Tag Archives: high school

Jul
20
2012
Destroy My Sweater

I once believed I’d look smaller if I wore clothes that were too big. In high school, the Gap sold a cardigan sweater that ran ridiculously large. Boom! I could have the satisfaction of buying a medium and still have it be two sizes too big. I got the foamy green color and my friend Sarah got the dusty rose, or maybe it was coral. Why does it irritate me that I can’t remember the color of Sarah’s sweater? All I know is the sweater looked cute on her. On me…not so much.

I got rid of it, right?

No. Being the pack rat I am, I still had the foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater five years later when I started my job. I soon learned I needed to leave a sweater at work permanently to protect me from the arctic air conditioning in the summer. The hoarder in me was thrilled to finally have a use for the otherwise unworn foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater. See, it is good to hang onto things (let’s reinforce my hoarding!). Over the years the foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater slowly started to disintegrate, starting at the cuffs.

I threw it out, right?

No. I rolled up the sleeves to hide the fraying edges and the growing holes. The sweater was too big, remember? I could roll the cuffs a few times and still get full arm coverage.

I have next to no fashion sense. But even I couldn’t keep wearing that sweater. My colleagues were going to think I was homeless.

I threw it out, right?

No. Even though I wouldn’t wear it, it could still come in handy. Like that time last winter when a cold rain pummeled me sideways in the wind tunnel that is the walk from the subway to my office. After removing my soaked wool pants, I sat on my chair with the foamy green (mercifully) over-sized Gap cardigan sweater draped over my lap until my pants dried. And I believe I updated my Facebook status to say I wasn’t wearing pants. Praise all that is holy my office has a door.

During my office cleaning in May, I faced a critical decision.

Maybe it looks better on…like, on fire.

I decided it was time for the foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater to go. But not before documenting it’s foamy green over-sizedness. You can see why I had to keep this sweater for 21 years, no? The fabric to cost ratio alone made it worthwhile. I love how it hangs all heavy and ill-fitting. The extra fabric bunching under my elbow is particularly fetching.

Thank God no one came into the bathroom during this photo shoot.

Dave likes this close up shot of the holes.

It might be time to admit I have a problem.

I threw it out, right?

R.I.P. foamy green over-sized Gap cardigan sweater

I couldn’t get this song out of my head while writing this post, so here you go.

Jun
7
2012
If I Wanted to Read, I’d Go to School

Yesterday, I was the featured writer on the Studio30 Plus community blog. It’s a great community of writers that used to be for people 30 and older, but now is open to anyone who wants to connect with other writers. As promised, here is my featured post.

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Writing advice often includes a recommendation to read more. But these days…

It wasn’t always this way. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. In kindergarten my classmates and I sat in a circle on the floor. We took turns reading aloud from a Dick and Jane book.  When some students struggled to sound out the words, I blinked in confusion. The words somehow made sense to me already.

I read so quickly I had to rifle through my Mom’s bookshelves for reading material. As an innocent 12-year old attending Catholic school, reading The Thorn Birds was an ironic way to learn about sex.

So what happened to my love of reading? I’d like to take a moment to thank my high school. They took my youthful love of reading and stomped it into the ground, set it on fire, pissed on it, then buried it while it still had a slight pulse so it could suffocate and die a more painful death.

Here’s a helpful hint for any educators out there: there is such a thing as too much required reading. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the volume of reading I had to do in high school. It exposed me to so many classic books I probably would not have chosen to read on my own.

But my teachers were more interested in trying to verify we’d read every word in the books than whether we understood them. That is the only way I can explain the bizarre questions on our tests.

Take this question about The Red Badge of Courage, for example: “How many pairs of socks did Henry have in his bag?”

Dude, seriously? Presumably the teacher asked us this question because we couldn’t answer it having read only the Cliffs Notes. But no one needs to know this detail. I resent the space the answer (eight) takes up in my brain.

In addition to random details, they also liked asking us to reproduce entire quotes. One teacher tested us on the number of lines we could remember from The Merchant of Venice. I still laugh over trying to get her to count “My daughter!” “O my ducats!” as two quotes.

This type of testing required committing as much of the text to memory as possible. In response, I forced my eyes to stop racing ahead, sometimes using a sheet of paper to isolate the lines as I read. If I thought I hadn’t really absorbed something, I’d go back and read it out loud. My speed plummeted, but I aced the tests.

Soon I could read no other way. Whether I read Moby-Dick or an article in Cosmo, I read it laboriously.

