Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Waiting Room Blues

Gosh, it is so annoying to hear the jibber jabber of the talking heads on the news channel playing incessantly on the flatscreen in the eye surgery center waiting room. The noise goes on, piercing through the 3/4" foam of the earplugs stuffed deep into my ears. The other family members of surgery patients are sitting numbly, staring at the chattering newsimps and the crawl of blurbage across the bottom of the ADD-tempo  pictures. And one of the fluorescent spotlights in the center of the seating area is flashing like a strobe, so if the TV weren't enough to send you screaming into the century-plus temperatures outside, the flickering bulb is. But we're all enduring, as we wonder how our loved ones  are currently doing under the knife.

I didn't know that they put in a prescription lens during cataract surgery--I'd always assumed it was just a clear one. But I suppose that when you've developed cataracts, your eyes have been pretty steady (in terms of corrective lenses) for a while. So Grandmommy will need new glasses after this is all over. My aunt and then my mother plan to come down in succession to relieve me--Grandmommy assures me that she'll be fine on her own, but I think we're all more concerned about her feeling too good than the reverse--feeling go great post-op that she pulls an Arnold Schwarzenegger and attempts far too much, affecting the positive outcome of the procedure and delaying her healing time.

I think I will head for DC tomorrow, given no complications here.

I spent last Friday night in Savannah with my friend Audrey--we had a good dinner downtown and then sat up until almost midnight discussing memories and plans. She's going to start an accounting class in the fall, preparatory for gradually assuming control her family's large farming business. She's not only learning number crunching, she's studying soil and fertilizer and seed and how heavy equipment has affected farmland and its ability to percolate. It's fascinating stuff, and a far cry from the physical education major she pursued as an undergraduate almost two decades ago. I told her if she ever needed an admin assistant to call me.

I need a nap. I slept well last night, I just needed ten to twelve hours instead of eight.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Merry Note?

Under duress, I have joined the Twittersphere. My first formal book review was accepted (yay!) and should be published in the next month or so, and for the bioblurb at the end of the article, the editors asked for my Twitter handle. Apparently it's "the thing" for writers these days, although I note that neither of two of my favorites (Laura Hillenbrand and Neal Stephenson) seem to participate.

It was a joke this summer in Prague that, will or no, I'd learn to cut my TTT (teacher talking time) to a minimum, and evidence of this would be a Twitter account, given its limit of 140 characters. So, one of the first people I followed was my final CELTA tutor (the one of whom I had been so terrified, convinced she loathed me, and who turned out to be thoroughly kind).

Grandmommy is having cataract surgery on Wednesday. I'm to return to Dublin for the third time in as many weeks on Tuesday to help her with last minute prep (she wants to get her hair done) and make sure she gets safely to and from the doctor's office. She's understandably nervous--the thought of having someone cutting one's eye is fundamentally terrifying--but at the pre-op visit Friday, she was most fixated on the fact that she'd be denied her traditional morning coffee prior to anesthesia. The nurse assured her it would be available in the recovery room. All I got was ice chips! But we were told in cataract surgery recovery, they even offer snacks. Plush.

The synthetic lens they plan to insert in her eye is shaped like the hurricane icon on digital weather maps. It's cool. I hope she hasn't any complications.

I'm so glad to report Grandmommy is again walking comfortably. She is someone who doesn't complain, and so when she mentioned last week that her toes were so painful they were keeping her up at night, I was ready to join my aunt in recommending surgery--it's too hot nowadays for anyone sane to exercise outdoors when the sun is up, but when the weather cools we want her to be able to return to her regular mile-plus walking routine. But (as my father always noted) foot surgery is a purely hit-or-miss operation, which oftentimes does little good, and in an elderly person can often handicap more than it heals, given the necessary length of recovery. Grandmommy decided to start applying some prescription cream to the affected digits, and praise God (as she frequently does), it's working!

We all had an awesome time with my niece and nephew this last Wednesday and Thursday. My brother-in-law drove them up from Orlando to visit their Great-Grandmommy, and my mother and I came down from Augusta to be with them (I got so confused trying to keep the terms Grandmommy and Great-Grandmommy straight!). The kids picked almost a gallon of blueberries, snacked on the few ripe(ish) scuppernongs and pulled some green pears. While Brad busied himself with other activities, Rita played two games of Scrabble with her old aunt, her Grandmommy and Great-Grandmommy.

