English Teacher

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On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On the point being to keep trying.

Published March 21, 2016 by mandileighbean

nevergiveup

“In the stories, though, it’s worth it. Always worth it to have tried, even if you fail, even if you fall like a meteor forever. Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a terrible adult. It seems that I never fold laundry, I owe everyone money, I always forgot to check the mail, and I’m constantly drinking spoiled milk. On good days, I am able to convince myself that these minor defeats give me character and make me interesting; they give me something to write about.

And I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

My author page on Facebook has been experiencing more activity than usual, and I want to capitalize by composing a riveting, engaging blog post, but I’ve been lacking inspiration. I’ve also been lacking motivation. I haven’t written anything. I haven’t graded anything.

Last week was rough.

My twin sister returned to rehab a week ago today. I try to remind myself that relapse, whether or not anyone likes it, is a part of recovery. I force myself to consider the alternative, about where else she’d be if she wasn’t trying to get help. Neither scenario does much to lessen the disappointment, the frustration, the anger, or the sadness. It’s a gross, turbulent mess of emotions that I’m trying to compartmentalize and shrink so that they can be better processed and dealt with appropriately. But it’s hard; it’s so hard.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

“Because, perhaps, if this works, they will remember him. All of them will remember him. His name will … become synonymous with … love. And my name will be forgotten. I am willing to pay that price ….”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

That wasn’t entirely true, what I said earlier, about not having written anything. I’ve written some things, but nothing I’ve been thrilled with or necessarily proud of. I worry my writing – the themes, the characters, the dialogue – is repetitive. I worry I’ve written all of this before, and that might be because the object of my affection is every character I’ve ever written, is the epitome of every romantic fantasy I’ve ever had, and so it all comes back to him in one way or another. What’s especially troubling, and simultaneously amazing about being a writer, is that I invented this man before he appeared before me in the flesh (talk about a god complex, huh?). In college, before I had ever met this man, I started a novel and wrote, “He couldn’t watch her fawn over another man, couldn’t tell her how he felt because it was too late and he’d ruin it for her.” Swap the genders of the pronouns and I am my own prophet. It’s crazy; I said everything I should have said to him years before I met him. How depressing.

I wrote a poem, too.

I put the kettle on for tea
and pulled my leggings from the dryer
I hope there’s time for breakfast
before I go about setting the world on fire

Burning devastation – turn it all to heat and ash
There’s something freeing about going mad
To face the world with wild, reckless abandon
To give in, to be selfish, to be ignorant and bad

Consequences will come swift and sure
Rolling quickly like so many rocks downhill
But it could absolutely all be worth it
For the liberation that accompanies the kill

What does being so reserved get you,
maybe a curtsy and a smile?
None of the mystery, intrigue and danger
that can go along with being vile

But I don’t think I’d really go so dark. It’s easy to not consider anyone or anything else other than my own wants and desires, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s difficult to do what is right, at least sometimes.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

On the struggle with technology.

Published March 5, 2016 by mandileighbean

I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology.

I know this may seem like quite the hypocritical statement as I am using my computer and the internet and social media to update my narcissistic, self-indulgent blog, but hear me out. I want to be a writer, so in this digital age of selfies and tweets and whatnot, I’m going to have to adapt and get on board or die (metaphorically speaking, of course). If people take to Google and social media for book recommendations, I have to be on Google and social media. It’s a concession I can live with to help build my writing career. It’s almost unavoidable.

So let me rephrase my earlier statement: I absolutely loathe my dependence on technology in my personal life.

My phone is nearly always in my hand. If I’m not texting (but hardly anyone ever messages me because I physically interact with those who matter most, which is certainly a good thing) or checking e-mail (does anything important ever really come via email?), then I’m using Safari to check Facebook (I deleted the app to make a statement, but I found a way to be on the social media site constantly anyway). I’m scrolling and scrolling and scrolling on Instagram and Twitter, looking for likes, re-tweets, mentions, whatever. When there’s nothing satisfying there, I play Bubble Mania, Candy Crush or Tetris. I’m always looking down, disengaged and only pretending to listen to the authentic life happening all around me because I’m obsessed with this piece of technology and all the artificiality that goes along with it.

