Letter from my April self to my August self (and to first-year teachers everywhere)

Dear August 2013 self,

So, girlfriend, you all rested up from summer vacation? No? You taught summer school? Damn. Well, I hope you did something chill like Literature in Film (Cameron Diaz Bad Teacher-style) because the 2013-2014 school year is ON for the next 180 days. Do yourself a favor and implement the following sanity strategies, courtesy of your exhausted, feverish April self; the self sitting in front of the computer in her underwear, counting the hours left in the 2012-2013 school year (82.5, plus Senior Breakfast and Graduation:

  • Be a hardass about cell phones on the first day of school. The first kid you catch using their phone in class? TAKE THEIR PHONE FOR THE REST OF THE DAY. If you don’t, you’ll be fighting those phones ALL YEAR LONG, and by November, the kids will be egregiously texting two feet from your face. Buy a lockbox; take the phones; stash them in it. What you didn’t fully grok your first couple of years teaching is: It’s not enough to post a rule; you have to enforce it. Tirelessly.
  • Be whine-proof. Kids want to whine? They should join a European soccer team.
  • Late work loses 10% of points for each day it is late. The only exceptions are residential drug rehab or the violent death of a first-degree relative. The minute you make an exception for one kid, the other 175 will smell your weak blood in the water. “My computer crashed, Miss,” they’ll say, like you’re some kind of moron. “Miss, I’m just really stressed out right now.” Giving in doesn’t prepare them for adult life. When was the last time anyone gave you a break?
  • Limit bathroom passes. I know you hate being in charge of when other people go to the bathroom and you never want to say no — you resented having to ask when you were a kid — but they’re taking advantage. People with active bladder infections and raging cocaine addictions go to the bathroom less often than your students do.
  • The first time a group does more socializing than working, warn them. The second time, reassign them. Do not apologize; do not explain. You don’t need them to like you — just to respect you. In fact, it’s better if they don’t like you at first. Less room for disappointment; more practice for the top-down management style of the real world.  We’re not a self-paced charter school in the strip mall, or a groovy Waldorf edu-farm with goats and conversational-Esperanto classes and shit. Sorry.
  • Load up your AP class with serious, rigorous academic reading and writing during the first week of classes. Load it up enough so that the kids who don’t want to do AP work; the ones pushed into AP by parents or counselors or boyfriends or girlfriends, will beg to switch to a regular section. 35 kids are registered for your AP class. This is too many. Your goal is 26.
  • 18 years old is not as grown as it thinks it is. It comes in a large, adult package, but in general, 18 = emotionally 15 in girls and 12 in boys. Remember the farting contest last month?
  • Nine months is a long time for a kid. You’ll have students who start out paragons of academic integrity and social maturity, and end in a counseling-office mess, so don’t trust easy. And don’t make  hard-and-fast judgements about kids who start off like jerks. Because at least a few of them will surprise you.
  • Four percent of the population are sociopaths — they literally have no conscience. This is a comforting statistic when trying not to take other people’s behavior personally. And, yo, that’s not even counting the vast array of personality disorders and sundry addictions that 21st century American flesh is heir to (plus food additives, toxins in the water, and quick-cut video graphics). Whatever’s happening to the bees is happening to the kids, too. Ditto re: the fish with ambiguous genitalia.
  • You are vulnerable to emotional manipulation, especially when it’s intentionally subtle or if the manipulator lacks the self-awareness to know s/he is being manipulative. Work on that. I don’t know if your insurance will cover working on it, but you could at least call up and ask the guy about co-pays.
  • When a kid wants to talk to you — really talk, not whine, manipulate or complain — stop doing whatever else you’re doing. The grading or emailing or whatever it is can wait. Listen to the kid. Give the kid your eyes. This is what you are here for.

Have a good year — and remember, 79% is not a B.


