31 March 2008


so today was the first day of a new quarter. i stayed up a little too late last night, given that my class started at 9:00 this morning. but by the time i was walking from my car to my classroom, enjoying the bright sun and brisk air of a california spring day, i was feeling good. excited to start a new quarter. resolving to work harder, to be more responsible to myself and others for the work i need to do.

and class started out swell. i introduced myself. i had the students introduce themselves and bantered with them a bit. they were visibly loosening up within the first ten minutes of class. things were peachy.

and then, fifteen minutes into class, i started feeling warm. at first i thought it was because i'm wearing both a button-up shirt and a sweater and the room was warm. but then the skin on my face started getting clammy. and i felt a bit light-headed. and i knew it wasn't good. so i aborted. no more syllabus review. 25 minutes into class, i skipped to our last activity--a ten-minute diagnostic freewrite.

so my kids start writing. i sit down and hold my head between my hands, breathing deeply. and i seem to be doing better. i cool off a bit. i'm not so woozy. but after about eight or nine minutes, i just know i'm going to throw up. and there's no bathroom anywhere near. here's how it went down:

me: {scanning room to find trashcan, which is all the way across the room right next to the door} ok, go ahead and wrap up what you're writing.

students: {dead stare at teacher, who is obviously in physical discomfort.}

me: just go ahead and put your papers on... {duck head and hold it between my hands as i fight off sickness}...on the empty desk on your way out.

students: {start packing up and leaving papers at front.}

me: {stand quickly and begin walking towards trashcan} and if i throw up {pass gas while walking} as you leave... {reach trashcan, lean over and vomit} i apologize. {lean over trashcan and vomit more.}

students: {shuffling out of the door, mere inches from me leaning over the trashcan, vomiting repeatedly; trying not to stare too much.}

one considerate student paused on her way out to ask if she could do anything for me and to offer me her water. the rest fled as quickly as they could. for which i do not blame them. because, after all, "what to do when the teacher vomits in class on the first day" is not really standard classroom etiquette.

i've been laughing about it since the moment i leaned over that trashcan and ralphed. absolutely hilarious. it does make for some lovely irony that my assert-authority-and-scare-students-just-
enough-while-still-reassuring-them-that-the-class-will-be-fun shtick got derailed by unavoidable bodily functions. at least i can't be accused of boring my students on the first day.

07 March 2008


one last call: if you haven't had a chance to donate to the 24-hour cancer dance-a-thon and you'd like to, make a quick trip to my profile and give whatever you can afford--$5, $10--any little bit will help. as of tonight, the dance-a-thon is less than $20K from meeting it's stated $150K fundraising goal. help us meet that goal!

04 March 2008


sometimes i read in barnes & noble. if luck is with me, i find a big cushy armchair and settle in for a few hours of reading. my view from those chairs looks like this:i like looking up and perusing book titles on occasion. it's interesting to see what people write about. how they represent that work to readers. how the title and the cover art work together.

lately i seem to find my cushy chairs in the current affairs section. and i've been struck by some of the titles. a few examples:
  • by ann coulter how to talk to a liberal (if you must): the world according to ann coulter and if democrats had any brains, they'd be republicans. on the covers of which coulter does her best to look sexy.
  • another conservative commentary: conservative comebacks to liberal lies. touted as a 'national best seller.'
  • a liberal approach of the same stripe: the GOP-hater's handbook: 378 reasons never to vote for the party of reagan, nixon & bush again. with a picture of an elephant's backside with a target on it.
these are all relatively amusing when seen for what they are--trash. they're less amusing when you realize that people might actually believe what's written in them.

the one that caught my eye the most--and the reason i'm writing this--is i don't believe in atheists, by chris hedges. take a look at the cover:

this book, like the others, aims to shut down conversation rather than open up opportunities to learn and understand. the title reminds me of a scene in kushner's angels in america. harper--the agoraphobic, valium-popping wife of kushner's gay mormon--encounters prior--the AIDS patient who sees visions of angels--in a hallucination or a dream or some alternate reality. she tells him that in her church, they don't believe in homosexuals. now, i've been raised mormon and i don't think i'd ever come up with that statement on my own--mormons don't believe in homosexuals. but i understand how someone could make that statement. and it bothers me. because to dismiss someone else by saying you don't believe in one of the groups they belong to--you don't believe in their professed identity (whether sexual or spiritual or whatever version of identity)--well, it's a neat way to avoid any real engagement. and it's an assertion that you understand the other person's reality and experience better than they do.

i was also struck by hedges' title because of its graphic design. the white words 'i' and 'in' easily disappear against the gold background, especially when the book sits on a shelf under bright lights. and when they disappear, an imperative remains: 'don't believe atheists.' with the picture of god's enormous hand pressing down against puny man. opinion becomes dictate--and one with divine sanction.

the imperative and the image made me think of how easily religious believers attempt to dismiss atheists as immoral, anchorless, lost human beings who may deserve our pity, but who certainly don't deserve our respect. of course, this response isn't reserved for atheists. i know believers who respond similarly to those of other faith traditions--especially traditions that do not resemble their own. i've also encountered a few atheists who react this way towards believers.

i don't like the reaction no matter where i encounter it. it's too self-assured. too convinced that i am right and they are wrong, end of story. i don't like it because when argumentative amelia emerges, she's willful and adamant and articulate and passionate but she's usually not listening. i don't like that when i'm convinced i'm right and 'they' (whoever they are) are wrong, i stop making the effort to understand. to think in new ways. to recognize the realities of someone else's life.

i'm not always good at keeping argumentative amelia on a leash. but i've been trying. if she's reared her ugly head in your direction, do accept my apologies. and know that i'm more interested in understanding than in being right. so give me another chance. because i don't want people to walk away from me feeling like the title across my forehead reads 'i don't believe in X' or 'don't believe x.'