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The Book Burning/Banning People are Wrong: Let Me Tell You Why

    My literacy journey started with my school placing me in our country's first national ed reform failure, the Follow Through Program. It was designed before HeadStart and it targeted children from disadvantaged homes. You could certainly say that some things about my life qualified as disadvantaged since my father had bounced and left my mother with a mortgage and a small, struggling bar business. With my father out of the country and my mother in a fight for survival, it's easy to see how the school system could think something like this might be to my benefit. 

    Mom's incredible work ethic meant I spent most of my time at home alone in the dark behind the drapery and her odd furnishings. I spent many hours outside in the backyard, under the sun and the trees, sometimes playing with the neighbor kids under the street lamp. But I was basically alone with no one to question me about my school life. 

    The Follow Through Program strived to teach reading without phonics. We would literally be expected to remember a word by associating it with an object. Like the word "typewriter" would be placed in front of an actual machine. I couldn't read anything, and I'm not sure I could count to ten. I remember feeling proud that I could identify all of the colors but reading was not something I could do. Kindergarten wasn't offered at my school. It was something only the affluent kids did. At that time, there was no such thing as an early childhood program. Even if something like that existed, I wouldn't have been able to do it because of my family situation. 

    Follow Through didn't issue any grades or report cards. My mother, in all of her busyness, never noticed that the first round of report cards didn't happen. It wasn't until the semester ended that she happened to be at home because school let out early. It let out early enough for her to see other kids walking home with report cards in their hands. My mom figured that since I was such a stealthy and corrupt child that I had hidden my report card, or maybe I had thrown it away. I suffered a spanking and a truly miserable holiday break while I waited for school to resume. 

    Finally, I'm back at school sitting on the big braided rug with my classmates looking at the typewriter and all the colorful this and thats around the room, when suddenly I hear my mom yelling at the principal. I recognize the hurried click of her footsteps coming down the hallway, and I am embarrassed; I am wishing I would blend into the rug so that she can't find me. My mom pulls the classroom door open and the principal is all helpless and stricken looking like he'd been caught in a crime; he was holding his palm over his mouth. I wondered if she had slapped him.

"Oh my God! What the Hell is this"? I will never forget those words. Everyone is making a scramble for a corner of the room, except me. I'm frozen. "Wanda, get your coat. We are leaving." I still sat frozen to the rug. She reached down with her hand and pulled me up. "Come on. I am getting you out of here." At the time, I didn't understand. I liked sitting in the classroom playing with the nice teachers. I didn't know that I wasn't learning anything. I didn't know that I was being treated different for an economic and social reason. Had my mother not came to the school and given me a hand up, I might never have become the strong and resilient, educated person that I am today. I might never have learned to read had she not cared about me. 

    I will save you the story about the black eye, the little mechanical dog, and the rows and rows of metal bookshelves. I will tell you that my mom marched me into a public library and a real first-grade class on that very same day. I will tell you that she signed me up for the Book of the Month Club and Highlights Magazine. She took me into the Carnegie Library and she explained that I could learn about anything I wanted just by reading books. The effort to get caught up with my peers was painful and humiliating. I never became a math whiz, even though I learned to love and appreciate different kinds of math. But by fourth grade, I could read almost anything.

    My mother's panic became my panic. The school system betrayed us. They needed 13 students to receive federal funding for the program. I, according to the principal, became number 13 without anyone's knowledge or permission. This is how they felt about us. My brother was in Vietnam in a struggle for his life. My father was in a foreign country working. My sister was newly married and trying to live her own life. No one knew that I was sitting around playing on a rug, when I should have been sitting behind a desk learning some phonics. 

    By the time I became a fourth grader, some old family wounds had begun to heal, and I was happily hanging around with my precious grandmother every weekend. Her mind was active and alert. She read a lot of junk, but she also engaged with tons of solid, contemporary and classic texts. She talked to me about different religions, and she insisted that I open my heart and mind to all kinds of people. I don't remember how we started talking about the Holocaust. I just know that it was a conversation over her kitchen table. Me, a fourth grader, went to the Carnegie Library and checked out Mein Kampf. I guess these days some librarians might try to talk a child out of that. In the seventies you read what you wanted. I won't give Hitler any press here, but I will say that I found his writing style rather boring and his arguments extremely weak. I felt terrible about my German heritage. I couldn't believe that he orchestrated this terrible thing. I read more books. I looked at pictures. I cried a lot. My German people came to the USA long before Hitler's rise, but I still feel as if something about me is deficient and evil. I will never forgive anyone for genocide. I am completely opposed to fascism in all forms, alt-right, or whatever. 

