Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

First, my very favorite short poem. By Ron Padgett.


I will sleep
in my little cup.

This poem always makes me happy. It sounds so cozy, doesn't it? Sleeping in a little cup where no one will bother you and no problems will be able to fit in there with you. You'll be all curled up and sleeping and oblivious.

We wish you many moments like this in 2010. Peacefulness. Being at rest. Far, far from despair.

We also wish you a very Merry Christmas, wherever you are.

May God's richest blessings flow down upon you and bring you to a new, wondrous place within yourself.


Candy and Scott

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Poetry Class With the Very Very Wide Spectrum of Talent

I've reached the end of my first semester back at BGU (Big Giant University). And what a baptism of fire it has been.

I taught three classes: 2 freshman rhetoric and 1 poetry workshop. The freshmen were great. Agreeable, smart, hardworking. They were downright sparkly. Ahhh, to get TWO freshman classes that I enjoy is rare.

Ever notice how the universe is balanced? Sometimes treacherously so?

My third class, the poetry writing workshop, screamed "Raise your hand if ALL your classes are outstanding! Not so fast, Candy."

I've taught lots of poetry workshops. There are always snags that you hit when someone gets a little snarky about someone else's work, or has a bad day, or turns in something bordering on offensive. No problem. Do a quick Alan Alda and talk about it and move on.

THIS class? How can I describe it.

On the first day, you always size up your class. See who looks incoherent, who looks bright-eyed and intelligent, who is dressed pretentiously, who is text-messaging (something I forbid in class), who is smiling, who looks like someone just killed their pet bunny with a machete.

On this particular first day, there were 4 stand-outs.

1. Loud Never-Shuts-Up Girl: She made her presence known. It was a mix of Nell Carter and a yipping prairie dog.

2. Flamboyant Girl: Dressed in an emerald green satin twirly skirt, black lace hose, a gold sparkly blouse, and giant gold scarf wrapped up over her head and tied in a big bow. Like she had some sort of designer mumps.

3. The Smug Twins: guy and girl. Leaning toward one another so closely I thought they were conjoined twins. Curling over in half-slumps, eyeing the rest of the class with a look that said "You are reptiles unworthy of my attention. You will never ever understand my work."

A few days later, I see a good friend of mine in the hall, who also happens to teach the same level of poetry workshop I do. It's a class the university has just added. He asked me how mine went. "Pretty well," I said. "Except for these 2 annoying smug kids that are already on my nerves." He asked me their names. I told him. He then confided in me that those very two students had emailed him after the first class, asking if he'd let them into his class, because they definitely did not like Candy's. I was crushed. He said "I'm only telling you this because you had them pegged on the first day. And yes, they are smug."

As I stood in the hallway trying to figure out a way to make the floor open up and swallow me like a giant frothing pit of acid quicksand, my friend said "I shut them down. I told them 'Candy is one of the best teachers on campus, and if you drop her class, you will regret it.' Besides," he said, "you'll win them over."

Yeah. Right. They hate me so much that they beg to get into another class.

"You just told them that crap so YOU wouldn't have to take them," I said.

Next, the usual process does its processing: I go home, freak out, and Scott talks me down from the ledge. We come to the conclusion that I cannot "play" to the Smug Twins. My only choice is to teach a kickass class and let the chips fall.

Easier said than done. It's hard to walk into a room with radiant confidence when you know for sure that 2 of the 14 students despise you. I admit it. I'm not all that grown up, not so emotionally mature that I can just let that fly by my bottom-feeding collection of neuroses.

But what could I do?

I treated them like everyone else, with maybe an extra tidbit of ignoring them. As it turns out, this bothers people like that.
So I clung to it. And a couple weeks into the semester, the guy whose class the Smug Twins tried to transfer to, emailed me and said they'd emailed him yet again, to thank him for telling them to stick with me. They were enjoying the class. I cried.

Happy ending. Until...

The factions in the class had formed. Out of 14 students, there were 8 "normal" ones and 6 who were in definite camps. Camp #1 included the Smug Twins and their housemate, all of whom are terribly well-read, good writers, and many, many-layered in their smugness. One of them, I'll call him Stretch because he's about 6'4", is the best student writer I've ever encountered. He just makes you sick. So much talent that he almost has reason to be smug.

