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And it's only been a month and a half! Holy hell!

Already, in chat, and some in real life, I've gotten kind, well-meaning, clueless people asking if I'd ever want to date or re-marry again. If I can possibly get away with it, I treat it as a complete joke. I know they are serious, but all I want to do is laugh it off, like seriously? that is so HILARIOUS. Ugh.

Being asked if, or rather WHEN I was going to have a baby constantly pissed me off. I lived most of my 20s angry and defensive. Same song, second verse, plus many years and more experience later, I don't want to live pissed off. Life is too short. I just want to be left and let alone!

I get that people mean well, and I also get that they are talking from their own wants and needs. Just like the childfree email boards that saved my sanity in my 20s -- hooray for the advent of the internet! -- no one gets it except another widow or widower. That's the same reason I absolutely refuse to discuss education except with other teachers. Other people who aren't teachers mean well, but they are completely ignorant, and it would take far too long to explain. Other teachers get it. Other widows/widowers get it.

I can just feel again that I'm going to have to rev up energy and take yet another stand, again, for my own wants and needs. I'm pre-tired thinking about it. I had really, really hoped that once the "when will you have a baby" insanity was over, that I'd be home free. I was married, clearly people saw that I just wasn't going to have one, wasn't interested, just wasn't going to happen. I was sure, positive that I was home free! And for the past 15-plus years, I have been. But now that I'm once again no longer hewing to social expectations, I will have to say, say again, shout, yell and scream, so to speak, to assert myself. And so it begins.

I'm coming to realize now that I was protected by marriage in a big way. I let it protect and shelter me. Anything I didn't want to do with someone, or any social thing I wanted to avoid -- oops, sorry, my husband needs me. And I learned, actively absorbed over the years, the married woman's no-eye-contact out in public. I still do that: I am unavailable, unapproachable. And men simply don't approach me in public, which I like. I know in chat, there's a HUGE fantasy of being able to walk up to all women, any woman, and strike up a charming and brilliant conversation, to force a woman to pay attention, to be charming. Doesn't work like that in real life, and I do NOT share that fantasy AT ALL. I like my space; I like being left and let alone, especially in public. I like not being bothered.

Bloody hell. I really thought, really hoped I was DONE. But I swear to God, it is just amazing to me how some men just GLOM ON! I'm now beginning to be socially bothered again. Most of this has been in chat, where it's annoying enough. I've done a fair bit of traveling, and it just seems like such an American thing, this glomming on. Europeans have a way of chatting that's perfectly polite and friendly, but it's not intrusive. It doesn't glom on, invite oneself along, or want to hitch up immediately -- at least that's my take on Europeans. They move slower, and I for one got used to that way of talking. It's nice: I could go to a pub, chat all night with people, have amazing conversations, and leave satisfied, having talked about ideas, books, movies, current events and more, and not know their last names, what they did, or anything else.

Americans are different. There's this tendency to want to get to know everything about someone right away, and I hate it. As an introvert, I just cannot stand it. There is so much room for simply talking a bit at time, when you see someone. There is no need whatsoever for marathon sessions where you spill guts (shudder), or tell all.

I think that's also why I haven't yet gone to any Meetup groups: I just don't want to navigate the whole male interest thing. I need time for me, to find my new normal, without any botheration or annoyance. Friday afternoon at school, I was in the BIG middle of a letdown, and a very nice colleague came by my room (I had left the door open anticipating late papers) as he was waiting for another colleague to go to a memorial service. And I just CRINGED and groaned inside, hoping he'd leave, hoping my colleague would return at any moment, scoop him up and go to their memorial service so I could continue to putter. But no.

And now, I'm simply going to assume that he's not into me, he isn't crushing on me, that he would never ask a colleague out on a date. Unfortunately, he's also in another work group of mine, but I think I can just sit distant from him, and just be polite but always in a rush out the door. I had a slight feeling the first time I met him that I thought he kind of liked me, and the attention was nice for about five seconds, but then I was over it. And at the time, I was married, and Jack was still in his stable, relatively healthy phase, before the cancer struck. The tiny ego-boost was nice, but I forgot about it after the work Christmas party was over.

It amuses and exasperates me how men are just shocked, shocked! when I say I don't care about relationships. I tell them it isn't a priority, not something I'm thinking about, that I don't care. I tell them if pressed that I was married half my life -- HALF MY LIFE! -- so no, I'm not thinking of yet another relationship, and I really don't care if I ever date again. This, when Jack has been dead only a little over a MONTH! Oh but what about your "needs", they hint? Actually, I do just fine on my own, and I would have no problem telling some man, if he ever dared to be nosy with me, that I have a bunch of dicks in a drawer, that they can go all night, don't need to rest, are ready to go at any time, and don't have an asshole attached to them. Top THAT, sucka.

I also find it amusing and even somewhat alarming that men might consider me attractive. And yes, that's body image issues showing themselves, I get it. And I suppose the more weight I lose, and the more muscle I define, the more I'll have to put up with it, but I just don't want to. Male attention based on looks will, I'm afraid, always freak me out. I got quite used to being invisible when I was very large; it afforded a great deal of privacy and freedom that I rather got used to. In fact, I took a rather entitled view that I had every right to be out in the world and that I should be able to go about my business completely unmolested. Yes, I had to deal with the occasional jerk, which I always mouthed back at and shut down as viciously as possible, but mostly I just got left and let alone. I could go out into the world, do what I needed and wanted to do, without being stopped, talked to, chatted up, or taken out of my zone of concentration. I got used to it, and I felt entitled to that freedom at all times. Losing that layer of protection will be a loss. I don't want to stay fat and keep the diabetes, but I would honestly also hope that encroaching age will once again render me invisible soon enough, and I can go back to enjoying my life without being bothered or stopped or chatted up.

