Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dentist meets the math teacher

I woke up in pain this morning. Tooth pain, which always knocks me flat. I took ibuprofen and waited for my dentist office to open.

This has happened before. I have four teeth with root canals. Each of them woke me up in pain. In 2012, I was in pain for months before the dentist believed me.

And not my dentist, but one of the other partners in the office. His quote: "If I touched it with cold it would hurt for a FEW MINUTES? You need a root canal!"

I have a high tolerance for pain, I know this is true, and 800 mg of ibuprofen took the edge off this morning. But I was dreading the root canal. More than the actual root canal, I was dreading the process, the confirmation of decay, the waiting, the waiting, the waiting.

My appointment was near lunch time, and I wasn't hurting as bad when I sat down in the chair. The same dentist who confirmed my last situation was going to see me, and I was glad, because I'm starting to get suspicious of my actual dentist's attention to detail. That's all I'll say about that. I'm debating my choices.

After the initial "does this hurt? Does this?" he decided I didn't need a root canal. I'd had a filling done last week (yes, I'm an adult who gets cavities, yes, I brush my teeth, yes, I floss, yes, genetics suck sometimes), and it was the same tooth causing the trouble.

Causing the trouble because the filling didn't cover all of the area where my dentist had drilled. Perhaps it had fallen out. Already. In 5 days. Sure. Or perhaps my dentist, well, that's all I'll say about that.

But here's the kicker. I was sitting there getting numb, and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him: I'm a middle school math teacher.

And there was this pause. He looked at his assistant. And then his assistant said, "Wow, I can't even imagine doing that, that's crazy."

About at this moment, the dentist begins his work, and so there's like 6 instruments and just as many hands working on one of my back molars. So I'm not talking.

But they are. The assistant proceeds to tell me not one, but FOUR stories about math, how much math sucks, how much he hates math, why, where, by whom, for what purpose, and so forth.

The dentist takes his time. He does a spectacular job. I am eternally grateful when health professionals are kind and efficient and talented. I thanked him and his assistant.

The dentist shook my hand, told me to let the office know if the tooth gave me trouble, take ibuprofen for a few days, etc. "And good luck going back to school this fall. I couldn't do it."

You're a DENTIST. And you there, you're his ASSISTANT.

What on earth do you think I do each day in the classroom? Burlesque lion taming while operating a crane on a barge? I mean, seriously.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Solvitur Ambulando

Over the 4th of July weekend, we went to New Harmony, Indiana. It's a former utopian colony. Actually, it's the home of two former utopian colonies. The first were the Harmonists, a German Christian group led by Fr. Rapp, who wasn't a priest, but their leader. They left Germany for the New World, settled in Harmony, Pennsylvania. There were too many distractions there, though, so they moved to New Harmony. They stayed in Indiana for 10 years, long enough to build a town and church and groves and so forth. And then they packed up and went back to Pennsylvania to form the town of Economy, where they lived until they died out.

New Harmony was founded in 1814. The Harmonists stayed until 1824 and then sold the town to Robert Owens, a Scottish industrialist who filled the town with scientists and forward-thinking social experimenters. Women could own property and wore the same peasant-style pants and blouse as the men. The schools they ran according to Pestalozzian methods, which struck a chord with me because my parents live on Pestalozzi Street! He was a forerunner of Montessori, influencing Froebel and then with him, Susan Blow. Kindergarten was taught at New Harmony, and the first free public library in Indiana (the Working Man's Institute) was established. Scientists surveyed the animals and plants and geology of the area. Some went on to help found the Smithsonian. The Owens group left New Harmony in a trickle--not all at once like the Harmonists--and the after effects were still visible into the 1860s.

Now it is a small town. Luckily, an oil baron's daughter married into the Owens clan and decided that philanthropy fit her well, and she saved many of the buildings. But she also brought in modern sculptors to create public religious art. There are two labyrinths in town--one is Harmonist and one is based on the Chartes Cathedral labyrinth. The town has a tiny main street with a great ice cream shop. Everyone in town rides around on golf carts.

I loved it. Bix did too. And our kids? They were oddly agreeable and peaceful. It was lovely. Pictures follow.

 This is a Harmonist Sundial. Below, the Harmonist cemetery. Note there are no headstones. Equal in life, equal in death. But once the Owen community started to drift apart, Harmonists traveled back to Indiana, dismantled their huge brick church, and built a wall around the cemetery. There are also pre-columbian mounds inside the cemetery. It's eerily peaceful and lovely in its simplicity.

Below, what is left of the church that became the wall. The flower at the top has the inscription "Micha 4v5" and Brooklyn figured out that it was Micah 4:5, which reads, "Though all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, We will walk in the name of the LORD, our God, forever and ever."

 Below, a Harmonist house. They were all 2 stories and an attic, measuring 20x30. Some were wood, some brick. They were lovely.
One of the labyrinths is done in polished and unpolished granite, with a fountain on one side. Carved in the stone next to the fountain is written "Solvitur Ambulando" which I was so hoping meant something interesting, and it does. I was so happy to discover: "It is solved by walking."

Here are a few photos from the roofless church. It was kind of hard to explain or get a handle on. So I liked it a lot:

Below, a modernist representation of the Pieta. That's another head emerging from the chest of the standing figure.
Inside the doorway of the old church is this fountain:

In yet another public garden was this sign: "raise the stone and you shall find me, split the wood and I am there." Ooh.

And...4th of July isn't complete without a parade. A golf cart parade....

And kids: look at them over there by a fountain. That was the 4th fountain they hung out at together. 

