As you can see, I have a pretty healthy stack of books I've read over the past year or so, but have failed to spend any time at all commenting on. I'm not quite delusional enough to think that my inane commentary is going to matter to anyone else, but I do know that I will likely come back a few years from now to see what I thought of books I'd read in years gone by. I really have done that several times, so I guess it's not all a complete waste of time.
I did take the time to collect some thoughts on one of the autobiographical books I've read in the past couple of months (I picked it up long ago, where it stagnated on my reading shelf while waiting for me to get to it), Sara Benincasa's Agorafabulous! *Dispatches from my bedroom. I heard about it on Neil Gaiman's Twitter feed, where he strongly recommended reading it. So I bought a hardcover copy and then proceeded to ignore it.
I try to mix up the genres of the books I read so I'm not reading the same types of books one after another (which is basically how I read throughout my 20s-30s). I've also read several other biographical-type books recently1, interspersed with other sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, etc. But it was finally time to follow Neil's recommendation and get to know Sara Benincasa.
And get to know her, I did. Maybe too well.
My only complaint about Agorafabulous!: there are no photos. None. Which is weird for any biographical-type book. It was otherwise a great book and made me laugh out loud embarrassingly often (my apologies in advance - this is going to be a very quote-heavy commentary. And some of these quotes are pretty lengthy). Not exactly a complaint, but a comment: Sara doesn't have a filter. There is profanity galore in this memoir (much of which begins with the sixth letter of the alphabet). And plenty of grown-up talk about things like sex. So be warned - this book, and the excerpts I've shared, are not intended for consumption by young'uns
I've read three or four books since I finished Agorafabulous! *Dispatches from my bedroom, so I may have forgotten or misremembered a few of the more interesting tidbits I wanted to share, but here goes...
Agorafabulous!, Sara Benincasa
I'm always impressed by anyone's ability to describe a memory with richly descriptive details because my brain can barely recall what happened yesterday in any kind of detail. Sara's descriptiveness is unrivaled as she rattles off story after story. Early on, she preps the reader with a little background on her fears and various sources of anxiety. The excerpt below beings with a story about a woman who had the world's longest fingernails.
According to the SLC police, Redmond was ejected from the vehicle and sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries. She survived, but her nails did not. Each one broke off near the finger.
When I heard about Lee Redmond's accident, my first thought was not "Jesus, how the fuck do you insert a tampon with two-foot - long fingernails?" (That was my second thought.) My first thought was, "Why on Earth would anyone chooseo be a freak?" To my mind, freaks generally come in two categories: those whose freakishness was visited upon them and those who devote considerable time and effort to creating and maintaining their freak status. I am one of the former, and I have never been able to understand the latter.
When I was a child, I began to experience panic attacks that increased in frequency and intensity over several years. This condition eventually led me to develop a fear of leaving my small studio apartment, and finally of leaving my bed - even to go to the bathroom. The ensuing complications were, well, pungent.
By the time I was twenty-one, I was a full-on obsessive, cowering, trembling agoraphobe. How serious was it? Well, because I was too frightened to go to the hair salon, I let my roots grow out - which, gentle reader, is truly a sign of desperation in a born-and-bred daughter of New jersey.
The word agoraphobia comes from the Greek phobia, or fear, and agora, or marketplace. In simplest terms and most convenient definitions, my psychiatric diagnosis is that I'm afraid of the mall.
Which, I can assure you, is untrue. New Jersey claims to be a state, but it is actually a gigantic slab of cement upon which malls sprout like blisters and corns on the stubby, scrubby feet of overworked, chain-smoking strippers. These malls are interconnected by a complex, ill-conceived system of congested roads. You are not allowed to take a left turn anywhere in the entire state. If you try, the rest of us will run you over on our way to the Macy's white sale.