So let's hope Mr. Bobby Blueheart, my very kind colleague, keeps his infatuation WELL in check. In fact, maybe I'm complimenting myself, and he's not infatuated with me at all! Let's hope that asking me out has not crossed his mind at all, and I'm worrying over nothing. Let's hope I can successfully avoid him and just not spend any time alone with him. He's a romantic at heart, I can tell, someone who really wants a good quality romantic relationship for the long term, and bless his kind heart, because he really is a good teacher and a good man, he deserves love and happiness and I hope he finds it -- with someone else. What is it about being emotionally unavailable makes some men GLOM ON even harder? Am I suddenly a "challenge" to overcome? I hate that; I hate that SO bad. That whole attitude of being a "challenge" just reeks of non-consensuality, of forcing one's attention on someone else, of ego, pride, and manipulation. Absolutely NO THANKS to any and all of being perceived as a so-called "challenge". Just don't even go there.

So, Universe: give me space. Give me time. Give me emotional wide open spaces to explore. Give me physical, real-world wide open spaces to explore! Give me time to be with friends and family, time to pursue my hobbies. Give me strength to let go of this condo I've nested in for nearly 18 years, and move into somewhere new for a while. Give me time, wisdom, and discernment to make good decisions while renovating this house so it will make money for me for the next several years. Give me time to heal, to find my new normal, without pressure, without being bothered, without someone wanting something from me that I cannot and don't want to give! I am happy to be a loving and kind person to everyone. But I don't want a romantic relationship. I just want community, friendship, good conversation, and fun activities. And that, O Universe, is the cry of my heart right now. Community, peace, friendship, activity.

on being a widow and an introvert

Here I sit, at home on a Saturday night, and I could not be happier. I think, every so often, about going out to a movie, to a concert. Occasionally in less sane moments, I think about going out with someone and doing something. And then I shake my head, and dig deeper into this quiet house, and cocoon even more. Just this past week, a very kind woman at work asked me if I'd like to go out and do something sometime. I want to. I want to be friendly and kind. Just not yet, and to be honest, perhaps not ever. It's not that she's not my type of person. She has all the hallmarks of someone who could be a good friend. But I know me, and I know what works for me. Most of my friendships at school stay there, and that's fine by me. Yes, I get out, and yes, I deal with people on a regular basis.

However, that said, I don't know what my social life will be like. I'm not sure I want it to change. I go to work and deal with MORE than enough people, and then I go home to rest and re-create. I also go to the gym, and see my trainer, and am around other people. Sometimes I go play petanque, so I see people there too. But I don't really know, and haven't given much thought, to being more social. During school, from August to June, it's difficult if not impossible. All my energy is consumed with teaching and then resting, as well as working out. And I also know that for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'll travel back to Louisiana; over spring break, I hope my sister comes here. So it's not like I'm closing myself off. I just have limited energy in dealing with people, typical of most introverts. I am a member of some Meetup groups, but so far I haven't gone to any Meetups. It's not social anxiety at all; it's simply that all my energy is taken up by teaching and working out and dealing with Jack's estate and money matters.

In a couple of weeks, it will be Jack's birthday, and I have planned a memorial dinner and get-together. I'm looking forward to it, although I've also noticed that the closer it gets to his birthday, I'm experiencing more and more little griefbursts, a few tears here and there, and some sharp pangs of longing. I just read that it's a very good thing to be pro-active and take control of major anniversaries, so I'm happy that this is coming up. I'll have the morning to remember him privately, and that night, I and a dozen or so close friends will gather at a really good restaurant, share a meal, and remember Jack. He would have turned 70, which is a momentous birthday. It will be good, if bittersweet, to see all his and our friends, more than likely for the last time all together. I hope to take a lot of pictures, commemorate the event, and make sure that everyone leaves contented, happy, and in good spirits at this bittersweet time.

Life has changed so much since Jack died. So far, only one person on social media fell out of my friendship tree, and it wasn't much of a loss, since I'll never meet her in real life. I loaned her some money; I helped her. I don't expect to see the money, and will mark it as a gift. I'm happy to have helped her, and just sorry that she still carries her own baggage, and could not be much of a friend.

I'm glad in some ways that I'm an introvert, because this whole process of caregiving and then losing Jack has let me see my own true colors, as well as those of other people. I've always been pretty self-sufficient, but as Jack got sicker and sicker, that was pushed to its limit. Even I, the caregiver, needed some help. Jack and I long ago turned toward each other, our good friend (his friend of 40 years, mine for 20 years), and our housekeeper. I still maintain I see plenty enough people at work. I go home every day, tired but satisfied that I've taught as well as I could. And I go home to a quiet, calm house. I think about going out and doing things, but for the time being, getting this house in order, getting it cleaned and renovated and ready to make money for me, is my main priority. And I just don't have energy to see or meet people outside of work, not from August to June.

That said, this house is just a house now. It's no longer a home. So much has happened, and so much will happen over the next days, weeks, and months. In fact, I expect that I will be somewhat happier and more content in a small apartment close to where I teach. Once Jack's benefits come to me monthly, I'll be able to move out, and live close for a few months while paying rent and mortgage. I'll be able to open up a line of equity so I can renovate this place to make it rent-ready. But that little apartment will be mine, all mine, with only memories of Jack, and a few small keepsakes. I look forward to this little apartment, a space where I can decorate (within reason for a renter) just how I want. So only one actual bookshelf for books! For five years, I will get to have my very own space, and find my new normal. And then, I'll move back here for two years before I retire, establish residency, and save several hundred thousand dollars in capital gains tax.

But none of that makes it any easier. This house has been my home, our home, for 17, nearly 18 years. And yet, things have changed; I need and want to move out. I need and would like for this house to make money for me as an income property. I'll need to move back in, two years before I retire, and it will be a bittersweet homecoming. But I also look forward, in less than 10 years' time, of going back to Louisiana, back home to where my family is, and buying or perhaps even building my own forever home. And then, I will be able to make it a home. One of my tasks now is to learn how to make this house appealing to renters, and ultimately to the next family that moves in here. I hope they love it as much as I have, and as I do.