Really: it good ice cream at Bliss.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

TL/DR: The one when Sally went on and on about race relations

I'm having a hard time articulating what's been going through my head lately about national events. I've been thinking about recent stuff--the Supreme Court, Charleston shootings, church burnings--but besides Bix (those conversations go like this: [something is said] [the other person agrees] [repeat 150 times]), I haven't managed to really talk about all of this.

My cousin posted a forwarded picture that read: "My facebook feed looks like a war broke out between the Confederacy and a Skittles factory." And it's all overwhelming me with so many conflicting feelings and damn it, it's supposed to be summer.

Another FB friend posted a lengthy message last night about how fruitful she has found the discussion on facebook lately regarding racism, how social media seems to be helping white folk (at least those who are open to it) see the world through different lenses, that the past year has brought American racism out into the open in a way that we've been denying for, well, decades.

But she said how dismayed she was at all the rainbow colored profile pictures after the Supreme Court decision last week.

Not that she was upset that people were excited or happy about it, not that we shouldn't be allies in the struggle for civil rights, but she was bothered by the discrepancy: so many people had come to the decision in their hearts that being able to legalize a relationship, with whomever we love, is a basic civil right that should be defended, but so few people were coming to the public decision that black folks deserved the right not to be gunned down at church, or have their churches burned, or their sons shot in the streets. Few people seemed riled up about it.

I thought about St. Louis. I thought about when Ferguson "happened", how I'd never even been to Ferguson. Seriously. I live in South St. Louis, and the furthest north I ever go is Overland. In addition, I live in a minority majority city (minorities, specifically African Americans, are the majority race here), but on my block, out of the 100 people who live and breathe here, give or take a college student or part-time stepchildren, there is 1 black person. In the 17 years I've lived here, there have been a total of 5 black people, two of whom were adopted children of white folk.

In comparison, in the time I've lived here, I can count 9 gay people who have lived on my block. Probably more, since I don't go around with a clipboard quizzing people about their sexual orientation. Next door neighbors Keith and Ron, when we moved in, were the first people who were nice to us, this young hoosier couple with rundown cars and no clue.

In addition, I can look at my facebook friend list and I can count a large number of gay and lesbian folks. Some of my favorite people, and I don't pretend that in "some of my best friends are gay" kind of straight middle class white girl way. But definitely "some of my favorite casual friends and people who make my life rich and amazing are gay" kind of way.

Growing up? I didn't know anyone who was out to me. Except for one cousin, I didn't know anyone who was gay, personally, until I moved here.

Now, repeat that for black folks. Not until high school did I have any friends who weren't white (and Catholic, frankly). In college and throughout young adulthood, all my friends were white. My kids are at a mostly white Catholic school. I've taught black kids...but when I look at the kids I still know, they're all white or Vietnamese.

And now I teach in a 100% white school. 11 out of 10 students are white at the school where I teach. I have a lovely integrated Catholic church where I am involved and very happy, but I'm not really close to anyone who isn't white.

I have two facebook friends who are black. In comparison, I am friends with a dog and with a cat. I am friends with my sister's burlesque dancing persona. I am friends with more fake people than I am with black people. What the hell is wrong with me? How has this happened?

I'm not saying "Golly, I need to go rustle up some more black friends, STAT!" Because that sounds like I'm trying to collect a set of Pokemon.

(Although, side note, my mom met a woman while visiting my grandmother in the hospital. They talked about crochet and crafts and so forth and she gave my mom her number, saying, "My last white friend moved away, I need more white friends.").

I think this is part of the problem. As time goes by and the culture relaxes (slowly), more of our friends and relatives feel safe sharing with us, with the world, that they are gay. And when your favorite cousin comes out, moves to New York to dress socialites, and writes books telling women how to work with their personal style, it gets easier to say, "oh, that's not wrong or foreign or weird or awful, because I love someone who identifies that way." When your next door neighbors bring you back a Christmas ornament from the Netherlands and every year when you hang it on your tree you get a little teary-eyed because Keith died of cancer 3 years ago, well, it's like this: gay people aren't outsiders. They are your friends and neighbors and coworkers and they are people just like you.

But black folks can never be in the closet. You can never get to know them not knowing that they're black. There's never the moment when she tells you, "hey, you know I'm black, right?" He never shows up at your parents' Christmas party and introduces his partner and make it loud and clear that, yeah, you were right about your hunch, he's black, so make him a cosmo, would you? and let's hang out just like before.

In my life, it is harder to break the color barrier than the sexual orientation barrier.

Even worse, it never struck me, not once, until this past year. Until Ferguson and trying to explain where I live to a group of sheltered white kids. And realizing that I was just like them, except that my neighborhood had better restaurants and my church had better music.

So I'm coming to see that I'm part of the problem. I would never fly a Confederate flag. I would never say the n-word. I would never tell my kids they couldn't be friends with someone who wasn't white. I wouldn't forbid them from dating someone based on race. I think of myself as progressive. Open minded. My girl scout troop, at its peak membership, was nearly half and half, black and white. In fact, the PR gal at Girl Scouts loved my troop because of this, because it wasn't segregated in either direction, and pictures of my girls adorn the walls of the conference room. Troy and his biracial son lived with us for 3 months. I am not a racist.

But I'm finding myself in situations where it's hard to articulate what I'm thinking. At work especially. When I was told that I could talk about the protests in Ferguson with my students but I couldn't bring up race? Then I guess the conversation is over. I didn't even argue. Because I couldn't figure out how. I couldn't figure out how to be an advocate. An ally. In comparison, and remember I teach at a Catholic school, I found intelligent articulate grace-filled ways to discuss homosexuality and the Church with my 8th grade religion class. I can do that. So why on earth can't I talk about race, about racism, about white privilege? What the hell is the matter with me?

What the hell is the matter with me?

So I'm thinking. And maybe I'm starting to talk.