If you opened up my chest and examined my heart, I'm fairly certain you would find stamped therein a precise map explaining how to get from the Bridgewater Commons Mall to the low-rent Qualterbridge Mall, to the high-endiest of high-end malls, the Alpha and the Omega, the Mall at Short Hills (valet parking! Neiman Marcus! Sit - down restaurants!). I feel at home in these temples to materialism. They have many bathrooms, and if you get anxious you can always find pain-numbing food or a soothing, well-chlorinated fountain.
In fact, my own life is so entwined with mall lore and magic that everything-must-go closing sales at mall shops fill me with an unbearable sense of despair. There is nothing I despise more than a once-great mall gone to ruin, the victim of a poor economy or a competing mall in the neighboring town. These are ghost malls, and they haunt my dreams. Their stores - empty husks of commerce - are tragic reminders of our own mortality. I can't handle the recent spate of recession-era store closings. I'm still not over Structure, and that old warhorse died over a decade ago.
I believe that there should exist an end-of-year memorial montage for all the mall stores we've lost. You know, like they have at the Academy Awards ceremony each year. And I believe this montage should be set to Sarah McLachIan's "In the Arms of the Angels." A solemn voice - mine, perhaps - should intone the names of the deceased as images of their gone-but-not-forgotten merchandise flash across the screen. "Circuit City," I'll whisper. "Tower Records. Virgin Megastore." Viewers will weep. It'll be fucking beautiful.
To sum up: my diagnosis notwithstanding, I'm not really afraid of the marketplace. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I have been afraid of many other things. Here are some of them, in a handy chart form that will get you up to speed:
Things of Which I Have Been Afraid (Abridged)
Degree of Fear
Am I Over It?
Leaving my home
Prozac; Xanax; Klonopin; cognitive behavioral therapy; bringing a stuffed giraffe named Mary with me wherever I go.
Having a wet head
Avoiding the shower; using a high-power hair dryer with a diffuser for less frizz and extra curls.
Being a passenger
Insisting on driving.
New York City
Realizing that most people here are even crazier than I am. It's rather comforting, really. I'm among my own.
Moving to Manhattan so I wouldn't need to use the tunnel to visit, as I am already here.
See Lincoln Tunnel.
See Leaving my home.
Taking the bus
Not taking the bus, except when it is absolutely unavoidable.
Taking the subway
Taking cabs unless I'm in the mood for interaction in close quarters, in which case I take the subway and enjoy it. But I'm rarely in the mood for interaction in close quarters that does not involve consensual sex with another adult person.
Realizing that it can excuse you from leaving your house. Also, the feeling of relief that ensues afterward is the closest thing to a natural Xanax I've ever experienced.
Fucking people and enjoying it.
Fucking men and enjoying it while using prophylactics. Alternatively, fucking women.
Having an abortion
See Being pregnant.
Consorting with atheists and other hell-bound types, like comedians.
Source:Personal storage bank of memories, 1982 - present. (I don't really remember anything before that. l'm sure I was afraid of many things, including but not limited to light, shadow, and babysitters.)
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For the most part, Sara's story follows a chronological timeline. One of Sara's early phobia/anxiety-ridden memories took place on a school trip to Italy (Sicily, actually, which is somehow not Italy, I guess).
"Perhaps the charming locals will show us a bit of their famous hospitality rather than stab us on sight."
Thus did I end up in Sicily, the Alabama of Italy. It is a fact that my grandmother, whose people were from southern Italy but not Sicily, used to refer to my grandfather's Sicilian-American mistress as "that black bitch." There is also a charming saying that ancient racists of mainland Italian descent enjoy repeating: "Sicily ain't southern Italy. It's northern Africa!" This is generally followed either by a knowing cackle or a disgusted wave of the hand. It is a unique pleasure to come to understand as a child that your elderly relative is not using the Italian word for eggplant in a complimentary fashion when describing citizens of Sicily or. more often, Harlem.
Since many humans have never actually heard of Sicily, it is perhaps instructive to do a quick tour through this large island's colorful history. It doesn't sound like the sort of place where one would willingly send one's buxom virgin1 eighteen-year-old daughter on an "educational trip" (at least not a trip from which one hoped she would return), but the real Sicily actually has more to it than pasta and automatic weapons.