    I went on and read books about all kinds of adult problems. I also indulged in fantasy stories, confessionals, romances, horror, philosophy, and I loved John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. I must have read Black Beauty one thousand times. I read everything I could find. When someone would die or get sick, I would write elaborate poems. By reading these ideas, by writing myself, I came up with a belief system that works for me. It is my own belief system, an educated and fair system. The fact that I could read whatever I wanted without interference meant that I could vicariously experience the tragic mistakes of life without committing too many of them myself. Had I not been able to read, I would probably not be alive. Reading saved my life. Had it been monitored by an adult, I know the outcome would have been negative because I was a difficult child. The joy would have been stripped from me. Reading was an important part of my freedom. Books helped me survive an extremely difficult early life.

    The books my teacher assigned to us helped me make friends and understand different levels of literacy. The books brought us together as young academics struggling to understand a complex and confusing world. We became empathetic with one another no matter our race or income. My class is still like that. We still care about each other. Had we been censored, we would have existed in a type of mental prison. This is what book bannings and burnings do to the young. You stifle their freedom. You limit their intelligence and creativity. You end empathy. I read books in order to understand and form opinions. We all deserve this kind of freedom, the freedom to research, explore, think, and ultimately write. 

    I am still ashamed of my German heritage. But I know how the German people came to that point. They were forced into a mental prison by a fascist movement. Let's not do that.

IMG_1209                                                                                                                            Credit to unknown meme artist 

Exam Prep and the Folly of Fascist Upstarts

My advanced placement students are working hard to prepare for their exam next week, and I am struggling with maintaining focus. I want them to know that if they wander into this thing underprepared, the experience will feel like a rockslide. This year we completed all progress checks in the order recommended, just like good soldiers. First this, and then that, all down the unit plan with our theme based repertoire of inspirational readings and writings. We started out with American Indian literature, even old speeches given by long-dead and bitterly disappointed chieftains, and we mingled that with contemporary artists like Joy Harjo, and Simon Ortiz, N. Scott Momaday and Sherman Alexie.

We moved on to African Americans and literatures around the Civil Right's struggle, even Malcolm X (whom I love with a passion), and our major figure, Martin Luther King. We looked at the dramatic tone shift in the Eula Biss essay, Time and Distance Overcome, and we paired that with an introduction on discourse modes. My students learned from a brief dive into the digital college library that lynching is indeed an area of academic study, and they learned that not everything is right in America--I am good with that. Our imperfections reside in an ugly heart, the heart that indulges in hate.

We dabbled around in the question of what it means to be a woman in today's world, and we ended our theme-based study with the environment. We looked at the many ways we could stop trashing our planet and how to stop hurting women and children. And now we are in the world of exam prep practice in the midst of a world of meaningful ideas. My students are leaving my class better-informed and more articulate than in the beginning. I am proud of that. I am happy that I could help them lift the veil and look at the reality of today. I am convinced they feel empowered. I want them to know that the written word, their own style and voice, really matter.

The fascist upstart would say that our students need to know a Christian God. Our students need to know America for only the good things, not the ugly reality. They insist that Us Teachers are grooming our students for Marxism and Socialism, and we are sexualizing them and making them hate America. We are making them gay or binary or whatever. Everything we say and do in the classroom must be monitored and reported. If we say the wrong thing about America, we must be silenced and removed from our classrooms. Thanksgiving, the original one, happened as a collaboration, not something "Indians" did to save ignorant settlers from starving and freezing. But what if out of their decency and humanity, these so-called "ignorant savages" facilitated their own demise by trusting the greedy white man?  These kinds of knowledge, the stories that ring the bell of truth, must be erased and ignored, especially if they make people think or question. We must stick to old labels about the dead. We must not glorify true bravery, true humanity, or true generosity and love.

Most of all, I want them to know what it is like to enjoy writing. I want them to feel a good pen between their fingers, the way it scratches against the paper, the sound like a whisper to a loved one. The exam prompts, safely tucked away in a digital vault, still offer a compelling opportunity for planning. Most good writing takes place in the brain, so I ask students to start formulating bits of prose, key words, and commit these ideas to memory, so that under stress, during the exam, the words arise from the mist and fly off the fingertips, and the magic happens, the unicorn appears on the page and a sophistication point is earned.

I love my students, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude. They teach me something new every day, so I want them to recognize the oppressor.