Speaking of old aunts, while their father went back to the motel for an hour or two to work, my mother and I took the two children to an antique mall. My nephew looked around at the assorted knickknacks and, seizing my arm, announced that he had found a great antique: me. A wit, that one. I think my friend Amy would call this poetic justice.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Projects Incomplete

I've been working out like a fiend for more than three weeks now, doing brutal inclined sit-ups and high-intensity sessions on a variety of machines that leave my tshirt heavy with sweat and my feet feeling like my tennis shoes are lined with lead. And if anything, my belly is paler and more flabby than when I began. I'm so white I'd probably glow under a black light. And my abs, never a significant feature, still repose under the snowbank. Outside, it's hot as blue blazes--when having your house thermostat set at 80 gives you the impression of stepping in to a refrigerator when you go in your front door, you know it's warm in the great wide open. And parking lot asphalt magnifies this scorching effect--usually about this season is when the local paper runs a picture of people demonstrating that yes, you really can cook an egg on the sidewalk.

I spent Saturday and today in my garage, determined to finish some of the many projects that have accumulated there over the past year or more. I stained and varnished a table, stripped the finish off an antique organ stool, measured all my wood lamp bases, fixed three that were damaged, drilled a vase for a lamp, and cleared out some odds and ends, putting tags on them for consignment. And I made a bunch of magnets. And I restrung a friend's necklace. I know I was convicted of my habitual idleness, having been around Grandmommy for three days previous--she is always up and doing, though her feet have really started to pain her. My aunt is arranging for her to be assessed for surgery on the toes that are giving her fits--the discomfort (and Grandmommy is not one to mention discomfort) is sufficiently severe to prevent her from going on her daily walks and it keeps her awake at night.

The placement company for the Vietnamese schools sent me a contract. But, it is so general and vague that it's not signable. There is no definition of terms like teaching hours (an academic hour is an inconsistent beast, occupying 45 minutes in some parts of the globe and more than twice that elsewhere), and how teachers are evaluated and how they are housed and equipped isn't specified. I've had to handwash bluejeans before, boil water for a "bath" (sponging out of a bucket) and use outhouses abroad--I'd rather not be committing myself to two years of such. I want to know the size of the apartment, whether it has AC and a refrigerator, how much laundry will cost, how far it is on foot to the primary school and how far again to the secondary school. I've asked most of these and other questions to the recruiter, and haven't gotten answers. This is itself alarming. I don't want to fly halfway around the world to find myself in a hot hole without modern facilities, at least not without compelling reason, and I don't have one for Vietnam right now.

I have emailed other schools, and applied for several domestic gigs in the last week, but perhaps everyone is on vacation, because it's like bellowing into the vacuum of space.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Books, Background Checks & Boneyards

Few things give a person a turn like when she's divested herself of glasses and clothes and is headed, exhausted and myopic, toward a well-deserved late-night shower and sees what appears to be a large medjool date skittering around her bathtub. 

I hate roaches. No matter how clean one's house, they still somehow rationalize invasion. After my delayed shower (having doused the bug with every toxic chemical I could pull from under my bathroom sink, then flushed the body down the toilet), I went to the garage to get the death-to-insects spray and reapplied it to every downstairs baseboard. 

Today the temperature climbed to almost 100F. I sent a note to an English speaking school in Mexico which is looking for a History and Civics teacher, and did some background prep for applying to an administrative assistant position up in the DC area. I'm supposed to do a short model lesson for a Vietnamese public schools recruiter Sunday afternoon. Two days ago I read through a series of personal complaints about teaching in South Korean hagwons that made me want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me. Gosh, how does anyone find a good gig? I was interested in a spot in China, but following up on the lead indicated that if it wasn't actually a scam, it was a waste of time. 

I had sent a letter of complaint to the Atlanta FBI office, asking if there were any way to expedite a background check that needed to be apostilled, but they just sent me a form letter referring me to the national office in West Virginia (which does no good at all, as they were the folks who managed to return me the wrong paperwork in the first place). I had said I'd even appear in person if someone could help me get the right document quickly, but the candy and flowers-type offer didn't move them. Argh! How does anyone get the correct information?  A local law enforcement guy I know from high school told me I should go to my congressman and threaten to raise hell on Facebook if I didn't get satisfaction. Phooey.