After August 5, the day Jack died, life changed irreversibly, as it had to do. It's just amazing to me that life marches on rather relentlessly. I've claimed benefits, cashed checks, done all kinds of monetary stuff. Jack provided for me magnificently, and I'm beyond grateful. I can now take some time, renovate this big old rambling condo, and rent it out. I'll have yet another income stream coming in for the time I stay here in Los Angeles. It is a blessing.

I still keep in contact with the two women who stayed with me and Jack right up until the end, but those relationships have changed a bit, too. Jack was the center, the hub, the heart of this house. My sister came over the very next day and stayed nearly a week with me, and said she felt as if 50% of the energy of the house was simply gone -- and it is. The relationships with the other two women are still intact, still strong, just different without Jack. The relationships are different now that none of us has to be a caregiver. We are all now free to pursue our own lives. And we're all finding our new normal.

I held an estate sale Labor Day weekend, to try to empty out the house of the excess furniture, and then asked Salvation Army to come by. A few things sold, and Salvation Army took a few things, but in the end, I had to get a junk removal service to come by and empty the house of all the extra, bulky furniture, like most of the bookshelves, his desk, etc. And now, with my few things here, it really is just a house, a crash pad. It's not a home anymore. It was a home when I was married to Jack, when he was alive. It was our home. Mind you, it's an extremely nice house, and I'm happy to have it. I'm grateful that it will provide a handsome income in addition to my salary and his benefits and investments. But it looks and feels empty; it feels and is in process. It's changing, as it needs to do. Facing that fact about the house, about myself, makes it a little easier to deal with.

But it was really when the furniture was taken that this change hit me hard. It was amazing: I made an appointment with Salvation Army. They showed up and took a few things. The guy who ran the crew said that they really didn't take big, bulky furniture anymore. I asked him, so how do I get rid of it then? I want to renovate my house, and rent it out. He recommended junk removal. It galled me to treat Jack's and my furniture as "junk", I must say! I searched online, called someone, and they came within an hour! An hour! I had fully expected them to say, we're really busy, so what time next weekend would work for you? Nothing doing! I hadn't even finished talking with the guy when he told me he had trucks on the way! Within four hours, with two trucks, they were done! I still find it bizarre to walk into his office and the back bedroom especially, since both those rooms are now completely bare. Talk about a house in process!

And after they were done, and all the excess furniture was gone, I walked into Jack's office and talked to him out loud, something I had not done until then. I had talked to him plenty in my mind, and still do, but right then, it just felt right to talk to him out loud, especially in his office. I apologized for throwing out all of his stuff, for having to have a "junk" removal service come and get it. I told him I did the best I could, that I had tried an estate sale and donation, but that just didn't work. And I asked him to understand and bless my efforts. Even saying it out loud made me feel better. I think he would understand and approve. He always told me to do whatever I wanted after he was gone; he said he wouldn't care one way or the other, since he simply wouldn't be here! That said, I do want to be a good steward of what's been left to me. And I think I am. I did feel better after talking to him. Did I mention I've also found pennies all over the place? There's a belief that finding a penny after a loved one dies means they are sending a small message that they are there and looking out for you. I'd like to believe that's true in any case.

So for the past month and a half, I've been incredibly busy and productive. This is the first time in weeks that I've taken 24 hours to rest. Last night, I crawled into bed before 8pm, and got a full eight hours of sleep. This afternoon, I did run out and do a few errands, like mailing Jack's cut up tee shirts to make quilts for me, S--, A--, my sister, and my sister-in-law. That felt good to do. I mailed a package to my sister, some things she had gathered up when she came after Jack's death. And I did a little shopping, so the day hasn't been a complete loss. I had thought to get started cutting out some of the carpet, but my body just needed to rest.

And I know one of the things I'm doing as I sit here and ruminate -- because I realize that's what's happening when I play endless games on Facebook, I'm ruminating over some problem or issue -- is how I want the rest of my life to unfold. I need to map it out. That analogy comes easily, traveler that I am. I need to pull out the map of my life, and determine where I want to go, and what I want to do. So far, I know that I will renovate this house, rent it out, move to a new apartment closer to work, and move back here before I retire. I plan to retire in 2023 or 24, which will be 29 or 30 years as a teacher. I plan to move back to Louisiana, to be closer to family. And I plan to keep on traveling.

One thing I definitely do not care about anymore is men or relationships. I feel like my lifelong vocation for marriage has come to an end. I married once and it didn't go well; I really wanted to marry again, find my soulmate, and have a really good, satisfying marriage -- and I did. This attitude of mine has been a source of vast amusement. I'm older this time, but it reminds me powerfully of being married the first time around and being childfree. One summer, I went up to my college in Louisiana. I had been married precisely one month that very day. All I wanted was to check my mail, get my teaching assignment, say hello to some people, and scoot out. I was utterly blindsided by some cute, chirpy little undergrad who asked me, "So when are you going to have a baby?" Seriously?!? I stopped, blinked, and said "I've been married ONE MONTH. And I don't want a child, now or ever!" I didn't know then that some people simply cannot hear unconventional points of view. It didn't end well. I felt blindsided, as I'm sure the cute, chirpy little undergrad did. And it wasn't the first or only time that happened!