Cancel Russia and its Petulant, Whining Leader: Reject Fascism 🌻 #StandWithUkraine

Russia, a petulant, whining child, complains about the consequences of something that is entirely its own fault, the bloody invasion of Ukraine, an invasion based on obvious lies and foolishness. The rest of the world, according to the Kremlin, must capitulate and give them Ukraine. Why? Well, because it once belonged to them, back in the good old days of Soviet oppression. Don't forget, if you are leaning towards fascism, or if you are someone thinking that kowtowing to the Kremlin will protect you from harm, that Soviet citizens couldn't make choices or engage with the outside world. They lived by a rigid standard of rules that were designed to trap people into a life of subjugation and slavery. Even now the Russian government stealthily enslaves people that it considers unworthy of partaking in the common "civil" society, so what you are worth?

How would you stack up on Putin's rubric?

Frankly I'm sick of their tired and meaningless diatribes, especially that rat Minister of Foreign Affairs, their murderous and ugly intentions, and their selfish imposition on the world order. Just like any other adolescent cry baby, this regime will never be satisfied until they completely dominate the entire free world power structure. Every day they threaten a new border, a new ethnic group, or offer to pony up a nuke or chemical weapon. The world does not have to sit around and look at this.

We can take action too.

As if Putin and his cabal of greedy, rich and ugly, disgusting followers and oligarch zombies didn't already have enough wealth and land, exclusive power over vast populations, and at least prior to this cruel and murderous invasion, substantial prestige and unlimited luxury. How much do they need? Why couldn't they turn their ugly impulses into something beautiful and become kind neighbors to the countries around them? Think of how duplicitous and influential a different kind of Putin could have been. Even if he is just a hardcore Soviet, imperialistic nut-show, he could have seemed so different and thus benefit exponentially for his country, his cabal, and his personal greed. 

Putin and his oligarchs blindly threw away the greatest opportunity in the history of humanity. They took an opportunity of positivity and turned it into the ugliest mess since WW II. No doubt the hand he played in Syria defined him and allowed for future atrocity, but still a shroud of decency, even farfetched, might have been cast over his crimes considering the massive disinformation campaign that precludes such barbarism. His holding of a lighted candle during an Orthodox Easter service seems to parallel with Trump holding a Bible while protesters are gassed and beaten because in every move that Putin makes, rather it be abstract or concrete, a threatening message is sent. Every move Trump makes, even though they are completely amateur in comparison, share the same hateful and indulgent set of goals. Putin is telling us that he will use gas on Ukraine.

The fascists are here even if they are unable to define themselves due to cowardice or a lack of education. They are here and we must acknowledge their presence, just as if they too are whining petulant children. In our country, people are free to think as a fascist, but they are not free to act as a fascist. But I want to make it clear to the people that bother to read my thoughts, the toxic pond we wade in is deep because of Putin and his outdated Soviet philosophy--the modern fascist world will make the old fascist world look like a peaceful playground full of happy children. We must rise up and defend freedom or the suffering and horror will never end. Fascism, in alignment with Putin's world view, will be nothing but atrocity after atrocity. 

Ask a Ukrainian if you don't believe me.



Putin: Words Are Insufficient to Describe this Horror

All of these years we have sat around as a country and let Putin unleash genocide and terror on humanity with no consequences to him or his oligarchs. We enabled him to rise to this level where he can get away with threatening us with nuclear weapons and we sit on our hands and do nothing to him in return. People will cry, "Sanctions, we have done sanctions." And I will remind those nice, well-informed, people that while we rely on nonviolent sanctions and while we ship some arms to his victims, we are doing something that does not stop the genocide or Kremlin fury. Genocide perpetuates itself as soldiers and "yes men" get in line for dictator favors. They represent the lowest of humanity, men and women that will literally extinguish life for material gain or their own personal safety.

Sadly, and I am ashamed of this, our President speaks when he should shut up, and he fails to act with force and fury when appropriate. As the clock ticks, more people, including little children, endure horrific violence, suffering and death, but Biden is resolute in his crap decisions. 

Some of you may whimper, "But nukes." Well, go ahead and live on your fears because these fears determine the future for millions of people around the world barely surviving the oppression of a nearby dictator. We fail to recognize the threat that exists for all of humanity when we allow a bloodthirsty tyrant to terrorize one ethnic/cultural group after another: Syria, Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, and so forth. We allowed these things to take place, these genocides. 

I noticed in the Russian news that the fascists point to our invasion of Iraq, and from me they will get no argument. I completely agree that invading Iraq ranked pretty high on the stupidity chart. But this time it is different. This time the option for survivors is not so-called Western style freedom, but the option is tyranny and subjugation, a stunning loss of freedom and an incomprehensible future. 

