Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reflection on Scratch Paper

As some of you well know [former students, family, pets],  I do not waste paper.

When I taught school, I would collect paper that had only been used on one side, flip it over, and place it in a drawer.

Sometimes I would take one of those pieces of paper, use the back of it for brainstorming, note making, or wadding it up tight, I would hurl it at unruly students. Actually, they didn't have to be unruly.

When I was at DCHS, and after I had made a considerable stack in that drawer, one of the vocational education teachers {thank you, Mr. Brewer} took my 8x10 one-sided used paper, cut it into fourths, applied glue to the edges, and sent it back to me for scratch paper pads.

I loved these ready made pads.

When I left DCHS, I moved those stacks of pads, and as I moved to three other schools, South Cobb, Harrison, and KMHS, I moved them again.

When I was at KMHS, a fellow teacher looked at me when I changed classrooms and said, " How many times have you moved this paper?"

I said, "None of your business [Brendan]."

Over my thirty-three year teaching career, I saved paper with one-used side for scratch paper. Even though I no longer had my "man" from DCHS, I cut the one-sided paper into fourths, and I continued to recycle.

At Harrison, one of my sweet students made me a box for it. {Smooches to Chris H}

Then, when I retired, I moved it again. Home.

Now. I use it still.

I will never run out.
{Somewhere out there, my 'phews and nieces are groaning: "I guess we can add that to what we'll get to toss [no pun intended] when she dies."}

I make notes to myself and David, grocery lists, write down things I read in books [which I move to a more permanent place -- is that more groaning, I hear?], or I wad it up for Tallulah to fetch.

She likes fetching and batting the paper around.

BTW: When David and I had new carpet installed, the installers moved this huge piece of furniture in our bedroom: underneath it -- hundreds of wads of paper. Bwha.

These guys didn’t speak English well, but they must have been looking at each other and making comments under their breath: -- "what the heck?"

I, personally, didn’t feel the need to explain hundreds of 5 1/2 x4 1/2  inch paper wads. Installers need their own "horror" stories about the houses they visit. Otherwise, what will they talk about at dinner?


I get lots of huge “inside’ grins from the “old’ stuff I find on the back of these pieces of paper.

Old absentee lists with students’ names circled. [some dated back to 1982]

Memos from the county, the principal, or in school personnel -- always a waste. Heh.

Old tests, handouts, or student work [tossed into recycled boxes in my room]

Today as I made a note on one of them, I found old spelling/vocabulary tests complete with student writing.

How old?


Even though the students’ names are missing [this is the lower left hand side of the paper], I can see where I had marked their misspellings wrong in red ink.

These students, circa 1980s I’m guessing -- so DCHS or South Cobb, have some creative spellings.


Vial -- viel, vile [would work, but not], vail, vrylle

Esteem -- asteam, esteme, exteam, isteam, issteam

I wanted to show you the variation on calamity and boisterous, but this darn, word program kept auto-correcting.

Technology. So arrogant.

As I looked at this, I thought of the resistance to spelling from my students who complained [yearly -- until they just surrendered] about my expectation for their spelling to be correct of vocabulary words.

Student: It says “vocabulary” not “spelling.”
Student: Can’t I just know what they mean? Please?
Student: Spelling is old skool school.
Student: Why should I have to know both? Who is gonna ask me to spell and know what it means? Who?
Student: You’re so mean.

Fighting that battle was hard, but I did it till the end.

I might have been the last to expect it. *sighs*


In this particular pile of scratch paper, I also found, in my handwriting, a handout with “terms for short stories” and “terms for poetry.” Nobody needs that anymore either.


We have the internet.

The world is safe from illiteracy and misspellings.


ETA: This is an inherited trait. As I walked away from this blog to do something else, I had a memory flash of my mother, sitting at the kitchen table with the old dot matrix continuous feed computer paper and writing and making list on the back of them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

In hall bathroom....

Planned to sleep lots today.
Wind blowing outside.
House cold. Little.
Nice and cozy inside.



Human make unusual noises.

Climb stairs many times.


Must investigate.

In hall bathroom.
With tools.

One no recognize.

Know. No likey. Have taken valuable hair.

Know. No likey. Just cause.

Red gun.
No know. Probably no likey.

Better than hair dryer.

Of the devil.
Formidable foe. Worthy of my ire.