It’s my greatest weakness, and what I dislike about myself the most.

In my opinion (so please only take it for whatever it may be worth), social media only reinforces the crippling need for outside validation that seems to plague the human race. I recently traveled to Philadelphia to see David Cook in concert with my sister, and I took pictures. That in itself would be harmless if the intention had been true, if I had honestly taken pictures to create memories. However, creating and saving and storing memories was only part of my motivation. I wanted to take those pictures so I could upload them to Instagram and Facebook so I could count the likes and comments so I could feel cool and hip and modern, so I could feel like I belonged at the metaphorical watering hole of this super progressive, hyper intellectual, digital age. How stupid. How vain. Why do I need everyone to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? Why do I think everyone wants to know where I am and what I am doing at all times? If I put everything out there all the time, there’s no mystery left. I’m essentially robbing people the opportunity of getting to know me because I’ve created this false persona using technology and social media which could easily satisfy anyone even remotely curious. I’ve created an alternate version of myself for the masses and have rendered myself lonelier than ever. What kind of masochistic nonsense is that?

A wonderful colleague recently told me she’d read a few of my blog entries. She complimented me on my writing (yay!), but said I broke her heart (oh no!). She told me I was too hard on myself, and I know this to be true. Self-deprecation is usually the only humor I can handle, and I am constantly screaming at myself for all of the awkward, dumb, harmful, and lazy behaviors I engage in on a daily basis. Reaching for my phone and idling instead of reaching for a book to expand my mind fulfills all of those categories. It’s awkward to sit in a room – any room at anytime, anywhere – full of wonderfully interesting humans and ignore all of them to go on a phone. It’s dumb to not expand one’s mind and perception through reading, writing or conversation and instead retreat to multicolored candies that need crushing. It’s harmful because it perpetuates the idea that self-love is indulgent and ugly, and that worth is truly determined by society and the media and this new social media. We are all forced to become our own PR people and it’s weird and gross, and I dislike it more and more the more I think about it. It’s lazy because all I need is my thumb and a pair of glazed-over eyes.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll go completely off the grid by any means. Family and friends and loved ones can be scattered from one end of the globe to the other, so it is important to stay connected. I love that my aunt in Pennsylvania likes the memes I share about weight loss, and I love that she likes the sexy pictures of Elvis I find and post from time to time. I love that my cousins in Alabama can be brought up to speed with my life by a few pictures here and there, and vice versa. My coworker is going to the Big Apple today to see “The Crucible” on Broadway, and I’m looking forward to pictures and her review. My cousin is currently overseas serving his country, so we need the social media to keep in touch, to share messages of love and support. These are harmless human connections that are beautiful and wonderful.

But it’s all about moderation, right? It’s all about keeping our minds right and prioritizing.

The best part about the David Cook concert was not the blurry pictures I posted on Instagram a few hours later. It was spending time with my sister. It was shouting out the word “bipartisan” when David was struggling to find it, him thanking me for doing so, and my sister rolling her eyes because I’m “such an English teacher.” What a beautiful moment to feel validated about my passion and career. I did all of that without my phone. When my former phone was destroyed last month and I was without a phone for a few days, I survived. The world did not end. I was okay.

I did lose thousands of pictures, though. That was my own fault because I never backed them up using my computer. I assumed those treasured images would always be on that phone, because I tricked myself into believing technology is infallible and perfect and the answer to every question I ever had. That is simply not true, and I just feel that if I remind myself of that, I’ll regain faith in nature and people and all that surrounds me.

I fell in love with a great friend, but he didn’t feel the same way, and the friendship has since changed and is beginning to fade. Some of the pictures I lost were of the absolute greatest day we ever spent together. This makes me sad for many valid reasons. However, I was inspired to write this post (but really, it’s become a rant, hasn’t it? My bad) because in mourning the loss of the digital images that I never printed (what a metaphor for the relationship, huh? I’ll save that for my next novel), I realized that I felt I needed the pictures because I didn’t trust myself, didn’t trust my own memories and feelings. Those pictures became a kind of talisman that helped me pretend the friendship wasn’t fading, that I was right about everything, so look, look everyone! Look how we’re smiling with our arms around each other! I’m not crazy! There was something there, and I can prove it!