My first official book review may be published soon--my friend Carolina had recommended me to a periodical in the DC area, and while I was in Prague, they sent me a doorstop-sized hardback, a biography of a Cold War-era Russian defector, to read and comment on. It probably doesn't bode well for my future publishing career that I would find this first text lacking in so many respects--scathing criticism of someone else's work is not the best way to join a community of writers. But for something that somehow occupied more than 600 narrative pages, the story was remarkably uninformative. Honestly, I didn't care about the subject before, and the book did nothing to revise my opinion--there weren't even many juicy or relatable details, and the style was rather bland. It was a pity--throughout, there were opportunities for deeper reflection on the person, the environment, and the time that the author totally overlooked, despite having had more than half a dozen acknowledged assistants in the compositional process. I guess I'm just spoiled by Laura Hillenbrand. She could write a history of mud and it would be fascinating (and comprehensively researched).

As to other memories of the dead, the last three days I spent in Prague I passed in the city graveyards. I needed rest and perspective. Seeing the stones grown over with ivy and paths shaded by the heavy leafy limbs of huge, ancient trees was sobering and yet relaxing. I passed hours strolling around acres of granite, marble and rusted ornate iron fences, snapping photos of this and that family plot, closeups of weathered calligraphy, armless angels and leaning crucifixes.  Most people who die in Czech (as local expats casually call it) nowadays are cremated--old mausoleums and headstones often have an urn or two incongruously added at a corner, where the ancestral skeletons have been joined by the descendants' ashes. I saw the grave of Franz Kafka (in the Jewish Cemetery) and that of Antonin Dvorak (in Vischyrad), besides thousands of others who are less well known abroad. There were two notable sections of Allied war dead: the Soviets all shared identical politically-themed monuments inscribed with their names and a victorious banner and gun (one was of a female military doctor--Pirogov would have been proud), but the Commonwealth area had group insignia, and Christians, Muslims  (a Cypriot detachment had been in the area) and Jews were laid democratically together, each man's faith, rank and origin recorded but not restricting him from the others' noble company. The Commonwealth soldiers were by and large a decade younger than the Soviets--testimony to the toll the war had taken on their respective populations.

I'm off to the Augusta market in just a few hours. Last week's sales were pitiful. What made this more galling was that my last customer, a septuagenarian visiting from Arizona, sidled up after I wrapped her purchase and said, "I'm not sure how to tell you this, but when you lean over, people can see all the way down to your waist." Humiliating on two accounts: that I'd been apparently putting on a near-topless show all day, and even worse, that it hadn't bettered my bottom line whatsoever!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Friday, June 05, 2015


Annnd, a good week was capped by a horrible end of day. 

My first paper was rejected, and I was told (first in writing, then in person) that I was repeatedly and profoundly wrong about 65% of the contents.  The tutor (one of three we'll have on the course) was absolutely horrified and acted like I was little better than a psychopath for submitting the illustration I did for the word "scalded".

On this assignment, we had to take two grammatical and two lexical items and figure out how best to explain them to a pre-intermediate English class. The picture for the last word I pulled from a general-circulation paper in the UK--it was of the torso of a little girl who'd spilled a teapot on herself. Her face wasn't shown. I figured not only would it burn (with steam or otherwise) the term "scalded" deep into students' brains, it would irrevocably imprint the notion that this was to be avoided.

Gosh, you'd link I'd ENDORSED scalding children. The tutor ripped me to shreds. And it didn't help that I'd totally misunderstood the assignment elsewhere (we've been using the term "context" to mean setting the stage for an activity, collection of vocabulary and the like--turns out the context wanted was to put the particular word into a dialogue or story).  Frankly, despite the real mistakes I'd made, I got the impression that she'd flipped through, seen the picture and been inspired to hunt for every other error she could find.

This tutor's the one who seemed to take a dislike to me from the first (ignoring me in the couple of classes she's led, barely rearranging her face into a mask of civility when I've asked direct questions), an impression only cemented when she took me and several others out in the hall during an exercise earlier this week and showed us some pictures we'd have to describe to the rest of the class. Mine was a picture of a woman in black with two sullen-looking white guys, one of whom was wearing heavy eyeliner. I remarked, "That guy looks like a young Marilyn Manson" (which he totally did), and she responded, "Those are my friends." Seems it was an Eighties party.  I'd presumed, (ASSumed, it seems) that she'd just use random pictures for such an exercise. And she wanted us to describe them. It was like a deliberate trap.

