Tag Archives: judy dykstra-brown essay

A Single English Teacher’s Lament

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A Single English Teacher’s Lament

Two periods of composition
have put me in a bad position.
With class size swelled to 38,
no longer have I time to date,
for teaching all to write a thesis
means my workload never ceases.

Each weekend I take home a pile
to check and grade and reconcile.
To try to sort them out is hard—
each sentence shuffled card by card.
Each comment must be made with tact,
their logic looked at fact by fact.

Each student had to write just one.
Now handed in, their toils are done.
While I have 76 to grade,
and now regret assignments made.
How many more? I have to ask,
imprisoned by this grading task.

I thought when I earned my degree,
that I had finally been set free,
but now I am the guilty one
destroying all my students’ fun.
Yet I’ve  created my own repentance.
I gave myself the thesis sentence!

 

This is a rewrite of a piece written over three years ago, when I first started this blog.  My friend Ann Garcia, a former fellow teacher and friend for life (although we haven’t seen each other for almost thirty years) gave me the prompt to write a poem about an English teacher.  Well, here it is with a stanza added to allow it to meet today’s prompt of  degree as well. Pretty tricky, huh?

Controlled Chaos

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The other day in a comment to another blogger, I said something on the order of how I think life is cyclical.  We go from the intuitive state of children to the increasingly rational world of the adult and then, as we retire and age (or age and retire, depending on how anxious we are to do so) and get on to the next stage, we start evolving back into the state we were in as children.  We perhaps start to forget details of the present in favor of remembering vividly details of our past. Our present seems to fall into an increasing sense of disorder as our past comes back with a strange clarity.  In the farther stages of dementia, this seems to be true as well.

Judging by the fragmented comments made by my sister who is experiencing the journey of Alzheimer’s, she seems to be going backwards through her life.  In her mind, she was for awhile once again married to a husband from whom she had been divorced for twenty-five years.  A year later, she was talking about her high school boyfriend as though he was waiting for her; and this year, when given a baby doll, she sat rocking it and calling it Judy.  Eleven years older than me, I’m sure she was remembering me as a baby.  More proof of my theory, because she has had three children and five grandchildren since she rocked me in that long-ago rocking chair, most of whom she doesn’t remember.

All of this speculating is a roundabout method of preparing you for what I really want to talk about, and that is the topic of “chaos.”  As we age, our rational mind seems to give way to intuition–forgetting details like what we are driving to town to do or what we came from the bedroom to the living room to find. Instead, we wander from task to task as we get distracted by whatever our eye falls upon, much as we did as children.

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In a similar fashion,  objects collect on the table-like headboard of my bed and on my night tables. Have you ever seen the room of  a teenager?  A perfect example of chaos.  Dirty clothes and caked ice cream dishes are swept under the bed, dirty clothes are in piles mixed in with the clean ones delivered by mom a week earlier, magazines, electrical equipment, soccer balls and school books all seem to be placed in the same category and spread evenly over the surfaces of the room.

The bedroom or playroom of a toddler or child seems to follow the same organizational plan:  Leggos, the detached limbs of G.I. Joes or Barbies, coloring books, plastic kid-sized furniture, trikes, blocks, kiddie computer games, unmatched socks, clothes outgrown months ago, plastic trucks and assorted game pieces from kiddie games cover the floor as though organized by a tornado into the perfect organizational plan of a child: chaos.

So it was in the house of my oldest sister.  Every year, more piles appeared in her bedroom.  Her kitchen drawers were a jumble of knives, jewelry, old electrical receipts, diamond rings, half full medicine bottles, plastic lids to butter tubs, photographs, drawings her children had done twenty years before, unused postal stamps and corroded batteries.

When I visited a few months before she went into a managed care facility, hoping  I could facilitate her staying in her house for at least another year, I reorganized her house–– putting labels on all her drawers.  In the bedroom, I sorted out a tangle of necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets.  In doing so,  I discovered  23 watches–all dysfunctional.

“Betty, why do you have so many watches?”

“Oh, they all stopped working.”

“Did you exchange the batteries?”

“Oh, you can do that?”