These other genocides, the ones that passed from our view, the oft-forgotten, indulgent and hedonistic violence that wiped out entire tribes and communities hid behind other news and dumb, superficial media stories. This genocide, thanks to the digital world, is lavishly recorded for all of us to watch. Even so, some news organizations try to look the other way in some shameful manner of mismanaged priorities; mingling corny jokes, laughter, and silly community stories, while barely glossing over the terrible predicament that our inaction has brought to us. 

This is not the first time I have felt terrible shame and feelings of disappointment and outright embarrassment concerning my country and the president I voted for; now I am not alone; the crowd of disgusted Americans continues to branch out like an angry web. When the details of this inaction comes to full light, no one will vote for Biden. He allows the extermination to go on.



Thoughts on the Book Burning Crazies: Censorship in American Life 📚

A friend of mine recently theorized on the weird book burnings and bannings that are happening around the country, and all I want to say on the subject is that it is only a form of intimidation meant to conjure up images of Nazi boot lickers, and such, so that us open-minded sorts will become fearful. I would like to remind the white nationalist crowd that we live in the modern era where nothing can be erased. Even that embarrassing tweet or fakebook post that you authored several years ago is still out there in the great expansive internet lurking around, waiting to creep up on your dating profile or something. Think about Janurary all of those nifty social media posts made it possible for some of you to do serious jail time. Deleting that from your profile didn't work all that well, did it?

Burning a book or banning it someplace is a tremendous waste of your time and energy. Something so stupid and pointless hurts your image and makes you look like a fool. It really is a sidecar issue because as soon as you make a book a point of controversy, people trample each other to go buy a copy. But out of respect for my friend, I will post her thoughts on the subject. I would like to add that getting any of these fanatics to do any actual work, like writing a book report or something, is not going to happen. If they had literacy skills, they wouldn’t feel any desire to suppress any books:

So, I'm wondering, if it would be helpful to require a book report be submitted along with the complaint on a said book before its being pulled from a library shelf or educational curriculum. Maybe requiring an item be read before being cancelled would cut down on the growing epidemic of book burning that is sparking across this country. At worst, the book burning devotee might actually learn something if required to read the very novel they are striving to stifle.

Just saying that I'm becoming more and more suspicious that some of the authors of these book banning lists can neither read nor write but can only cut and paste.

On the positive side, Gandhi tells us that you cannot destroy an idea. 

What this country needs is another Kirk Douglas, Dalton Trumbo, and a return of the rule of law to come in and save us from the jackbooted crazies.

My dog barks a whole lot, and it is a kind of game for him. I think the same thing is happening with a bunch of these school boards and such, everyone is after power and wants to tell the teacher what to do. They are much like the dog though, just barking and accomplishing absolutely nothing beyond looking foolish. Our children experience things two ways: vicariously and in real-life. Which do you prefer? One way or another, they are going to indulge in these happenings. I prefer to see my students experience the negatives in life vicariously, and that is why we read certain texts. Watching someone make bad decisions in a great book is much better than going out blindly and doing it yourself. Think about it.



Explaining Myself: Why I Want to Become an Anti-Racist Teacher

First of all I would like to remind my readers that in spite of a stereotypical African American first name, I am a white person of western European descent with only a smattering of Native American thrown in. I know this for a fact because I took the 23&Me DNA test, and it turns out I'm nearly as white as a person can get. I do have skin that darkens up nicely in the sun, dark green eyes (cousin to brown on the DNA strand), and an overall 'Indian' look, but only one of my ancestors can be verified as native.

Discrimination and prejudice certainly impacted my life in an ongoing and rather problematic way because my family members stepped out in nontraditional roles and some of them worked in what could be considered as odd career choices, including myself. I'm not a stranger to white elitism and snobbery. But my challenges stack up nicely in the columns of inconvenience or mild heartbreak, even though I now realize that some of my old associates either hid their distorted and ignorant opinions from me, or have, over the decades, became disgustingly narrow minded and ridiculous, even ungrateful.

In recent years, some of my African American friends and coworkers quietly and patiently pointed out some of my own dumb blind spots and unearned privileges. Even if I earned the right to some of my privileges through hard work or suffering, I still enjoy a ton of White-Bread-American advantages that people of color righteously feel angry about. The best place to view this list of unearned advantages built into the racist American system are listed in Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, lists 50 ways that white people experience privilege over people of color. All 50 of them are relevant and important, eye-opening and true, but for now I want to talk about number 39: I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. 