Human. DIY.




Must stay.

Scissors close by.

Change position.
My stool.
No likey in here.

Belongs under window.
For birds.

Not for birds.
For me. For bird staring.


More pose.
Human relentless.
Catfabulous. My word.


Might as well sit.
This looks boring.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Life: The Movie

Over fourteen years old [its publication date 1998], Life: The Movie, by Neal Gabler reveals how Americans obsess over “celebrity, gossip, scandal, and real-life melodrama.”

Beginning with the nineteenth century, Gabler investigates how our country became so focused on the “sensations of the popular press” as well as the “theatrics of the popular stage.” Part history, part social commentary, he unearths steadily and with multiple examples the rise of entertainment and the demand we seem to have for it.

According the Gabler, entertainment is the “triumph of sensation over reason and the movies are “the barbaric yawp as no American from before” [love the Walt Whitman turn of phrase]. He believes its effects to be “corrosive” and the most “pervasive, powerful, and ineluctable force of our time -- a force so overwhelming that it has finally metastasized into life.”

With over fifty pages of notes, a bibliography, and an index, Gabler did his research. His fascinating look and in depth analysis of this social issue makes for a read that takes a hard look at us and our need to, as one writer puts it, “amuse ourselves to death.”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pulling Weeds

As I have been pulling weeds for weeks now with our heavenly spring weather [we got lots of weeds -- lots of beds -- argh!], I thought about the therapeutic-ness of weeding. Therapeutic-ness is so not a word.

Unlike Pearl of Scarlet Letter fame, who named the weeds after other Puritan children [who chased her and taunted her mother in the streets of Boston] so that she could mercilessly pull them from the earth and slam them into the ground, I gently pulled the many varieties of weeds in my yard: dallisgrass, plaintain, bristly mallow, mullein, and purslane. {I did have to hack a few of them with my handy, dandy, mini-tomahawk -- my favorite yard tool next to my “claw.”}

The tools do seem a tad violent, don’t they?

Pulling weeds allows me thoughtful time. Even though I do hear the birds singing, the occasional hum of the cars on the nearby four-lane, as well as the cars cranking as my few neighbors go and come through our cul-du-sac, these intrusions into my reverie seem pleasant --  not intrusive. Last Saturday, however, as many neighbors worked outside, I weeded to  “Highway to Hell” and “Every Rose Has its Thorn” [was that a warning?] which blasted from a neighbor’s radio.

I like the music of the birds and the four lanes' gentle, white noise better. *sigh*

The neighbor behind me has also been working in his yard, and he pauses sometimes and engages me in conversation.  Or. He talks; I weed.

He’s a fount of experiences -- he’s lived in a lot of places, been in many businesses, and currently has changed careers to “redo” himself.  Enrolled in nursing school and in his last year, he’s shared many times with me about how lazy the younger students are… as if I hadn’t seen that first hand. He’s quite surprised by their laziness as he sees their having such advantage over him with their younger minds and fresh from the education system.

“Do you know how hard algebra is when you’re forty-eight?” he tells me.

I nod. Age has nothing to do with my algebra nightmares.

My nursing school neighbor spent three days last week at a local hospital doing his clinicals. He told me stories about  the various areas of the hospital where he’s worked; he adamantly announced that he wouldn’t be interested  in Labor and Delivery as “pregnant women are crazy.” Labeling a pregnant woman “crazy” seems slightly redundant.

I listened. I nodded. I weeded.

Growing up, my mother taught us [made us learn] how to work in the yard. My daddy hated all things  associated with yard work, and he would have been fine with bringing in a load of gravel and spraying it green. My mother had higher standards.

BTW:  My brothers, sister, and I believed that our parents had us children just so they would have someone to do the work. [see previous blogs]

Along the left side of my childhood home next to the driveway, and on the fences on both sides of our back yard were roses --- a landscaping gift from the previous owners. In addition to these places, the previous owner also had installed an arbor at the end of the driveway and planted climbing roses that wove thickly through its intricate design. Mostly red but a few whites and pinks, this opulent display greeted the driver when he turned onto our street as our house was the second one on the left.

