The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

An Artistic Year

     Tonight, Marc and I took Vinny with us to see We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson.  I've wanted to see this show for a really long time, so I was so excited it was coming to Los Angeles and very excited to see it.  Queen is the soundtrack of my childhood, and I even got to see Queen live in 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl (yes, I know Freddie Mercury was gone... Paul Rodgers took his place on that tour and it was phenomenal).  One of the best experiences of my life. We Will Rock You really does an awesome job of translating Queen's counterculture vibe to modern times. Loved it.

     The past year (as in twelve months, school year, not calendar year) has really been an artistic turning point for me.  Marc and I have made the arts a priority, and it all feels SO right.  Growing up an artsy geek in the greater LA area, I always imagined that I would spend a great portion of my life soaking up the arts scene in Los Angeles. For various reasons (mostly education and small children), this was the first year where I really felt like we did that.  With visits to the Getty Center and the Getty Villa and MOCA and LACMA and the Pompeii exhibit at the science center, I've definitely gotten a good taste of the LA life I wanted.  The little tastes I've gotten make me want more more more.  I wish we didn't live so far from the subway lines.  It's only about a 20-25 minu;postID=2329769197757677996te drive to a decent subway stop, which saves us some parking money and gas, but L.A. really needs a public transportation network more like New York because L.A. traffic sucks, and I'd love to avoid it altogether with a decent schedule and reasonable prices.

     This has been a great theater season for me too. I've seen more shows than I can practically count. I've seen Evita and Lion King and Ghost at the Pantages, bare in Los Angeles and community theater, Rock of Ages in Las Vegas, a community theater production of Next to Normal (totally blew my mind), The Last Confession and We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson, Cats at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center, and In the Heights by Cabrillo (oh my gosh, amazing!).  When you add to that list the shows I saw Vinny in -- Little Mermaid, Wizard of Oz, and Shrek, that's a lot of theater watching! I also directed two shows with my students and performed in a six week run of Willy Wonka at a local community theater. As a family, we hit the original Renaissance Faire for the first time, as well as a smaller faire called Nottingham Village, which actually was better in many ways than the original Ren Faire. We went to the Holli Festival (festival of colors) for the second year in a row and this time brought the kids. Altogether, this past year really represents, to me, one of the major highlights of living here. 

     I also realize that these things have only been possible because Marc and I have prioritized them. We have chosen to spend our money on these things instead of theme parks and other entertainment this year. We haven't done a lot of typical family friendly "kid" stuff, but our kids don't really need typical kid stuff. They are being raised to be patient and to work to expand their attention span, to appreciate staring at statues or taking in a garden. They are developing their own tastes. Tiana especially loves looking at ancient jewelry in museums. Vinny loves statues and realistic art, mostly classical stuff, and he isn't at all into surrealism or impressionism (which pretty much is the exact opposite of my tastes). Vinny has gotten past the shock and awe factor of nudity in art and might actually be starting to see the beauty in some of it, while Tiana still finds in necessary to giggle and say "Ew!" at all nude figures in art, regardless of gender.  Kids will be kids... but they don't always have to have non-stop action and "kids-friendly" entertainment. Given time and guidance, they can learn to find anything entertaining. With my few remaining days of summer, my kids are begging me to take them to the Natural History Museum. How many kids do you know who would rather go to a museum than a water park? 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The People Most Likely To Stick With You in the Future

     Today was my grandmother's memorial service.  Grieving my grandmother was strange until today. Today, it felt normal and okay. Memorials are important.

That's my grandma, but her body language and face here,
she looks exactly like my mom.
     My family and I have all spent the past three weeks preparing for this. The service was really nice. Just enough humor. Just enough spirit. When my cousin said during her eulogy that it had hit her that she would never receive another illegible letter from Grandma again (her eyesight wasn't great in the last few years, which made reading her letters somewhat of a shared family decoding activity) or sit around and chat politics, well, I pretty much lost it there. My grandmother was really rather "with it" until right up until the very end. Even when she started to lose her wits a little, the conversations were delightfully entertaining. Grandma always said exactly what was on her mind with no concern for political correctness or offensive content, which made listening to her like watching an episode of Saturday night live.