So, how am I spending my weekend? Rewriting the one paper in its entirety (so much was wrong with it I can't just do a few corrections--I have to basically begin again--and she told me she wouldn't consider passing it with the current "scalded" visual), preparing for the first of two lessons I will be teaching to a new class of upper-intermediate English students, and writing two other papers (one due Tuesday, the second Friday). We're allowed to flunk one paper and still conceivably pass. I'd much rather not have my graduation hang by such a slender thread. 

Ironically, the previous 4 1/2 days of this week went really well. I got positive marks on my teaching (praise God!), and I'd been optimistic that I'd not have even a couple of corrections on the paper that was to be returned today. Then, WHAM! I hate the feeling of being wobbly on a tightrope over a knife-bottomed pit. What I dislike more is that I don't know what to do to effectively get my balance.

Maybe nap? Then all will be clear... 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Weak Week One

It was a pretty thoroughly awful day, starting the moment I got to campus--8AM on the dot. The library, where the copier/printer is, wasn't open. Theoretically, it opens at 8. It didn't actually open for another 25 minutes, after a classmate of mine had run over to the main administration building and fetched a secretary who had a key. That left me with only half an hour to take all the lesson plans and the drafts of handouts for the students--I had typed these up in the "notes" feature on my phone and emailed to myself--put them into Word and reformat them, and then print out multiple copies at a machine shared by all the other time-pressed students in the area. And then I had to look up images for 10 holidays, print them out and write on each whence I'd retrieved it. I didn't get finished. 

I hoofed it to class to make sure I was there to watch my fellow aspiring teacher's lesson. I figured I'd make do without the two images I was missing, and I was fairly happy with all my prep--I felt pretty confident about the pacing and content. I wasn't going to talk too much today. I had a list of content clarification questions, and I'd spent about four of what I thought were productive hours carefully constructing the sequence of the lesson. I was shuffling my pictures, handouts and outline into a pile when I suddenly realized I didn't have the transparency I needed for the last part of the lesson.  I cut out of the room five  minutes before my predecessor finished to sprint back to the library to get it--I've got to be quick, I thought--I don't want to waste any of the 15 minutes between her and my lessons, which I'll need for setup.  

At the library, the copier wasn't working (one of those infernal worldwide copy machine issues of telling me to refill a tray that had the correct  contents). Two hours into the workday, the librarian still hadn't shown up. So, I called upon my experience as a troubleshooting office drone and turned the machine off and back on to reboot it. Even with all the delays, I managed to get the transparency done in about 5 minutes. I stopped off at the ladies' and then ran (literally) back to the classroom find, at 10:03, an English lesson already in progress, being taught by the guy who was supposed to be after me. Oh, crap.

The tutor was there, taking notes, all the students were there, and my other colleagues were sitting primly in the back, and I knew I was in deep trouble. Turns out, there wasn't to be a break between the first and second classes, only between the second and third--this was listed on the board, it just hadn't registered on my exhausted brain. Thinking about the fix I was suddenly in upset me so badly I started to shake. Tardiness is verboten, and I had worked so hard to be totally prepared.

I take neat and copious notes during all the classes, and my handwriting suddenly went to pot. In fact, I couldn't hold my pen properly. I did my best to calm down during the coffee break--I told the tutor what had happened, organized my papers close to hand, and wrote some information on the board. And then the lesson began, and it just sucked. I visibly shuddered, I couldn't get into the groove, and my nervousness played out in my talking a mile a minute--for example, instead of "tell me," I said "Will you be so kind as to tell me?" which left my pre-intermediate students staring at me in confusion. I couldn't read my typed notes, I lost track of what I was doing, and I could feel the students' attention draining away like someone had opened a manhole cover in a bathtub. It was a disaster.

If I'd known where the ladies' was in the classroom building, I would have run there and locked myself in a stall and burst into tears. As it was, I just sat down limply after the lesson and talked to a former accountant/judo champion with gold teeth who was kind enough to say in broken English that she thought it had been a nice class. I think she sensed that had I been a Japanese gentleman of the samurai school, I would have disemboweled myself in short order.

The tutor didn't have much to say in the feedback session; she agreed that it'd been  a total debacle. We got our first week's review several hours afterward: I'm barely meeting the course criteria, in large part because of this morning's screwup. But my problems run deeper: my verbal instructions aren't succinct, I repeat and rephrase what students say when I ought to leave well enough alone, and I give them definitions which I should rather elicit with leading questions. These are far from unreasonable criticisms. I have excellent models of good teaching in the tutors themselves. I just pray to God I can learn to shut up! Particularly when I'm uneasy. Otherwise, I'm at real risk of flunking the CELTA.