Wednesday, October 30, 2013

So thank you...

"By the way I wanted to thank you. You were the first English teacher I had, that had confidence in me and my writing, and I really appreciate that.  Without that I would probably still dislike English, writing, and reading, and would have never taken your dad's creative writing course, nor would I have had the confidence to start at the normal college level English class- I would have probably placed myself in the basic one... So... thank you..." --Dani

            A student wrote this to me.  She FB messaged me, after I wrote to her, asking her how she was doing.  Dani is a smart girl.  She was very timid.  She was a shy, quirky girl, who wore winter hats throughout the school year, and was most definitely overwhelmed by me in our first few classes.  
          I'm an energetic teacher.  First period English students used to joke that they were glad they had me first thing in the morning, because I woke them up--They didn't need coffee.  In past years teachers let them sleep through class...  That's what the kids said... (Whizat?!!!)  They could never sleep through a Coleman class.   
         I know shy students don't know what to think at first, but I swear they really like me once they get used to me not letting them hide in their shells.  I would try to make them laugh at first.  I could get a smile to crack.  I mean, some of these kids weren't used to teachers making eye contact with them...  "Yes, I see you."  How many teachers don't see anything at all?
       Next, I would point out something amazing they did on an assignment to the entire class.  They would turn red the first few times, but a month into class, they were participating in discussions, and debating about grand ideas of humanity and the Earth inspired by literature and current events...  They were sharing their writing with the class on their own.

      So, Dani liked to draw anime.  Drawing was her thing.  Her creativity and artistic ability spilled over into her use of language, and the written word.   And I just saw what anyone should have seen...  And she sent me that little message just a week ago...  And it made me smile through some tears.  I miss teaching.

There! I wrote something positive.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


I am two people.  I am not sure of the exact moment when the division occurred; It must not have been violent; It must have been gradual.  Yet, I can think of handfuls of moments and events that could be that right moment: the one I could point to and say, “That’s when I changed.  That’s when half of me faded almost to non-perception."  

And, half of my life, for the last few years, I almost completely forget that an important part of me exists at all... Almost. There is still a whisper in my mind telling me I’m missing.  Look for her.  She is here.  The specter torments me.  This half,  the part writing this at this moment, doesn’t want to be alive.  I don’t want to exist.  I want the whisper to go silent.  I don’t want to hear it anymore.  I don’t want to be reminded of who I was, or who I could be.  I’m not.  I can’t.

When I am here, I have so little time--So very little time to find everything that I have lost.  Where’s my heart?  Where is my determination?  Where is my purpose?  Where is my fire?  You see, I always run out of time. I have to start all over again.  There is never enough time.  I never find what I’m looking for.  Yes, I think I’m crazy.  But it seems like a million artists have composed songs, written poems and novels and plays, or crafted paintings that reflect this dichotomy--This feeling of emptiness or loss of part of who we were.

And, gosh darn it, there is this in between as I move from awareness from one me to the other, where I question if this is just my PMDD nightmare, or if it is something more?  If it is something more, than I can change it.  I must have time.

And then, something happens... just now!  Snap out of it.  I am one.  (It is so perfectly timed in my body, I could write down the exact minutes, sometimes, that the lifting of apathy and lethargy begins).  As I am writing, Sam comes downstairs, frustrated that Stella will not settle down for bed.  I put down the computer, and quietly walk upstairs, holding her hand.  I snuggle her with her three favorite blankets, then lay next to her.   

My Baby Boy

Now, Michael has always been easy to sing to sleep. I run my fingers through his thick hair, down around his ears, and along his neck.  I “tickle-rub” his back and arms with my fingernails…  I sing him American Pie (yes, I know all the words) most nights, and he drifts off, ever so peacefully.  (I often think his future significant other will have her work cut out for her, because boys always seem to hold onto the comforting gestures of their mothers and want them repeated even when they are grown).  It is one of the most beautiful moments I experience as a mother--No, not just as a mother, as a person--To have my child fall asleep in my arms.  Stella looks like an angel when she is in slumber.  Her long, dark eyelashes resting lightly on her cheeks.  Her cupid bow lips parted slightly.  Her long hair splayed over her pillow.  She is all peacefulness and quiet…  The opposite of how she is when she is awake!  I have been teaching Stella her prayers at night.  And, like Mikey, she also likes me to tickle her back and arms with my fingernails.  She likes me to say the prayers over and over to her, while I tickle-rub her back, as she tries to allow her little brain to slow down, let wheels stop spinning—to calm herself.  She is so much like me.  I worry that she is so much like me.  