Now I look at the boxes of slides and photos of the art work of my husband and me–sorted and condensed from four boxes  into two boxes, then abandoned unfinished when I needed to use the dining room table to entertain guests. Now the unresolved mess resides between the bed and the closet in my bedroom. Sigh.

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There are junk drawers I’ve been shoving things into for 15 years thinking one day I’ll sort them.  Boxes of miscellaneous papers I packed up 15 years ago to bring to Mexico still sit untouched in my garage.

Like the rest of the universe, having come from the chaos of childhood, I seem to be returning to it and I wonder what the solution will be.  Perhaps, as many of my friends have, I will start shedding the accumulations of a lifetime and simplify my life so there is less in it to be transformed into chaos.  Or, perhaps as has been my pattern for the past 15 years, since divesting myself of most of my possessions to move to Mexico, I will continue to collect thousands of little items for my art collages, dozens of bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings–even though I wear only a few favorites.

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Perhaps I’ll continue to buy the books of friends, the paintings of talented Mexican artists, huipiles from the market, woven purses and alebrijes from beach vendors, gelato makers from the garage sales of friends.

I have a special fondness for one basket vendor who sells the lovely baskets made by his family in Guerrero. I have them in every shape–square, obelisk, round, rectangular–as well as every size from coin purse to three feet tall.  Yet I keep buying them because I admire his perseverance.  For the fifteen years I’ve been here, he has traversed the carretera from Chapala to Jocotepec, laden front, back and to each side with these baskets.  He wears five straw hats piled neatly one on top of the other on his head.  Baskets nest within other baskets or are threaded onto a long cord and worn diagonally over his chest.

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He is a a master of organization–and to query about any basket as one sits at at table in the Ajijic plaza  will invite his ceremony as he divests himself of baskets to display them.  Soon the floor around your table will be covered in so many baskets it seems impossible that one man has been carrying them up and down the ten miles between the towns on this side of the lake–all day and for years long before I moved here.  His is an incredible sense of organization that is the opposite of chaos, and in admiration, if I am unable to persuade visiting friends to buy his baskets, I always buy something myself.

Back home, I fill one with outgrown underwear, another with scarves, another with old keys and padlocks I may one day need.  It is as though his organization rubs off on me as I fill baskets, instilling some order into a life potentially chaotic–but at the moment held within the confines of normalcy.

Ten years ago, my other sister opened my junk drawer in my kitchen and declared, “There is no excuse for anyone to have a drawer like this.”  Because I know of no one who does not have a drawer like that, I was somewhat surprised, and was especially surprised because before her visit I had more or less organized my junk drawer.

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But now I look around and realize I have a number of those drawers.  In spite of the basket vendor’s good example, my sense or organization seems to be veering toward having a special drawer to thrust categories of things into: batteries, items of clothing, kitchen tools, jewelry.  Controlled chaos––the way of the universe and certainly the seeming course of our lives. For some of us, at least.

(If you are dying to make out exactly what is in these drawers, clicking on the photos will enlarge your view.  Snoopy!)

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/chaos/

The Time to Be Good

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The Time to Be Good

In a study by Oxford Online, associated with the Oxford English Dictionary, “the” was found to be the most frequently used word in the English language and each of the other words in my title was the most common word in the English language for its part of speech. It is no surprise to me that the word “the” heads the list. “The creates specificity. It helps us to define and narrow the field. It wins us precisely what we want. Ours is an era of so many choices––a plethora of brands of everything from potato chips to lipstick. Don’t even get me started on coffee. Starbucks alone maintains that it offers 87,000 combinations of coffee choices! Reason enough to need a bit of “the” in our vocabulary. Plain coffee Americano decaf with soy milk and stevia? That is “the” choice I make every time.

“To” is indicative, I think, of our modern need to be elsewhere. A Ted Talk that I recently viewed showed a video that depicted all of the airplane flights occurring simultaneously, then all of the ships enroute. If it had tried to depict commuter traffic, I’m not so sure that much of the U.S. would have been lit up, rendering any distinction between vehicles or routes to be impossible to make out. We drive to work, to play, to school, to recreational facilities. Then on the weekends we drive elsewhere to “escape,” but in doing so, are trapped in more traffic. In airports, we watch people coming off a plane to come “to” where we are as we await the opportunity to board the same plane to go “to” where they just came from. We are almost constantly going “to.”