Now, even though it's only been a month that I've been widowed, people are already asking me about relationships. Same song, second verse. This time, though, I just roll my eyes, and say that I'm just not interested. And I hear them say, oh don't rule it out, you're too young to give up, etc. But what's interesting this time around is the gender divide. Women TOTALLY get it when I say I don't ever want to marry again, and I have no interest in dating. They totally understand and validate that. Men, on the other hand, go a little ballistic. Men are FAR more romantic. And it boggles some men's minds that women can live without them, and really don't have that much interest in them. I also realize now that most people are talking from THEIR needs and wants. They want to be mirrored, to be validated. So now when I answer with my own truth that clearly does not mirror what they would do or what they want, I now understand the "crazy" reaction. I'm not giving them the validation they want. And that's just too damn bad.

My interest, I must say, is simply in being a loving, kind person. I have a universal love that just isn't all that personal. I realize that I'm ace-and-aro-after-meno, my own term for being asexual/aromantic after menopause. I really want to feel desire -- after all, I felt it for nearly 30 years and got rather used to it! -- and sometimes I feel little sparks, but after all this change and upheaval in my life, it's going to be YEARS before I could even possibly consider a relationship. And unlike the child issue, I don't rule out a relationship in my future. I ruled out children unilaterally because I simply did not have any vocation, or understanding, or desire for parenthood. In fact, the thought of being pregnant and having a child just made me wither up and die a little inside. Just so not my vocation. Marriage on the other hand, was something I knew from single digits that I always wanted. In fact, I was never the type of girl to plan a huge wedding. I could have cared less about the dress, the flowers, the music, all the hoopla. No, I wanted a marriage. I wanted a soulmate, partnership, companionship, true love, communication, closeness.

And right now, all I really want is just to find my new normal. I want freedom, time to do just whatever I feel like doing, or not doing. Like tonight: I'm here at home. The house is utterly still and silent. There is some small ambient city noise outside, but nothing too loud, just traffic on the street and freeway. It's rather pleasant, really, except for the occasional screech of tires and CRUNCH when someone misjudges a red light at one particular intersection. But I love this. I love being home, in a very comfortable place I've called home for years. And I also have to admit that I love NOT HAVING THE DAMN TV ON. The television was Jack's go-to source for stimulation and information, and it was on 24/7/365 FOR YEARS. Freedom from TV is precious. Having actual quiet, for hours at a time, is divine.

But to go back to what I was saying, about finding my new normal: I do know that if I ever do have a relationship in the future, it'll be as an "apartner" -- someone who is with someone, but who doesn't live in the same house. I do not want to share my space again with another man. I do want to share my space with my kittycats. But I want my territory as MINE.

I also think that any man that I would consider a relationship with would have to be exceptional. Jack and I fit in every conceivable way. We agreed on most things; we complemeted each other. But I can feel in my heart and soul that that desire, that wish, for another romantic relationship is just not there. It's expended, because it's been fulfilled. I can say that what I really want is community. My petanque community is wonderful. Soon, I hope to get back into archery, and hope that now that I have a brand-name bow, that I can be part of the archery community, too. I do think it's time to broaden my horizons. For two decades plus, I devoted all my energy to him and me, to the marriage, to the home, to our interests. Now, that energy is free to go to other things and people, other interests. It's not better or worse, just different.

And I think that's where I'll end this tonight. I really do need to get something to eat. I will end this by saying that I'm accepting what's new and different about my life now. And life is good. I will always miss and love Jack, who was the light of my life and my heart. I look forward to the memorial dinner, and to seeing old friends in a lovely restaurant. I look forward to the usual wonderful meal, surrounded by good, kind, loving people.

And I will keep on keeping on, and mapping out my new life!

tonight or tomorrow

Tonight or tomorrow, he dies.

I know he has to die. I know he cannot continue as he is. He cannot, could not, will not ever get better. Cancer made sure of that, cancer that bloomed black and ugly, cancer that spread. And there were heart issues, and bowel issues. So many body issues that were already cascading and building even before his retirement in 2008.

And after he retired, he came home and sat down and never really got up. His body wouldn't let him. And even before that, he began to die when his parents died. I knew then it hit him hard; only now do I see how hard. I can only hope they come to get him as he crosses over.

I know he said yesterday, in a strong voice, "I want to die". Our friend kept trying, right up until the end, to get him to eat and drink. I know she did it in love, not knowing what else to do, what else to offer.

I would like very very much to have a shared death experience. I would like for him to tell me he is okay, happy, healthy, not in pain. I don't need it, but I want it, and I want it very much. But just to see his earthly body suffer no longer is enough. That I can see, touch, and experience. Spiritually, if I'm granted a vision, I will treasure it.

No sleep tonight. S-- and I are holding vigil. There is a hospice nurse here now until the end. Soon, I pray. One way of life is at its end, and a new way is opening up before me. As of yet, I can see only bare outlines.

falling out of the friendship tree

In every book I've read about grief and widowhood, every single author mentions that there will be people who fall out of your friendship tree. That's begun as of tonight. Another widow who is still on her path unfollowed me on Facebook. I took the further step and unfriended her. It's a radical move, but it feels freeing. I wish her well, feel absolutely no ill will toward her, but I'm at a time in my life where I do need support; I do need to vent and talk about it. And I need people to be there who will listen, respond, commisserate, and be sympathetic. If she can't, due to her own grief work, I understand. And I mean that. We all grieve in different ways.

Her messages to me were out-and-out contradictions. Yes, I'll be here for you if you want to talk; but no, I'm not going to follow you or read anything you say about grief. And my response (in actions, rather than words): Have a nice life.

She didn't want me to be angry with her, and I'm not. In fact, I'm rather indifferent. I like her as a person; in fact, I loaned her some money to help her move back home. I now deem that as a gift, and never expect to be paid back. Overall it wasn't much money, and I'm happy to have helped.

But what she offered was such a pale facsimile of friendship, it was laughable. I'm not one to settle anymore or ever again. I don't want any crumbs from anyone's table. So no thanks to all of it. Each and every day, I'm radically pruning my friends list on Facebook, especially given how Mafia Wars has shut down, and how I don't play certain games anymore. I figure if I run across someone in birthdays who I don't know, and who has never commented on anything, they won't miss being a friend. I have thousands of silent game friends I'm quite sure I can shed and no one will ever be the wiser or will care.

