Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Thirty Degree Solution

And so it came to pass that the sun beat down upon the land, warming it to nearly the temperature of water. The people all smiled, and drove their cars to the dog park, filling the parking lots to overflowing. Even the dogs smiled. They ran free in the woods, greeting one another with fierce wags of tails. The people took off their hats and looked skinny in the absence of layers of long underwear under their thick, puffy coats. And a miracle occurred in the form of a bird, living and breathing in the Minnesota winter. It was only a woodpecker, but in the presence of the second miracle - clear blue skies and sunshine - it looked like a messenger carrying good news from on high. The sun will warm us up, as it warms the Earth. There will come a time when we will allow our skin to touch the elements again, and we will feel the naked joy of spring someday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Three Things About My Parking Spot

  1. According to yesterday's New York Times, teaching math at an affluent suburban high school is the most recession-proof job in America. It's at the bottom of the article, in case you don't believe me.
  2. According to a news story on MPR which I heard on my drive home, our governor is trying to make my recession-proof job even more safe by instituting a pay freeze, which will guarantee that no one will ever want to take my very safe job from me. You'd have to be nuts to do it for less than what I make. Or the same as what I make, really.
  3. Finally, according to gossip at the lunch table, the other day an angry parent called an administrator in my building to see why students have to pay so much to park, while staff members get to park for free. That's right. It's one of the perks no one talks about. I get to park my '96 Mazda in front of that affluent suburban high school every day so I can teach The Math, and the best part is I don't even have to take out a loan in order to do it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sometimes I Lie

Like yesterday, for example, when I wrote that I don't trust Buddy any more. And then just this morning, I was frantically cleaning and I wasn't even dressed, and I felt like he needed to pee, and so, just for a second, I let him out in the yard, but somehow the back fence was ajar. Now, he's on the loose, and I'm wearing clothes over my pajamas, but I couldn't even see him when I walked the 'hood and froze my ass off. Stupid stupid dog. Stupid stupid Al. Why did I trust the Gingerbread Dog?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Things I do for Love

My dog is a lovely soul with a talent for getting loose. When I first put him in my yard, he pulled at the back gate until he managed to separate the chain link from the fencepost, and then he squeezed his lean black lab body through the gap and ran wildly through the streets of the neighborhood. I'd get calls from the nursing home two blocks away, "Hello, I'm calling about your dog, Buddy, he's here - oh - now he's running. He's headed east on 38th street, if you want to catch him." I want to catch him. Desire is never the problem. The problem is that he has four predator legs, and I only have two. He has the lean muscular body of a hunter, and I have only the short bursts of speed of an urban animal. Perfect for catching buses. Not so good for chasing after determined runaway dogs.

When I replaced the gates, he tunneled, like a canine version of Tim Robbins's Shawshank Redemption character. He found a weak spot below the fence which led him to Bev's yard next door, where a conveniently placed rise in the ground gave him just enough lift to clear her fence with a single leap. He was free, long lean body stretched out against the ground. Meanwhile, I stumbled after him, lamely offering treats to his departing figure. What good my biscuits compared to the sweet, sweet taste of liberty?

I tried to get inside his head. I became a dog whisperer of sorts. Perhaps, I thought, he needed more exercise, and so I took him to the dog park to tire him out, and then I watched him flee from the back yard less than an hour after he had run himself weary in the woods.

Perhaps, I surmised, his abandonment issues forced him to run from me. He had to leave me before I could leave him. Hadn't I, myself, practiced this very philosophy on more than one unsuspecting man? And so I lavished him with affection. I tried to gain his trust through pats behind the ears and scratches of the belly. He took the love in the same calm way he takes all forms of affection. "I deserve this," he seems to say. "I'm a good dog." Instead of me gaining his trust, he gained mine. I got lax in the pulling closed of gates and doors, and he pushed past me, mischievous glint in his eyes, "Catch me if you can," he said, "I'm the gingerbread dog."

