In Vain

Actually,  it DOES.  Guilty means precisely that.  Our ubiquitous friend Google provides these two definitions for the adjective guilty:

  • culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing
  • justly chargeable with a particular fault or error

I think the message the De Los Santos Law Offices, LLC means to convey is that they can get you off.  I understand “guilty” and “convicted” carry entirely different semantic shades under the law.  But to me guilty means guilty as it relates to personal responsibility, right?   Google turned up a third definition:

  • conscious of or affected by a feeling of guilt

Too frequently, I see a distinct lack of being affected by a feeling of guilt, in point of fact. “I didn’t do it.”  “She made me do it.”  “Prisons are filled with innocent people.”  This, in a perfect nutshell of a mammoth commercial billboard, is why I am having a really hard time at work these days.  The defeatism and frustration I’m trudging through aren’t novel workplace emotions in my experience.  Various forms and degrees of professional-becoming-personal malaise have cycled through dark periods of weeks, months, years during my nearly three decades as a public educator.  Right now I just can’t handle the flippant meanness.  The lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions screams at me every day.  Literally screams.  At me.  At the other adults with whom I work.

I spotted this billboard on the ride to my office from my new school assignment last week.  It so happens that this billboard is visible from the windows and yard of the  Women’s Correctional Facility adjacent to the building on which it’s posted.  To drive past the corrections facility’s unassuming brick facade, you’d think it houses more a commercial bakery maybe, or a 70’s-era office building than a prison.  But it is a prison, and the law firm’s intent is clear in its placement.  They’re a business–I understand basic marketing tenets regarding its placement specifically there by the law firm–but its message is so counter to my personal system of beliefs, I just can’t abide it.

Teachers and other school staff member like myself spend our days teaching the exact opposite of this message to our <a href=”http://Enroll“>enrollees, and we spend our nights planning and preparing lessons and materials to teach that, to engage students meaningfully and productively.  This message–you can do wrong (you know–assault, robbery, murder, vandalism, grand theft auto, whatevs), but we’ll try to get you out of it because it’s not your fault–is the diametric opposite of what teachers want to see and have happen to students.

I shared a photo last week of the pellet holes in my classroom window, and despite what you may think bullet holes in windows means, I LIKE my school.  I like my students, I like the staff members I’ve met over the last couple weeks, and I like the building.  Ah, the building.  The school has to be one hundred and ten years old if it’s a day.  It is grand.  It was grander once, but now it’s tired.  Still gorgeous in its architecture though.  Wooden staircases and floors gleam.  The stair risers are rounded out from square after a century of  little feet climbing and descending the steps.  Detailed woodwork adorns door and window frames, built-in storage cabinets line the walls of coatrooms, and messages of peace and empowerment are stencilled in the hallways.  The building was constructed during a period where public education was viewed as a cornerstone of society; education, and the buildings where children were sent for their lessons, mattered.  Architectural details, like those I see here, were included in schools’ designs in the early twentieth century, and details like those in my school did not come cheaply, so the import of education was demonstrated in the way city fathers funded schools.

It’s hard to imagine a time where budget cuts were not the first and only thing that mattered when society discussed how it educated its children. Is it possible to wax nostalgic for a time I never personally experienced?

I’ve long said that we can’t improve schools (the almighty test scores) until we improve the conditions under which students live.  The critical importance of safe, stable housing underlies Matthew Desmond’s brilliant Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City.  His first-person research into housing in Milwaukee provided an uncomfortable read, and left this reader with the conclusion that slumlording is a profitable venture and that having a safe, regular place to lie your head at night yields better outcomes for people.

“it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

“Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”

From EDWeek.org, this discouraging statistic about kids who come from behind, and not in a romantic sports “comeback kid” kind of way: 

“At schools in which more than half of students lived in poverty, only 6 percent of students far behind in reading in 8th grade and 3 percent of those far behind in math and science were deemed ready for college and careers by the end of high school.”

80% of the students in my district are identified as economically disadvantaged.  But I digress.  I know blogs are supposed to be focused, but I’m not hyper-focused on muscular dystrophy this week.  It’s OK if you take a break from me and spend your valuable reading time elsewhere.  I sure wouldn’t blame you.  I’ve found that writing has been a balm to soothe this moody, savage beast (OK, and like the old adage, music too, obviously), and I need to find and reclaim my happy.  I’m driving my co-workers bonkers, and coming home crying isn’t helping my bad attitude.  So I write.  I can’t change the world, after twenty-seven years, I understand that’s a foolhardy expectation.  But I can change little things in my students’ lives, so I keep trying.  And I can change me.  Just not today quite yet.  I’m still snappy and ornery.

