Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Queen of the Faux Pas

I'm taking a tiny break from my pile 'o papers (15-page memoir essays) to say Happy Halloween and to tell you of a bizarre moment with a student.

Franco, a very likable guy in my nonfiction writing workshop, came to my office hours the other day to talk about his writing. He was having trouble switching back and forth from the "scholarly" essays he has to write for a literature class, to the more colloquial, personal essay assignment in my class.

Along the way I ask him some questions about himself and he tells me he used to be an aviation major. Then he realized how bored he was with the whole instrument-reading part, and the program in general. He's a hobbyist of a pilot, so switched his major to English. Though, he says, "I sometimes think about the possibility of working for a small, private airline." To which I respond, "You could always go work for a Mexican drug cartel. That's where the real money is." We both laugh.

A few minutes later, Franco is telling me a couple of ideas for the final project; topics he's kicking around in his head. One of those: going to visit his father who was "incarcerated for 6 years when I was young."

"Do you mind if I ask why he was incarcerated?" I say.


"He was working for a Mexican drug cartel."

I blink a couple of times and just take that sentence in.

"What are the odds?"

"Yeah," he says. "I know."

"Look." I tell Franco. "If there's something that I'm not supposed to mention in a conversation, I always find it."

I went on to tell him about a phone call I got when I was a freshman in college. This guy named Keith, nice guy, was calling to ask me out. Keith was blind. I wasn't interested in going out with him because I had my eye on (I swear, I didn't mean to write that) another guy. But we chatted it up on the phone and it was OK. There was a storm brewing in the dark midwestern night. SNAP! A big vein of lightning ripped down the sky.

"God!" I yelled into the phone at Keith. "Did you SEE that?!"

"Actually, no."

Franco is very easygoing about it all. He wants to write about the first visit to see his dad. His mother told him "We're going to visit Santa." Though it was summer, and though both of his sisters were crying over going to see Ole Saint Nick, Franco took the bait. As he and his family walked into an ugly high-rise building near Chicago (where prisoners are held before the move to their final prison destination) Franco saw the big gold government seal on the lobby floor and wandered why Santa would have that painted there.

To this day, he doesn't know why his mother jerked him around with the Santa story. He plans to ask her while writing this essay.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy 69th Anniversary to My Mom and Dad!

They were married October 23rd, 1941, and it snowed. Dad was home on leave from the army, and wore his uniform for the ceremony. Mom wore a dark blue dress. The photo of them from that day, although it is sepia toned and hand-colored, cannot mute the sparkling of their faces. Their happiness bursts out of them into the world, though it is clear from the look in their eyes that they're in their own world. A world of two people who would be separated again to endure until Dad came back to stay.

This is one of the few things that could bring me back to put up a blog post right now. Why? Because it's that time of the semester. We're nine weeks in and everyone's getting crushed. The work load for students and instructors is so many layers deep that we seem to be doing a twisted version of "The Princess and the Pea." The papers and one-on-one conferences and general panic are the hundreds of blankets and we are helpless peas beneath it all. The fickle princess has run off to find a simple cot while we try to avoid becoming something Gerber's would slop into a jar.

Until I just looked into my gradebook I had no idea that we have only 6 weeks of class left. 7 actually, but one of those is Thanksgiving week. The weight of the schedule in front of me is daunting. Just today I came home in such fatigue that I skipped supper and went to bed at 6:45. My body had already warned me that it had had enough. I ignored it. Tonight there was no more warning. Just collapse. When I woke up at midnight, I started what I hope to be at least 6 hours of work.

My students are tired and worried and going in and out of various flu-bugs and colds. As am I. We get better and then we catch it again. The weather changes and we savor the crisp fall breeze as we blow our noses and hurry to the next class.

Flapjaw is still flapping, in between coughs and loud snotty sniffs in class.

I will now go back to reading the stack of 15-page personal memoir essays that were turned in this week. I am also eating cake. When Scott gets up in a couple hours I will hug him and go to bed. Another abbreviated shift of sleep.

Friday, October 08, 2010

An Example of What's Keeping Me Busy

This past week I've read 8 student "memoir" assignments. 6 pages each. The topics:

1. Joining a fraternity and "bonding" with the other boys through binge drinking and puking into a trash can lined with
a Hefty bag. (This kid is second only to Flapjaw in the "He Loves to Hear His Own Voice" category. The tension level in the classroom crackles each time he speaks.)

2. Getting drunk and walking around lost in the streets surrounding campus.

3. A British girl wrote about going through sorority "rush" and seeing what it amounted to. She'd seen the plastic red beer cups in movies about greeks and wanted to see them in person. She did not join a sorority.

4. An attempt to eat 80 chicken McNuggets in 80 minutes. (He made it to 62 and then puked.)

5. Volunteering in a homeless shelter and getting to know a formerly wealthy engineer whose life went to crap, and then started to look up, and then went to worse crap.

6. Remembering a father's terrible hoarding habit (magazines, VHS, cassette tapes) and trying hard not to become like him.

7. Driving to Newark (from another town in NJ) to buy heroin and crack and getting a gun held to his head.

8. A girl wrote about being 3 years old, having her mother buttoning her overalls for her, then suddenly slapping her mother
in the face as hard as she could, because she'd seen someone do it on TV.