In terms of conquest, Sicily is the geographic equivalent of the drum-circle bong - everyone's hit it at least once. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians had it, as did the Greeks and Romans (who brought Jewish slaves). Then came the Vandals and Goths (not to be confused with the influential punk band and sad-eyed Hot Topic kids), followed by the Byzantines. After that, the Arab Muslims showed up. A few more Jews arrived and behaved without bothering anybody, which has generally been an unsuccessful course of action for them throughout their history. Then the Normans staked their claim. Through marriage, Sicily passed to the Swabians, who are noted for having the goofiest-sounding name in history. Then the French took over- - which didn't turn out so well.
On Easter Monday in 1282, the Sicilians (whatever the hell that meant by then) decided to kill all the new French residents. The island was independent for, oh, six seconds, at which point the Kingdom of Aragon (not Aragorn, the foxiest dude in The Lord of the Rings) kindly stepped in. Aragon and Spain joined forces, and Sicily became Spanish property. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death made its legendary European debut in Sicily. The plague killed a bunch of people, which made the Spaniards feel competitive. Bloodthirsty, mass-murdering Queen Isabella and her kill-happy hubby Ferdinand implemented their own extermination method, loosely titled "Get Out of Here, You Fucking Jew (Or I'll Stab You)."
After a couple centuries of earthquakes and pirates, Sicily went to the Austrians (or, presumably, the Austrians went to it). Then the Spanish showed up again, but there were no Jews left to banish or kill, so their heart wasn't in it. Sicily was independent for another brief moment, after which the mainland Italians popped in and took over. The economy collapsed. the Mafia rose to prominence, a fuck-ton of immigrants bounced and went to the United States, and you probably know the rest from your favorite Francis Ford Coppola educational filmstrips.
In short, Sicily is no stranger to illness, drama, or evil female overlords. My own trip would incorporate all three.
Surprisingly, my journey to Sicily was not a punishment but a reward. I'd actually asked for the trip as a pre-graduation present. My school was cosponsoring a journey to the Regions Autonoma Siciliana with an outside tour company...
1 Unless you count oral sex. Which, being Catholic, I did not.
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While in Sicily, Sara had a pretty overwhelming panic attack (belated spoiler alert!!) that derailed the field trip's long-awaited trip to the beaches of Sicily and brought the tour bus to a Sicilian hospital instead. Sara may have filled in some of these details with a little imagination, but for all I know this is exactly what happened...
Even in my hazy daze, I felt like a fraud. I was going to die, sure, but they shouldn't waste the wheels on me. They could just lay me out someplace. Maybe they could hook me up with a blanket and a stuffed animal and just let me expire quietly.
They did lay me out soon enough on an examining table in a room with spotless steel cabinets and bright overhead lights. A circle of faces peered down at me - Mr. D'Angelo, Mr. Brixton, and no fewer than three suspiciously attractive nurses, each of whom wore bigger hair and more makeup than I'd ever seen on a nurse back home in New jersey (no small feat, incidentally). Someone took my pulse. Someone else shined a small flashlight in my eyes. A third someone looked at my tongue. I should have told one of them that I was on prescription medication, but my remaining shred of vanity stilled my voice. Besides, I was about to die. That secret could die with me.
"I suppose we ought to give her some space," Mr. Brixton whispered to Mr. D'Angelo.
"You're gonna be fine, kiddo," Mr. D'Angelo said. He patted my hand. "Don't worry." The sudden fatherly gesture of caring made a lump swiftly rise in my throat. I felt tears prick the back of my eyes, and had the vague realization that the body to which I was loosely attached was going to begin crying.
I stared up at the lights, blinking. The faces moved away, and the nurses spoke to one another in lovely-sounding syllables that l could not decipher. Soon, I could barely hear them anymore. My ears were shutting down. I was relieved to realize that my body was giving up.
Maybe I could just fall asleep here and not wake up ever.
