Saturday, October 17, 2009

Time. . . Is On My Side. . .

I had a particularly good week. The dread I felt at the start of the term has evaporated, replaced by, dare I say it, happiness? My students are for the most part adorable and eager to learn. I am nice to them and they are nice back. 

Of course, I could still be reeling from the great lunch I had off campus a couple of weeks ago; or maybe it was the fact that I saw another couple of dear friends mid-week and got to hear terrific music in a beautiful hall, even though it was pissing rain outside and an otherwise grim day; or maybe it’s the fact that I am still working out at least three or four times a week, including mile walks in the woods on weekends; or maybe it’s the fact that a sudden Indian Summer allowed my husband and me one more excellent day in the boat on the lake. I am not sure, but my insistence on creating balance in my life this year seems to be paying off.

“Paying off” is a funny choice of words for one in this profession, since my pay has not moved in  the nine years I have been back in public school. In fact, I lost about 10, 000 bones, as a pal would say, because I lost the extra class I have taught every year prior to this one. My finances are, well, what’s the use of talking. We all know teachers are supposed to live on love and respect and asking for money makes us seem crass and unprofessional. Yet do we consider our doctors and lawyers and chiropractors, trainers, masseurs, hairdressers, electricians crass and unprofessional when they ask for their fees, fees to which our meagre per-hour rate cannot compare?

What’s funny is most people take teaching jobs because of the time it supposedly affords. But like many teachers I know, I had somehow managed to swamp myself and lose any semblance of free time. I took on the extra class at school and I took on an extra class or two at another school a couple of days a week and I took on a few private students and I give enough work to my students to keep me grading papers for hours on end each week. Yup, I took it all on. 

I still have most of this work, but that free period I get two out of the three-day class rotation has made all the difference. Breathing room, moments of silence, clearing the air--all these elements of civility are now part of my routine. So despite the embarrassing pay, the oppressive conditions, I come back to the importance of TIME, and I must say I feel a little richer for it indeed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mud Time

For some reason, the title "Two Tramps in Mud Time" popped into my mind recently and stuck. I suppose the phenomenon is not unlike when a song suddenly pops into your head. I find that when that happens, as if often does, if I pay close attention to the lyrics of the song, I cannot help but notice that the lyrics are usually completely appropriate to the situation at hand. The song has popped into my consciousness for a reason, just as a crossword answer pops up after hours of spending attention elsewhere, just as the solution to a math problem reveals itself once the problem is ignored. Introspection is an important endeavor, but it seems to me that the mind introspects involuntarily and can emit insights even when you are not looking for them.

The bouncy lyric, "I get knocked down, but I get up again" has popped into my head while teaching a difficult class, and I don't own or even particularly like the song. Apt, though, yes. "Who let the dogs out?" pops up when one too many people interrupt a class to summon a student. A favorite? No. Apt? Yes. Many more toe-tapping or hum-along tunes haunt me, but this Frost poem, its suddenly unavoidable presence in my mind is really quite a step up for my subconscious.

After reading the poem again, I was stunned by the last eight lines:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

Despite the obstructionist district in which I work, the work itself--inspiring students to open their minds and their hearts, while reveling in truth and beauty all day--is for me where "love and need are one / And the work is play for mortal stakes." The alliterative frankness of the title "Two Tramps in Mudtime" beckoned me to have another close look at this poem, only to find that these last eight lines completely encapsulate what I feel about my chosen career. And to think, this poem, like those silly songs, just popped into my head for no apparent reason.  

Saturday, October 3, 2009

La Dolce Vita

As I have mentioned, I am a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and this year the budget cuts cost me dearly. I lost the auxiliary class I have taught for the last nine years, and though this class added the stress of an extra preparation and the attendant papers, it also padded my wallet, which made it a little easier for me to inure myself to teaching four one-and-a-half-hour classes each day with only two brief breaks (20 and 30 minutes respectively). Gates and locks define the boundaries of the campus and these gates and locks are not to be opened until the school day ends, so this means that for the last nine years, I have been almost literally chained to my desk. 

Not once in nine years have I ever “met a friend for lunch” or gone off campus to “grab a bite.” Since there is really no time to do anything but teach my classes, answer student questions, and make small talk in the bathroom line, I practically live in my little isolated realm. I have packed my little island with the essential modern conveniences like a fridge stocked with berries, Greek yogurt, organic peanut butter, whole grain bread, cheese, water, juice; a kettle to boil water for my coffee and oatmeal; and my iPhone so I can enjoy the promise of at least some contact with the outside world during those two luxurious breaks I get. A colleague of mine once asked whether I was hiding a Murphy bed in my book closet. 

This week, on my way back to class during the morning break, I got a call from a dear friend, who asked what I was doing for lunch. The question, alive with the thrill of leisure and adulthood, could have crushed my spirits, but I paused for a second and remembered that this year, because I lost my auxiliary class, I am actually free for a significant chunk of two out of three afternoons a week and this was going to be one of those afternoons. So at 1:15 PM, during the lunch period, I did the previously unimaginable . . . I walked out of school “to meet a friend for lunch,” to “grab a bite.” Fortunately for me, Dolce Isola had opened its doors just up the street. 

The bright red building with its red and white striped awning and little ice-cream tables and chairs out front stands out like an oasis on an otherwise gray section of south Robertson Boulevard. Their pastry case does not contain wilted tuna sandwiches on soggy wheat bread or Brillo pad coffee cake. Nope, this case is full of delectable treats like Mitzi’s Earthquake chocolate cookies, red velvet cupcakes topped with cream cheese icing, lemon squares, chocolate croissants, tea scones, chocolate truffle torts, and I hear the tart tartin is the best anywhere. Just looking at the display gave me a sense of well being. 

For lunch my friend and I first shared the homemade guacamole filled with large chunks of avocado and fresh homemade tortillas--hot and satisfying. My friend opted for the Dolce Club Sandwich, and I picked the Ivy Buffet: Normandy chicken salad, fresh tuna salad, pasta a la checca, and lo scogglio potato salad. Every bite delicious, particularly the potato salad, which, to my great joy, was true Mediterranean comfort food, doused in olive oil. 

What is perhaps most exciting about Dolce Isola is the fact that it is the bakery for The Ivy restaurant. That means not only had I been sprung from my work confinement for the first time in nine years, and not only had I the chance to spend time with my dear friend, but I also had been enjoying a meal that was being similarly enjoyed in the far tonier reaches of the same boulevard. I had briefly traded my work island for the Dolce Isola and enjoyed every second of it--except I forgot to get dessert! Well, next time.