My babies, asleep in my arms
     But tonight, as I lay next to her, and wrapped my arms around her, I told her how she used to fall asleep in my arms when she was a baby. She said she felt safe and happy when she was in my arms.  And that is what will stop this madness. It has to.

I forget.  I sink into the well.  I have no one reminding me anymore.  I only have that whisper now, not a strong and sure voice of reason…  No one reminds me those babies put me back together.  I should be able to listen to that rational voice and not the screaming voices in my head when I feel so terrible... But, I  know I just can’t do this by myself.  Not yet.  I’m still two people.  I’m messed up.  I just need someone to pull me up, when I am hugging my knees, my face pressed hard against them, rocking in sadness, thinking I am too far gone…

I am Mine

The selfish, they're all standing in line
Faithing and hoping to buy themselves time
Me, I figure as each breath goes by
I only own my mind

North is to South what the clock is to time
There's east and there's west and there's everywhere life
I know I was born and I know that I'll die
In between is mine
I am mine

And the feeling it gets left behind
All the innocence lost at one time
Significance behind the eyes
There's no need to hide
We're safe tonight

The ocean is full 'cause everyone's crying
The full moon is looking for friends at high tide
The sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow's denied
I only know my mind
I am mine

And the feeling it gets left behind
All the innocence lost at one time
Significance between the eyes
There's no need to hide
We're safe tonight

Sunday, October 13, 2013

I love breathing, not mucus.

Allergies are quite despicable.  I don't want them.  I have them.  Now, since I have to have them--no way around it--I would love to have the kind that just make you sneeze.  Sneezing is kind-of funny.  I was even informed by my college roommate--after I told her, and a group of my friends who were passing a bowl in our apartment living room, that they were making themselves stupider--sneezing actually kills more brain cells than smoking the ganja.  Now, I'm not quite sure how that qualifies as a check in the old "sneezing kind of allergies are better" box, but I thought it was a ridiculous thing for her to say, and I responded to her informed fact with the statement, "Wow... See? It's already too late for you..."  Sneezing is funny, and does not make you stupid.  Don't smoke marijuana.
That grey fluffy stuff is air, not pot smoke in the diagram...


I don't sneeze a whole lot unless I encounter a dog.  Instead, I experience severe swelling of all the nasal and sinus passages, and excessive mucus secretion that drains down the back of my throat.  I mean, think about having this huge, gooey mucus mass just settling into your nasal tube thingys that connect to the old throat... It feels just like that.

On top of that fun sensation, my face feels compelled to make this horrifically obnoxious and unladylike snorting sound constantly, which neither helps move the mucus mass, nor aides my breathing in any way.  It's just an involuntary nasal snort.  It's a snort that also involves a vibrating sound in the back of my throat.  It is not funny.  It is not even kind-of funny.

Snort, Snort.

I have always had seasonal allergies and pet allergies, but taking Claritin D, beginning when I was in middle school, kept any symptoms at bay.  I could live a normal, snort-free life with just one prescribed medication per day.  I even lived with at least two cats in my house my my entire childhood and teen years.


However, after  the allergy fiasco at the high school,  where I was teaching up until this school year, (which could have been caused by mold; or another host of things in the air that I was constantly exposed to, and just did a number on my respiratory system), I have not been the same.  Typical allergy tests actually show I have no allergies what-so-ever, which would totally rock my world if those tests were accurate.   I had endoscopic sinus surgery in April. I am on allergy medication, a steroid nasal spray, Albuterol sulfate through an inhaler, a daily nasal wash, and oral steroids any time things get really bad, and I still am snorting like a pig.  I still have a mucus-sludge slide running down my pharynx.  Gross?  I could just use the common medical term and say. I have "postnasal drip." Yet drip is an inadequate descriptor for the mucus party happening all up in my face.  Even "postnasal" doesn't sound so bad...  That might make you think, "Oh, haha, the drip comes out of the nose!  Just carry a tissue, for Pete's Sake."  If I could hear your thoughts while you were thinking that, I would think in a really mean thinking process, "Nothing will even come out of my nose, dingbat!  I can blow my nose until the cows come home, and nothing comes out.  It's in my gosh darn throat.  It is sliding down my gosh darn, son-of-a-bitch, throat."  Good thing we can't read each others' minds.


And so, a lovely parting gift, among the many I have received from that old school of mine, is Chronic Allergic Rhinitis, Chronic Sinusitis, and Asthma.  And guess what: Those are all classified as diseases. 