Then came a sudden whoosh of cold air and a great crashing sound as the examining room door burst open. The energy around me changed suddenly, became electrified. I saw, without seeing, that Mr. Brixton and Mr. D'Angelo stood up straighter. Slowly, I turned my head to the side and gazed for the first time upon Dr. Sophia Loren.
That wasn't her actual name, of course. I don't think I ever got her real name. What I got was the same eyeful Mr. Brixton and Mr. D'Angelo were getting: a stunning, deeply tanned olive-skinned woman with huge, luscious clouds of shining brown hair, giant, heavily made-up eyes, pouty lips, and va-va-va-voom cleavage that owed its perkiness to nature, a well-constructed push-up bra, or a talented surgeon. She wore a tight purple V-neck shirt and a black miniskirt beneath an open white lab coat. I dimly noted her large gold hoop earrings and three-inch-high black stilettos.
Then she whipped out a pair of black-rimmed glasses that looked more like a prop than a necessity, and it dawned on me that I had unwittingly wandered onto the set of a porno movie. There was nothing about the scenario that didn't scream adult film, down to the bevy of hot chicks in nurse costumes. Out of deep-seated Catholic guilt and terror, I had long resisted my occasional feelings of sexual attraction toward women. But in my weakened state, I found myself vaguely turned on.
Then Mr. D'Angelo opened his mouth and promptly took the wind out of my Sapphic sails.
"HELLO. ARE YOU THE DOCTOR?" he asked in the loud, slow voice that Americans reserve for non-English speakers (as if screaming in a foreigner's face is going to increase his or her comprehension of our mongrel tongue).
Dr. Sophia cast the most dismissive glance at him that I have ever seen a woman give a man, and I'm including women who roll their eyes at cat-callers on the street...
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Even when Sara is telling the story of how mentally unbalanced she became in college, she manages to make you laugh. A lot. But you still feel slightly uncomfortable being amused by the terrible things she was experiencing. And she certainly doesn't worry about being Politically Correct, which I love. Any comedic writer/performer who worries about that stuff should find another line of work - maybe teaching school (which Sara did until she found her true calling).
It won't be that bad. Memories of terrible things are almost always easier than the things themselves.
When I was twenty-one, I got into the habit of voiding my bladder into chamber pots of my own invention. I was afraid to use the bathroom, because I'd had one too many panic attacks there. I wasn't a religious person, but I was into the kind of hippie spirituality sold in the New Age section at mainstream bookstores. Therefore, I diagnosed my bathroom with a case of seriously bad vibes, and devised a far more soulónurturing habit of pissing in my bedroom, in dinnerware. They were actually a very nice set of plain white bowls from the Le Creuset outlet back home in Flemington, New Jetsey, where I grew up. My mother had bought them for me as a housewarming gift when I moved into that apartment, a twelve-by-ten-foot room with a sink, a hot plate, a mini-fridge, a slim closet, a twin-size mattress on a rolling cot, and a small window with a view of a smoke-choked alley. The bathroom, a feat of space maximization, was the size of an airplane lavatory with a very slender shower stall tacked on. The medicine cabinet had room for a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a bottle of the pills I still took every morning without fail. When I sat down to pee - back when I still used toilet - my knees bumped the door. It was impossible to have sex in that shower, a fact I confirmed more than once through trial and error.
Bathrooms, regardless of size, had always been my place of refuge from the fits of terror that stalked me throughout late childhood and adolescence. I developed rituals to stave off the attacks. I sang the same old church hymn, "Be Not Afraid," under my breath, over and over again. I rocked back and forth, holding myself. I hit myself in the face to shake my brain loose. (Not hard - I used a totally normal level of force, like you do.)
When things got really bad, I'd lean my head on the wall, or even on the roll of toilet paper itself, and cry. No one bothers you in the bathroom, because only pervs try to engage with other people in bathrooms.
