Tire seat

Thought motes

1. Whining. Sometimes I (along with all the volunteers) am as whiny as the students. I groan when the Volunteer Coordinator reminds us about our weekly meeting, bemoan the pointlessness of our attendance when told of the monthly staff meeting, and bitch when a day off or free period is cancelled. Like my kids, I often try to shoot the messenger.

2. Plastic? I’ve been meaning to mention the love of plastic bags here. The freshness of the observation is lost after nine months, but I do recall that the eagerness to give me a plastic bag with my purchase, no matter how small and how many other plastic bags I already have, used to surprise me. Any rejection of the proffered bag is met with bewilderment. Fortunately, even the smallest bag can be reused for cut produce, like avocado or melon. Also, juice, water, and frozen juice or milk treats called topogigos are sold in knotted plastic bags. Bite off a corner and suck away.

3. Balls. One dreaded part of my job is litigating arguments between kids over stolen balls and fighting in general. If I can’t punt the role of judge to another, I dither about fairness and trust neither party to tell me the truth. Thus I chastise both and no one is satisfied that justice has been done. Is this a contributing factor to the “zero-tolerance” policy in many US schools? Where the bullied is punished for self-defense, as well as the bully?

4. Happiness. For twelve years, my primary jobs, excluding the theatre-related, and even some of them too, have put me in a position that where no one is happy to see or hear from me. A call from me or the sight of my face means that person has something he doesn’t want to. My first adult job was in bookkeeping at a medical collection agency. I took money from people who most certainly did not want to (and sometimes really couldn’t) pay. My next job was as a paralegal who had to contact clients to request a year’s worth of financial documents. And if those weren’t enough to present a solid picture to the court, the person had to supplement with another pile of paperwork. Then I had to contact these people with personal questions about their spending habits. More than one took my questions as personal attacks, despite my sugar padding efforts, my emotional tap dancing. In the theatre life, as a literary manager, I would have to reject more plays than I accepted. Now, I teach children who most definitely do not want to be taught. Please, can I just have a job making people happy?

5. No fun. Joe has been a real jerk in class lately, telling me I’m mean and bad, and whining about every bit of work he has to do. I’m afraid we’re going to end the year on a bad note.

6. Science. My favorite geeky boy told me I was the best Science teacher they’ve ever had, because I explain things so students understand. Now, how can someone not teach that way?

7. Cliques. I will not end this experience with “friends of a lifetime” à la some summer camp or group vacation brochure. Is the cliquishness among the team indicative of age or is this just how adults naturally act when forced together?

8. Ants. I look forward to living somewhere where I’m not awakened by fireworks or firecrackers exploding at 4am. Also, I will not miss the itch of ants crawling over me.

9. Sex. I’ve ended the year by teaching Sex Ed. Of course the kids (and this teacher) are counting the days until school ends, and this is my best bet at getting their attention. It’s also the only topic I feel qualified to teach (get your mind out of the gutter, because experience would mean I’d feel more qualified to teach English) because I was one of those kids in high school who went to other schools to sing about condom use and act as the good witch Sister Syphilis.

This is also my chance for a little socio-political action, to spread messages that girls will not be harmed by masturbation, despite what doctors tell women; that both parties are responsible for protection and the outcomes of sex, despite the fact single motherhood is high and 25% of pregnancies happen to women under age 16; that if someone tries to pressure you into sex as proof of love, you kick that person to the curb because they are quite obviously an asshole and you can find someone better; and, BTW, folks, Miss theresa doesn’t care who you have sex with, or how, as long as you respect yourself, respect your partner—and respect includes protection—and all parties are willing.

I’ve received such wonderful and frank questions, which I attribute to my attitude of non-judgment, but perhaps questions about threesomes and porn and masturbating with car parts are normal conversation topics at this age. I wonder at times if I’m being too direct and open—the grossed out faces on the 8th grade girls when they saw the banana condom, the distressed look on a 7th grader when I responded to her question that the first time probably will hurt, but if she is relaxed and with someone she trusts, it will be easier—and I know, at times, that what I teach is directly counter to their parents and the Church. But they ask, so I tell. And next week we’ll discuss, briefly, homosexuality, in the context of love, because how does more love in the world hurt anyone? While this was on my not-so-secret agenda, someone did ask me, in an anonymous note, if it was “bad.”