Your May 2013 self

lesbian couplets

I save my poetry unit for April, when everybody’s tired and has no more fucks to give. After Heart of Darkness and Macbeth; after Black Boy and Jane Eyre and the sticky-thick short stories of Katherine Anne Porter. Because when the kids are just OVER reading and writing; over it over it over it; that’s when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. In the letting go, they learn. Despite themselves. And, if I can go limp enough, I write. Some couplets from today:

i wanted to fuck her poems

instead, i found her.


“i’m the villain, baby,” you said, and i swooned

but you stole that quote from “girl, interrupted.”


root vegetables, dark beer

the taste of you


you were a long list of ingredients

but no recipe


she was like my first hit of ecstasy;

i kept trying to repeat the experience, and sometimes cliches are all we have.


you left, and i was like a liquid

trying to do a solid’s job


she pulled a stake out of the train tracks and handed it to me

i was the one who crashed


i’m making a list of things that won’t get done today

and you are nowhere on it


In other news, today I subbed for the Health teacher, and I learned from the textbook that marijuana is addictive and sexual abstinence until marriage is the only acceptable choice. Dang. For so many years, I got those things confused!

Breaking up with CrossFit

CrossFit is like a beautiful, crazy woman I can’t stop loving, no matter how many times she sets fire to my house. So this could be a weenie “breakup” wherein I go back later with fresh hopes, or a weenie “taking a break” wherein I never do.

I’ve done CrossFit for three years. Four days a week, I lace up my Ivov-8’s, check the whiteboard, and get after whatever’s on tap for the day. I’m strong, fast, and agile — likely in the top fittest 10% of any random group of 38-year-old women as long as we keep the Eastern Europeans out of the mix. CrossFit has helped get me there, and it’s been exhilarating — the timer goes off and my heart starts to pound before I even move because the challenge is to be the fastest, strongest, and most agile version of myself for the next 8 or 12 or 20 minutes.

I love throwing heavy weights over my head; I love jumping 35 inches into the air. CF has given me physical confidence that transfers into other areas of my life — if I can do this, I can face down 140 teenagers every day at work; I can say no to toxic relationships; I can trust myself.

CrossFit has gotten more hands around more barbells than anything else in the history of weight training. It asks women to lift seriously; to sweat; to build muscular strength and power – and for this, in a sea of candy-colored 2- and 3-pound dumbbells and Tracy Anderson tone-up shysters, I am grateful. But. Here are my problems with CrossFit (hat tip to Beth French at Lift Big, Make It Beautiful):