My friend James Urbaniak, who voices Dr. Venture on the cult Adult Swim hit Venture Bros, once played a toilet freak on an episode of Law & Order:: SVU. (That's the rapey one, not the courtroomy one or that other one.) His character installed a secret camera in a bathroom so that he could watch ladies go to the toilet. After the inevitable lurid sexual assault that occurs on every episode of SVU, the cops find the camera and trace it to James's character. They burst into his apartment. where h.s sister, played by the wonderful Amy Sedaris, is trying to hide him. Anyway, turns out the toilet freak isn't the one who committed the violent sex crime. But we don't find this out before Christopher Meloni hauls him downtown and slams his no-good pervy ass up against the bars. (James told me that Meloni pushed him so hard that the bars, which are made of plywood, actually bent and had to be replaced.)
I remember watching this episode back in 2004, a few years after l'd had my own fit of freaky toilet behavior, and feeling a strange sort of kinship with the voyeur character. I didn't get a sexual thrill from watching other people use the bathroom, but I did share his view of the restroom as a special place, set apart from less exciting rooms like the living room or the dining room. These rooms were prosaic and uninspired places where one was expected to make small talk with any number of irritating companions. But in the bathroom, even if another person sat not six inches from you in a neighboring stall, you were blessedly alone.
So you can imagine my irritation when I discovered I wasn't alone in my tiny bathroom in that cramped studio apartment in Boston. I'd moved into the place in May, and as the months passed I gradually became aware that something was following me wherever I went, sitting on my shoulder or atop my head. I didn't know what the something was. but it was definitely a bad something, the sort of something you don't want perching on your body. It would say things, unintelligible things that I could feel but not understand. And sometimes it would get rather loud.
My solution was to keep my life noisy, filled with chatter and bustle. I had just finished my sophomore year at Emerson College, a school for writers and actors and assorted other deviants. It was a colorful, loud, silly place. In the hall between classes, one tiny gay boy or another was always imitating a character from Rent or Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And when that wee flamboyant lad warbled a few bars of the show tune that had gotten him through locker-room beatings in high school, he would inevitably be joined in his crooning by a chubby girl from across the hall. Thus did countless blessed fag/hag unions form in the precious space and time between Page to Stage 206 and Mid-Century Chicana Queer Poetry 307.
I knew I couldn't sing, and I was pretty sure I couldn't act (not that I'd ever tried), but I could write reasonably well, so I did that. I had long, curly brown hair and big boobs and a belly I was still convinced was terribly pudgy, three years after Amber Luciano had made a crack about my weight on that ill-fated trip to Sicily. I made out with boys, and got As and Bs, and found a bunch of friends who were infinitely better-looking and more glamorous than me. They did cocaine and wore really tight Diesel jeans and dabbled in the kind of stand-up comedy where you made a joke about a children's TV show people remembered from the eighties and then the audience laughed and then you looked at the audience like you hated them and then you made fun of a band you secretly liked and then you rolled your eyes...
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One of the terrible things that Sara goes through is a weird fear of eating. She recounts a conversation with her therapist about her recovery from this super-unhealthy issue with a pretty funny gag. And discovers something about herself in the process.
I learned that you could spread ripe avocado on that same toast, then top it off with a (local organic heirloom) tomato, and the whole thing was pretty delicious. Every day brought a tasty new discovery, or a happy rediscovery. My efforts were tentative, but promising. Because I took tiny bites and chewed so cautiously, I savored my food in a way I never had time to do before
"Food is actually pretty fucking awesome," I told Dr. Morrison.
"Most people seem to enjoy it," he replied. "The Prozac is helping, then?"
I leaned forward. "Totally. Sometimes I put it in my smoothie. It adds this really interesting texture. Peanut butter, milk, bananas, and emotional well-being."
"I'm just fucking with you," I said.
He actually laughed at that one. I really liked the way it sounded. His laughter was near-tangible proof that I'd said and done something right in that moment. For a moment, I felt all warm and glowy inside. I decided I could get used to that kind of feeling.
Then he asked, "So how is the driving coming along?"
"Driving?" I repeated. "Oh, I don't think so."
"You sound like you're doing pretty well. Have you thought about just practicing driving around your neighborhood?"