If high school killed my love of reading, my job hammers nails into its coffin. I get paid to read and edit a lot of stiff research writing, which doesn’t motivate me to look at more words in my free time. Other people seek me out to read yet still more technical writing because of my attention to detail…ironically, the same attention to detail that made reading so maddening for me in high school.

I’ve tried several things to reignite my love of reading. Years ago, I joined several book clubs. Now I have one rule about book clubs:  I don’t like book clubs. Reading books that other people select (does any book club use a democratic process?) is too much like school, thank you very much.

I’ve tried carrying books with me everywhere I go, including taking seven to the beach last year. During my week-long vacation, I read about seven percent of them. I had trouble absorbing the words. Watching the waves crash onto the shore was much more soothing.

Starting my blog has helped me more than anything else I’ve tried. Through writing, I’ve pinpointed what I’m most interested in reading. I’m giving myself permission to read what I want.

There’s nothing wrong with my preference for non-fiction (take that high school and ex-book clubs!). Not everything I read has to be “literary,” or even a book. I love reading blogs. I’ve found exquisite examples of memoir, poetry, and fiction, as well as writing that makes me laugh out loud. Blogs are worth reading.

So much of what I’ve read during my life has been chosen for me. Now it’s my turn.

By the way, I do still occasionally finish a book. Sometimes I even read fiction…taking it back full circle to my childhood days…

Yes, I read this. Shockingly, it wasn't very good.

How have your reading habits changed throughout your life?

Mar
6
2012
Ignorance and Malt Liquor

They say laughter is the best medicine. So when I laugh at people, I’m just looking out for my health.

One of many reasons I’ll be in hell if it exists is laughing at an impassioned speaker during high school who said, “we will no longer take your condensation!” Expressing frustration with condescension but messing up the word…now that’s ironic, Alanis. To this day, when I want to feign indignation, I say:  “I will take your sublimation, I will suffer through your precipitation, but by God, I will no longer stand for your condensation.”

So I’m a pain in the ass. But lest ye think I have no embarrassing moments of stupidity, I’m here to invite you to laugh at me.

Most of my highlights are the result of being naive. I have lived a pretty sheltered life. Although I’ve always had a mouth like a sewer, that came from growing up around my older brother and his friends, not the result of experience. I was, and sometimes still am, an innocent Catholic school girl at heart.

Sophomore year of high school, I was startled at the change in appearance of one of our classmates. I turned to my friend and whispered, “Wow, she really got fat!” And my friend looked at me incredulously and said, “She’s pregnant!” I can’t remember if she added, “you moron,” but if not, I deserved it. I was still a little confused even after the explanation (uh, isn’t sex required to get pregnant?!?), but managed to hold it in.

My specialty is misinterpreting song lyrics.

Sometimes I take things too literally. I’m embarrassed to report it was only a few years ago I finally realized “Santa Claus” was actually Daddy dressed up as Santa Claus in the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Before that, I had always just thought Mommy was a slut.

One of my favorite songs ever is “Mama Said Knock You Out,” by L.L. Cool J. It came out during my senior year of high school, when I was immersed in English literature (immersed as in having to memorize some of the prologue of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English). So when L.L. said, “Old English filled my mind, and I came up with a funky rhyme,” I was terribly impressed at such an allusion in a rap song.

Because clearly L.L. Cool J meant this Old English:

Of course, I learned later about an alternative “Olde English.” Perhaps this is the origin of the funky rhyme?

I still prefer to believe it’s a double entendre.

For all I know, the line might have been a triple entendre…

I could have swiped stock photos, but I am committed to my craft. Beowulf came from the library (buy it? bitch, please!), furniture polish from the grocery store, and the malt liquor…let’s say finding Olde English 800 in my neck of the woods was not as easy. We’d pretty much given up when we happened upon a little corner store with “wine and beer” in the title. On the way in, I had a premonition that our purchase of Olde English 800 would not go without comment. The guy behind us didn’t disappoint: “OE 800?!?! Kickin’ it old school like Dr. Dre!”

Nope, taking a picture of it for my blog. Dave’s excited to take it to his next band practice. He insisted I put it back in the fridge as soon I was finished taking photos so it wouldn’t be exposed to light. Something about degrading the quality…ahem. “Sweetie, I put the 40 of OE 800 next to your imported Belgian Trappist Ale.”

What’s your best moment of ignorance?

Nov
10
2011
M.Y.O.B on O.P.P.

With apologies to Jane Austen, the writers of He’s Just Not That Into You, and Naughty By Nature.

What makes people think they have special psychic powers on the topic of other people’s feelings? If you are really psychic, I think I’d rather know what stock is really going to take off next week, not who you think likes me.