It’s so naive to say “be kind” and expect that people will be just ’cause; it’s so easy to say “take responsibility for your actions” and print it on a poster, but how does that message become part of one’s makeup? I can’t afford to take out my own billboard, but I’ve got to do something besides avoiding that corner during my travels.

Leather Or Crystal?

For the first time since learning our son has MD, I didn’t wake up on the unhappy anniversary date with “diagnosis day” screaming at me.  I walked the dog before dawn, brewed a cup in the Keurig, leafed through the Sunday coupons, when BOOM.  It hit me.

I feel some insane pull of duty to mark the occasion.  That’s ridiculous, I’ll grant, but I’m big on anniversary dates.  Until this year, I’d counted down the hours leading up to January 21, not because I enjoyed that, but because I was consumed with MD.  Maybe this is a sign of my growing acceptance, erosion of the initial shock has dulled the blade stabbing my heart.  January 21, 2015.  THE day.  The day that began the after.

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s the myriad other tasks and responsibilities served on my already heaping plate this week.  I’ve been cleaning up a mess–a hot mess, a ghost pepper/sriracha/cayenne/scotch bonnet kind of hot mess at work.  It’ll be but a distant memory in a month, but for now, my full time job is made to take a back seat to accommodate this other full time job.  Not that I get a pass on my actual responsibilities–it’s not that those tasks have disappeared, no, but this clean up occupies so much of my cortex that I can’t even.  Ah, I can’t even finish a sentence with a verb that fits adequately is how much I can’t even.

I’m starting another school therapy assignment tomorrow, and until a few minutes ago, didn’t even know my students’ names, grades, or disabilities.  I’m super good at winging it, but I want not to wing it.  The kids deserve better than that on their new “speech teacher’s” first day.  (It’s in quotes because I’m a speech-language pathologist, but no kid has ever referred to me as speech-language pathologist.  Hell, these days, if kids aren’t referring to me as that old lady white bitch, I’m calling it a success.)  Anyway, it’s unlike me to feel unprepared, and for the first time in five years, I admit to feeling a bit anxious about a new assignment.  It’s probably because I’ve not buttoned up my previous assignment.  See previous paragraph.

I told a colleague Friday that “being me is exercise.”  She laughed, because I’m usually rife with hyperbole, but the truth is that my workweek last week and all the stuff I have to do causes my heart to race.  My Fitbit read about 100 beats per minute just sitting at my desk, organizing, scheduling, calling, emailing, writing.  My resting heart beat when I’m not insane is about 60.  Our district is pushing a mindfulness agenda, and while I’m all for self-care and trying to focus on success and forward-thinking-ness, my workload at present gives not one tenth of one percent of a shit that I’m harried.  Mindfulness, you can suck it this week, thank you very much.  Check back with me around Valentine’s Day, m’kay?

I think I shall choose to look upon this work-induced “Welcome to MD” memory lapse as a gift.  The gift of forgetting, or at least not springing from my bed sheets laser-focused on the big anniversary, is something I should be pleased about, right?  Two of my friends and another family acquaintance lost one of their parents this week.  I feel like a schmuck for having missed one funerary visitation, but I was teaching a class scheduled months ago and I just couldn’t bow out. Within the last two hours, my younger son and I returned from a second visitation; I’m so relieved not to be planning the funeral of one of my own parents.

I just completed my reading of Evicted by Matthew Desmond, and I should be jubilant that I have stable housing in a reasonably low-crime neighborhood.  Evicted shall stand as a post on its own to be explored soon–it’s a horrifying ethnography of poverty and housing inequities in Milwaukee.  I am jubilant that we can provide a roof over our children’s heads, and that I can let them play outside and walk to school without constant supervision.  Or abject fear.

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There are wiser ways to be spending a dreary, dank Sunday than forcing myself to feel something specific because it happens to be 1,096 days since I crumbled for the first time.  HE is marking the occasion, as always (I think anyway), blissfully unaware.  I’m gonna follow his lead.  I’m going to lay my head down on this pillow Nikki sent me yesterday and read.  Gonna read something light and airy–you know, murder, mayhem, lawyers, and detective-y types–no more nonfiction for me for awhile.  My personal nonfiction is enough, you guys.  I’m always transported while reading, and whether I’m transported to the nineteenth century, World War II-era Europe, western Pennsylvania, or Stockholm, Sweden, I’m going to distract myself, because yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, it’s all I can think about.

The traditional gift for the three year anniversary is leather; the modern gift version is crystal.  Since it’s not the 80s, I don’t own much in the way of leather accoutrements, but I do have beautiful pair of crystal wineglasses.  Now the only real anniversary question is this:  red or white?