew what a dick was. That’s what the older boys called a penis. I had brothers; I knew all about that particular piece of anatomy.

But why on earth would anybody want to suck on one?

I think my dad must have been satisfied with my mystified expression, as he told me not to use that word again and walked away.

Why would somebody suck on a dick??? That question haunted me for days, though it never actually stopped me from using the expression, except around my Dad. I knew it had to be a bad thing, because everything that “sucks” is bad.

Maybe it’s something you do to annoy a boy? Having your dick sucked must be a pretty awful experience. I mean, who wants to get spit on? Plus, I was definitely not allowed to kick my brothers there, so I know it’s sensitive.

No, that couldn’t be it. I’m really good at annoying my brothers, and I’ve never done that.

What else could it be? Maybe it sucks to suck a dick? But then why would someone do it?

I know! They thought it was a popsicle, but when they sucked it and found that it didn’t taste good, that sucked.

So, I decided, that’s how it all started. Somebody stupid sucked a boy’s penis thinking it would taste like a popsicle, and they were sorely disappointed. The next time something bad happened, they said it sucked.

My dad thought that telling me what sucks means would stop me from using the phrase. He thought that the grotesque meaning would disgust me, a little lady, and deter me from including such vulgarity in my speech.

He forgot that I was a kid, and he had just armed me with an excuse to use the sing-song chant ubiquitous to all of child-kind, “I know something you don’t know!” I never even had to tell anybody what I absolutely knew to be true, and nobody would ever ask their parents what it meant, so nobody could teach me otherwise.

One day, my Dad’s friend Mark came over. My brothers and I loved Mark because he was sarcastic and made us all laugh at the way he could back-talk my Dad. He was telling a story, cracking us up with every sentence, and was shocked when his punchline (Well, that sucks!) met with silent stares. We silently turned our heads to our Dad to see what he would say.

I was a little confused that my dad didn’t get mad at Mark, but Mark was a grown up like my Dad, so he at least knew about the penis popsicle. My dad just laughed and told Mark that he doesn’t let us say that word.

“Oh, ok. That bites, then.” Mark said with a shrug.

Like watching a tennis match, our eyes ping-ponged back to our Dad as he informed Mark, “Biting is just sucking with attitude.”

Ouch. Well, some people do bite their popsicles.

Killing Teachers: The Cult of Selflessness

There is no room in the teaching profession for people who try to improve school systems.

Imagine, if you would, that your child comes home from the first day of high school and tells you that there isn’t enough room in the classrooms to fit chairs for all the students, and several students simply have to stand or sit wherever they find room.

Imagine that the school fixes that problem, but now half of their classes are “taught” by people less qualified than the 12-year-old babysitters who watch your kids for 4 hours on a Friday, and class consists of signing into a computer and watching videos of math problems.

This is reality. This is happening. In America.

The teacher shortage isn’t a surprise within the education industry, but the call from local news outlets for anybody with any experience in education shocked parents and other concerned people. Theories abound concerning the root of this problem: teacher pay, recruiting new teachers, stress levels, high stakes testing, etc.

I am one of those teachers who made it for five years and then quit. You’ve heard the statistic that 50% of teachers quit within their first five years. While that statistic is debated, I’m definitely one of them. I can tell you with certainty that all of those reasons definitely play a part in teachers’ decisions to quit.

The thing that I’m not seeing in the news is the reason I quit. I call it the Cult of Selflessness.

Saint-Mother-Teresa-Our-Teacher-and-Guide-1

If you’re not Mother Theresa, why are you even teaching?

Teachers are supposed to be martyrs–bleeding-heart, self-sacrificing saints who never need to take a lunch break without students and who, apparently, have bladders of steel. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think it’s wrong for teachers to be willing to go above and beyond to help their students. The problem is that they’re self-sacrificial just to be self-sacrificial. They’re not even helping the students, sometimes.

The point is that teachers who attempt to change bad policies and education practices are demonized not only by the media, but, more importantly, by other teachers!

Here’s just one example of things that happened to me while teaching. Students aren’t doing their homework, so the school buys them all homework planners. This is great news, especially for kids who can’t afford something like that. At the beginning or end of each class, they can open them up and write down exactly what they need to do at home that night.