It starts early when your Mom tells you boys pick on you because they “like” you. Why do we try to convince girls that appalling/indifferent/conflicting behavior is a sign of love? Not helpful.

I think people are just bored. Who doesn’t crave a little drama now and then? Even better if the drama doesn’t directly affect us. In other words, we are all down with O.P.P. (Other People’s Pursuits), particularly those of a romantic nature.

So friends, family, and random passers-by love to talk smack and try to plant seeds of romance, most of which have about as much chance of blooming as…something that usually doesn’t bloom (Dave’s annual failed tomato container gardens, perhaps?). While possibly well-meaning, these thoughts are based on no special insight whatsoever and, in the case of your loved ones, a completely biased sense of how appealing you are to whichever sex you are trying to attract.

Of course, your worst enemy in the game of O.P.P. is you. We can be vulnerable to this unsolicited matchmaking because everyone believes, or at least hopes, they are worth liking.

Exhibit A: “Project Fox” or “From Disinterest to Devastation”

My high school allowed Exhibit A and I to attend classes at the college downtown. He offered me a ride. My friends nudged each other and exchanged knowing glances. I bristled with embarrassment and actually considered saying no.

“We’re going to the same place and he has a car. He’s just being nice,” I insisted.

An over excited friend, let’s call her Miss Woodhouse, decided this offer meant something deeper. Watching for signs in every little move he made became her pet project. Like all pets, she insisted on naming it: “Project Fox.” Project Fox would, of course, culminate in Exhibit A asking me out. My feelings on the subject (disinterest) were immaterial.

One afternoon, he locked his keys in the car. By the time we broke in, we were too late for class, which led to a string of afternoons spent ditching class and hanging out. Even my most cynical friend became down with O.P.P., “I totally think he locked his keys in the car on purpose.” (Editor’s Note: Show of hands, who thought the same thing when you got to that part? Who’s down with O.P.P.? Suckers!)

I felt the excitement of getting away with something. I also felt the excitement of making a new friend. My friends felt the excitement of O.P.P.

Miss Woodhouse believed Exhibit A’s not asking me to the upcoming dance was a sign, not of his disinterest, but only that I would have to ask him. Although I wasn’t really up for it, the Project Fox matchmaking manipulation was a success. Inexplicably he said yes and we spent an awkward evening together during which I carried myself as if I were made of glass. When we said good night without a kiss, I was both disappointed and relieved.

Project Fox ended in a standoff in an empty classroom where I demanded an explanation of why we weren’t friends anymore. He squirmed like an animal in a trap and insisted we were still friends. But we weren’t and that stung. People, sometimes a ride is just a ride.

You don’t need a Cruise Director for your love life. Relationships engineered by the Miss Woodhouses of your life are doomed.

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This was inspired by this week’s RemembeRED memoir prompt (“Write about a relationship you knew was doomed from the start.”), but since I’m over the word limit, I didn’t officially link up.

Have you ever let a Miss Woodhouse convince you to pursue someone you otherwise wouldn’t have? How’d that turn out?

Write on Edge: RemembeRED

Jul
15
2011
Photo Friday: Dutch Yahtzee

My family played Yahtzee a lot when I was growing up (we managed to play without any violence, seriously that link is so disturbing…couldn’t they just have said no, I don’t want to play Yahtzee? And what kind of person doesn’t enjoy a good game of Yahtzee anyway?).

I spent a summer during high school living with a host family in the Netherlands. I bought Dutch Yahtzee (“Het best verkochte dobbelspel ter wereld”) while I was over there. It’s the same, only in Dutch.

I took the game to college and it was amazing how entertaining Yahtzee terms translated into Dutch could be to drunk people. One of my friends on the hall was originally from the Netherlands and she was able to translate, although it’s really not all that difficult to figure out, for example “three of a kind” is… “three of a kind.” However, “four of a kind” is “Royale with Cheese-like and translates to “Carre” (I think it means “square.”).

My friend John Boy decided “bovenste helft” (which means “top half”) sounded like something to say as a toast. So we instituted a new requirement to drunkenly shout out “Bovenste Helft!” every so often while playing. Soon playing Yahtzee was no longer a prerequisite for sharing a little good will with a boisterous greeting of “Bovenste Helft!” Our Dutch friend thought we were nuts walking around yelling out “top half” for no reason.

Jul
5
2011
Way Past My Bedtime

I have written about my sleep issues before, but I haven’t fully explained I have always been a night owl.

This has never been a convenient trait, and it drove my parents crazy. They would put me to bed and we all knew this was a silly game we were playing, that I was not going to sleep.

