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Monday, April 21, 2014

Overheard on Vacation

I will type quickly to save the battery of my swiftly dying computer, whose charger expired the day before I went away for a week on a family vacation, on which I vowed to stay unplugged.

I did a pretty good job of it and only jotted down a few choice quotes because I mostly left my phone in my room.

Brother, when I mentioned that I was hot, at the memorial celebration for our grandmother: I spend a lot of my time overdressed.

Me, having an identity crisis and feeling old, surrounded by my cousins' kids, ranging in age from 3-7: We're not littles anymore. We're middles.

7-year-old, during a game of Hide and Seek: Annie's big, so she is probably hiding somewhere hard and big.

3-year-old, crying: I want to go to sexy school! But we can't do our moves!

Me, to 3-year-old: What was your favorite part of the week?

3-year-old: Playing with C.
Me: Doing what?
Him: Doing bad things.


Here are the remarks I shared at the celebration for my grandmother, followed by the slideshow that started off the event. (Please forgive the bad formatting. I don't have time to fix them today, but you get the gist.)

I want to start by reading a couple paragraphs from my grandfather, Charles Hockett’s “non-obituary,” which he wrote in 1996.

“In the fall of 1941 I sat in on a course in the Foundations of Mathematics, given by a professor Wilder. In it were a southerner (male), one fairly pretty and one very pretty girl, and others. I phoned the very pretty one and asked her for a coke date. She said, "Are you the southerner?" I said No in a disgusted tone of voice (ask her!). But she came on the coke date. I remember hearing the nickelodeon play "I don't want to set the world on fire, I just want to light a flame in your heart," a lovely song that I would enjoy hearing again. We went dancing, and took rides in the countryside. I asked her to marry me, and she said she would.”
And, six pages later, after a detailed account of the years 1942-1958, he closes with, “Much more has happened since [then] than ever before—my bookwriting (selling about six thousand copies in all), my songs and opera and many other compositions; Shirley’s teaching at Cornell, at Ithaca High School, and at Ithaca College, and her bookwriting (selling over a million copies); children through school and college and off on their own; five delightful grandchildren; trips to Maine, Utah, Wyoming and Montana and Idaho, England, France, Spain, Italy, China; cruises to Alaska, around the Pacific, and around South America; the Ithaca Concert Band and Shirley’s learning the clarinet to play in it and my switching from flute to piccolo to bass clarinet—and on and on and on. But to tell all that in as much detail as has been given above would stretch this essay out beyond all reason.

Besides, I’m tired of recalling and writing.

So I have given this account an appropriate title, and thanks for listening, and farewell.”

So you see, Shirley Hockett had it all. A large, boisterous, loving family; a 59 year long marriage to a brilliant man who was insanely devoted to and proud of her, travels that led her around the world, and a barrier-breaking career in a field she was passionate about.

When we got the news that Mom-Mom had passed away, my cousin posted a brief tribute to her on Facebook, honoring the matriarch of our family in a way I had never thought to but that struck me then like a bolt of lightning. She wrote it “to the woman who taught me that I could be a leader.”

I grew up with this picture of Mom-Mom in my head, ruling over us from a throne. (She didn’t actually have a throne, but that was how powerful she was.) She could be at once corrective and cutting, then burst out laughing, swinging back her beer and getting up to dance. I didn’t see myself in her or her in me at all.
In the days and weeks that passed after her death, we collected stories I had never heard and my image of what a truly remarkable, strong, brilliant woman she was became clearer.

And, interestingly, my understanding of myself became clearer as well.

I wanted to be an actress on Broadway until I was about 20 and was discouraged to discover that I was just OK. Then I got into directing, which I realized I was pretty good at. When I graduated from college and moved back to New York City, foolhardy and sure that I’d take the NYC theatre world by storm, I spent about two years feeling like an utter failure until, in great despair and ready to just give up, I started volunteering at a shelter and discovered that working with kids was like breathing for me. I had never taken to something so easily or felt so fulfilled by work.

I had searched for a calling my whole life, failing to remember or refusing to make the connection that I’m from a long line of gifted teachers.