With all the grades I did an exercise to prove the point that you have sex with everyone your partner has had sex with. I choose an innocent (ha!) volunteer and informed the class that this lovely person just had unprotected sex and now has HIV, but s/he doesn’t know. She had a great time last night and decides to have more unprotected sex. So she grabs another student, who now also gets HIV, then both have sex with new partners, the disease spreads, etc., until in about four days, all 10, 14, or 17 of the kids has HIV. This lead to a 9th grade braggart assuring me he will buy condoms after school (yes, I am sooo impressed by your sexual prowess) and a shocked expression on Antonio’s face as the exercise ended. Ultimately, I’m skeptical of my overall usefulness here, but if my teaching gets these kids thinking about who they share their feeling parts with and how, then it was worth it. If it encourages my girls to be strong when they’re pressured, because they will be, and makes them less afraid of learning what they like, then it was worth it.

On a related note, the 9th graders laughed when I told them that some schools in the US don’t allow sex education teaching. All grades also enjoyed practicing safe sock wear.

10. More cats. During the Parents’ Day celebration, a 9th grader gave me an itsy bitsy quite-obviously-still-needing-its-mommy kitten, because “Miss theresa likes cats.” Now, she first tried to pawn off the kitten on the Volunteer Coordinator, so it wasn’t a gift for me specifically. Despite my protestations that I couldn’t care for this kitten, it was left on my lap and my student and her father left. Fortunately, my geeky boy loves animals and together we were able to convince his mother to let him take it home to his bunnies and birds. The kitten is doing very well.

3 weeks to go,

theresa

P.S. Today’s picture is the winning project for 7th grade. These were very popular seats.

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A variety of fine sign.

Ugly Girls

Because of the teaching time crunch, I usually create posts within in a short time span. I draft Saturday and refine and publish Sunday at 101pm CST. Now on holiday, I’ve been working on a post, but not this post, for a few days, looking for the in, to identify exactly what I want to share. All the bits of the theme are scattered about in different notes on Evernote. A hook is found and explored, then it meanders and I get lost…another hook is found and explored and….. It might be the lack of pressure—I don’t have to have it done today—and thus I question my words and intent more and nothing passes the sniff test. Or maybe I just have so much room to expand and think and play that my brain is giddy with freedom.

I often worry that my blog is too negative and that worry inspired a bathroom thought about audience. Way back in writing school and teachings thereafter I was advised to consider my audience. Who is my audience for this blog? Initially it was people who knew me IRL and the ephemeral cloudpeople out there who just might chance across my musings. After a few friends commented that they appreciated the blog’s honesty, a feature essential to good writing, I hoped it might be a light for readers who were, like me, tired of life-adventure blogs with an extroverted and self-assured tone, that gloss over the challenges and want to explain how things should be done and sell their point-of-view in some way. All I want to sell to the world that stumbles here is my honesty. That is my audience.

I used to believe that I could be a Writer (big “W”). I went to playwriting school and everything. When asked why I wrote, why I thought I should be known, I said it was because I had a point of view that I rarely saw outside of teen theatre. The point of view of an Ugly Girl. Now I believe this concept is popularized (no, this is not some claim to cool before it was cool), merchandized, and on its way to fetishization. But my version, the only known version in my world at that time, was created in front of the student mail boxes in the then-called Dramatic Writing Program of NYU with a girl named Miriam, shortly after my Introduction to Screenwriting class. I was one of two women in the class, the other being a very attractive and confident student who has since written her way to the Pulitzer Prize (confidence well placed!). I was speaking about something and my co-female leapt in with her own idea (rather rude of her to interrupt perhaps) and suddenly the class came alive, all the males crawled into her light, and I was blocked out. Ah, okay, this is how it works.