Whatever I did, I couldn’t make much noise and I couldn’t use much light or they would notice and yell at me to go to sleep. I would usually read with a flashlight or strain to see the words by the light from the hallway. When I heard my parents coming upstairs for bed after local news and Carson’s monologue, I’d quickly close the book and pretend to be asleep.

Then at 12:30am, I would quietly switch on my tiny 5 inch black and white TV and tune in Late Night with David Letterman. All I had to eliminate the sound was a cheap plastic earphone, yes, earphone in the singular. As often as I could get away with, I would huddle up in my bed and watch Letterman, which I could only hear through one ear, and try to stifle my laughter. I was nine. I was so sleep deprived at school, it’s a miracle I passed fourth grade. Luckily for my academic career, we got a VCR when I was in fifth grade.

I loved Dave’s quirky and irreverent sense of humor. He did silly things. He made fun of his employers mercilessly. He didn’t pander to his famous guests. He would often run a joke into the ground, yet somehow it would continue to be funny in spite of, or perhaps because of, the repetition.

When I started high school, I guessed my homeroom teacher was a Letterman fan before we ever talked about it. The first day, he had us go around the room and introduce ourselves and say something we enjoyed doing. I can’t remember what I said, but so many of the other girls said they liked to ski it started to become almost creepy. He started joking about this and would not let it go. At one point, he broke in and called out for a show of hands: “OK, who skies?” Some of the others groaned, but I just laughed. He was funny, like Dave.

I still have some of my favorite episodes of Late Night on tape in my basement. There was the crazy suit series, like when Dave dressed up in a suit of magnets and attached himself to a giant (GE!) refrigerator, the episode where Dave got Sonny and Cher to sing “I Got You Babe,” and my personal favorite segment ever, when Dave tried to take a fruit basket to General Electric as a gesture of goodwill after they bought NBC and basically got told to talk to the hand.

This very blog owes its title to David Letterman. Dave would try to start new catch phrases (“I can’t stand the itching, but I don’t mind the swelling.”), and he introduced me to the word logy.  Logy refers to feeling sluggish and Dave would often say he felt a little logy. Perhaps because watching his show made me so sleep deprived, the concept of logyness resonated with me. It became one of my signature words.

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This post is in response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club. This week, the prompt was “to think about a TV show from your past. What feelings does the show evoke? What memories does it trigger?”

Jun
28
2011
French In Action

Ah, the sounds of France. The sea crashing onto the beaches at Normandy mixed with the respectful hushed voices at the World War II cemetery, the rapid fire native French speakers I strained to understand, the clank of the manual metal elevator doors in the charming small hotels, and the beat of the techno music at the discotheque our teacher allowed us to go to one evening.

However, of all the sounds I heard during my junior year trip to France, none is more vivid in my memory than slurping. The good old-fashioned slurping of an American girl reunited with chocolate after a long Lenten promise. At first, I was charmed. After 40-odd days without chocolate, and the last few with the added bonus of jet lag, my friend was getting pretty fucking grumpy. So at the strike of midnight on Easter Sunday, I was happy for her as she pulled out her stash of Cadbury Creme Eggs and prepared to shut the door right on Lent’s ass.

I believe this was the same evening I’d called my Mom collect to check in. When the French operator asked for my name, I cringed as I said “Tracy,” since I knew he was going to have trouble with my super American name. But to my surprise, he excitedly said “like Tracy Shapman?” (French-ifying the hard “Ch” sound of the semi-popular singer of the time’s last name). I toyed with the idea of breaking out into “Fast Car,” but just said “Yes, like Tracy Shapman,” and that seemed to satisfy him.

Do you know how long it takes to finish a Cadbury Creme Egg if consumed by sucking out all the fondant through a tiny hole in the tip? A long time. The sound attacked a nerve in my brain. Oh my God, the slurping. She was like a crazed junkie getting a fix. But because we were celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ the next morning (at Notre Dame, no less!), I decided to let my friend live.

Good thing too, otherwise I would have been in a French jail instead of at the discotheque in my super hot periwinkle skort outfit with mock turtleneck and white tights. Amazingly, a French guy asked me to dance that night in spite of my outfit. For some reason, I’m more popular in France. I believe I’m three for three on dance requests at French discos/dances. Let’s just say the figure here in the U.S. is…lower. My friend titled this photo “Tracy at the piano bar.” It looks like I’m ready to begin my lounge singing career. Thank you!

