Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Frog Day

In South Korea, my students called me "test queen." Or rather, they called my sister "test queen" and I picked up on the name by virtue of being the exact same person. True story: I once taught a student at Pusan University of Foreign Studies. He spent four months with me--four months observing my fashion triumphs and disasters, four months listening to my corny jokes, four months watching me wave my arms about as I tried to be entertaining. He went on to take several English classes from my sister--who also taught at PUFS. Through idyll chit chat, my sister discovered that he thought we were the same person. In fact, he was startled to learn she had a sister, more startled still to discover that he had been in my class. So here is my question: If you're going to be remembered as someone else, do you take more chances? I mean, if my students were going to remember me as Sonja, why didn't I dye my hair green and yellow, sing half the lessons, and make students dance if they came to class late or if they were text-messaging?

In South Korea, I gave lots of quizzes--and unfortunately didn't make a single student dance. In Riverside, I do the same. "Take out a nice clean sheet of paper," I say, and I feel like my high school history teacher. Sometimes if the class looks particularly glassy eyed, I'll say, "put a smiley face on your paper"--and, this surprises me, most of them do it! Sometimes they even scrawl below the smiley face, "Have a nice weekend, Mrs. Fordham." [shudder]

I then launch into the quiz. "What fashion item," I ask in all seriousness, "did Jeeves disapprove of?" Some of the students furiously scribble down, "Alpine hat." The keeners even include, "with a pink feather." I continue, "Bertrum’s aunt asks if he's taking Jeeves to Toitleigh Towers. Bertram says, yes, of course. His aunt then tells him to watch out. Why?" And so on.

First, isn't it bizarre that I've been entrusted with these students? Obviously, I've been teaching a long time, I know what I'm doing, etc., etc. But really, when I'm standing up front asking a question about an alpine hat, I feel deliciously like an impostor. My next question could be about oranges or skipping giraffes or skipping giraffes that juggle oranges.

Second, I once heard you should never teach an author you love. I adore P. G. Wodehouse, and after two days of sharing P.G. with my students, I'm beginning to concur. My students are cranky. "But he uses such big words," they complain. "We didn't understand any of it." "But he writes about alpine hats," I counter. "You have to love a book about an alpine hat." They disagree, nonhumorously.

Besides humor literature, this quarter I'm also teaching a journalism course (!), and a remedial reading course. Each Friday, in the reading class, I bring in a poem--everything from Pablo Neruda to Billy Collins to Maya Angelou. Today, my students brought in their favorite poems--everything from Emily Dickinson to Tupac Shakur. After class, Student A told Student B: "When you read your poem, you sounded just like Beyonce."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

George Clooney

It's spring in Riverside, spring with a vengence. Birds singing, flowers blooming, all that good stuff. With warm weather comes the need to expunge the excess and be filled with light.

My target: my hair. Each day, I would think: too long. For a few practical weeks, I was considering a very short bob and actually going to a hairdresser, rather than sawing away at my hair myself, as per usual. I didn't go and didn't go and as time passed, I started thinking, why not get it all cut off, like Sabrina? (I blame that film for many hair cut decisions.)

Yesterday, I went to a fancy salon, armed with a photo (of longish short hair) and shored up with determination. An hour later, I looked like George Clooney (think ER days).

In high school, I got my hair cut and the beautician cut off more than I was anticipating. I disolved into a puddle of tears. I wept and wept and would not be comforted. I was finally dragged to the back of the store and given a box of tissues and a free cut. My aunt who accompanied me was mortified.

Yesterday, I shrugged my shoulders and then did some shopping and some cleaning.

So am I less vain now? Or is high school really more brutal than anything that comes after? Or is there a duller reason? Have all those bad hair cuts in the past kept me from getting emotionally involved?

Actually, I'm not even sure I hate the cut. It's short. It's different. It's no fuss. And I appreciate how fast I can dry my hair. I am, however, looking forward to a longer version of the cut--the version in the photo.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Last week. I was freakishly busy, and so I almost didn't visit my grandmother on her birthday. "I'll go next week," I rationalized. "She won't know the difference." But my goody-goody nature won out, and I made the drive.

When I arrived, my grandmother was sleeping, but she sat up and said, "I thought you were coming today. That's why I left the light on." Later, she asked me if I'd been "galavanting."
"How old are you, Nana?" I asked.
"60!" she told me, all wide eyed and frankly a little annoyed at my birthday singing and happy clapping. Sixty must be the age she used to imagine as "old" and so she held on to that number. Usually, I agree with Nana, but somehow I couldn't today.
"You're 87," I told her.
"Oh my," she said. "Oh my."

We sat in the garden for about 30 minutes. I was ready to camp out in her room, but she told me very firmly, "Thank you for coming. It was so nice to see you. I'll walk you to the door. I'm going back to bed!"

About this picture, she said: "You have a nice memory."

I said, "thank you."

She continued, "You'll have something nice to remember sitting in the garden."
And I do.