Ugly Girls aren’t ugly, per se, but they are on the get-to-know-them-to-see-their-beauty spectrum, or they just have a nonstandard form of beauty. They aren’t wearing the coolest clothes or make-up, their bodies aren’t up to the advertised standard, and they’re gawky or awkward or just a little off. Alienation might also be key. With few words Miriam instantly understood my troubles in class and in that conversation Ugly Girls were born. That in two words was why I was going to be a writer.

In retrospect, through the post-therapy, post-additional self-awareness, post-getting-out-of-my-head-more lens, I know my interpretation of the class dynamics may be inaccurate, but the phenomenon and what that moment fertilized, the Ugly Girls, is real.

Janeane Garofalo

Abby. The cat, however, is pure Hollywood starlet.

Miranda

Miranda. Cheeky.

Brienne kicking ass.

Brienne kicking ass.

Janeane Garofalo as Abby in The Truth About Cats and Dogs is a U.G. Miranda Hart as Miranda in Miranda (such fun), in all her 6+ foot glory, is a U.G. I’d put Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones there too. Being an Ugly Girl doesn’t bar you from personal success, but it comes with greater social challenges. (For the record, I find those three characters beautiful. I’d jump ’em in a heartbeat.)

I’ve never written about this before. I’m discovering questions. There are a lot of ugly women out there, but are they Ugly Girls? Sarah Palin is ugly inside and out, and it’s the inside that immediately disqualifies her, but were she beautiful on the inside? Maybe. Or, no, because she is attempting to be mainstream. Oh, this is a bad example. I think a key part of Ugly Girl-ness is an inability to conform to the mainstream, even if you want to, which is why Ally Sheedy’s Allison in The Breakfast Club doesn’t qualify. I’ve expressed on this blog my desire for pretty things, to be pretty and disheveled in just the right way. But I can’t. I’ve tried and can’t make it work out. I probably don’t want it enough. An Ugly Girl doesn’t have to reject the mainstream and wear that as a badge of honor; for her, it was never an option. Please believe I’m not trying to be elitist or hold up wounds as a perverse claim of superior personhood. I’m attempting to explain a way of interacting in this world.

Like I said, I used to believe in myself as a Writer, in part because of my desire to promote the Ugly Girl experience as one with equal validity. Today I’ll allow myself to say I am a writer (little “w”). My lack of confidence and skills as a writer that eventually quashed The Dream could and might one day be its own post(s). I also stopped believing in the necessity of my voice. The U.G. type is seen more in the media, though she’s impure—her status is only temporary, a, if not the, problem that needs a solution. The plots play the U.G. as a rebel against conformation for the sake of rebelling (I’m drawing a blank on examples. Anyone?) or she’s a Hollywood-beautiful actress we are supposed to believe is anything but (Minnie Driver, Circle of Friends) or all she needed was the right friends and make-up (Ally Sheedy, The Breakfast Club). In any event, the resolution often involves the character’s admittance into the mainstream. I no longer think the U.G. stories aren’t being written. I’m sure they are, but Hollywood and such doesn’t buy them, at least not in pure form, with a potential positive resolution being self-acceptance or something that doesn’t incorporate U. G.-ness as a problem, because those ideas aren’t what we supposedly want to buy. Or do we?

Neil LaBute is not my favorite playwright—he takes a hammer and hits you over the head with his points—but he has a play called reasons to be pretty. For about five minutes of my life I acted and there was a role in that play written for me. One woman is beautiful, the other is “ordinary.” The “ordinary” woman is an Ugly Girl. Her appearance is nothing fancy, she feels it from society, and she has a peace with it. Her story is one I longed for for years. (I’m sad to say that the Portland production was lacking.) The play was very popular and was nominated for several and won a few major awards. So there is an audience for this unsexy story, even in the US. There is an audience for the Ugly Girl.

I do regularly see U.G. stories and actresses in media outside the States. That’s nice.

In a writing class with Martin Epstein I wrote a piece about how much I hated my manipulative college roommate. A response to the piece was that it revealed more about the writer than the character. Of course, this blog is intended to reveal me, but I do attempt to control the message. I don’t want the message here to be one of self-loathing, because it isn’t, or self-pity. Of course it’s one of self-doubt, confusion, alienation, more square peg round hole stuff. But I want it simply to be neutral, without judgment.