The best school leader I have ever known was a younger and wiser African American woman. She is honestly gifted, an amazing writer and communicator, a wonderful teacher and friend to every person that knows her. She goes out of her way to think open-mindedly about people that I typically write off as plain stupid and fake (this is hyperbole because I seldom write anyone off). Obviously, her heart is ten times bigger than mine because she strives to see the good in everyone, no matter their background or identity, while I'm a skeptic when it comes to adults. But she sometimes, like a million other qualified and gifted people, would be late to a faculty meeting or other function. On one notable time, she was stuck in a meeting with a parent, and I watched and listened as she entered the room; I witnessed the negative body language and eye-rolling, and I heard the comments that were made:

"There she is, late as usual. I wonder if she knew we had a meeting. She's late all the time." 

It's true that occasional lateness happened, but if the occasional lateness happened to me, or some other white person, nobody ever cares or makes any audible comments. When it's a white person, people tend to mind their own business when it comes to lateness. When it's a person of color, it's because the person is not organized, or they are lazy. This is just plain wrong.

Number 13 has to do with money: Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. Let us be honest white people--most of us don't deserve the bank credit that we get. Some of us start businesses and fail to properly pay or compensate our employees. Some of us are not worth the paper we are printed on, and that includes me. I am just not worth much, and I may never be worth much. But I have something that most people of color don't; I have some generational wealth. It's not much, but it's still amazing. It's better than nothing. When I walk into a bank, I get a ton of respect, respect I definitely do not deserve. If my qualified and gifted person of color walks into a bank, she receives less attention and gratuity, even though she is trying much harder than I am to establish herself as a reliable and current bank customer. 

We all know these stereotypes and racist beliefs are built into everything American. The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, wants to make it illegal for teachers to point these facts out to students. He wants to forbid teachers to speak freely about critical race theory; but I'm positive that Abbott doesn't know what CRT is, or he would want to have it taught in our schools, because, after all, isn't Greg Abbott an open-minded and well-educated man? Critical race theory basically teaches us to notice the built in racist structures that exist, and then it teaches us how to reject and resist these ignorant ideas personally. For example, CRT points out that many deed restrictions disqualify residents based on their race. This is a fact of life, not a fairy tale or fake news. If it is our goal as a society to make opportunities and the American dream available to everyone, then how do these deed restrictions concerning race further equity? And, of course, this example of deed restrictions is just a tiny, petty example. If you really want to examine CRT, then look at incarceration rates, the war on drugs, immigration, and healthcare disparities, to name just a few glaring, national problems.

The real threat to American life is right wing extremism--neoliberalism. Donald Trump, Greg Abbot, and a slew of other ignorant politicians and demagogues clearly aim to normalize white supremacy, and they personally enjoy indulging in hateful and divisive acts and speech. They want wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else. Wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else is the political and economic theory known as neoliberalism. If you are following this ideology, if you are falling for this scam, then you are part of the problem. You are voting against yourself. If you are indulging in hateful thoughts and ideas, then you are doing something that is causing you to feel a temporary relief from what is buried under your psyche: the knowledge that you are wrong. You are actually causing Americans, including yourself, to lose freedoms. Neoliberalism and white supremacy are dangerous ideologies, but Critical Race Theory is an idea that will help you understand our national history; CRT will help you know yourself better, especially if you are white.


When White Privilege Meets the Dog Walk: Can the Neighborhood Karen be Dangerous?

The old saying that you can “lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” stands true in my life. From students to relatives, to coworkers and friends, chronically dealing with people that prefer to overlook the obvious can be an exhausting and fruitless task, one I don’t enjoy. It seems like I’m constantly having to explain myself or point things out. Misapplied preconceptions attached to outlandish gossip and silly conniving produces a ton of inconveniences and little messes that I’m always running around trying to fix.

For instance, last night I was out walking the dogs in my community when someone stepped outside of their house to confront me. My earbuds blasted Pantera, and I didn’t feel like talking; therefore, I ignored the screaming, flagellating woman on her door stoop. She kept waving her hands at me, like she wanted me to come over to her—“Come here! I want to ask you something! I need to talk to you!” Believe me, that’s not something I’m stupid enough to do. The fact that this craziness was audible over my music made it weird in the extreme. Why, you might ask, wouldn’t I go over and try to find out what provoked this bedraggled looking woman into such a tizzy. 