Why should I have to? I don’t have to, and that’s my point. I want to reduce my dependence on technology and social media in my personal life because I need to love myself and my life in reality. I don’t need the approval of others, and I don’t need to know everything about everyone because then what will our conversations be made of? What will I discover in intimate moments?

When I’m at the dentist’s office, or waiting for friends at a bar, I’ll pull out my journal or a book, but never my phone. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

I’ll post to promote my writing and my writing career, but not to start some drama or for attention or to start a pity party. That’s a new resolution. That’s a promise to myself.

And now, I’ll post those pictures of me and my sister and David Cook, since I invited you in.

Enjoy the weekend. xoxo

 

 

On maybe choosing what is worst and doing it on purpose.

Published October 25, 2014 by mandileighbean

I haven’t written in over a month.

I sincerely apologize.  There is no excuse.  I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed by work, which in turn has certainly muted the passion and inspiration within.  When I leave work, I mostly eat and then sleep.  I have not been prioritizing as I should and as a result, I seem to be drowning in paperwork, in responsibilities, and other things that do nothing for my soul.  I know I sound like a defeatist, but let me assure you that is not the case.  I’m just in somewhat of a slump, but it’ll all turn around.

I’m crediting Gerard Way’s concert on Thursday, October 23rd as the reason for me to begin anticipating the end of my slump.  Maybe it was the fact that Melanie and I both decided to wear loose, knit hats and flannel, or maybe it was how amazing Gerard Way was performing, and how he spoke to my very fears and hopes and dreams, or maybe it was just being in New York City, but something about that night changed me, I am sure of it.

meandmelandgerard gerard

 

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #18: “I … love you?”

“I … love you?” she croaked.  She had never intended the statement to sound like a question, but she was caught terribly off guard by all of the wide, gawking eyes.  She had never intended for this conversation to take place via a microphone in a crowded, dimly lit bar, and surrounded by unsuspecting and incredibly judgmental coworkers.  Alcohol was a funny thing, she supposed.  It really could make you do and say things you knew would be incredibly mortifying or wildly inappropriate.  She didn’t think she had imbibed so much, and had assumed she had been perfectly capable of conducting a rational conversation with the man she had fallen desperately in love with.

It had been doomed from the start, and she would have realized that had she ever stopped to think about it, but she never did because it made her sad, and it made her feel stupid.  She didn’t like not knowing things.  For example, she’d punch herself in the face – repeatedly, and as hard as she could – if it meant she’d know with absolute certainty whether or not he wanted her in the same way that she wanted him.  She would cause bodily harm to both anyone and everyone if it meant she’d find out if he had singled her out for a genuine purpose, or if he had only been lonely and she had been desperate and voila; a friendship had been born out of necessity, rather than authentic affection.  On some level, she knew she was probably thinking too much, but the alcohol had cured that, and now it was apparent that she was not thinking at all.

For if she had been thinking, she would never have cajoled the microphone from the karaoke singer, with a smile as greased and manufactured as his hair.  Certainly, she would not have cleared her throat to command the attention of the packed room, patrons turning in her direction, sweating drinks in hand.  Their faces were patient, polite and interested; they were actually eager to hear her.  It was a bold, empowering feeling and she rode that wave of energy like an idiot.  Smiling big, like a beautiful, little fool, like an innocent idiot, she stood underneath the hot light, twirling in the dress that was much too fancy for the bar.  She was inebriated enough to think she looked gorgeous, which was enough to help her believe that she was also suddenly inexhaustibly charming.  She beamed and said, “Hello, hello everyone!  If I could just have your attention for just a second, that’d be awesome.”  Patiently, she waited until the crowd quieted and heads turned because she thought she could be something cinematic and perfectly romantic, that this drunken moment would be the beginning of everything good.  Things like that don’t happen in real life to mousey girls who convince themselves in quiet desperation in a cold bed that they are special and that they’ve been saving themselves for someone truly remarkable.  The alcohol had made her forget and so she kept right on talking.  “I just wanted to say thank you for coming to the end of the year party, and I hope everyone’s having a great time!”  Cheers and catcalls rose from the crowd and she smiled wider.  “I would also like to say something to Noah.”  She paused to accommodate for the crowd joining her in her search, craning necks this way and that, and turning to one another to audibly whisper and wonder why this stupid fool was looking for someone so strong and handsome and cool.  “Noah, are you out there?” she called.