My friend and I went back to France two years later, accompanying our high school French teacher and his students on their next trip. Being graduates, but not yet 21, the trip was a weird mix of independence and stifling. On that trip, we hung out with the chaperones just as much as with the students. We sang while walking back to our hotel in Nimes late one evening and I did Paul’s harmony on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and felt free (mostly of this). On this trip, it was hard to maintain the respectful silence required at the World War II memorial because my friend and I spied the ridiculous sign below. How the French expect school groups (and ahem, mature college students) to avoid giggling over wild boar warnings is beyond me. Especially when my friend posed on all fours and acted like a wild boar (the photographic evidence of which I’m kindly not publishing here).

This is in response to this week’s memoir prompt at the Red Dress Club. The prompt was to write about a memorable school trip. Word limit is 600.

Apr
5
2011
Something In Our Minds Will Always Stay*

Sting sang to me through my headphones as my Mom drove our getaway car. The haunting sounds of the song “Fragile” perfectly matched the fresh wound of the argument replaying in my mind.

Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away, but something in our minds will always stay.”

I clutched my walkman and sunk into the seat, and tried to focus on Sting instead of my father’s rage, which still echoed, distorted and menacing.

On and on the rain will fall, like tears from a star…”

While Dad was not physically violent, the threat of violence always felt real. Anxiety weighed us down, more oppressive since my older brother left for school. Mom and I retreated each evening to her bedroom. Hiding there, we would eat takeout, watch TV, and pretend that the closed door protected us.

My prayers finally answered, Mom rented a house across town, closer to my school, further away from Dad. He wasn’t supposed to find out until the last possible second, but somehow he knew. He was blisteringly drunk, in a blind rage, and in possession of several serious weapons, but none of those things distinguished that night from many others. But now he was also armed with the news that we were planning to leave him.

How fragile we are…”

Mom said we needed to leave and hurried up the stairs to pack some things. I didn’t follow. Dad moved toward the staircase and I sat on the bottom step defiantly. I studied his face and worried we weren’t going anywhere. I blocked his path, partially to stall for time and partially because I believed I could calm him.

Perhaps this final act was meant, to clinch a lifetime’s argument…

Crying always made me feel weak, but my tears could quiet his rages. The tears dampened his fiery anger and he would slink off, still steaming about some perceived injustice, but knowing he’d gone too far. He’d made his baby girl cry. He was sorry, until next time.

So I looked up at him and managed to cry out “Why are you doing this?” before dissolving into tears. In response, he mocked me. It was chilling. I fled up the stairs and packed as much and as fast as I could. My head hurt and my heart ached while trying to decide what I could leave behind. I didn’t believe I would ever see anything I left behind again.

The drive to Gram’s house took less than five minutes, the soundtrack provided by “Fragile.” The song burned this night into my memory. Defeated, but safe for the moment, I sobbed as quietly as I could until I fell asleep in Mom’s childhood bed.

Mom insisted I go to school the next day even though the sight of my face in the mirror horrified me. The night of sobbing disfigured my eyelids and had nearly swollen them shut. I went to school but I wasn’t really there. My pulse quickened when I thought about what was supposed to happen at home, what might happen.

Indeed, my world transformed while I was at school. But the contrast between the past and walking into my new home after school was like stepping from black and white into the motion picture Oz in Technicolor. While I was away, my Mom made magic. She moved our lives to this new house. All of my things were safe, my room ready for me. My Mom was safe. Her friends were with her. Everyone was smiling. We felt lighter, we were free.

With this move, she rescued my soul and made all things possible.

This was 23 years ago and from the first day of our new life, the dark memories receded. But hearing “Fragile” still transports me to the night we had to flee my Dad. I feel the sting of my father’s mocking and the uncertainty about what the next day will bring.

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*The title and italicized lines are from “Fragile” by Sting.

I planned on taking a little break from RemembeRED writing prompts so I could catch up on my considerable backlog of other post ideas. But this prompt resonated with me too much to let it go.

This week’s prompt: “Have you ever heard a song and suddenly you were swept back to a time in your life you had pushed to the back of your memory?…This week, your memoir prompt assignment is to think of a sound or a smell the reminds you of something from your past and write a post about that memory. Don’t forget to incorporate the sound/smell of your choosing!”

I have been writing posts at least partially related to this prompt for several weeks. Earlier this year, I started an iPod shuffle challenge—listening to a complete shuffle of everything on my iPod without skipping any songs. Each week, I write about what I heard, including the random memories that certain songs evoke. The song “Fragile” came up in the shuffle several weeks ago and I wrote about both of the memories this song evokes for me here. This post expands on one of these memories.

Constructive criticism welcome, in particular I found it hard to show rather than tell. Perhaps because this is a critical piece of my life story, I am compelled to tell it.