     I went on Pinterest and found some great ideas. I collected everyone's family photos with her in them in one Dropbox folder and I ordered prints of them from a legitimate photo place so that they would be high quality and look really nice, and I hung the photos up on clotheslines in the backyard and made a table runner from them too. (Incidentally, I forgot to take a picture of these and I thought it looked really nice. If anyone did snap a photo, can you send it to me?).  This way people could feel free to take the photos with them, so that they would have photos that they might not have had otherwise.  There's something to be said for paper photos that we might be losing in this digital age. It's nice to sit around and look at photos together without staring at a screen.
    I haven't really been emotional about it all this week -- the first couple of weeks were pretty tough, but this week I was more in "get ready for the reception mode."  But when I stood outside by myself hanging up all those photos, my grandma's entire life was on display for me and... wow... just wow.  I got so choked up. It's like disbelief, admiration, and sadness, all mixed into one.  In the video montage at the memorial, the song "My Way" by Frank Sinatra really said it best.
The little baby on far right, yeah... that's me. 
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
 When I bit off more than I could chew 
But through it all, when there was doubt 
I ate it up and spit it out 
I faced it all and I stood tall 
and did it my way
 I've loved, I've laughed and cried 
I've had my fill, my share of losing
 And now, as tears subside, 
I find it all so amusing  
To think I did all that 
And may I say, not in a shy way, "Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"

My grandma's life really had some ups and downs. When I think about some of the things she faced, I know that, put in the same situation, I'd have difficulty getting out of bed and functioning. But grandma ate it up and spit it out.  Okay... well really, there was very little spitting it out for Grandma. Especially not if it was sweets. If there was leftover chocolate cake in the house, you had to hide it if you planned to eat it later because to Grandma, well if no one's gonna eat that....
Food is a precious commodity to the Feeney clan. Haha. Although you'd never guess that today with the amount of food we had leftover. I love this family more than words.

Some of the family came to say goodbye to her the weekend that she passed away, so being together there was important, but this weekend's service and reception brought real closure.  I saw family I hadn't seen in quite literally twenty years, and then I saw some family I haven't seen in about three or four years, but a lot changes in a few years. The older I get, the more I realize that time is flying by.  I got to meet one of my eldest cousin's first baby. I feel like I remember just receiving a birth announcement for him and, well, he isn't even really a baby any more, he is a full fledged toddler. My own children spent the day ecstatically running amuck around the backyard with their cousins and second cousins. Tiana, who has not had a potty accident in nearly two years, was having so much fun playing with one of her teenage cousins that she just stopped in the middle of the yard and peed and let it run out through her shorts and then expected to jump back and play again. "Tiana! Why did you do that?" I asked. When she realized with disappointment that I was going to make her change her clothes before she went back to playing, I didn't even need an explanation. Her look really said it all. Family is important. Making time to see family is truly important. Every so often, one should enjoy the company of family so much that stopping to go to the bathroom feels like an unfortunate lapse in the pleasure of it all.

I convinced my mom that we needed to start the memorial service with Baz Luhrmann's spoken word recording, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," because in the past few weeks I have been reminded that this sound advice is truly a form of nostalgia that time and wisdom etch permanently on my heart:
"Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for good

Be nice to your siblings, they're your best link to your past
And the people most likely to stick with you in the future
July 19, 2014
Understand that friends come and go
But for a precious few, who should hold on
 Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young."

   My mom cried through most of her eulogy, which made me cry too, especially when she said that her mom was one of her best friends. My mom is one of my best friends too.  I'm so grateful to be of her clan.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mere Sense of Living is Joy Enough

I haven't blogged since April, which means a whole heck of a lot of catching up.  The return of warm weather has meant a renewal of time outside, campfires, 'smores, and family time.

In May, my English students joined with the art students to put on an exhibit of activist art. This exhibit was truly beautiful. My students displayed photography and petitions pushing for changes they truly believe in, which was beautiful. It was a reminder that there are many people out there who wish to make the world a better place. It was the perfect way to end this year with these great kids... many of whom I will be teaching next year.  Yes, I will be teaching three 11th grade classes next year, so I will keep some of my students, which I am excited about, because I like this group and having students whose strengths and needs I am already familiar with will be an interesting experience.