I also think my former friend's grief is much more complex and complicated than mine. I know hers is double grief for having lost two family members. In an odd way, I'm grateful for the grief I have. It's been so, so gradual. I've had time to say goodbye, although anticipatory grief is its own version of slow, unrelenting hell. I've had time to prepare my heart and mind. I've even had time to make plans for the future; in fact, I'm being forced to plan for my own future, so it might as well be done with heart, passion, intensity, and precision. And given that J-- and I have a May/December relationship, we knew going in that it would probably play out like this, him dying earlier, far earlier than me. I just don't think my grief will be complicated, and I also think I've already done most of my grieving.

I recently read a book by a RATHER traditional Southern woman. Some of what she said I just gave some serious side-eye to but as in most books, there is a nugget or two of really helpful advice. Her advice was to picture the people in your life as a friendship tree, and see how widowhood shakes out a few. And then she said, be thankful they left! People are in your life for a reason, a season, or for good. So bless the people who were there for a reason and/or a season, and then just let them go. Their leaving makes room for other friends, and there is just no point in holding on to a relationship that worked in the past, and no longer works in your new, utterly changed present. I quite like this idea. I find it VERY useful.

In fact, I've also realized that I'm radically simplifying my life on many levels. This simplifying has just begun, and I have a feeling that as time goes on, my life will assume a shape that even I could not foresee. I believe I'm creating a thing of beauty with my life, which I do believe will be a grand adventure.

Years and years ago, when I first realized that my marriage to my first husband just wasn't going to work, and when the internet was a very new thing, AND when I was still a highly-sexed young woman, but also lonely and yearning for the easy camaraderie of school and its instant friendships, I completely took advantage of my newfound connectivity and used it to the fullest. WOW how I played online, had a BLAST, and made lots of friends. Some I still think of wistfully, a couple of older male academics -- and as much as I remember them fondly, and wish them the best in the world, I have absolutely no desire to get back into contact with them at all. I may, briefly, to tell them of J--'s death, and see how they are doing, but to remain in contact? Maybe, but probably not. What we had was great, and it served a need for me and for them at the time. But I for one have grown beyond that, and, I think, so have they. It was good, for what it was, while it lasted.

These days, I still chat online, and enjoy it quite a bit. But I no longer add people, and haven't for quite a while. I no longer play online, due to a lot of things: right now, J--'s imminent passing; being super busy from August to June; traveling during summer months; lots more activity and a far more active lifestyle; and because chat and online sex play is rather "meh, been there, done that, old hat" to me now. I find men utterly predictable and typical, and rather boring. Oh, how surprising! You like penis-in-vagina sex, blowjobs, and you like foreplay. WOW that's so RARE! LOL How UNUSUAL! And I don't mean the sarcasm in a mean way, only slightly mocking!

So here's a toast to the concept of the friendship tree. There are a handful that I would be very upset if they got shook out. There are a couple who I assume already are shaken out, and life has just moved us all in different directions. And I hope I'm pleasantly surprised by some who step up to support me that I didn't expect. Life is change, and I for one intend to roll with it, and not get steamrolled by it!

On having read a LOT about widowhood

During spring semester, I gave myself the gift of Kindle Unlimited. That means that at any time, I can check out and be reading up to 10 books at once, for $120 for six months. That WORKS. It works VERY well. I have the option to buy afterward, or just return the book and check out another one. Most I don't want to buy; most I just want to read and then move on from.

But the more I read about widowhood, the more I see that as a "young" widow (quotation marks definitely -- I'm barely in the age range where most women start to become widows; the average age seems to be 50s to 60s), I'm different. Partly this is because J-- and I have a 21 year difference. Partly it's because I've been in anticipatory grief for SO many years, at least seven or eight now. I know I started worrying and being concerned before he retired, because he was so heavy, and his lower legs were mottled and discolored. What started with compression stockings back in the 00s, went to more and more doctor visits, to multiple ER visits, to a two-month stay in hospital during 2013 to 2014 , and now to this terminal diagnosis in 2016. And next week, the call to hospice. As A--, our housekeeper said, the race is almost finished, but hang in there because you will be happy that you stayed with him to the very end. I know she's right.

All that aside, I know for one thing that J-- will never again read my blog. It's sad, but also freeing. I would never say anything negative about him as a person, but I do speak the truth without sugarcoating. I think that's important, especially when it comes to major things like health and life choices and consequences.

As far as being a widow goes, though, I have to wonder, in no particular order:
-- since I've already done YEARS of anticipatory grief, will I get to a resolution with my grief sooner after he actually passes? I hope so. I don't know, but I hope. I feel like I've already done so much grief work.

-- how will my life change? I know all the books say that you lose people you thought were friends, and some people quite unexpectedly step up and support you. I get it. But given that I'm already a strong introvert, with relatively few friends here in Los Angeles, who, really, could fall away that hasn't already, given J--'s long decline and increasing home-boundness? Not many, if any. There are precisely two people here in LA who, if they don't support me and hang around, I would be genuinely disappointed. I have a feeling they will stick around, since they and I have our own friendship that has grown and developed from knowing J--. But time will tell.

-- is it "okay" to view the next part of my life as an adventure waiting to happen? Because I do. I think I'll have "griefbursts" every so often, especially the first year or two, but I also have the distinct feeling that, having done SO MUCH grief work for SO MANY years, I'll feel sad and discombobulated and off-kilter for a few months, but then, I will pick myself up and get busy living, because I am alive. I am here; I have stuff I need and want to do.

-- is it "okay" not to feel like I want to join J-- in death, not to feel empty and/or incomplete? Is it "okay" to feel like I know who I am, and that I've always had a strong sense of individual identity, and that my "wife" identity is quite secondary? I am so not traditional in that regard.