And so we have reached the age of Loving Distrust. Buddy does all of his business on the end of a tightly held leash. Two to three times a day, I hold that leash, and walk the streets of my neighborhood, and, much as I grumble, it's good for me. However, we have had some dark and cold days here in Minnesota this winter, and so, with Buddy lifting his paws gingerly off of the frozen pavement, I wrap myself in layer after layer of cashmere and down, soft and fluffy garments, covering my rock hard core, clenched like a fist against the goddamn cold. He stops to smell some other dog's pee, and I yank his leash a little too roughly. "Let's go, Buddy," I say, "it's too cold for this." He's waiting, as am I, for the days when we can stroll again through the neighborhood, with something more than irritability and cashmere to keep us warm.

PS There was a photo to illustrate. I can't get it from camera to computer. So imagine a picture of me in the dark, up to my eyeballs in cold-weather gear, in one of those photos you take of yourself from an arm's length away.
I give up. I'm buying a new digital camera tomorrow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trippy Derivatives

The solid boy in the football jersey startles me whenever he sees the calculus in poetic clarity. His voice, full of questions, can cut across the room. Despite his doubtful tone, he reveals the truth about what I'm saying in a way that I can't, because I learned it all for the first time too many years ago.

"Why did you give us the surface area formula?" he says. "Don't we just need volume for this problem?"

"Yes," I say, and I start to walk away. It was a trick, a decoy, a distractor. Something makes me stop. "But look at your derivative for volume. Isn't it just the surface area formula?"

"Whoa," he says, in words that could easily be construed as sarcastic, but which don't come off that way. "Trippy."

"Yes, but doesn't that make sense? Doesn't the derivative just take you down one dimension?"

I walk away to answer another question. The students are so stressed out about their final. I feel like I'm performing triage these days. Even as I go, I hear his awestruck voice, to his football buddy. "I mean, what if someone took the derivative of the world?"

I stop long enough to absorb the beauty of his awe. What, indeed? What if someone had the power to take that kind of derivative and leave us all flat?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Library Again

I went back to the library. The creepy guy was there. He did try to follow me out, but I thwarted him by forgetting my hat. It'd be easy to change my hours so that he couldn't find me again, but I'd be afraid of losing my regulars.

Anyway, here's a video about tutoring at the library, starring me, and made by one of the other tutors. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Stories for the New Year

Sometimes I look around this Earth and I think it's funny that all of those other people think that they are the main character in the story when, clearly, I am. I like to let them hold onto their delusions, because they make more interesting minor characters when they think they have to hold up the main plot of the story.

For example, I recently ran into an ex-boyfriend. Now, according to my story, we didn't work out because we were too young, and we didn't try hard enough. His story is that we weren't even a good fit. In fact, according to his story, we were such a not-good-fit, he rarely even thinks about me any more. I'm not sure how I can let the memory of this failed relationship continue to eat away at me and make me worry that I didn't try hard enough if he's not even going to think about me with any sort of regret. It's ridiculous. Luckily, I'm the main character, and all of the rules of story-telling demand that I show growth and change by the end of the story, so perhaps this will be the year of letting go and finally finding happiness.

My other new story this year will be that instead of the being the Woman Who Drinks Coffee Alone, I am now the Woman Who Joins Groups. And so this morning, The Woman Who Joins Groups got up to walk the dog in her running clothes, and then drove her ice-covered car to Uptown, where she joined a group of runners in the -1 degree weather to run around the lakes. Then The Woman Who Joins Groups went to a coffee shop where the cute boy behind the counter made her some coffee, and she pretended that he did it because he wanted to, and not just because she gave him a 50% tip on her order.

On Friday, I'm going to eat dinner with a bunch of strangers at a restaurant. I've done this once before with a group of strangers that eats dinner in restaurants, and, frankly, I've found it somewhat stressful, but that was last year, before I took on this new role. Now, I will take it in stride, because I'm used to Joining Groups. It's What I Do.

You'll see. 2009 will be a year of happy stories, full of new people and new adventures. It will be the year I let old pain die, and I force myself out of the rut of thinking that I'm the tragic heroine of a tragic story of what might have been.

Or, maybe it's just the last day of winter break, and I'd rather make up stories than figure out what the heck I'm teaching tomorrow.