Well, I already know the deal with my neighbor. She suffers from “I’m-a-mediocre-over-privileged-white-woman-suffering-from-pettiness-syndrome.” I’m white too, and I’m still trying to understand this illness. But from what I understand, pettiness syndrome is a form of nit-picking that infects the Karen-type woman (or man) who typically never experiences any substantial material hardship (unless it's self inflicted). In over-privileged white men the syndrome usually exhibits itself as straight up hypocrisy and narrow mindedness, combined with hate and an unwillingness to ever forgive anyone. You see, I live in a tiny gated neighborhood, and in order to get enough steps in to make our exercise worth it, we have to walk around again and again and again. We literally walk around in circles in order to get our exercise and stay inside the gate. The only other option on a hot summer night is to go out into the hike and bike trail, and, ironically, for safety reasons, it is closed after dark. 

The woman in question has a Ring camera installed and when me and the dogs make our circle, we activate her camera. She complains. She hates seeing me on her camera almost as much as she hates seeing me at the HOA board meetings. She, in all her modes of social and physical fatigue, can’t figure out why I’m walking around and around, nearly every night, in my own neighborhood. All that petty hand-wringing and complaining actually enhances my workout and causes me to enjoy the ritual even more. I think it’s fun. But even though it’s fun, my Karen neighbors are not without threat, nor are they harmless. One of them actually walked out nattering at me, and when I continued to walk away after telling her to leave us alone, she called the police and tried to make a false report. This woman sports a huge Trump 2020 flag in her garage, telling me everything I need to know about her level of intelligence and willingness to indulge in immorality and disregard obvious facts.

My dogs, like almost any other dog in the universe, can sense when the energy is off. This imbalance, this negativity so near to their own home, heightens their awareness and feelings of paranoia. No more than twenty pounds each, they still pack a ferocious bark when approached, especially if they think a threat towards me is in the making. Lunging on the leash and growling, snarling and acting silly, the whole display is comical in its absurdity. But even their ridiculous behavior is no match for the community Karens in the coveted arenas of comedy and absurdity. 

In the end, never give up on your relatives or friends, neighbors or coworkers, that are suffering from pettiness syndrome due to privilege or hateful politics. They may cut you off and act like they hate you for some silly thing that you could easily fix one day, and they may do awful things to you that make you want to cry and lash out, but just practice patience and tolerance. One of these days, after he or she has had sufficient time to reflect, your own Karen will have an eye opening epiphany. Until then, keep walking.


On this Last Day of Love Month, A Cat Story

I can't do my own writing anymore, especially after the angst and misery of Valentine's Day, and the month of love: the month of crazy, wild weather; the month of a near total Texas electricity blackout; the month of a broken service pipe; the month of extreme Covid swings; and another month of grief over the death of not one, but two, little, precious pets. 

On this weird night, on the eve of Women's History Month, I am thinking about writing an article that features an important female in the world of rhetoric, like Ida B. Wells, an African American writer, or maybe Christine de Pisan from the Medieval era. Women in the rhetorical tradition typically receive some pretty outdated criticisms, so I'd like to offset that with some strong opinions of my own.

How do women balance all of these silly expectations about communication? What's wrong with writing aggressively? Should I write like a girl so that men won't be offended? Should I defer to the male voice? Is civil discourse really that important, or is that just another term for oversensitivity? I was told recently that I talked too loud, but my response was that I thought I couldn't be heard. 

Is that what men think we are doing when we write an aggressive text? Do they think we are trying to yell? Is that what the good conservative woman thinks? 

Anyway, the cat story submitted by my writer friend contains a message about gratitude. I am grateful that my voice continues to matter to my readers and friends, even though I am an outdoor cat. I am grateful for all of you. I'm thankful that you don't find me too loud for trying to get your attention. I am hoping you will continue to support me through these weird times. 🌹


To train the cat or be trained by the cat that is the question.... Whether it is better to take a shoe to the Siamese or squirt him with the water bottle, after his sixth attempt to get one up at 5:00 in the morning, when he has been howling at one's bedside since three, or just to give up and open a can of cat food and stagger off and wait for the alarm to go off in just a few minutes, or throw his hairy little bohuncas into the garage, where it is freezing cold but there are mice....? These run on sentences frame the eternal questions of cat owners, who've been struggling with their cat masters, since the Egyptians made the mistake of first letting the cat gods into their hearts and granaries, in order to kill the rodents eating the grain.....

If I am sleep deprived, do I not get cranky? If I am tortured, do I not break? Even now, that Siamese is stalking me, complaining that the canned cat food doesn't meet up with his expectations for good service.... If I am harassed, will I not fight back; or will I just give up, give in, and buy the cat some tastier brand.....?

The outside cat thinks the canned cat food is damned tasty! He just ate it up in one gulp.

I give up.....

Just who is running this household?