Camp #2 consisted of Loud, Never-Shuts-Up Girl, her cohort I Am A Spoken Word Artist Girl, and This is Just Too Many Words Girl. (I will add here that Too Many Words girl wore a T-shirt to class one day that said "I Have the P*ssy, I Make the Rules," though on her shirt, there was no asterisk.)

The trouble was brewing from the beginning. When I passed out a fantastic poem by a Pulitzer prize finalist (and friend of mine), Too Many Words Girl said (of course) "This is just too many words. Why she gotta put so many words in there?" The Smug Twins openly snorted and rolled their eyes. It did not deter Too Many. "I mean...maybe she should write short stories instead. She might do better with stories."

"I'll let her know that," I said. "She's only won the National Book Award and was a Pulitzer finalist. But maybe she could try something where she might find more success."

Flamboyant Girl did her usual thing. She sat in her over-accessorized radiance (this time with a pair of Mickey Mouse ears to top off her gold satin) and said "Well, I think it's a beautiful poem! Just beautiful!"

And Loud, Never Shuts Up Girl did her usual. She drove us down a winding, tedious road of an unrelated personal anecdote about her grandmother in Chicago who likes to "put the smack down" on people who get all up in her face.

The personality clashes came to a head one day in class when, after Spoken Word Artist read her "poem" with much, shall we say, stage presence, the Smug Twins commented on certain lines that seemed a bit repetitious. After some very chilly back and forth comments, Spoken Word blasted out with "All y'all just don't get spoken word!"

My hormonal imbalance and lack of sleep jumped in and blasted back: "You know what? That's insulting. Don't come to my class and sit here and paint everybody with your generalizations." And before I could go on with the rant that was pushing its way out of my mouth like searing lava, thank God that a Smug Twin jumped in with (unsuccessful) soothing, almost patronizing words to try to keep Spoken Word from blasting a cap into our @$$es, instead of just a literary zing. The room was bathed in tension. I got control of my murdering inner self and moved the workshop along. For the rest of the class we were all on edge, like cats when the carrier is in sight.

Please believe me when I say I actually ended up caring for all these faction members. Spoken Word lost her mother 5 years ago, at age 14, and you can actually see the pain in her eyes. And who knows what the hell happened to the Smug Twins. My best guess is that they're wealthy 'burb kids who like to lament the white bread nature of the world, and their slanted, superior takes on all that surrounds them. How they suffer. Loud Girl? Possible inbreeding.

As the semester went on, the boy Twin kept cranking out astonishingly good poems and fiction, which he also asked me to read. He sent me music, brought books to me in class that he knew I would love. He wrote long emails to me about what he was thinking about, about his writing, about music. I even went to see him and his twin/girlfriend in their improv group on campus. (Scott and I were the oldest ones there, by about 15 years.) I sat one evening listening to the latest songs he had emailed me, and it hit me, just how my relationship with him had taken a hard left turn. We were pals. I could not believe it. We had crossed paths for some kind of reason.

So now I'm grading the poetry portfolios and have just taken a break before I can make myself finish Never Shuts Up's work. Her final poem, like all her others, is a love poem. First line: "Man, boo, I need you back."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The World's Most Poorly-Timed Phone Call

I called my mom today, on her cell phone. Checking to make sure she got to her mammogram appointment OK.

I was in a clinic myself, two hours away from hers, waiting to get my finger X-rayed. She answered the phone and we did that "I can't hear you" thing back and forth. She hung up. I walked outside the clinic to get better reception and called her back. She answered:

"My boobs are in a PRESSURE COOKER right now!"

"Holy sh*t!" I said. "I'll call you later."

Tonight when I spoke to her, she said that with the new mammography machine, they put BOTH of your boobs in to squash at the same time.

"And you answered the phone TWICE???"

"I thought it might be important," she said. "The nurse heard you yell 'holy sh*t.'"

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lunch at Shiny Meadows

Last Saturday, I went to be with Dad at lunchtime, to feed him and keep him company. Mom got to stay home and hang out with Scott and get more lessons on her new MacBook.