Surgery could only help lessen the chances of sinus infections due to the inflammation caused by the...  You get the picture.

Here's a tip for you:  If you feel constantly congested, or experience wheezing on a regular basis in any environment, go to a doctor immediately and take it seriously like s/he will ask you to.  I wanted to teach.  I love teaching.  I took medicine and kept teaching.  Now I have three diseases.  Don't take my word for it?  I'll offer you a bit of scientific information at the bottom here:

This diagram is quite self-explanatory, but for those of you who don't understand it, the description below covers it. 

During the first exposure to allergen, contact is made with B cells that differentiate and produce IgEantibody. The IgE against the allergen is released into the bloodstream and eventually binds to Fc receptors on mast cells and basophils. The mast cells are now sensitized, laying in wait for the second exposure. Upon contact with allergen a second time, it now attaches to IgE present on mast cells causing degranulation. On the cellular level, the granules present in the cytoplasm migrate to the cellular membrane and spill out their contents into the surrounding area. This results in the release of histamine, slow reacting substance of anaphylaxis (SRS-A), heparin, prostaglandins, platelet-activation factor (PAF), eosinophil chemotactic factor of anaphylaxis and proteolyticenzymes. This cocktail of proteins are the mediators of inflammation and they trigger a number of physiological responses including smooth muscle contraction, an increase in vascular permeability and mucous secretion.
In its most severe form, systemic anaphylaxis, there is a generalized response. Exposure to allergen causes an immediate, large amount of mast cell response over a short period of time. This results in large concentrations of the mediators of inflammation being released all at once. Individuals experiencing systemic anaphylaxis have trouble breathing due to smooth muscle contraction causing the closing of the bronchioles in the lungs. Arterioles also dilate, resulting in a drop in blood pressure and capillary permeability that causes a loss of fluid into tissues. Victims of this response can die within minutes from reduced blood return through the veins, asphyxiation, low blood pressure and circulatory collapse leading to shock. Quick treatment with epinephrine (increases blood flow and inactivates mast cells) and antihistamines (combat histamines) is essential to prevent death. Common allergens in this type of reaction are penicillin, passively administered antisera and insect venom from bees or wasps.
Localized anaphylaxis (atopic allergy) is a less severe form of anaphylaxis, whose symptoms depend primarily upon how the allergen enters the body. In hay fever (allergic rhinitis) the allergen enters the upper respiratory tract. Common allergens in hay fever include pet dander, pollen, fungal spores and household dust mites. Exposure to these particles causes the typical symptoms of hay fever, i.e., runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing, most of which are indicative of the action of mast cells. Treatment typically involves the use of antihistamines to block the action of histamine released by mast cells.
Bronchial asthma results when the site of immunological response is the lower respiratory tract. The same allergens that irritate the upper respiratory tract in this case cause the symptoms of asthma. Mucus accumulates in the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs and smooth muscle contraction of the bronchi narrows the airways and causes the characteristic wheezing of asthma. Bronchodilators that relax the bronchial muscles and expectorants that clear mucous plugs in the lungs can relieve most of the symptoms of asthma, but it is still a serious illness that can be fatal if treatment is delayed for too long.

Sinus Infection

Airborne allergens such as ragweed pollen, mold spores, cat dander and dust mites affect the respiratory system, producing classic hay fever-type symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and congestion. Patients with untreated allergies or controlled long-term allergies can experience sinusitis or otitis media side effects, if exposure continues. According to the, bacterial or fungal sinus and ear infections can pop up again and again in people with immune systems weakened by frequent allergic reactions.

Read more:

Lung Infection

Prolonged mold exposure triggers long-term allergies and raises the risk of lung infection, or aspergillosis. When sensitive individuals inhale mold spores, these minute particles can lodge in the lungs and begin to grow. Patients with asthma or cystic fibrosis may have an immediate allergic reaction upon inhalation, the reports. Others may not know that fungal spores have invaded the lungs until a ball of mold growth damages lung tissue. Coughing up blood, trouble breathing, chills and fever may all occur. Medication or surgery may be needed to control and remove infectious mold growths.

Read more:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Family of Man.

Monday, October 7, 2013

__it Happens: Six Inches in Front of Your Face.

I don't know what to say really.

Three minutes
to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today.
Either we heal as a team
or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch
play by play
till we're finished.

About two weeks ago, I punched myself in the Goddamn face.  I didn't do this intentionally, but to be perfectly honest with you, I think I deserved it.  I proverbially "wrecked myself."