The crowd parted and there he was, Noah.  He was embarrassed, never one for the spotlight, so as he walked forward, he kept his face lowered and eyes locked on his feet.  She knew his eyes were light and bright, the way the water looks near the shore in the middle of the day, a translucent kind of blue that invites you to run and splash and ruin its tranquility as best you can, but she only knew that because she had stared at them for what seemed like hours on end.  He was beautiful and brilliant and brooding and guarded, but he had let her in.  That made her somebody.  That made her special.  She couldn’t lose that feeling no matter what, no matter the cost, the way a drug addict steals from her own mother’s purse to achieve the next fix.  She was breathless, watching him walk towards her.  He stole a glance as he neared her, his smile fading with uncertainty and it was the way his mouth thinned that made her realize she had been wrong.

This was all a mistake, a terrible mistake.  One such as he could never condescend to grace one such as she with love and attention and affection.  She had miscalculated, woefully so.  And now here they were, in a crowd of friends and strangers alike, with everyone waiting for her to say something.  She laughed nervously and croaked, “I…love you?”

Bursts of laughter came from the crowd, with their open mouths and merry faces all blending into one atrocity.  Her eyes couldn’t – her eyes wouldn’t focus on the mass of apathetic people before her, but she couldn’t look at him.  If she did, she would throw up and that was probably the only thing that could make everything worse.  She dropped the microphone and took off, slamming against Noah’s shoulder but not mumbling an apology, only running and running until she get to a far enough corner where she could hail a cab in anonymity, tail between her legs.

bridget

On being woefully unprepared.

Published December 29, 2013 by mandileighbean

sorrow

I’ve noticed that as I go through life, I truly take so many things for granted. I’m not just talking about the big ones, like that I’ll wake up in the morning and have breakfast and people who will love and support me, but the other things, the smaller things, too. When I walk through the heavy doors of the high school where I teach, glass framed by sturdy metal, I take for granted that the people I see every day will be there every day. I assume that just as I woke up, showered, dressed and arrived, so did everyone else. I fall into the comfort of complacency and a routine established back in September. I say hello to the principal’s secretary in the main office as I sign in and continue to the back and check my mailbox. Usually, a colleague representing the math department will be using the copier and we will exchange the polite and proper pleasantries as I silently and internally curse myself for not having arrived earlier to hog the copier, which may in fact be the only one working in the building at that given moment. Mailbox checked and copier in use, I proceed through the rear door, back down the hallway I came from, to my classroom to unlock the door and prepare for the day. The little things in that litany are things that could mean more than I’ve ever imagined.

For example, a beautiful, stylish and incredibly knowledgeable English teacher had a classroom across from mine. In between periods, as we both stood by our doors to greet students and ask students to remove their hats, we would roll our eyes in commiseration at the more difficult conglomeration of students we were charged with educating. I would ask about her children and her resulting hectic weekends. The conversations were pleasant, polite, and more often than not, I’d return to my classroom smiling and laughing because she had a wicked, witty sense of humor. Indeed, she went as far as to aid my father in essentially humiliating me during parent-teacher conferences because she thought it’d be funny to see me squirm. She was a real riot.

I wanted her to like me. I wanted her to accept me because I respected her so damn much. She was the kind of woman I’d be proud to be, had even hoped to be. Balancing a social life and a career with a beautiful family, being so well-dressed and knowledgeable without being pretentious or aloof – she was a wonder to behold, and I know I was blessed and privileged to share a department, let alone a hallway, with her.

I took for granted that I’d see her on Monday when we all returned from winter break, refreshed and perhaps already eagerly anticipating spring break. I took for granted she’d be there, just as I was there.