From what I hear, Mom-Mom was a force in front of a class. She prided herself on learning every kid’s name on the first day. There’s a famous story of her continuing to write OFF the chalkboard and straight onto the wall, to keep her students’ attention. One day, late in her last days, my mom wrote to the family, recalling a visit she made to Bridges. As she was getting ready to leave, one of the men who was there to visit another resident said, "Hi, Shirley." Mom-Mom reportedly did a little wave. The man said to my mom, "She was my teacher. She taught me calculus." 

I saw Mom-Mom around Thanksgiving 2011, after I’d started my job, a job I have now been doing for almost 3 ½ years. At that point, she already didn’t know who I was, but we talked about my work and she told me she could just tell that I was doing the right thing. It was important for me that she seemed to know I was doing good work in the world.

My career is important to me; it’s a part of my identity, as I know it was part of Mom-Mom’s. She was so proud of the work she did and continued to work for years after “retiring.” I am dedicated to the kids I serve, to teaching them that they are strong, intelligent, hilarious individuals, that they matter, that who they are and whom they are becoming is just right. And that they deserve and will certainly reach full, happy lives.

It has only been in the months since Mom-Mom’s passing that I have come to fully realize that the example I have in my mind of a full, happy life and my own certainty that I too will have it all one day is thanks to her.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Overheard at Work, vol. XCVI

It's been an insane couple weeks--pushing through two six-day weeks in a row plus working 27 hours in 2 days during our annual gala.

This week, I helped run our annual singing competition and showcase and just got home to finish packing for a week off.

Next week's edition is sure to be bananas, as I'm spending the week with my ENTIRE family, including five kids under 9.

Me, to 7-year-old boy: I just want to squeeze you!
Boy: You can't squeeze me. I'm too fast!

8-year-old boy, to me, while inspecting my nails: I think you need a nanny-pedi.

Me, to Colleague A: Where's Emily?
Colleague A: I don't know who Emily is.
Me: Emily? Film and video teacher?
Colleague A: I didn't know her name was Emily.
Me: What did you think her name was?
Colleague A: I dunno. Martha?

13-year-old boy, singing: Cuz I'm happy...clap along if you feel like a room without a roof...CUZ I'M MAD.

Teen boy: I'd go to Simmons even though it's an all girls school. I'll be Jawanna Mann for a year.

Teen girl: That's all you need in life is chin hair and tattoos.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Overheard at Work, vol. XCV

Our big annual gala is two weeks from tomorrow. This was the last relatively low-key week before I disappear in preparation for that event.

I forgot to include this quote from last week:
Me, to two teen girls: You ladies should stay for Family Night.
Teen Girl: What's Family Night this month?
Me: For Women's History Month.
Girl: *rolls eyes*
Me: What?
Girl: I hate that...I'm like the opposite of a feminist.

Me, to a volunteer and an 8 year old boy: If I took a nap right now, what would you do?
Volunteer: Probably be really jealous.
8 year old boy: Um...cook you for dinner.

8 year old boy, thumbing through camp brochures: Yo. I need to be away from home for a little while.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Overheard at Work, vol. XCIV

Well these days are just flying by, aren't they?

This week featured a couple late night work days, one to take a group of teens to see a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was lovely, and tonight, after Women's History Family Night, where I ran a super fun activity testing the kids' knowledge of important women in history and culture.

Colleague A, more beleaguered than I've ever been: It's too much work to eat.

Colleague B, hoping to avoid my (joke) plan to "drag him up" in honor of Women's History Month: I don't like things being done to me.

Me: Please, go sit with your peeps.
10-year-old boy: You can't say peeps.
Me: I can't?
Boy: No, that's a hood word.
Me: How do you know I'm not from the hood?
Boy: I know you're not from the hood.
Me: You have no idea where I'm from.
Boy: I know you're not from the hood. Look at you.
Me: Because I'm white, I can't be from the hood?
Boy: No! I'm not racist!
Me: You don't know where I'm from.
Boy: I know where you're from. You're from New Hampshire.
And then,
12-year-old boy: We know you're not from the hood because you're a good person.