I was surprised that “time” is the most commonly used noun in the English language, mainly because, with all of our labor saving devices, somehow we have less time rather than more. If someone disagrees, please, please inform me of how you have managed this. I no longer even have time to read unless I listen to an audiobook and combine my reading with other activities such as driving, working in the studio or kitchen or while trying to fall asleep at night.

So why is the word “time” so frequently used? As I tried to figure out why, a number of phrases I’ve used in the past 24 hours swam into memory. While preparing to leave for two months at the beach, I have almost constantly worried about not having “time” to arrange for everything I needed to arrange for in order to leave on “time.” I won’t bore you with the list, but it is long and varied and has kept me so busy for the past two weeks that I found my “time” had run out last night. I was due to leave this morning, but had not found time to say good bye to best friends, let alone time enough to write this blog and finish packing. So I delayed my departure by a day in order to gain “time” to depart in a more leisurely fashion. I made “time” for things important to me, such as this essay I am writing right now and the possibility of saying good bye to friends such as Audrey, whom I haven’t seen for weeks because neither of us has had the “time.” Perhaps it is our complaints of having so little of it that cause us to overuse the word?

The most commonly used words that I am most heartened by are best when combined. “Be good.” What better advice for each of us and what message is most needed in a world of cyber shaming, corporate greed, Isis and the seeming impossibility of gun control, let alone control over the kids and crazies who refuse to exercise control? It is a selfish world we live in. “Be” is too often considered in regard to only ourselves. But “good?” It seems to be an aim that more and more of us yearn for—hoping to combine it with “be” in order to restore sanity and love and caring for our fellow human beings––whatever their skin color or religion or social group or national background.

Perhaps in our choice of most commonly used words, be they conscious or unconscious, we are all sending ourselves a message. Like a crossword puzzle, we just need to combine them in the right way. It truly is the time to be good!!!

(If you’d like to see other most commonly used words, go HERE.)

The Prompt: Morphing—Language evolves. The meaning of a word can shift over time as we use it differently—think of “cool,” “heavy,” or even “literally.”Today, give a word an evolutionary push: give a common word a new meaning, explain it to us, and use it in the title of your post.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/morphing/

Saved!

The Prompt: Sink or Swim. Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome? For once, I’m going to take the prompt literally.  I wrote about this in January, so I’m going to use a rewrite of the tale I told at that time.

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Saved!

Although I’ve never had a child of my own, I love children; and from a very early age, my eye in any social situation was always drawn to babies. When I was little and my mother would take me along to meetings of her Progressive Study Club, I would always stand in the bedroom to watch the babies spread out on the bed by their mothers, surrounded by their coats.  In a similar fashion, I notice babies in restaurants and on the street––  especially babies who are facing backwards over the shoulders of their parents.  I love seeing what they are looking at––who they are communicating with through their eyes and their smiles.  I love it that babies have a private life even in the company of their parents.

In this modern age of child abductions and pedophiles, parents might find this creepy, no matter how benign one’s motive is in watching their children; but in my case, if they have not forgotten, there are two sets of parents who should feel very grateful for my interest in their children; for although I have never birthed a child, I am responsible for the presence of two children, now grown to adults, who would not be here but for me. In both cases, I saved a baby from drowning.  Both times, although there were other people in the proximity, they were in social situations where no one noticed what was going on as the baby nearly came to harm.

One of the times was at a housewarming party given by my boyfriend’s son in California.  We’d all been given the tour, including the garden and hot tub, which was up on a raised patio out of view of the house.  As we stood in the living room talking and drinking before the meal was served,  I noticed that the toddler of one of the couples was not with his mother. Looking into the other room, I saw he wasn’t with his father, either, and I suddenly had a strong feeling that something was wrong.