It hurt like a mother, and as I stumbled back, and touched my face, which was dripping blood, I started laughing.  Who punches herself in the face?  How is that even possible?

We are in hell right now, gentlemen
believe me
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
or we can fight our way
back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.

You might even ask that question: How did she freaking punch herself in the face?  I don't think I'll tell you...  Not yet.  I can tell you that when I looked in the mirror, I was shocked to see that I had split my upper lip, inside and outside, and split open my lower gums.  My nose was bleeding, and starting to swell up.  It wouldn't stop bleeding.

I looked awesome.  I sort-of looked like I had been in a real fight, for freaking once, and I tell you the other guy looked a whole lot worse...  I have been fighting something or someone for so long, and here was some bloody evidence...  That it was me.

Now I can't do it for you.
I'm too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I pissed away all my money, believe it or not.
I chased off anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately, I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That's, that's part of life.
But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.

I grabbed an ice pack and a dish cloth and laid down.  The kids were in the living room, and this violent episode happened in the kitchen.  I told them that "mommy hurt her face" and that I was okay, and they kept playing Legos.  Sam wasn't home.  I'm glad he wasn't.  We would have laughed our asses off, if he had seen it happen, and I'm sure it would have torn open wider and been a whole lot worse.  I could already see that I would have a scar.

So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half step too late or to early
you don't quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don't quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.

I was always the fighter, in my family.  I was the fighter.  Yet, in complete paradox, my mom called me, "The broken cookie kid," because I always took the broken cookie when all the other kids wanted the whole ones.  I never made trouble.  I wanted to make everyone happy.  

Clearly, I also wanted to defend what was right and good in the world.  When I was 8 or 9, I knew my biological father was telling people in town that my mom was a drug addict.  This was not true, not at all true, at the time.  They had divorced when I was 6, she had just remarried, and he was jealous.  I was at my Nanny's house, which was not a long walk from the grocery store that the Lisai family still owns, and my little self decided to walk down there.  (Those were the days kids could walk alone in a small town, without people thinking a parent was being neglectful, or parents' freaking the fuck out). First I decided to scratch the "SH" off the "SHIT HAPPENS" bumper sticker on his van, which was in the parking lot.  

Then I marched myself into the store, to the butcher counter in the back, and Brent smiled and hugged me with his bloody apron.  He walked outside with me.  I must have looked like I meant some business for him to come outside to talk to me.  I do know he started crying.  I made a man cry.  I don't remember everything.  I remember I told him not to say lies about my mom.  I know he told me that people were saying he molested us kids.  He said, "Do you think that is true."  I remember telling him I didn't know.  I didn't really know. I know my mother never told me, or asked me, or persuaded me to do this.  I did it all on my own--All by myself.  I remember when I decided to leave, I did hug him, and I pointed to, "IT HAPPENS" on his van, and he just shook his head.

On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that's going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.

I'll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.

I was that kind of kid.  I was that kind of girl.  I was that kind of woman.  Lately, I realize that I stopped fighting.  I kind of gave up.  I remember feeling the fight drain out of me.  It was the day I walked out of my classroom for the last time.  I never went back.  (I didn't know that was the last time I would stand in that room, and close my desk drawer).  Giving up, that is not Joanna.  That is the opposite of Joanna!  I know, earlier in my life, fighting meant that things would turn out better, or I was protected by childhood innocence.  I stood up for boys who were bullied by my stupid friends in high school.  I was a popular girl, so people listened to me.  And I know that fighting, as an adult, is different.  It can mean turmoil, and enormous disruption, and pain.  It can mean I lose.  I have lost.  I have lost a lot in the past few years.  But, I'd rather split my lip, than huddle in the corner, scared of the bad things that might happen.  I have done that for three years...covered my head with my gloves, and taken the blows.

Now I can't make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.

And I understand that I have no one else to be my corner "man" anymore.  I wanted someone to just lift me up and save me. I wanted to feel protected by someone, and not just my own fists.  But I spent too much time looking over my shoulder for someone to tag me out, and I stopped throwing my own punches.  

So, my first new punch landed in the middle of my own face, but maybe that's appropriate.  (It is not so awesome that I did it opening a bottle of wine.  I was pulling really, freaking hard on that ridiculously huge metal corkscrew).  But I do think I was the one hammering myself into the corner.  Unfortunately, I have no idea--no idea at all--how to get myself off the ropes, and back into the center of the ring...  Or if I do know, I'm really scared to start doing it...  I guess that's what I need to figure out next...

That's a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That's football guys.
That's all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?