-- is it "okay" to think that without much of a hitch, I can go back to living as a single person, because I've done it before, just not for very long? I am the Kat who lands on her feet. Widowhood will be a challenge emotionally, but I can do this. I will be different when I come out of it and the sharp pain of initial grief subsides to the dull ache of permanent loss and permanent change, but I'm me, an individual first, a wife secondly.

I'm sure there are more things to wonder about, but I'll address those as they come up. I just want to say here that I'm to the point where I never want J-- to die, but I'm ready for him not to suffer anymore. And he is, constantly suffering, even when he doesn't want to admit it, or minimizes it, or just doesn't say anything. I am beyond grateful that he is rather stoic about the pain. He doesn't complain endlessly, or demand, or whine, or play the victim, and I love and respect him all the more for it. It's an attitude I hope I have at the end of my life, of not wanting to be a burden to anyone, of being grateful for all caretaking. The pain from the tumor is always there; he says at the minimum, it's a three; maximum is seven or eight out of 10. It's an existence, not a life. I am beginning to be ready to let him go, to heave a GREAT sigh of relief that he is no longer suffering, no longer in pain. I would sincerely and truly hope that there is life after death, and in that afterlife, that he not only has a beautiful, working body, but can find clarification and resolution to his own issues.

And one of J--'s issues that he has not and I believe, won't get to, confront in this life is how to live comfortably in his body. He utterly ignored his body for the 20+ years that I've known him. I ignored my body for the first half of my life, and only within the last 10 years have I gained body knowledge, become more kinesthetic, and begun to work on weight loss, strength, flexibility, stamina, and endurance. I don't begrudge him the lack of body knowledge; we've shared that ignorance. I can say, though, that I have been and was deeply disappointed that he chose to keep on being sedentary and not watch his diet after my own diagnosis with type II diabetes. I changed my lifestyle; he didn't. And here we are, a decade-plus later, me down 130 pounds, with him being terminally ill, and me a soon-to-be widow. This to me is a huge lesson: don't neglect the body.

I had also wanted to record here how much our life has changed in such a short amount of time. In the fall of 2013, J-- went into the ER for the fourth time, and stayed there in hospital for two months with Fournier's gangrene. He got out January of 2014. From then to February/March of this year, 2016, we had about a year and a half of stable health. Obviously I had hoped for a much longer time of stable health before his decline, but here it is, and such is reality.

A couple of years ago, Jack had voluntarily stopped driving at night, as most older people do. That I can understand. I myself don't drive much at night. August to June, I wake up in the morning, teach/grade/make copies, etc., all morning, all afternoon, try to work out three times a week, then go home and crash. Usually I'm asleep by 8pm or so. I just don't have much of an outside life during teaching months.

But by the time J-- had gotten diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it was already at stage 3, and there are only four stages. The pain was horrendous. He immediately said yes to chemotherapy, did two rounds of a combination (two medicines), which was so harsh it put him in the hospital for a week. That was just so scary. He got out of the hospital, was re-evaluated, around the end of school in June, the cancer was to stage 4, with metastases to the liver. And now J-- has the tell-tale sign of ascites, or swelling in the upper abdomen, a marker of liver cancer.

It just shocks me that for over a year, we were going and doing and living our lives. We had gotten though a life-threatening illness. J-- had promised to make changes in his lifestyle. But the moment he got home and got comfortable, those promises went out the window. He was TOO comfortable. And J-- has never liked to sweat or be sore or to exert himself physically. So it was what it was. But even then, between his getting out of the hospital to this diagnosis in early 2016, I could actually go out for a couple of hours, or several hours, to a movie, to do shopping, just wander around. I had a husband, a few months ago, who could actually get up out of his chair and get his own food, and could use the restroom by himself.

But cancer is relentless. I am glad J-- was even morbidly obese when this final fight started, one of the few times and few reasons ever to appreciate morbid obesity. I am glad that he won't die looking "scary skinny". He still has some meat on his bones, and I am beyond grateful for that. But he is a shadow of his former self in every way. Even by the end of March and beginning of April, we had to call in one of our housekeeper's long time friends. Our housekeeper needed time off as well, and L-- could come and stay four hours. We paid A-- and A-- paid L-- for her time. And by the end of this school semester, Jack needed 24 hour looking after, help getting to and from the bathroom, and someone to bring him his food and take away dishes back to the kitchen. This is not a life. It's barely an existence. So yes, I am beginning to be ready -- not ready quite yet, never really completely ready -- to let him go so he won't suffer anymore. That's something I never thought I would say.

I do think J-- will hang on to see a couple of things done: 1) that our back taxes get taken care of. I think he will feel free to die after that's been handled. I've assured him that I will find a reputable person to do my own taxes from now on; 2) that the books are sold. We have a perfectly good 20th century house, with about 40 bookshelves in it. And we are not going to get NEARLY the value of these books by any stretch of the imagination. The 21st century is here; more and more books are being digitized, and secondhand books go generally for a penny plus shipping, perhaps for $1 or $5. It is a down market for books. However, I told J-- that I just could NOT deal with being a widow and having to get rid of an estate worth of books. He agreed, far easier and far quicker than I ever thought he would. So unlike his natural dragonish self, who knew exactly and at all times what was where in the house.

Moving his and my books out will be a major step. I'm sure I will take that day and the next, most of the week that the books are gone, to grieve their loss, nuanced though it is. Physically, the books just need to go, but they are such a major part of this house. We bought this house because it was big enough to house all our books, comfortably, and we added many more over the 17 years that we've been here. Most of the books are his, in Victorian and James Joyce studies. I personally have no want or need of them. The rest, general interest books, are all well and good, but I simply don't want anything these days that isn't digital. I LOVE being able to travel the world and bring a whole library with me on my smart phone.