Except for the fact that, guess what? Kids don’t like to do work. Writing down their homework is work, and it’s boring, so they don’t do it. So, teachers now post the homework on their websites and on their Google calendars, so students literally just have to open their calendars, and never write anything down. Great! For a while. Students stop checking their calendars because, in the end, they just don’t want to do homework at all.

Administrators demand, and teachers agree, over and over that accountability for student work increasingly becomes the responsibility of the teacher, not the student. The result is that anything that isn’t directly spoon-fed into the greedy little mouths of adolescents doesn’t get done.

Even providing data-driven and empirical evidence that students need to be taught self-discipline and accountability wasn’t enough to escape the ire of fellow teachers and administrators, who viewed this insight as an attempt to shirk my duties as a teacher. Administrators are driven solely by what looks good on paper. Websites and other online tools look so cool in reports, and they make them look like super duper coolio admins if they make teachers use them even if it hurts education. (Yes, administrators, you do seem that out of touch.)

I became a teacher because I believe education really is the way to solve the world’s problems. I really do believe that every kid can be reached, helped, and inspired; and that every kid deserves the chance to meet their potential. I, too, opened my classroom doors before school, at lunch, and after school for students who needed help. I intervened with students who were struggling personally and/or academically. I also devoted my own time, money, and energy to excess. I loved my students so much that worrying about them kept me awake at night. That’s not enough, though.

I also became a teacher because I’m highly intelligent, and I knew I could help to change broken education systems by weeding out things that clearly don’t work and ushering in new ideas that do. However, schools don’t want that.

If administrators want teachers to provide the best education possible, they need to set the tone. Can you imagine a business running on practices known to be faulty? That business would fail, and the people running it would be touted as idiots. Administrators need to take a more evidence-based approach, and teachers need to stop judging each other so much.

My Brain

Part I: The Problem

God, why did you say that? You are so annoying. Nobody wants to hear that. If you would just shut your damn mouth every once in a while, everything would be okay. Everything you say is pure, utter nonsense that makes everybody else uncomfortable. You should just go away and spare everybody the pain of your presence. 

There is a person living inside my brain who absolutely hates me.

Of course you hate yourself. You’re garbage. That’s the correct way to feel about garbage.

It helps to recognize that I don’t actually believe these things about myself. But what makes you crazier: thinking these kinds of thoughts or thinking that somebody else’s thoughts are populating your head?

Everybody is depressed these days. You think you’re original? You think your depression is worse than other people’s? You can’t even do depression right, you disgusting excuse for a human. 

Some days, I can function pretty well. Other days, I can do little more than lie down and let tears stream silently down my face. Sometimes I’m productive and interesting and I can laugh. Some days I’m so irrationally angry that I can’t stop screaming and I don’t know why. The world is often beautiful, full of color. Sometimes my anxiety makes me claw at my own face.

Why can’t you just handle it like everybody else does? Look around. Nobody else is this upset. You’re the only one. You’re weaker and less adaptable than everybody else. You are worthless. You will never be okay.

I wasn’t always this way. I don’t know what happened.


Part II: The Realization

This is the pattern of my childhood:
1. A brother does something mean/annoying/childish/whatever
2. I explode in anger
3. A parent does nothing about brother’s indiscretion but spends hours trying to fix my behavior
4. I get angrier because I’m angry for legitimate reasons that nobody acknowledges and the behavior that caused it is ignored and I have neither the self-awareness nor the vocabulary to express it that I do today
5. I get in trouble and brother doesn’t
6. Rage about the initially insignificant incident follows me well into adulthood.

I’ve been barely concealing Hulk levels of rage as long as I can remember, so I am perfectly aware that my expression of anger is often inappropriate. Because I grew up in a time when only “crazy” people saw psychologists, I didn’t get help until I was 22.

The first psychologist I saw sucked. I told her about my life, and she called me a “poor baby.” I didn’t schedule a second appointment.

Then I met Dominic. My psychologist let me call him by his first name because he didn’t want to treat me like a child, or at least that’s what I took the gesture to mean.

Dominic diagnosed me with depression and taught me that sometimes people unconsciously translate sadness into anger because it feels active instead of passive. In other words, you feel less helpless and more like you’re doing something about it. I declined medication, and Dominic started helping me deal with the root causes of my anger as well as teaching me strategies for dealing with it in the moment.

My insurance ran out after 4 visits, and I could only pay cash for a handful of additional sessions before I ran out of money. It wasn’t enough. Knowing that my anger comes from deep sadness means that though I still feel the anger, I now also recognize the despair underneath.