On to the next adventure.
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Sara was raised Catholic, but was also attracted to weirder non-conventional religions. And like most college-aged kids, she was drawn toward saving animals, saving the planet, communing with nature, etc. Here's an excerpt wherein Sara talks about her "foray into the crunchier realm"...
While I was learning to eat solid foods and shit in a toilet and drive a car again, I read a lot of Zentastic, organic, free-range, fair-trade, sustainable, sage-scented self-help books, most of which were designed for postmenopausal ex-hippies with a fondness for moon worship and natural-fiber clothing. I wasn't rich enough to follow my dream of living among noble brown stereotypes, which is why this book isn't called Eat, Pray, Love. I just read books that similarly co-opted other people's cultural traditions and repackaged them with a neat, lily-white bow on top. I called this "spirituality."
My foray into the crunchier realm was not entirely without precedent. Flemington is about twenty minutes away from a lovely little riverside gay enclave called New Hope, across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. When l was in junior high, I began spending free Saturdays and evenings there, taking in poetry readings and organic, locally sourced, artisanal snacks with equal reverence. After my mom dropped me off, secure in the knowledge that no adult male in that town had any designs on a young teen of the girl persuasion, I could get homemade rose petal ice cream at Gerenser's (it tasted like perfume, but it sure was more interesting than a cone from the Carvel back home) and walk right down the street to the two competing witch-supply stores. One was called Gypsy Heaven and was run by an actual witch with a shock of wild blond Stevie Nicks hair. The other was called the New Hope Magick Shoppe and offered tarot readings by an elderly, chain-smoking devout Catholic named Irene who taught catechism when she wasn't unspooling the mysteries of the Major Arcana.
Fresh from my Confirmation as a Roman Catholic adult, l saw no contradiction between what l learned in church and what l learned from the woman with the cards. Catholicism is steeped in mysticism, magic, and ritual anyway. And there was nothing in the cards to discourage my belief in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the inherent evil of putting it in the butt. I figured Irene and I were safe from hellfire.
When I was thirteen, l loved nothing more than to scarf down my ice cream cone inside or just outside one of the witch stores (Irene didn't care if you brought your food inside, but Stevie Nicks wouldn't have it) and breathe in that mystical smell of Nag Champa incense, patchouli oil, and body odor. These stores stocked spell books, tarot cards, mini-gargoyles (to keep the bad vibes away), gemstones that could heal your physical and psychic illnesses, white sage smudge sticks to purify your home, and handmade candles that came with instructions for making wishes and visualizing one's ideal future. Stevie Nicks made her own magic(k)al herb blends that you could burn to attract love, calm an unruly pet, invite prosperity, and ease menstrual cramps. There was also a Wild Womyn Mooncycle Journal designed to help the fertile human goddess chart her sacred ovum's monthly journey.
Pantheistic earth hippies are obsessed with menstruation. A few years ago, my big gay bear friend Alan told me about some queer spring musical jamboree/fuckfest he attended on an organic farm in the hills of Tennessee to celebrate Beltane, May first. Before they could erect their giant maypole, there was a preparation ceremony. Alan, who was tripping on acid, can't remember exactly what the rationale behind all this was. Mostly he just remembers the intense, all-consuming fear that enveloped him when some of the organizers dug a hole for the pole. As he watched in horror, a couple of floppy-titted women took turns squatting over it and menstruating. After that, dudes were invited to jerk off into it. This happened during a sacred drum circle, of course. Only after the various effluvia had settled into the hole were the hippies ready to plant the giant ribbon pole in the ground. Everyone wondered why Alan stayed in his tent for the next two days.
Sadly, I've yet to attain that particular level of enlightenment. But when I was in junior high, I sometimes knelt and prayed in front of a little altar in my room, burning a blue candle (for masculine energy) and a pink candle (for feminine energy) while envisioning straight As and a really awesome date to the next dance.