There's the other question of getting rid of several thousand classical music CDs. I think again that CDs are a great invention of the 20th century, far superior to vinyl records, 8-tracks, and cassettes. But they are 20th century, and streaming music has replaced CDs. It's easier these days to subscribe to a digital radio service, or plug and play your own music through your own smart phone, rather than wrestle with CDs in the vehicle. And I have to get rid of a few hundred, perhaps a thousand DVDs. Again, 20th century technology that was vastly superior to the big, clunky plastic discs of the 80s, more compact than VHS, but still, replaced by streaming.

And once the books, bookshelves, CDs and DVDs are out, I don't think much actual furniture will remain. What does remain, I want to sell. I want to take pictures of the house before it changes; in some rooms, change has already happened before I got to take pictures. I want all new furniture with no memories of him and me. I just want the pictures as reminders of what our life and our house once looked like.

And then there will be the matter of selling this condo, because four bedrooms, three baths, with an underground laundry and parking garage is just far too much for one person. We shall see. There is so much to do, so much to think about, so much to consider. One thing at a time. One step at a time. It will get done, just when, I don't know. But it all will get done.
My husband J- has been diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer. It's terminal. So far he's given me durable power of attorney. We can now get things done. I just don't know where to begin. I know I'm overwhelmed. And maybe I'll finish this later.

That was Thursday, April 14, 2016. And today, Saturday, April 16, is the day to finish this. He's in the hospital, where he needs to be, getting the treatment he needs. For the next few days, or a week, I'm relieved of caregiving duties. I can actually sleep soundly for a change. And I'm on the verge of putting him in a nursing home, because it's just far more than I and our housekeeper can manage. J- isn't macho about meds, but neither A-, our housekeeper, nor I, know if he's taking his meds or eating or drinking. He sits and sleeps most of the day and night, and even if J- means well, and means to take his meds, he may sleep through it. He needs more care than we're able to provide, and that's the reality. But let me back up to the beginning.

J- complained in February, if I remember correctly, of a pain in his stomach that started suddenly and just didn't go away. We took him to the ER, they did a scan, found nothing, and we left. But the pain didn't go away. March, same song, second verse, except this time, there was a mass, around his pancreas. And doctors told us that it was stage 3, locally advanced, not metastatic, pancreatic cancer. And they gave him 12-18 months to live. It was not a surprise; everything we had looked at online led us to the same conclusion.

His doctor recommended chemo to slow the progress, and so far, J- has undergone two treatments. But he's got a raging case of "chemo brain" which is making him very fuzzy, sometimes irrational, and difficult to understand. It's made him super tired, easily fatigued, with no energy, and no stamina.

His cancer doctor admitted him to hospital this past Thursday, and said that they needed to get him tuned up, and then play around with different meds and dosages. We were having a follow-up visit with the oncologist. J- couldn't tell the doctor, the nurse, or the nurse practitioner the right day or month, couldn't finish his sentences, and just wasn't making sense. J-'s hair had started to fall out I had noticed this past week, and from a cancer group I'm on in Facebook, people there assured me that it must be a potent cocktail to cause hair loss so soon. The FB cancer group also said to expect chemo brain, and that it was a wild ride.

A- and I had had a short but intense conversation earlier that day, since I had stayed home to get some of my own health stuff dealt with, and then take J- to chemo. A- said that when J- fell earlier, a week ago last Wednesday, that he had had to slide along the floor, scrunching his testicles, til he could reach the phone to call me, so I could call paramedics, let them in, and have them help him up. J- didn't tell me til later, or I didn't quite understand, that he had also hit his head when he fell. Doctors at the hospital are doing scans to rule out stroke or brain bleed. Apparently, A- said, his testicles were red and swollen from scooting along the floor to get to the phone to call me; she helps bathe him, and she watches him for any signs of physical distress. I was concerned about this, and she and I both were fearful of any recurrence of Fournier's. I had all of what A- had said in mind, plus my own observations of J-'s mental state, with me as we went to the oncologist.

And I was prepared then, on Thursday as we went to the oncologist, to tell them the blunt truth of how he wasn't getting on. I was prepared to tell them in no uncertain terms that I needed help, that he needed more help than I could give him, since I have to work. In fact, Sunday after the first chemo, J- had forgotten to take his pain pills, and was stupefied with pain. It took him 45 minutes to figure out what to order for all of us. He was so in pain, he didn't realize that he had left the phone on too long and it was beeping. I had to come over, take the phone out of his hand, turn it off, dial for him, and then he got it together, and placed the order. But that's not functioning. It's a sign of helplessness that cannot go unaddressed. And I told all this to the oncologist.

But the real ramifications of this are that it's time to put J- in a nursing home. I can no longer care for him, and haven't been able to since the Fournier's incident. I depended on A- the housekeeper to help with most of his physical upkeep, since I have to teach, and for years she was able to cope easily. He only had diabetes and high blood pressure to worry about, and he took his meds on a regular basis, tested his blood sugar, and did well. Then the Fournier's gangrene happened, when J- was in the hospital for two months, both here in LA and at a more distant rehab hospital. Difficult, but A- and I managed, with the help of home-care nurses. J- got rehabilitated, his wounds healed, and we had about a year and a half of, if not good health, then stable health. The diabetes and high blood pressure didn't worsen; in fact, they improved because he lost SO much weight in the local and rehab hospitals, on a strict diabetic diet. Weirdly enough, even his eyesight improved so much that he had to get new glasses! And like me just starting out, his body could afford to just toss away tons of fat. All well and good.