Jennie (the Crazy Cat Lady)

Teacher and Student Burnout: The Battle is Real

I sit here helplessly in my little living room /slash/ office area of my tiny little apartment in this huge metropolis and I listen to people that have never worked in a public school, in any capacity, talk about how safe it is to go back to the classroom. I sit here and I listen to them compare me to the grocery store clerk, or the trash collection service. I hear them making a moral judgement about my courage and fearlessness in the midst of this crisis, as compared to my counterparts in other public service arenas. Well, I just want everyone to know that I'm not a coward, and I am tired of my opinion being overshadowed by people that have no experience in the classroom. At the same time, I'm not stupid either. I know for a fact that schools are disease factories; I know that schools can never be clean enough to "stop the spread"; I know how many colds, coronaviruses, streps, stomach illnesses, and other infections I have caught and/or transmitted over the past ten years of my career in public school, so how can this disease be any different? Uninformed people think if you throw some hand sanitizer, a mask or two, and some big cash at the problem, along with some attempted social distancing, that all of the kids can just march right back into the school. The reason that schools are not significantly contributing to community spread is because they are currently rather underpopulated, so how can anyone sit there and confidently pressure teachers and support staff to just go and willingly sacrifice their own health, or their family's health, for a job that they are not even adequately paid to do?

Kids and teachers are definitely unhappy right now. One thing that is getting my goat is this business about my online class. We are to slavishly follow the five-part lesson plan as it is laid out by Doug Lemov in his book, Teach Like a Champion. I have no problem with Lemov, and I like some of his ideas, but making a student do 7 Do Nows a day, along with 7 Exit tickets a day, all online, is just the dumbest thing ever. My kids are complaining voraciously about spending 7 hours a day doing a repetitious five-part lesson for each online class. That is 7 Zoom meetings a day. Making the teacher create 5 separate folders for each day and script out each step of the class, and then make that same teacher slavishly follow this five-part, five folder, five day a week, boring repetition is a burn out machine major-deluxe. I have heard in songs and stuff that it is better to burn out than fade away, but now I'm beginning to wonder. Maybe fading away is not a bad idea, a sentiment now shared by many educators.

This week I had the unique experience of getting an administrator in my online class asking questions. All of my kids can follow my class, open my materials, and work with my digital content. I am running 4 digital platforms: Schoology, the community college I work for, Skyward, and the College Board. All of these have some different requirements and portals to put grades in and different things for students to do. I am trying my hardest to keep it simple for my students by engaging them in creative and colorful discussion boards and assignments. My attendance is amazing, and the vast majority of my students are growing as writers, thinkers, and readers. Even though we are separated by distance and this disease, we enjoy our classes. In spite of everything, I have been able to build some robust relationships with my kids, so their suffering is my suffering. But I got a weird dressing down of sorts from my administrator because I don't have little folders for each day, with little lesson plans in each day, with my content spread out into these separate days. It's the craziest, most clerical intensive, mindless, and uncreative mandate that I have ever been asked to engage in. My students go back and revisit materials constantly, so I don't see how making them hunt and peck in daily folders is of any use to them; nor is this hunting and pecking of any use to me, as it completely stifles my ability to create a meaningful lesson plan or unit designed on the unique and specific needs of this crucial moment. My lesson plans, when I do them the way they are mandated, are fragmented and not unified. When I do them the way I have been taught in college, then my students are happier. I create a new folder every week, but these lesson plans and folders as mandated are harming my students' classroom experience.

I want to know when it started becoming important for me to write lesson plans that prioritize my administration over my students so that I can be judged, not for my teaching, but for my ability to make little daily folders, and all of this during a world health crisis.

This kind of negativity, looking for fault and calling teachers cowards, should be forbidden during this crisis. It is an all-hands-on-deck kind of a mess. Administrators and the public should be looking at ways to get teachers and kids safely back into the classroom where we do our best. If that means moving teachers up the line to get a shot, then why not? When you ask a politician or some high-level administrator this question about the vaccine, you get a bunch of weird lip service, but no answers. We are talking about the safety of our kids and the people in the schools that are charged with spending long hours everyday with them in close proximity. Only a fool or a charlatan would go around making the claim that schools are safe. Clearly, they are not, and they won't ever be if people in power can't focus on what is important, rather than what is petty. 


Pandemic Diversions: The Crazy Cat Lady Wins Again

Dear Readers, 

In this installment of my favorite cat lady tails, night animals collaborate to keep a human awake in the deep of the night. Something similar to the following story happened to me the night before last when I mistakenly left the doggie door open all night, and Bill ventured out and was unable to hoist his fat self back into the house. I stumbled out of bed and down the stairs to open the door for him because he was barking his head off, and then I tossed in bed all night thinking about my various lives: the struggling new personal life that means more to me than anything; the struggling work life that is causing me to experience different layers of burnout; the struggling financial life that whirls around the credit universe in a long series of minus signs; and, of course, the never-ending parental worries about my struggling musical artist that lives in a sort of artist camp with a bunch of other artist types. 