When I entered Emerson College, I found myself with a pagan roommate. She told me ooky-spooky stories about passing an invisible ball of energy around with her friends, which I would later discover was a common beginner's level improv comedy game. This makes perfect sense, because Wicca and improv comedy are both packed with dorks who like to play pretend when they really ought to be learning a trade. Anyway, she was really nice and she encouraged me to read up on astrology...
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As I very briefly mention above, Sara tried her hand at teaching. And discovered, as I'm sure most teachers do, that kids are pretty much mostly unruly animals and it's a wonder so many live to see adulthood. But that's not to say Sara didn't get any good stories from her time in the trenches. This story (which isn't the story, it's just a preview of the story) is more about how ill-equipped Sara felt as a teacher. And also possibly why Neil Gaiman recommended her story - he and his wife, Amanada Palmer, are mentioned in this excerpt.
I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to teach in a classroom without a licensed teacher watching over us. But that's what happened. every single day. And the results were predictably a mix of great success and great disaster. Which brings me back to Billy's boner.
I didn't actually notice it myself (I mean, it wasn't that big). What I noticed was the tittering and giggling that arose as soon as I entered my classroom that afternoon.
I looked around suspiciously. My initial thought was that they must be laughing at me. I knew my dyed-red hair looked a little odd with bright pink streaks, but it had been that way for weeks and they ought to have been accustomed to it by now. Was it my thrift-store skirt? My dangly plastic earrings? The other gaudy accoutrements that marked me as a stereotypically wacky. unconventional, artsy-fartsy teacher? Or had the sad joke of my complete and utter incompetence as an educator (and human being) finally dawned on them?
We were reading Romeo and Juliet, because that's what I had learned in ninth grade and I figured it was their turn to be tormented by it. I found Shakespeare's language just as boring as they did. but when I'd taken this job I had agreed to play the role of an Adult, and Adults make Children do boring things for their own good. I'd wanted to liven it up by assigning the kids Sandman by Neil Gaiman, but had gotten called up in front of the principal when ex-homeschooler Miguel Sanchez's evangelical Christian father had complained about a panel depicting a nearly nude woman. ("Technically, she's a goddess, so it's not even human nudity," I had protested when the school director scolded me.) Years later, I would interview Gaiman and his rock-star girlfriend, Amanda Palmer, in a bathtub at the Maritime Hotel in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Neil wore a business suit, and Amanda was completely naked. I wore a short skirt, a push-up bra, and a T-shirt that read, THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE. During a break in taping, I found my mind wandering back to Miguel's father. This was probably exactly how he had imagined I spent my free time.
Being a teacher was difficult because of all the lying that was required of me on a daily basis. I had to pretend I actually cared if my students came into the room smelling of pot smoke, or if they cursed aloud in class. Mostly, I just wanted them to have a good time, learn how to write a complete sentence, and avoid shooting heroin between their toes while inside my classroom. I had an idealistic streak when I started. I wanted to show them the poetry and novels and art and music that inspired me, in the hope that it would inspire them. But a lot of times it seemed the stuff that inspired me wasn't considered appropriate for the classroom. And then I got in trouble for using Sandman. Thus, Romeo and Juliet.
On the day that Billy's boner hijacked my classroom, we were supposed to talk about Mercutio. We were supposed to talk about his friendship with Romeo, and what it means to be a good friend, and whether your friends are always obligated to take your side in arguments. I had a lesson plan. I had designed it to conform with Texas State Board of Education standards and benchmarks. I had a short, interactive lecture. I had a quiz game. I had small-group assignments. I had discussion questions. On paper, it looked like the perfect lesson. If you'd read it, you would almost think I had actually graduated from college. You might even think I was a real teacher with some actual training, maybe a license. You might believe I had the right to stand in that classroom and wield authority. When I strode into that classroom that day, even I believed it.
And then Billy's boner proved me Wrong.
Terribly, terribly wrong.
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The final excerpt I'm sharing has Sara still on a path to become a fully-functional, licensed teacher. And involves a moment of jealousy when she discovers that Mr Wrong from a few years earlier has moved on. Without her permission.