After, I gave him an impassioned monologue about how people like him and his diverse group of friends should be seeing theatre, not just the old white people we were surrounded by at the play:
16-year-old boy: You're so black.
Me: I AM?
Boy: You just made it onto the top 5 list of blackest white people.
Me: Who else is on that list?
Boy: Justin Timberlake. Ellen DeGeneres. Donald Trump. (That was a joke.)
Me: OK. Who else?
Boy: Channing Tatum. Macklmore. Seth Rogen. Jonah Hill.
(My conclusion, after we talked about it was that I'm "black" because I'm down-to-earth and most white people are "hoity toity." Oof.)

Colleague C, getting ready to go out with other colleagues: Lady's out of town!
Me: Shit's gonna go down!...I just made a poem!...about cheating.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Just Write {10}

Some things I have considered writing about in the last two weeks:

1. I am back to reading bound books.

And I am, like, actually carrying a book in my purse on my commute. It's GLORIOUS. Mind you, bound books are more expensive than the impulsive Kindle purchases I was making to read on my phone, and now I want to spend all my money at a real live book store. But there is really nothing like holding a book in your hands while you read.

2. It is basically May.

S is coming to visit this weekend. I have next weekend totally off. Then I am working at an Arts Summit on 3/29, have a hair appointment on 3/30, my annual fundraiser is on 4/5, I am traveling to Ithaca for a family reunion from 4/12 to 4/19, and traveling to Providence on 4/25-27. See you in May.

3. I have spring fever real bad.

It's the time of year when I feel like I have a ton to do (clean my room, clear out my drawers, rearrange my room, organize my files, write some remarks for my grandmother's memorial), and instead of doing any of them, I try to find one more Academy Award nominated film I can stream online. It's like, with all my free time this weekend, there were too many options for how I could pass my time, so I did none of them.

4. I believe my 30s are going to be about consciously making bad decisions.

I have always been a pretty cautious and calculated person, and I have always been able to let reason and logic and practicality outweigh any impulses or guilty pleasures. But since turning 30, I'm pretty set on doing some things that a previous me would deem unwise. On purpose. For fun. Watch out.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Overheard at Work, vol. XCIII

It has been a ROUGH couple of weeks at work, and I can't figure out if it's this endless winter, something in the water, or the kids being the squirreliest ever, but we were all totally wiped out by the end of this week.

And it's not even crunch-event-prepping time yet. Yikes.

Colleague A, to an 8-year-old: LEROY! Why do you have a basketball out of the gym?...Why do you have an 87-year-old man's name?

Teen boy, to me: I was just talking about you!
Me: You were?
Teen: Yeah, about your mad typing skills.

Colleague B, as I tested her on vocabulary words for an exam: You know why "delude" confuses me? Because I think of deluding water.
Me: That's "dilute."
Colleague B, laughing: You're right!

Colleague A, wearing a 9-year-old girl's headband: I'm prettier than you.
Girl: You have a beard, dawg.

9-year-old boy: I hate my bathroom life.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just Write {9}

I don't write about my personal life too much here.

Partly because it feels masturbatory.


But, let me just say, I've spent the last few months actively dating, which has been a relatively new and exciting phenomenon and I've learned a ton.

I was just at dinner with a new friend, who is being dragged through the muck by the man in her life.

They want different things: he to let her go and she to have him be hers.

And I sat there and told her she needed to listen to him.

He is telling her exactly what he means, and he is giving her nothing of what she deserves.

And this was the first time in my entire life that I was giving advice that I have been taking myself.

Historically, I have spoken from my mountaintop of objectivity and distance, telling friends what they should and should not put up with and being certain that they are only putting up with what they think they deserve.

And I just came out of a situation that wasn't what I wanted. We were not on the same page and I had to tell him that, to stand up for what I know I deserve and to ask for it and to be OK when he agreed he couldn't give it to me.

So it was profound to be speaking to my friend tonight from a place of experience rather than distance.

And to have asked for what I want and to still be standing when he couldn't give it to me.

And to actually be certain that there will be a man someday who can.

And to really believe that I deserve him.