And of course, all of us are worried about Covid disease; I know we need to divert from this horror and weirdness as much as possible. The stories that independent writers produce are valuable in this regard because they provide moments of peace by temporarily moving us into a different realm free of disease and chaos while we safely wait out a viable solution for our return to normal life. Anyone currently suffering from Covid disease has our sympathy. I would like to introduce another such story from my favorite indie writer.

This story won a flash fiction prize, and, no, it is not mine.

Stranger in the Night

Leaving my parliament of night owls on their own recognizance—for some reason, a group of owls is not called a “congress”, but that is another story-- I hit the bed early, hoping to catch up on some much-needed rest. I toss. I turn. All goes blank. I must have fallen asleep because out of the blissful quiet, in the middle of the peaceful night, a teeny-tiny voice at the foot of my bed politely asks:


“Go away,” I command. Refusing to obey the Siamese Tom, who clearly has a job for me to do, I settle back down to more peaceful slumbering. All is silent--even my inner monologue has fallen still, until:


“Go away. I am asleep!” I say, raising the amplitude of my voice to equal the insistence of his cattery demands.

This cat must be the reincarnation of the hideous, Dr. Mengele, who is obviously alive and well and conducting sleep deprivation experiments on me. I muse before I lapse into waiting for Cat- Mengele to rouse me again. His extreme patience pays off. Just after my breathing becomes regular and deep and I am nodding off, I hear:


This time the caterwauling falls right into my ear. Are those notes” D” followed by “F” in the key of C? Even if it is the middle of the night, I would know if I had perfect pitch! I may be a music lover but I have had enough.

“Get! Get! Get the hell out of here!” I roar, jumping out of the bed and chasing Siamese-Mengele out the bedroom door. Bam, the door slams. No need to fear waking the hoot owls, they never ever sleep.

I return to my bed and sweet repose until a laughing child’s voice inquires, “Are you okay?” “He was yodeling in my ear.”
“Dad says you were impressive!”
“You mean you could hear me?”

“We all heard you.”

Suddenly, I realize that my throat hurts. I yelled at the cat one full octave below my normal speaking voice. Damned cat! Now, I have throat nodules! My conscious collapses into a tiny purple painful asterick in the center of my skull, where it pounds relentlessly until I can no

longer lie still.

I glance at the alarm clock. The time is 2:30 A.M. I rise to find the hoot owls congregating over a bowl of salty snacks, dried mangoes, and assorted nuts. I guess, the cat was howling mad because he didn’t get his share!

“Where is Siamese-Mengele?” I inquire of the youngest owl. “Hiding under the table with PTSD,” the eldest owl growls.

I join the snacking parliament then return to bed. Suddenly, from next door comes the anguished howls of the abandoned Pit Bull, Ruger, who must have starred in Norman’s production of “Hounds of The Baskervilles”. Oh God, I whine. It has started again!


Musings from the Crazy Cat Lady on Election Eve: The Resistance and J.K. Rowling

My Favorite Author

I am an old-crazy-cat-lady that writes. I have ascended to this august status from the state of just plain crazy cat-lady that reads prolifically! You might wonder, but probably wouldn’t ever, now, which author does a b@+$h!t  writer with a runaway imagination like best? The answer is J.K. Rowling—definitely J.K. Rowling. The reason is as follows: tomorrow is election day and young people, who cut their teeth on Rowling’s moral compass, are turning out to vote in droves to drive a certain unnamed Wizard out of the White House. Rowling’s avid readers, Generations M and Z, know a Lord Moldy-wort when they see one. I am confident they will do whatever it takes to defeat both the princess of darkness and his soul-eating cabal. Voting to oust HE, whose name should never be mentioned, is only the younger generations first step to magically creating the world of compassion and fairness that live in the Harry Potter series. So, thank you, J.K. Rowling for your contribution to literature and your call for all good young witches to fight for the side of common decency. The young ones, having lived through a devastating wizards’ war, know that anything of value comes only at a great cost. Therefore, if we should lose this battle, our young agents of change will come back to this ongoing war on darkness fiercer and more resolute in their determination to defeat self-serving and aggrandizing evil-- once and for all and in the next election. Thank you, now, I am off to buy a new broom. I will need it to go vote and sweep out the White House.