Airports. Security lines. Delays. Coffee. Water. That peculiar combination of excitement/exhaustion that comes with travel.
these are the people in my neighbourhood …
The theme is “getting ready.” I tell Flora I’m scheduling my panic and nervous breakdown for Friday and Saturday. It actually hits on Wednesday. Which is good, because on Friday, I have to go see Cinder’s math teacher.
i’d rather be writing
speaking of math, sort of
I could tell you how much I hate the formal school system and the people it produces. But I won’t. I’m trying to understand and breathe and not judge too much—but, more importantly, to not compromise what I can control—which is my responsibility to my son. Which includes relearning way more high school math than I ever thought I’d need to. And taking two hours I don’t have to ensure his path in the world is not compromised by the… well, laziness of other people, really.
It’s Mother’s Day today, so I want to tell this story: in the first few weeks that we were in Canada, the principal of the first Canadian school I went to decided that an immigrant child couldn’t possibly have written the essay I had written as my first language arts assignment, and called in my parents to discuss with them the difference between helping their daughter with her homework and plagiarism.
I suspect, in a way, it was kindly meant, if patronizing.
My dad, who spoke decent English at the time, was working two jobs and going to school, so my mom, who was only working one job (and going to school) and who spoke Polish, Russian, Latin, Italian and a smattering of Arabic, but not yet very much English, was the designated parent who came with me to my first conflict with higher authority.
I don’t remember much from that meeting, really, except for the aura of ridiculousness. Translating what the teacher was saying to my mother. Which was, essentially, that the essay I had submitted was clearly not the work of a 10 year old ESL student, and that it was important for my parents to understand that while helping me with my schoolwork was wonderful, doing my school work for me was WRONG.
Funny thing: it must have been clear a few minutes into the meeting that their premise was wrong. I mean, if someone did help me write that essay (they didn’t), it clearly wasn’t my mother. But they had their script and it was too late to deviate from it, apparently.
They spoke in English. I translated the accusation—really, what else was it?—into Polish.
“Say that again?” my mother said.
I said it again.
“Let me get this straight. They’re accusing me of writing your essay for you?”
“They’re accusing you of cheating?”
“Can you please tell that fucking whore that she’s full of shit?”
I started to translate.
“I don’t know how to say ‘whore’ in English,” I told my mother. Whore (kurva) in Polish, by the way, is THE nasty swear. Like “motherfucking cunt – cocksucking son of a bitch” all rolled into on and then some.
“’Bitch?’” my mother suggested.
… our little bitch …
On the plane, I listen to Rex Stout’s Four To Go. It’s a digital file of a recording made for a book-on-tape back in 1979. The tracks include slice-of-history moments such as “this book continues on side B of the cassette”—including instructions to how to turn the tape over. Also, sometimes, the narrator stumbles–and they didn’t fix it. It was on the tape, after all. What could they do?
It’s quite marvellous, though, that the publishers did not take the effort to just, you know, clip those bits for the digitally distributed version. I have some experience in how comparatively little effort it takes to do that… but then, I am enjoying the ahistorical moment.
I’ve spent bits and pieces through the week reading a thoroughly terrible Rex Stout novel, The Hand in the Glove, featuring not Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, the characters he is (justly) famous for, but an attempt to write a young female detective.
The novel is so bad, I can’t stop reading it.
Sean: I know. Could you stop, so that you stop talking about it?
Jane: It’s like… it’s like when you witness a trainwreck, right? And you stop and you can’t help, but you look. First out of morbid curiousity, but then… you want to know, are there any survivors? I want to know… is there anything to be saved out of this novel?
I actually really love reading bad books by authors I adore. Because it gives me hope. Agatha Christie wrote some massive stinkers. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is kinda bad. Charlaine Harris has brilliant books and awful books. Zadie Smith’s Swing Time—while not awful—is still unfinished on my kitchen table…
Even the great ones write shitty books sometimes. See? It gives me hope.
Probably the worst thing about The Hand in the Glove (and there are so many bad things about it) is that Rex Stout is an old conservative (and misogynist) man trying to write a tough (but sexy) female character in her 20s. OMG.
I read some excerpts to Flora. She fake-pukes, then sends me this:
Jane: As I’m reading this book, I’m hyper-aware of how close it is to my breasts.