For the first time in my life, I was too busy to worry about anything unrelated to lesson plans, adolescent social development. and the New York City Board of Education's benchmarks and statistics for success in English, grades seven through twelve.
One night in September, I went out to a pub near Columbia with some new friends. During the dinner, Tom called me and promptly apologized for everything he'd ever done wrong in our relationship. He was almost certainly drunk, but I enjoyed the moment nevertheless - at first.
"Oh, we both made mistakes," I said magnanimously, out on the street where I wouldn't interrupt my friends' heated debate about charter school funding. "And you really did me a lovely favor by breaking up with me. Now we've both moved on to better things. I'm living in the world's greatest metropolis and making a difference each day in the lives of little children, and you - what exactly are you doing, Tom?"
"Just working, you know," he said. "Seeing a nice girl. Playing touch football with my buddies. Man, I'm happy to hear you're doing so well, Sara."
"Good to hear," I said faintly. "I have to go now, and do significant things. Good-bye, Tom." I hung up the phone and leaned against the building.
SEEING A NICE GIRL? Who the FUCK had given him permission to "see" a nice girl? It had only been four months since we'd broken up! Did he have no sense of propriety? Was he an emotionless death robot sent from another planet to destroy my entire existence with a single phone call? What kind of a cold, evil bastard moved on from the greatest love of all time within four fucking months? I wanted to throw up. I wanted to punch a fist through a storefront window. I wanted to find the girl he was fucking and kick her repeatedly in the teeth, and then push him into a bubbling vat of something terrible and oozey.
Aside from a brief rebound dalliance in Texas with a twenty-year-old hippie who believed he'd been abducted by aliens as a child, I hadn't gotten back into the world of opposite-sex relations. I certainly hadn't been on any dates or "seen" anyone "nice." This meant that even though I was doing some interesting things in a cool city, Tom was winning. I-Ie was winning. And this was one thing I could not abide.
I needed to have sex with someone. Probably a series of someones. Or have a series of sexual encounters with a single someone who would then become a non-single someone because he would be my only someone and I would be his. The only problem was that I didn't know any straight young men in New York.
Well. that's not entirely true. There were two straight young guys in my program at Teachers College, but one of them only dated jewish girls and the other one was caught up in a not-so-secret secret affair with a classmate, who reported to a friend of a friend that the gentleman in question had an enormous penis. I've never been a fan of big dicks, so this piece of information did not engender any lustful thoughts in my heart. I possess a vaginal model that takes a while to adapt to the shape and size of a particular phallus. It is made of a substance not unlike memory foam. When my equipment hasn't been used in a while, it returns to its factory setting. The lack of flexibility may be pleasing to my partners, but I often find it uncomfortable. I am told that upon having children, it will become as accommodating as a wind tunnel, but I'm no closer to that event now than I was at twenty-four. I preferred that my reintroduction to the world of cocks come in the form of an interaction with a medium-to-small member of the species.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
I'm totally leaving you hanging because I'm not going to tell you what happens to Sara that leads to her presently completely sane-ish life path. You'll just have to read the book yourself.
My talented Emeli's artwork
Here are a paltry few of the amazing things Emeli has created recently. She also has a Jaws scratchboard that's in progress that will be shared later. Emeli puts my sad little pencil doodles to shame. It's almost enough to make me wish I'd taken more art-related classes in College, just for fun.
You can get your own Emeli art if you hurry. She's selling a few of them on Mercari (I'd never heard of it, either).
I was going to make this another marathon, multi-topic post, but I've decided to end here and blather on about Potterland, Christmas, and my new digs at work later...or maybe never. We'll see.
1 Most recently, I've read All You can Worry About is Tomorrow, R.D. Hubbard; Tony Gwynn, He Left His Heart in San Diego, Rich Wolfe; Code Talker, Chester Nez; Almost Interesting, David Spade; and You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost), Felicia Day. I hope to give each the commentary they deserve, because they were each interesting, funny, or educational in their own ways.