But this wonderful woman who meant so much to her family, friends, colleagues, students, and athletes passed away this morning. Those of us left behind are devastated by the tragedy and senselessness of losing someone so young and beautiful and brilliant, and we keep repeating statements like, “But I just saw her … but I just talked to her … but I was just saying” because we took for granted she’d be there and in doing so, were woefully unprepared for the day she is not there. According to Philip Roth, that’s the real human tragedy: being unprepared for tragedy. That is what we are; unprepared to say goodbye, and unprepared for how hard her absence has already and will continue to hit us.

Rest in peace, Tara Gardner. You were loved and will always be loved, just as you will always be missed.

sorrow1

On Hurricane Sandy and faulty internet connections.

Published November 4, 2012 by mandileighbean

Every time that I have tried to update this blog, I have been thwarted by an unreliable internet connection.  It is incredibly frustrating and I have been tempted to just give up and save the update for tomorrow, but I have already lost far too much time.  There are so many stories that I have neglected that need to be told.  There is no more time to waste.

Sometimes I think about purchasing a pack of cigarettes and lighting up a long, slender, cylindrical stick of tobacco encased in paper.  I would inhale smooth and deep, let the smoke and tar sufficiently coat my lungs, and then I would exhale all the anxiety, insecurity, stress, and worry – all the really ugly and cancerous toxins.  I have romanticized smoking as an inexplicably dangerous, freeing, and alluring activity.  I think there is something about both the blatant idiocy and sheer recklessness that is strangely appealing.  This notion is strange indeed, given the current socioeconomic climate which is exceptionally health-conscious, but I suppose I am strange.  That adjective used to embarrass me, but now I embrace it fully.  In fact, I think that it is wonderfully liberating.
“Where are you now?  Where are you now?  Do you ever think of me in the quiet?  In the crowd?”

 

It has been quite some time since I have posted a blog entry.  My negligence has not been a result of wanting for inspiration.  Rather, my blog has remained stagnant because of a base, weak aspect of human nature: simple laziness.  I am tired and lacking in motivation to do anything other than sit on my ever-growing ass, let alone create.  Monday through Friday I come home defeated because I am exhausted from work and having a hell of a time adjusting to the shortened schedule because there never seems to be a respite – the immersion in school and grading and paperwork is total and complete because “home” is forcibly transformed into a second office.  The high school instructional schedule runs from 7:00AM to 11:57AM, and then teachers are required to stay until 12:50PM, performing assorted and assigned duties.  We then are required to leave, unable to return to our classrooms and forced to contend with a swamped faculty room and crowded library.  I feel – and I know I am not alone – as if I am constantly moving from space to space without a moment to catch my breath and without a sense of validity or ownership.  It is incredibly draining and defeating.

And for me, when I come “home” in desperate search of sanctuary but am still laden with work and an endless list of obligations, I am still nomadic and without a space to call my own.  I have a bedroom, but it is increasingly cramped for a young woman.  It is literally the smallest room in the house but what is more heartbreaking for me is the lack of metaphorical space and of room to grow.  I am surrounded by reminders of my childhood and adolescence, and of all of the failings, regrets, and shortcomings.  I am faced with physical, tangible mementos and I have to contend with vague memories, cloudy reminisces.  I am engulfed in juvenile dramatics at work and at home, which makes it more difficult to progress and move forward.  I feel stuck and stunted, contrary to any and all reassurances that I am a nice person, doing the right things, and being responsible.  Many of these reassurances come from my parents but fall on deaf ears because the reassurances have an unpleasant ring of ingenuity to them.  If my parents really meant what they said and if they really felt proud, then it stands to reason that I would not have to fight for every single scrap of recognition and praise.  Instead, glowing admiration and heartfelt compliments would be showered upon me and rain down.  That is not the case; I beg and plead for acknowledgement and more often than not, I am sorely disappointed.

I abhor the fact that I constantly look outside of myself for approval and that I am so dependent on others for acceptance.

I am terrified that I demand too much attention from those around me.  I am terrified that my parents do give me enough praise but that it is not enough and will never be enough for me because I am selfish and awful, a bottomless pit of need that no one will ever be able to fill.  I am terrified that I am becoming an obnoxious martyr, that people are tired of me, and that really, I am nothing special or unique.