I ran out of the house and into the garden just in time to see him at the top of the stairs leading to the hot tub.  He toddled over to the side, fell in and sank like a stone.  I ran up the stairs, jumped into the hot tub and fished him from the bottom before he ever bobbed to the surface.  I remember the entire thing in slow motion and have a very clear memory of the fact that it seemed as though his body had no tendency to float at all, but would have remained at the bottom of the deep hot tub.

The parents’ reaction was shock.  I can’t remember if they left the party or if they really realized how serious it was.  I know they didn’t thank me, which is of no importance other than a measure of either their inability to face the fact that their child had been within seconds of drowning or simply their shock and the fact they were thinking only of their child.

Strangely enough, this had happened before, at a stock pond just outside of the little South Dakota town where I grew up.  Everyone went swimming there, as there was no pool in town.  When I was still in junior high, I’d just arrived when I saw a very tiny girl—really just a baby—fall into the dam (what we called a pond) and sink straight down under the very heavy moss that grew on the top of the water.  Her mother had her back turned, talking to a friend, and no one else noticed.  I jumped in and fished her out, returning her to her mother, who quickly collected her other children and left.  Again, no word of thanks.  It is not that it was required, and I mention it here only because it happened twice and, having not thought about this for so many years, I am wondering if it wasn’t embarrassment and guilt on the part of the parents that made them both react so matter-of-factly.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sink-or-swim/

Listed or Listless

The Prompt:  Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution that you kept?

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Write it down!!!!


Listed or Listless?

Of course I have accomplished my New Year’s Resolutions.  A few times.  Once I did a project with a friend where we each wrote down what we wanted to accomplish.  I believe I had eight things.  Since we illustrated our resolutions, my quotes of what I wanted were scattered throughout my illustrations.  Shortly after we did this, she moved back to the states and in time I forgot my little artwork.

A few years later, I found it when I was cleaning and reorganizing my studio.  I looked at my page, turning it this way and that to read the resolutions that twisted around and through the colored sketches.  I was surprised to find I’d accomplished every one, including losing weight, getting a book published (actually by the time I found it, I’d self-published three books), and finding a partner (now a friend, but nonetheless, I managed to reenter the dating scene after years of still feeling married to my deceased husband.)

I don’t remember what the rest of my resolutions were and a new search of my studio didn’t result in finding it.  Perhaps it requires actually cleaning and reordering the studio to warrant this reward; but, this exercise taught me what I’d learned long before and forgot.  Writing resolutions down has a sort of magic.  I think it moves them to a different, more active part of our brain.  Even though that part of the brain might still be in the subconscious regions, somehow our written-down resolutions sit there as little telepathic cheerleaders, urging us onward to action.

Lest I grow too listless again, I think perhaps it is time to make another list!!!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/resolved/

New Year Wisdom

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New Year Wisdom

After going to a New Years party for a few hours, I came home to welcome in the New Year online with okcforgottenman. I was railing on about the fact that a prompt site for which I wished to download an app only had apps for phones and tablets. When I asked if they had an app for my Mac computer, they said no, the place they went to set up the prompt site didn’t have a setup for a Mac computer.  This, in addition to the fact that more and more apps and software are being set up to accommodate the tiny screens on cellphones and tablets without taking into consideration that some of us are on computers has caused me to wonder if  computers are becoming obsolete!

The fact that many baby boomers are now well into their sixties and approaching their seventies means our eyesight is not going to get any better, and frankly, I need the bigger screen. In addition, somehow those born in previous generations (at least mine) seem to have been born with larger thumbs than more recent generations, for I find it is physically impossible for me to navigate a phone or Kindle or tablet keyboard with even my fingers, let alone thumbs.

I then mentioned how everywhere I went, people were all on their phones—playing games, talking to people other than the people they were with, reading the news or blogs or email. No one was where they actually were! He replied that this didn’t bother him but then seemed to do an about-face by admitting, “I think something big is going to happen that will bring about the end of civilization, but I don’t necessarily know what it is. It might be Isis and it might be iPhones!”

What he has just said has the ring of truth to me. I’ve been thinking exactly the same thing, but never put it so well. I am frightened about how smart phones have taken us away from our surrounding people and environments. We are no longer one place at one time. Even if we are not talking on the phone, there is the potential of every person we know calling us at any time and any place. And most of us make that call a priority over whatever is going on at the time.

