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On squirrel crossings.

Published October 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

The other day, when I was driving home from Sussex, I saw a squirrel dash across the Garden State Parkway – across five lanes of speeding traffic – to the other side.  He scurried amongst leaves and shrubs safely and smile spread across my face.  I wish I had that kind of daring and tenacity.

Sometimes, in the morning when I am driving to the high school, I scan through the radio stations.  Inevitably, the dial lands on Bible Thumper radio, which features men who sound impossibly old, who gasp out sermons of fire and brimstone, demanding that we all repent.  I like to leave the station on for a minute or two because I like the eeriness that fills the front of my car.  The streets are usually deserted, my dying, dim headlights lighting on nothing but pavement and painted white lines.  The change that lies discarded in one of two cup holders and clangs irritatingly around in the space as I drive is the only other sound.  It is not comforting; it is unsettling, but I enjoy it all the time.  I suppose that makes me weird.

More and more, I am realizing that the more things change, the more they truly do stay the same.  My belief – or faith? – in a common human thread is affirmed on a daily basis.  Human beings may age physically; hair may grey, joints may weaken, and lines may form, but emotionally, they can be as childish and as whimsical and romantic at seventeen as they can be at ninety-seven.  That knowledge, that possibility, gives me hope and makes me smile time and time again.

Lately, I am becoming more and more obsessed with romance.   I worry that this could be dangerous; dangerous to myself, to those around me, and to my writing endeavors.  To make this obsession more of a contagious disease, enjoy the following passages from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Also, please note that I have booked a hotel room for Salem, Massachusetts.  At least I make good on some promises.

 

“’Because,’ he said, ‘I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.  And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.  As for you—you’d forget me.’”

 

“’I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion.  ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal—as we are!”

On nasty surprises.

Published September 5, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was the Staff Orientation at the high school for the entire district and man, it was a long day.  When I walked out of my classroom at 5:30PM, the lights in the hallway were literally off.  I practically shut the place down.  I’m proud of all that I got done today, but it was really unnecessary to be there so late.  I wasted some time lollygagging with colleagues, but I managed to work some good karma, helping others shuffle textbooks in and out of their rooms and find their portfolios.

I came home and ran.  It felt good; it helped me to work out some of my stress and I had forgotten how good it felt to be sore, to have blisters and to have tangible evidence that you are making a difference.  I weigh in on September 16th.  The goal is at least five pounds lost.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news.

I heard back from my editor.  My gallery pages are scheduled to be completed this week.  I am so excited!

I’m trying to keep this short and sweet because tomorrow is the first day of school and while I feel prepared, I am confident it will be a restless night.

PROMPT: While digging in a cereal box for the toy surprise, a child makes a grizzly discovery.

PIECE: Mikey had his father teach him how to set the alarm on his wristwatch the night before.  Thankfully, Dad didn’t ask too many questions or wonder at Mikey’s sudden interest in the somewhat more complicated features of his watch.  Mikey set his alarm for 6:00AM, a whole hour before he had to be up and getting ready for school.  He figured that sixty minutes would be more than enough time to slink out of bed, to pad noiselessly in bare feet down the hallway and down the stairs, to creep into the kitchen, to hunch before a low-mounted cabinet and open it slowly so the joint didn’t creak too loudly, to retrieve the new cereal box and the surprise toy within.

He had seen Mom removed the box of cereal from one of the yellow, plastic shopping bags after returning home from the grocery store.  He had been irritated by the way she handled it so carelessly, just tossing it into the cabinet, not seeming to care if it tilted and fell against the others.  Did Mom not know about the prize inside or the intense satisfaction of being the first to find said prize?  Immediately, his eyes flicked to his older brother, Jimmy.  Jimmy was currently elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos and Mikey didn’t think he’d seen the cereal box, but he couldn’t be sure.  Jimmy was sneaky.  Jimmy thought that because he was older, everything was his.  Those two inclinations proved to make life difficult for Mikey.  But this time, just this one time, he would be hailed the victor.

The alarm clocked beeped at a truly annoying high pitch three times before Mikey slammed down on a small, metal button on the side of the clock face.  His eyes shot to Jimmy, who seemed to be asleep.  Was he faking?  Mikey hypothesized that if Jimmy were feigning slumber, then Jimmy would move when Mikey moved.  As soon as Mikey’s feet hit the floor and the board creaked beneath his weight, Jimmy would sit up and demand to know what he was doing.  Then again, Jimmy might really be fast asleep and besides, Mikey hadn’t woken up so early for nothing.