In season, the proliferation of roses created this almost solid mass of red and the aroma greeted us whenever we stepped outside. Mother made us appreciate them as she kept an eye out for ones of extraordinary beauty -- this a recurring theme. My mother found serenity in nature -- it brought her great joy: perhaps a leftover sentimentality from her own childhood growing up in the blue hills of Virginia?

Spraying and pruning them methodically, my mother tended the roses lovingly for years until we were teenagers, and our busy lives, as well as the growth of shade trees saw them gradually disappear. When my parents sold our childhood home in 1978, the rose bushes had dwindled to a handful along the driveway. 

One memory I have about "the roses" is the appearance of  complete strangers at our front door who stopped when they saw the display and asked if they could cut a few. “Of course,” she would say, but immediately and humbly tell how she inherited them and could not take credit for their magnificence.

On Mother’s Day, the tradition was to wear a rose, pinned to our Sunday morning church clothes, the colors symbolic:  red for a mother who was living and white if she had already “passed.“ We cut the roses from that garden  -- us always with a red one, my mother in red up until 1962 [the first year my mother wore white] and daddy, whose mother died when he was young, always in white.

But I digress.

Because of the beauty of those roses, my mother wished to keep the beds they were in weeded, and she charged mostly my sister and me with the weeding since the boys were destined for harder labor --- mowing the lawn and trimming the bushes. Ugh. I would so much had rather had what I perceived to be the easier job -- anything but weeding.

When my mother instructed, she demanded that we do it “right.” By her standards, she pulled weeds from the roots -- none of this whacking them off at ground level -- instead, using a spade and elbow grease, we were to dig down and around and remove them by the roots. “Clean break” she would nod as she kneeled and showed us how. Being raised on a farm, my mother understood the value of good habits in the fields and the resulting product given when done correctly. Later, when I was older, I found out from my mother’s sisters that “Hazel [her name] was too faint for the fields.”

Huh? My mother? Too faint? Please.

I despised weeding. I wished to be reading or hanging out with my best friend Marcie and lazing around her house listening to her Elvis records.

Weeding made me crazy, and I resented it with all my puny childhood anger. When mother told me to go outside and weed the “beds,” I procrastinated like a student writing an essay and stomped around till she practically pushed me out the back door.

There with the dirt under my fingernails, clods of clay sprinkled on my clothes, I would unearth earthworms and squeal, screech and run from the  bees, and just downright fume and fuss and prolong the agony.

Undaunted by my acting, my mother checked on me periodically and made me redo what I had already weeded because I hadn’t done it her way:  “clean” dirt beds -- no gangly green spouts of any height any where.

Mumbling under my breath that  I was being treated “unlike other kids” and being born to a “slave driver” of a mother,  I loathed weeding.  I made no impression with my “put upon” demeanor with my indefatigable mother. Like the disciplinarian she was, she held me to task, and I completed the job given.

What irony to now find me in the yard …. weeding. 

Meanwhile In Heaven:  My mother smiles as she pokes daddy in the ribs and points at me:  “Look at our Harriett Sue. Weeding.”

About the pictures: Unfortunately, I have no photographs of those roses except for this one taken of my siblings and me in the back yard.  My aunt Ava and Eleanor made the matching dresses. I'm sure the photo was taken to send to them and show off how cute we looked. :-)

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Published in 2002, Mairi MacInnes’s memoir Clearances delivers just the right amount of life. Her stylistic approach of moving between the past and the present with conversational ease makes the work not only fascinating but interesting. Just as if I were sitting with her, she tells of one event which spurs the next event which leads to yet another, but all the time moving seamlessly from one time in her life to the other. The movement, both natural and effective, creates a bank of recollections unlike any I’ve read in another memoirs.

Something brazenly honest in her revelations of her lonely childhood, her desire to attend Oxford, her service and loss of innocence during World War II when she worked as a driver in the Women’s Royal Navy Service, her various jobs, her marriage to an American and the nomadic life she set up with him in Berlin, Mexico City, and Mast Landing, Maine, all contribute to the fascinating and complicated life that she led.

A poet in her own right [I’m not familiar with her work], MacInnes peppers her memories with Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Bishop, Shakespeare, William Blake, and Wallace Stevens, the latter being one of her favorites.  What a delight to read how she wove these great writers in with her memories.

I love this quote she uses from Elizabeth Bishop: “Life and the memory of it so compressed they’ve turned into each other.”

Indeed.  Lovely book.