I don’t want to get into it, but I’ve gone through more stress than the average person does in one lifetime. I probably need to be medicated, but the thought of changing the chemical processes of my brain terrifies me.

I’m incredibly privileged that I don’t need to work right now because I can’t. I can’t work.

How can a person hold down a job when she can’t guarantee that she won’t burst into tears seemingly out of nowhere? When somebody might make a sound that digs into her ear and bores into her soul, and her entire body constricts and she can’t move until the sound is over and then she has to go home and lie down and wish she were deaf? When she’s overcome with feeling asymmetrical and she has to keep twitching all her muscles so that both sides of her body can achieve evenness (which doesn’t exist and I can never do it but I have to keep trying because if I stop I might just die)?


Part III: Living with It

For much of my adult life, I haven’t had insurance because I lived out of the country most of the time. I haven’t seen Dominic in eight years, and I really need to. Even if I could, though, he’s retired now. I checked.

So I’m dealing with it sans professional help. I’m coming out of a solid year of what one would call a nervous breakdown. For the last couple of months, though, most days have been mostly good. There are things that help. Here’s what’s been working for me.

First, I’ve been talking to people who care about me. Even when people don’t understand exactly what’s going on in my messed up head, it helps to feel listened to, cared about, and appreciated. They also reassure me that my self-deprecation isn’t warranted, which helps me to ignore it most of the time.

Second, I am highly disciplined for a barely functioning person. I’m sure you’ve heard of bullet journals. They are all over the internet right now, and for good reason–they’re amazing. I took to it slowly, watching the fad progress and reflecting on how I could make it work for me. I have 4 sections in my bullet journal: Normal journal, goals, monthly calendar, and weekly calendar (used as to-do lists).

I have color-coded small goals that I need to achieve a certain number of times a week. For example, I get to color a square purple every time I floss my teeth, and I need to do it 5 times a week. I get to color a blue square if I hit 10k on my phone’s step counter, and I need to do that 4 times a week. Now, instead of wallowing in a pit of despair, I can make myself get up and floss my teeth. If I can do that, I can certainly go for a walk outside.

I have 10 daily(ish) goals, all in different colors, and when I’ve colored a bunch of squares in, I have actual, beautiful proof that I’m accomplishing something, and I feel good about myself.

Granted, I still have dark days, but they’ve only been lingering for a day or two. I don’t know how long this will work for me, but for now I’m going to keep doing it. At least I’m well enough to write again.

I shed more than a few tears writing this post, but being able to say it all feels victorious. If your daily struggle feels like mine, I hope you get to have this feeling, too. I feel, for the first time in a long time, that I might be okay someday.

Writing for Money?

It’s been a few months since my last post.

Some writers take a disciplined approach to the craft, dedicating time each day to sit, focus, and create. Others write obsessively, like Jack Kerouac who carried a notebook in his pocket everywhere he went as he had Keats-like moments of reverie that he felt compelled to transcribe while experiencing dirty, realistic, non-Keats-like aspects of life.

Me? Well, the muses haven’t been smiling on me, and no matter how long I sit and focus, I just can’t coerce any creations out of my blinking cursor.

I’ve also been unemployed longer than any of my excuses will carry me. I thought unemployment was going to be a fantastic time for writing because I’d be able to dedicate my entire creative self to the task rather than the dregs available to me after a long day’s work.

For a while, that was the case. I was writing 5-6 blog posts a week for a while, and my fledgling blog was starting to grow. The story I wrote about my brothers and myself garnered far more attention than I thought it would, and people were responding!

Then… nothing. That was it. I’m a one-hit-wonder.

About a week ago, a good friend of mine told me one of her acquaintances was looking for a blog writer, and now I have a writing job. It’s nothing to live on, mind you, but nobody’s ever offered to pay me for my words before.

So far, I’ve written three blogs about how to obtain building and home renovation permits in Calgary, and the first one should be going live any minute. As you can imagine, very little of this writing is creative or inspiring; it’s research and dictation.

However, it forced me to sit, focus, and create. Ideas are coming back to me, and I actually feel like writing them again. Perhaps I’m not a one-hit-wonder. Maybe I was just in a sophomore slump, and I just needed a third alliterative cliché to work me into my writing comeback.

Here’s to hoping.