Side note: We upgraded her from a lame-ass Dell that sucked viruses out of neighboring universes and spread them across its own hard drive like marmalade on melba toast. Each time it would virus itself into paralysis, Mom would put it in the sadly incapable hands of the computer-fixer in town. The good news: He picks up and delivers, free of charge. The bad news: His wife drives him to and fro because he's lost his license after numerous DUIs. The worse news: He messes around with the Dell, gets it working halfway, brings it back, charges Mom $150 or $200, tells her he's put the "latest high-tech" protector thingy on it. When Scott sat down to work with the Dell to transfer some photos to her new MacBook, he found ZERO evidence of any anti-virus software. Thus, a bludgeoning is in store for Mr. My-Wife-Has-to-Drive-Me-Around-Like-I'm-a-Wussy-Liar.

Now, about lunch:

Dad and I sit at a table with Bill and Bill. Old Bill is a sad little guy, hunched over in his wheelchair, doesn't say much, isn't very coherent. When he does speak, it is one of two things:

1. "Nurse! I need help." (Nurse approaches and says, "What do you need, Bill?") "I'm in trouble. I don't know WHERE I am or WHO I am."

2. A mantra: "Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it. (Pause). DON got it. Don always gets it. (Pause) Doggone it. Doggone it. Doggone it."

Young Bill is my sister's age, 61, and was in her high school class. He has terminal brain cancer. He wears a hat over the pink worm of a scar on his head, and gets mixed up sometimes. His speech is halting. Otherwise, very coherent.

We're waiting for the kitchen workers to roll the ungainly metal carts to the dining room. Meals are the highlight of the day at Shiny Meadows, as they probably are at most nursing homes, outdone only by family visits (which can be good or bad) and Bingo games (always good). The push-pull of mental dissonance shows up in two steps. First, the palpable anticipation of the meal. A small eagerness, hopefulness hangs in the air. Very small. These people are so old and tired that even their collective mental hoopla can only muster the electricity needed for an Easy Bake Oven bulb. Part Two is the realization that this meal is the same old crap. A mushy entree, a mushy vegetable and a small sliver of a dessert that presses the sighs out of each old chest as they pick up the bent fork and attempt to dig in.

In the long moments before we hear the clangy silver cart swerving down the hall, Young Bill has become vocal.

Young Bill: I think...I smell...BROCKLY.

Candy: You probably DO smell broccoli. They seem to have it a lot here.

Young Bill: We get...a lotta...STINKIN' food here.

Candy: Yes, indeed. You said a mouthful.

Young Bill: You do know...that the two most...poop-smelling foods are.......BROCKLY and...cauli...flower, right?

Candy: I think I'd agree with that.

(The metal cart rolls into the dining room. Trays are distributed by the kitchen girls. I see the freshly-uncovered plate at the table next to us. There it is. Broccoli. And as usual, it is all stems, no flowers.)

Candy: Bill, you were right. It's broccoli.

Young Bill: Oh yeah? Well, why don't you tell 'em to... take it for a walk. It wouldn't be half a mile...down the road before...twelve dogs would be followin' it. Thinkin' it was...their own shit.

(I uncover Dad's tray and my own and try to assess the possibilities of what Dad will like. It is a turkey Manhattan, and broccoli. And a surprisingly large slice of chocolate cream pie.)

Young Bill (putting a fork into his Manhattan): Turkey just naturally poop.

Meanwhile, OLD Bill has spied the chocolate cream pie on his tray, pushed away the entree plate, and attacked the pie with his left hand. THUNK, it goes, his curled old claw, digging out a handful of chocolate and meringue. He smashes it into his face, covering his mouth, nose, and leaving meringue all over his chin and even in one eyebrow. This is what he has been waiting for.

Young Bill: Somethin' tells me...this man likes his pie.

Candy: You are the king of understatement, Bill.

As Old Bill gets some assistance from a CNA, and I continue to feed Dad, who is quiet and docile, as usual, Young Bill switches gears.

Young Bill: Henry David Thoreau...he had...the right idea. Walden Pond. THAT was the place

Candy: You like Thoreau?

Young Bill: Oh yeah. I've read Walden least ten times.

He goes on to compare Thoreau to Emerson and I listen and feed Dad and watch Old Bill clean the pie crust down to the bone.
Young Bill leans toward the window, closes his eyes and lets a beam of sunshine cover his face.

Young Bill: Sun. Now nice.

I watch him soak it up. He knows how to enjoy the sun on his face. I feel my own little piece of happiness, extending directly from his. I wipe Dad's mouth with a napkin, and start cutting up his chocolate pie.

Old Bill is being wheeled back to his room, where he will go back to sleep.