Flora: Weird. When I was on my phone sending you that meme, I didn’t think about my nipples once.
Jane: But as you walk back to your desk—nimbly—will you feel them rubbing against the thin fabric of your shirt?
Flora: I’ll try. But I never have yet. Do you think men write like that because they’re always thinking about what their penises are doing and feeling?
We both turn to Sean with scientific curiosity.
He stares at us as if we are aliens and leaves the kitchen.
you probably shouldn’t call my teacher names
Memory is a funny thing.
The story I’m telling you… did it really happen the way I think it did, now? That was… 33 years ago. I don’t remember, I don’t remember, I don’t remember.
I don’t remember—I guess way back during that parent-teacher meeting, I must have said something like, “My mother says that you should have some evidence before you accuse me of cheating.” Or maybe I even said, “I don’t know that world in English. Like a female dog? But it’s an insult.” Or maybe my mother and I negotiated a more benign response. It doesn’t really matter. What I remember from that event is—my mother stood up for me, 100%, against… well, experts.
It was the first of several skirmishes my parents –my mother in particular—would have with school authorities over the “as short a time period as possible get me the fuck out of here” time I had to spend in the school system before escaping to university.
They were always, in every situation, my allies, my protectors.
This is a good memory to be revisiting on Mother’s Day.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
really, this week was kinda whack
Monday, I didn’t go to yoga. But we did math and laundry. Tuesday, I didn’t go to yoga. But I wrote, hard, and sent all the emails. Also, math. Wednesday, as I mentioned, slight nervous breakdown. Also, inter alia, vibrator shopping—a prize, use your imagination, you know the sorts of things I do for money—also chocolate, bath bombs, and scotch tape and ribbons.
You: You know, you should just tell them…
Jane: Hush. Half-truths make life much more interesting.
Thursday… I don’t go to yoga again, but I spend some with the motherfucking sadist. I tell him I’m getting fat and weak and achy. And he makes me lift heavy things and pokes me until I cry, and I feel much better.
I tell him I bought sensible shoes for my trip, and have given up on ever wearing fuck-me heels anywhere but the bedroom, and we both take a moment to be sad about that.
Friday, I am a warrior and advocate and fuck, does it ever take a lot out of me. I’m a bit shocked at how deflated I am—at Flora’s Tang Soo Do class that evening, I can’t work. Wander along the abandoned traintrack in the slightly creepy industrial neighbourhood where she trains. (Why are all martial arts schools located in slightly creepy industrial neighbourhoods?)
Him: Cheap rent?
Saturday—packing. Weighing. I feel fat.
Sean: I thought you were weighing the suitcase.
Jane: Yes, but I had to weigh myself first. Fuck. How have we done this to women?
Saturday, Sean buys a week’s worth of groceries (we wish) and preps meatballs, hamburgers, and taco meat for the week. We keep on reminding the elder two—“When Ender asks for food, you need to feed him. He’s not just asking for food. He’s asking for love.”
Sean’s sister is coming to hang with him on Monday. My mom’s got the other weekdays covered, including Friday, when Sean will be shooting off-site and unavailable for emergencies.
Mom: Don’t worry about it. I’ve got you.
I know. I know.
by the way
If you had parents who were your allies and protectors? You grew up in privilege. No matter how hard things were otherwise.
My mother’s example of how to stand up for me, beside me—I’m only now starting to appreciate that a gift that was. How much POWER she gave me.
You see, maybe I was 10 and little… but I was not alone. I was not weak. I was not vulnerable. If you were going to pick on me—my mother was going to kick your ass, no matter who you thought you were.
Thank you, Mama.
I’m writing on the plane. Cowboys to the right of me (they’ve got the boots), hippies to the right (dreads and tattoos). One of my writer tribe is actually on the plane with me—we spend the lay-over in Denver chatting. She’s a dozen rows in front of me on the plane. Writing? Reading? Guaranteed, it’s one or the other.
The kids and Sean will be having lunch soon. About now? Probably. You are still away. I start to think about all the people I love and the different places they are. I feel their breaths, hear their heartbeats.
On a plane, somewhere over Nevada. This is a happy moment.
teeter totter you’re my otter …
i kid you not, i get to sleep here for the next week
You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)
—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA
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