  • The sexualization of women’s fitness. I’m sick of the “snatch” jokes; the Lulu booty shorts; and the Reebok sponsorship tie-in tagline: “Turning Sevens into Tens” (CF makes average-looking women into knockouts, as measured by the time-honored frat-boy rating system) No pressure on male athletes to be sexxxay AND badass; just the women. One popular CF T-shirt reads, “Cheat On Your Girlfriend, Not Your Workout.” Another reads, “Strong Is The New Skinny,” which translates to “CrossFit: Exchanging One Form Of Miserable Body Dysmorphia For Another.”
  • The injury trap. Do most CrossFit workouts the way they’re written, and you will get hurt. For example: Heavy high-rep snatches for time. The snatch is a highly technical Olympic  lift; a lift which, if you fuck it up, has the potential to rip your shoulders out of their sockets. The best way to fuck up an Oly lift is to do it lots and lots of times, with heavy weight, against a clock. This is a recipe for sloppiness.  Sloppiness means injury.  I was once laid up for three weeks after giving myself snatch-related whiplash (insert joke here).
  • The emphasis on making the numbers. Got an obsessive element to your personality, or a history of eating disorders? CF can act as gasoline on that fire. Never mind that whoever wrote the workout doesn’t know you, your body, or your fitness level — by God, the whiteboard says 30 clean-and-jerks for time; you’re gonna clean and jerk as fast as possible — even when your form degrades. That’s how I did something to my back three months ago that still hurts.
  • The disingenuous way some CF coaches/gyms tell you to “know your limits” while simultaneously pushing pushing pushing you past them. Then, when you get hurt? You’re the asshole who didn’t know your limits, so your injury is your fault. Have fun waiting two weeks to get in to see an orthopedist, and I hope you’ve set aside $500 for that MRI.
  • The false correlation between injury and being a badass. It’s part of CrossFit’s bravado  culture to insist that pain is mental; to get that last…rep…no…matter…what. Grinding pain in your knee/shoulder/elbow? Sharp agony in your lower back? Push past it! Too many people at my gym have suffered moderate-to-severe injuries — cervical disc damage; elbow fractures; torn ligaments. Can you imagine how painful and disabling those injuries are going to be in 10,15, 30 years? The point of exercise is to feel better, not worse — to age with strength, not worsen the inevitable aches and pains. I mean, we’re not at war here, OK? There’s, like, some nice Kombucha in the gym fridge just across from the racks. No reason to be a hero.
  • Inadequate training for CF coaches. Want to get certified? It’ll cost you about $1,000 for a two-day course and a 50-question multiple-choice test. Then you’re qualified to hold a stopwatch and scream, “GO GO GO, YOU GOT THIS!” Some coaches are excellent; some are clueless, and there’s no real quality control. The onus is on you to make sure your coach is skilled — difficult to discern if you’re not already an expert yourself.
  • The expense. CF’s $150/month price point tends to attract only upper-middle-class people. The CF Games are, fundamentally, a selection process to identify the world’s whitest person with the most disposable income.
  • The competitive trap. Ostensibly, you only compete with yourself, but it’s near-impossible not to look at the athlete next to you, powering through those high-rep snatches, and not try to surpass her/him. Unfortunately, the athlete next to you may be 60 pounds heavier and 8 inches taller; or 20 years younger; or independently wealthy with nothing else to do but CF and shop for cool Lululemon shit online.
  • The competitions themselves, and problematic emphasis on same. CF is not a sport, mkay? It’s a competitive activity, but it’s generalist, not a sport. Four frantic minutes of 65/100 pound thrusters and chest-to-bar-pullups? Not a sport, especially when you have athletes of wildly disparate size and weight competing against one another. But the energy funneled into competition makes some coaches neglect regular members — the ones scrimping and pinching $150 a month to belong to the gym.
  • The refusal to take aging into consideration. CrossFit considers athletes “masters” at the age of 45 or 40, depending. Ages 18 and 39? No difference. There’s nothing quite like being coached by a 22-year-old woman who yells, “Your mind will give out LONG before your body does!” I’m pushing 39, and it’s the reverse: My body turns in its notice WAY before my mind. For example, I’d LOVE to dance and drink and sex all night and still feel OK when it’s time to go to work at 7 a.m. — my mind is up for that! — but my body can no longer handle it. I won’t put my trust in a coach who’s never experienced that reality; who’s never felt her body refuse to do anything she told it to. She gets hurt? A little ice; good to go. I get hurt? I’m out of the gym for weeks.  Exercise is integral to my mental health, so I can’t afford weeks. My age is not some excuse I’m pulling out of my ass to avoid working hard.
  • Calling it “training” instead of “exercising” or “working out.” Training is something you do for a specific event or accomplishment – say, running a marathon or making the CrossFit Games. Very few people legitimately “train.” The rest of us just exercise.
  • The Paleo diet is mostly bullshit pseudoscience. Grains aren’t poison, humans can metabolize soy, and “the cavemen” lived to be 35 years old and were kind of dumb. Experts in evolutionary physiology work at universities, not your local CF box. I’m not eating goddamn bone marrow and organ meats for breakfast. Colon cancer is bad. One time I saw a guy sit on a plyo box and drink a pineapple juice/calf’s liver smoothie, and it grossed me out forever.

So, for now, I’ve dusted off my P90X DVD’s and the barbell in my garage. No yelling or clocks for awhile. I miss my CF friends already, but I’m going to enjoy working on my technique; improving my focus; and hitting the pause button once in a while. In sweatpants.