He pulled the covers back very, very slowly – inch by inch – so as not to make a sound and so he was able to make his movements as slow as possible.  After what seemed like an eternity, Mikey was free of the burdensome covers.  Keeping his movements lethargic, he sat up in bed like a zombie from one of the movies he wasn’t allowed to watch but that Jimmy could.  Jimmy would tell him all about the gruesome, violent parts and then tease Mikey when he asked for the light to be left on.  He didn’t need light now – it would definitely wake Jimmy up.  Barely breathing, Mikey twisted his body around, swinging his legs softly against the sheets.  Though the mattress creaked as he slid for his feet to touch the floor, Jimmy remained motionless.  Mikey said a little prayer and tiptoed across the room, nimbly avoiding the toy cars and playing cards left out from a few nights before.  The moonlight that stole in through the window illuminated the landscape just enough for Mikey to make out dangerous shadows.

Once he was out of the bedroom and in the hallway, he could breathe easier.  Mikey kept an even pace – to break into a run would be foolish and loud – and took the stairs one at a time, placing his weight as evenly as possible.  He was proud for the amount of physical restraint he was displaying, but it completely dissipated when he reached the landing.  Jubilation filling his veins, Mikey tore through an archway to his left and slid to a seat before the cabinet, his pajama bottoms navigating easily across the linoleum floor.  He wrenched the cabinet open, retrieved the cereal box, and slid a slightly shaking finger beneath the cardboard flap.  Eagerly, he slid his finger across the edge of the box – a paper cut be damned – and crudely ripped at the other flap.  He never thought he’d be so thankful for cheap glue.

Mikey lifted the plastic bag containing the sugar-coated corn flakes and struggled for a moment or two before the thicker plastic gave way and ripped satisfactorily.  His fingers were sweaty and had trouble gripping the edge but once they did – boy; that was all she wrote.  Mikey let the plastic bag fall back into the box and he plunged his innocent, little fist inside, feeling around for the prize.  His fingers brushed against something that was firmer than corn flakes, and he seized it.  He brought it triumphantly out from the box, a few corn flakes falling to the floor.

It was a human toe, bloodied around the end from which it was removed from the body it, until recently, belonged to.

Mikey screamed and screamed and screamed.

On getting back up.

Published April 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay – I know I promised myself that I would run while on vacation, and watch what I ate, and write every day. I also know that I did nothing of the sort. I am angry with myself, and I readily acknowledge that I am weak. But I simultaneously acknowledge that being weak is acceptable as long as I am not defined by my weakness. So here I am, trying again and for that, I am allowing myself a proverbial pat on the back.

Vacation was wonderful. I love my family and the time we spend together. I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my younger brother and was enamored with the theme park. My younger brother was a trooper, taking pictures and following me around as I flitted from attraction to attraction. He allowed me to be a nerdy, immature young woman and I love him for it. Clearly, the day we spent together was my favorite part of the entire vacation.

I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert at Madison Square Garden on Monday, April 9th. It was exhilarating, and most likely the closest I’ll ever come to having a religious experience. It inspired me to start work on a story involving an older musician coming to terms with his mortality despite the protests of his young lover and indifference of his numbed wife. What do you think? The inspiration is obvious, but I’m still working with the characters and themes, trying to twist them into something new, original and thrilling.

I was the candidate chosen for the maternity leave at the high school. I’m teaching senior English, and one section of creative writing. It is amazing, and I am incredibly excited. It hasn’t truly sunk in yet, and I need to be more disciplined in my lesson planning and classroom management. I’ve been so busy and tired that I’ve been letting things slide; for example, my first day in the classroom was yesterday, and immediately after school I had a final interview with the superintendent at the Board of Education office, then home instruction and then Confirmation practice with my younger brother. I did not get home until 8:00PM. Today, I taught, attended the faculty meeting, home instructed and now here I am, ready to write.

🙂

I hope you enjoy it.

PROMPT: “Inspiring Books.”
As writers, we all love to read good books for inspiration. What book inspired you as a writer and why?

PIECE:
I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the tenth grade, when I was fifteen-years-old. I had never experienced love that was reciprocated, but it was the only thing I wanted and something that I still yearn for. I would do anything, be anyone and commit any crime to have a hand reach for mine out of desire. I thought I had that my sophomore year, but it all came crashing down around me the way things seem to do in high school. The boy didn’t like me; he just liked the attention that I freely gave. When I read Fitzgerald’s classic, I totally empathized with Jay Gatsby and intrinsically believed that novel was written specifically for me. It was that universality – though it is a dangerous term to use – that helped me to realize that I was not crazy or melodramatic, but human and that is a story worth telling. I gained so much confidence and comfort in Gatsby’s desperation and heartbreak and demise, and fell in love with the craft because of its possibilities as presented in The Great Gatsby. It truly is the great American novel.

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