Okcforgottenman then told me about a new app that photoshops the faces of those talking on the computer, fixing the glitches, covering up all those details that Photoshop is so adept at covering up. Again, I had a feeling of déjà vu,  because I’ve been reading Ultimate Jest by David Foster Wallace, and just today, he talked about a time in the future when people on social networks are able to download an app that Photoshops their faces.

Eventually, the app makes changes to the point where people no longer really want to meet in person, because they feel they have become the false representation of themselves—or at least prefer it. No need to put on makeup, comb your hair, get dressed. Virtually, they will be perfected!! The trend reaches its zenith when in time, the app doesn’t even bother to start with the real image of the speaker but instead uses the image of a movie star or other “beautiful person” who most resembles the speaker–eventually coming to the place where what they have in common is four limbs and the same color of hair!

What he describes is so close to what okcforgottenman describes to me that I get a chill down my back and the brain freeze I always get when I’m faced with a startling truth I’ve never thought of before. Is there any science fiction that will not eventually become fact????

David Foster Wallace describes a turn that eventually makes people reject their fake personas and to go back to voice-only conversations that do not even present any images at all. In time, those who use the visual phones with face and body altering apps come to be seen as narcissistic, gauche and behind the times. This is something I cannot imagine happening as our dependence on cyber unreality becomes more and more prevalent.

As we retreat more and more into fantasy and living in the far distance, what will happen to the immediate world around us? Will it cease to have importance as anything other than providing for our immediate creature comforts such as food, bed, warmth, water and medical attention? Will all of our psychological, artistic, amorous, social and familial needs be met through our online devices? And as these devices get smaller and smaller, will we ourselves evolve into miniature beings capable of managing them? Are we evolving back down to subatomic size, and is this a cycle? Has it happened before?

Ridiculous. I’m being ridiculous. And yet who among us, born in the forties or fifties, would have ever imagined we could communicate with both words and pictures through the air, watch a movie on a device smaller than the hand piece of a telephone, or that people would be living their “real” lives out and even choosing husbands and wives on TV for all to see? How do we tell the difference between what is possible and what is  impossible anymore? I’m afraid it is hard to predict with any confidence at all.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/stroke-of-midnight/

Dining Out

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Perhaps considering my next order?

Dining Out

I do not remember the first time I ate out at a restaurant, but I have heard a story over and over about the first time I ordered for myself.   I couldn’t have been over two years old when my folks took me out to a movie and then to Mac’s cafe for a drink and a visit with town folks afterwards.  We lived in a town of seven hundred people in the middle of the South Dakota prairie.  Our sole entertainment, other than church and school ballgames, was the Saturday or Sunday night picture show in the small theater on Main Street.  It was the social event of the week, and visiting with friends afterwards at Mac’s Cafe across the street from the theater was as much a part of the evening as the movie.

Later, in college, one of my best friends was the granddaughter of the man who owned the theater and she revealed to me that it never had made a profit.  He just kept it running to give the folks in the town where his wife had taught school as a young woman something to do.

Probably 200 of the 700 citizens of our town were members of a pentecostal church who didn’t believe in dancing, movies,  or even TV, so at twenty-five cents per ticket, I’m sure if everyone in town had gone to a show one time a week, it still would not have paid the overhead, so we should have figured that out long ago, but we hadn’t thought of it––at least no one in my family ever did.

I had two older sisters, so if I was two when this story happened, one must have been about six and the other would have been thirteen.  They ordered Cokes.  My folks ordered coffee, and when it came to me, I responded in the only way I knew to respond in a restaurant.  “Amgooboo an tabey dabey!” I ordered.

The waitress looked puzzled.  “She said hamburger and potatoes and gravy,” said my father, deadpan.  The waitress looked at my mother.  If that was what I wanted at ten o’clock at night, my mother was all for it.  The waitress left and my family struggled to keep straight faces but it just didn’t work.  They all exploded in laughter, which was fine with me.  I’d been entertaining them for as long as I could remember–and I think perhaps I still am to this day!


The Prompt: Tell about the first time you ever ate out in a restaurant.