I had no intention of whining.  I promise that this impromptu pity party began with nobler intentions.  I wanted to write about my cousin Cory and how he is an inspiration.  I was going to captivate and enthrall my audience with humorous anecdotes from my trip to Salem, Massachusetts.  I was planning on most definitely announcing that my debut novel, Her Beautiful Monster, is available for purchase from the Martin Sisters Publishing website (http://www.martinsisterspublishing.com).  I had hoped to post an entry that was a close reading of a particularly spooky passage from Stephen King (or maybe just a love letter to Stephen King) in honor of Halloween, which is one of my favorite holidays.  On Halloween, I should have been watching horror movies and gorging myself on popcorn and candy, but Hurricane Sandy ruined Halloween, devastated the Jersey Shore, and has depressed many of the residents of the Garden State.

            I know that I am blessed and I am incredibly thankful that out greatest inconvenience was being without power for less than twenty-four hours.  My family members, those in Toms River, are worse off, but still have homes and their lives.  I am fully aware of how lucky we are and thank God that we are okay, and being able-bodied and possessing the means, that we can help others.  I know that I talk about getting out of Jersey.  I smile when comedians make fun of the way New Jersey smells – I even commiserate – and I smile when they make fun of the incapability of New Jersey’s citizens to pump gas.  I cringe when I think of the awful, putrid reality television shows filmed in New Jersey.  But New Jersey is my home and I am damn proud of that fact.  My heroes hail from Jersey.  I am damn proud of all those from Jersey, people who bond together through thick and thin, and are always mindful of the brotherhood of man and what that means in times like these.  Sure, I talk – and write – about getting out but Jersey is one hell of a place to come home to and I want that opportunity for me, my children, and my grandchildren.  Homes may be lost, towns may be destroyed, and businesses may be demolished, but all of that can be rebuilt.  Sandy may have knocked Jersey down, but it certainly has not and will not know Jersey out.  As a fellow Jersey native once said, “And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know when the announcer says, ‘And now in this corner, from New Jersey …’ they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we’re coming out swinging.”

           On November 1st, I planned to start anew and come out swinging.

 

I was supposed to start anew on November 1st, but there was an unforeseen complication: my dog, Bijou, was put down that day.  He was fourteen years old and the veterinarian suspected he was dying of kidney failure but without running some tests, he could not say for sure.  However, he could say with one hundred percent certainty that Bijou was dying and he more than subtly hinted that it was time to put him down.  I was okay, not sobbing, until the assistant placed a muzzle on him.  I understand it was a necessary precaution and there were legality issues to be considered, but the idea of Bijou biting anyone is laughable.  To see him so sick and obviously suffering and then muzzled like some dangerous monster was too much.  I started crying and then I could not stop.  He yelped when the painkiller was injected and I held him tighter when they brought us into the other room.  Dad and I sat with Bijou for some thirty minutes, petting him and saying goodbye and telling him he was a good boy and he was.  He did pee on Mom and he did poop in the middle of the kitchen table, but he was wicked smart and damn adorable.  I am really going to miss him.

           Dad whistled and Bijou tried to get up.  He tried to get up a couple of times and I wanted to just take him home.  I am really kind of pissed off that I was in the room when Bijou was euthanized because it was too damn sad.  It broke my silly heart to see his breath hitching and his eyes glossy and constantly slanted so that they were nearly shut.  I am furious that I saw Bijou so worn and so defeated.  It sucks, for lack of eloquence, to lose a pet.  I miss him.  I really do.

Mom cried – and she never cries.  She admits that it is weird without Bijou, but that is all it is for her – weird.  I want her to be right because I do not want to be so sad over a dog that was pain in the ass more often than not.  Every member of my family has hunted him down in the neighborhood when decided to let himself out for a walk.

But he was incredibly affectionate and very good with children.  He could do all sorts of tricks.

            I miss my dog.  I will start anew on Monday, when I do not feel so emotionally gross and when school reopens.  The return to some kind of normalcy will be good for me and for the state.

Tomorrow I am meeting a friend for a late lunch to discuss marketing possibilities for the book.  All of my dreams can be realized if this book does well; it is all I want.

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