To end the year in drama, Jasmin and I worked together to put together a musical number about bullying, being different, and what it means to be an ally by re-imagining the musical number "Somebody to Love" from the musical We Will Rock You. I have noticed that musically, I don't always recognize what things are within our students' ability levels and what pieces are really way out of our league. Someday, I suppose I will be familiar enough with music to recognize this, but apparently, I just don't yet, because I am great at picking pieces leaps and bounds above what our students are capable of on their own. Jasmin is amazing though and is able to untangle my pipe dreams and make them reality. This nine-minute musical number ended up being far more challenging than either of us really imagined, but the final product taught us a lot and made us both very proud. After that "little" project, my students ended the year with a series of vignettes parodying stereotypes in schools, particularly ours.  A student parodied the principal and had everyone hysterical with his rather accurate portrayal, but my personal favorite was the senior who has been with me for several years and parodied me in a drama class skit.  She picked up on little details that I never even noticed, like the way I sit when I'm watching drama scenes, slightly shifted to the side, leaning back in my chair, and that I swing my keys around constantly, and how I hold my coffee cup slightly inverted inwards in the crook of my hand and my wrist. I found this very amusing. The kids did too. I really loved this drama group. They were less "drama," in the negative sense of the word, than any group I've had before, which was really interesting.

Saying goodbye to this group of seniors was hard for me. Because I teach mostly sophomores, by senior year, they have mostly all moved on, but I usually have a handful of seniors with whom I am still close at graduation. This year, it was a lot more than a handful, which made it less emotional and more emotional, all at the same time. I had some good closure this year because I went to prom, and graduation, and grad nite. I hosted a drama dinner and bonfire to say goodbye to the drama seniors. By the time summer began, I felt like proper goodbyes had been said, and I didn't even cry that much.  I somehow know that this group will stay in touch and that they will be very successful, and that is reassuring. 

Summer. Ahhh.  Summer began with a week of all my favorite things: sleeping in, going to the beach, and hanging out with my family, including some quality time with my nieces, whom I don't really get to see enough.  Then, the next week, the schedule picked up with Vinny at theatre camp and Tiana at gymnastics camps and me playing chauffeur. In between stops, I made time for lots of classes at the gym, and I decided to not feel guilty about how seldom I made time for these classes during the school year.

Then... my grandma took a turn for the worse.  She's been in assisted living in Vegas for a couple of years. She took a fall in October and broke her hip and shoulder, and we kind of all knew it was the beginning of the end. She wasn't taking to rehab quite the way someone with years to go would, and it was only really a matter of time, but a week ago, she took a turn for the worse, so we all rushed out to say goodbye.  Even though I knew when we went to see her for her birthday in December that things would never be the same, and she probably wouldn't live too much longer, saying goodbye still caught me off guard. I think it caught her off guard too. She's a fighter and lasted much longer in those final days than we thought she would. Very Dickinson. 
Because she could not stop for death, death finally stopped for her. And away she rode. And I'm still in this strange state of disbelief and acceptance all at the same time. It just feels like the last twenty years went by so fast. In my head, I'm still ten years old laughing at her struggle not to fall off an inflatable raft in my backyard swimming pool.  It really makes me feel a strange sense of my own mortality too.  Some days, I feel like I have so much of my life before me, the world is my oyster. But then, I wonder... if twenty years can just fly by... what is the end of my life going to feel like?  Will I wonder where all the time went? Will the memories be articulate pieces of happiness I flip through in my mind or will they be a stew of reminiscence that I stir in wonder?

For me, this portion of summer usually comes with bursts of energy that I funnel into being the best homemaker I possibly can.  I do my semi-annual deep cleaning and purging and many of my Pinterest projects for the house and yard become realized.  But right now... grief has drained my energy and all of my emotional and physical resources are going into just functioning. Forget completing Pinterest projects -- I will be happy if I can just get my laundry done this week.

I've given myself permission to be okay with that though. Instead, I'm investing in things that count and recognizing that watching the sunset on the porch while sipping drinks with my papa, well... that's time well spent.

 "Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough." 
- Emily Dickinson