This is one way of experiencing the world.

theresa

Smiling

Thank you for smiling

I never knew just how much I rely on smiling in business exchanges. It happens less now, but I when I purchase something from the secret pulperia (a pulperia semi-hidden behind a wall) and the owner doesn’t smile, I wonder if I insulted her, was rude, or if my purchases were annoying. When she does smile, I walk down her steps content, even if she’s out of the tortillas or tajadas I requested. This type of interaction repeats everywhere: the produce stands, the school supply store, and the supermercado where the clerks tend to look rather bored, though that’s probably just their resting faces. The clerks and owners are polite, but there’s no smile to accompany their Buenas/Hola or Gracias and, despite repeated exposure, I replay the interaction, looking for my offense, searching for the smile.

Resting face

My neutral face looks a little sad.

Articles, discussion threads, and studies about cultural differences often cite the “friendliness” or “politeness” or “smileyness” of the U.S. population (just google “culture” + “smiling”). Depending on the author, this is either praised as welcoming or disparaged as sign of the culture’s falsity. In my previous life, when I read these articles I would think of frozen-faced flight attendants as they waved me off the plane or the grumpy check-out person who definitely did not smile while helping me, the supposed British stiff upper lip or the rumor that Germans have no sense of humor … but I wouldn’t really understand what the author was talking about. People in the U.S. smile too much? Yes, some are bad at faking it, but what does “too much” mean? After all, I come from the land of smile therapy.

Now I think I understand, at least a little. As much as the disinterested facial expression causes the furrow between my brows to deepen into a canyon, why is it reasonable to expect a smile during our business transaction? I need something, s/he supplies it. Why does s/he need to appear thankful, and why do I either when it comes down to it? Does this transaction give either one of us significant pleasure? In the day-to-day, probably not. It’s about supply and demand. Let’s keep it honest and not muddle it with emotions. I find working in customer service, particularly in a store, face-to-face with customers, exhausting. I have to fake enthusiasm for a stranger and her/his purchases for 8 hours. Really, while I wish the customer no ill will, I rarely could care less. I’m there because I need money and the customer is there because s/he needs what I happen to be selling. I and the store I’m in are no more than a convenience. Yes, I’m happy to have a job and I will serve you with the courtesy you deserve as a human being, but why am I required to make it personal? Does it have something to do with the U.S. prioritizing industry and money over humanity? I’m sure there is a profit margin attached to a smile, or what appears as a smile, because a genuine smile can’t be imitated. (Accept no imitations, folks!)

Smiley face.

I don’t really smile like this, but I look happy.

Despite my burgeoning awareness, I continue to seek out the smile. I frequent the same licuado stand because the young man always smiles during our exchanges. I doubt our secret pulperia has better prices than my usual produce stand, but the young girl who occasionally helps me can be so goofy, thus I buy bananas. In the States, I will return to a store if the clerks smile, even if the prices are slightly higher. That’s my reaction to an upturn of lips or baring of teeth, but what is the reaction of someone used to a less smiley culture? A culture that doesn’t equate smiling with competency and courtesy? (There have been reams written on this topic and my question doesn’t merit notice, so I’d rather ponder and navel gaze than research at the moment.) Conversely, I am slightly more comfortable with not accompanying my Gracias with a smile if I’m not feelin’ it. I’m less afraid that I will be found rude.

Besides, smiling causes wrinkles, and who wants that? Hmm…maybe cultures that smile less are secretly obsessed with appearing youthful. No, that’s the U.S. Never mind.

(No, I really don’t care about wrinkles. Well, not much, yet.)

Shake your ta-tas,

theresa

P.S. Having a mouth close up at the top of this post may not be the best decision.

P.P.S. Feeling a little bit of the goof today, in case you couldn’t tell. And while we’re on the topic of goof and smiling, Miranda rarely fails to evoke my genuine smile.