But now things are different. Pancreatic cancer is a death sentence. In losing all that weight, and not exercising in decades, J- has lost a lot of muscle mass, and that means he is very weak, and now, a fall risk. Losing that amount of weight so quickly takes, I know from experience, time to get used to, and he's not used to a lighter body. He's fallen a handful of times since he came back from the lengthy hospital stay. And I obviously cannot pick up a grown man. He's too weak to help himself much. Paramedics must be called each time, and that involves waking me from a deep, sound sleep, and staying with him until they arrive. It often means staying with him after they leave, since he feels weak, scared, and a bit needy, not that I blame him at all.

And with the pain of cancer, which is unceasing, the heavy-duty narcotics that he must take, plus the chemo treatments, his mind isn't what it used to be, and understandably so. And that means he needs far more than the light caregiving I used to do. He needs more than the medium-level caregiving A- does now. I would help him dress, and put on his compression stockings when he needed that. I used to help groom him, and I still help him with some hygeine. A- now helps him shower, since she comes three times a week, always when I'm at work. And she keeps our house wonderfully, by washing clothes, taking out the trash, doing dishes, and vacuuming. She cooks for J-, too, who is always appreciative, but he doesn't eat. He picks, at most. I would bet you that he's eating far less than 1,000 calories a day, and that means he's wasting away.

But A- and I don't know, most importantly, if J- is taking his meds. We don't know if he's eating or how much, and the suspicion from both of us is that he's not eating regularly, and he's not eating nearly enough. We also suspect he's not drinking nearly enough, and is constantly dehydrated. There's no way for my housekeeper and me to know that. I leave for work around 7am or so. A- comes around noon, three days a week, and stays til around 4pm when I get home. Neither she nor I know what meds he takes, in what quantity, or at what time. And now, I don't trust him to take them on a regular basis, being in constant pain, and having undergone chemo, which wreaks havoc with short-term memory. A-, God bless her, is a CNA, and has been not only a housekeeper for other people, but also to quite a few older people, right up until they died. I so value her experience. And she told me that it's time for J- to receive round the clock care. There is too much that she and I don't know and can't know, and it's imperative that someone know, so that he is kept medicated, fed, hydrated, and clean.

But it's such a big step. Today as I write this, he's in the hospital, and I'm here at home. It's quiet, a deep silence, one I'm not used to, because J- has the TV on 24/7, which I don't particularly care for. I love the silence, but it's new, and feels weird to me, even though it's something I've longed for, for years. I feel a little guilty enjoying this deep silence, knowing it means his absence.

For years now, as J- has taken health stumbles, I've felt my leash grow shorter. But I've been enormously blessed. J- is a hearth-hugger, and was perfectly content to stay at home while I traveled. I liked to get out; he had traveled some and was more a home-body, so I went. And I've been to 26 countries. And I traveled at a time in our marriage that he had diabetes and high blood pressure, but had no need for any physical caregiving, for many, many years. For 99% of our marriage, he was independent. In fact, it's only been in the past two years that he's needed physical caregiving, although once started, it's increased. He has let himself go, especially after retirement, and once that starts, health stumbles tend to become runaway trains. This is the situation now.

What I predict is a series of major life changes, ones that he and I won't like, but that have to be. The first thing is to see how and why he is fuzzy and irrational. The second thing is to see what kind of help I can get, because the ideal situation is to get people to come to us, here at home, where he is most comfortable. But I'm just not sure that's feasible, given the fact that his medications are a real question, as are his eating habits, plus the fact that he is a fall risk. The other, better alternative would be to place him somewhere like a nursing home, so he gets meds, food, and water regularly. I have to work. I cannot retire until I'm 55. I don't think he will last that long, sad to say, but I cannot be at school teaching, and at home making sure he eats and takes his meds and showers. A- has told me that for a while now, especially since he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, that he is just too weak, too tired to get up and take a shower. Letting him go unbathed isn't acceptable to me or A-. She can give him a sponge bath, but it's not the same. And sometimes he's even too weak or tired for that. So the time for much more intensive help is here.

My next other huge question is, if we cannot find people to come to us, and I have to place him in a nursing home, then it is time to (deep breath) sell this house. And that's MONUMENTAL. This has been our home since 1999. We have so many good memories here. And in one sense, I still can't believe it. We knew going in that a 21-year age difference would mean more than likely me outliving him, and me having to take care of him when he got older, but... so soon? already? And selling the house means selling his books, selling the DVDs, selling the furniture. I honestly would not want most of the furniture, since it would represent a previous life. I would absolutely take pictures and keep an album. But I would want new stuff that represents a new direction in life. Taking old furniture to a new apartment or small home would haunt me in a bittersweet, too-poignant way.

I think it's a testament to our love that 17 years has seemed like 17 months at most. It's unfathomable to me that the time has come already that he is old, and that this stage of our lives is coming to an end. We've made this home so comfortable, so cozy, that it's been a real sanctuary from the world. J- agrees fully. It just doesn't seem possible that he's almost 70, and due to how life has shaken out, now needs this level of care. And it seems unbelievable because our love is ageless. To me, he hasn't really aged, and I know to him I haven't aged. We see each other through eyes of love. But it is what it is. And we have to do what we have to do. What I CANNOT do is let him languish and suffer at home from neglect. So over the next few weeks, just as my first year at a new school winds up, I'll also be making some major decisions about his, my, and our lives.

Will we be able to get in-home care?
Will he need to be placed in a facility to get adequate care?
What kind of facility?
Located where?
Costing how much? Will insurance help?
How will he adjust?
How will I adjust?
So many other questions. I'm sure I'll be blogging more here, asking and answering each in turn.

And there's the matter of our having gotten behind four years on taxes, which started not coincidentally, just when his health really began to fail. His weight had gotten so much that it began affecting his heart, so from 2012 to 2013, we made four trips to the ER. He had two small heart attacks. One time he came in with heart arrhythmia and a boil; he was septic. His body had begun to break down big-time.

And he just couldn't get around to doing the taxes. He wanted to; he meant to. And his body just wouldn't allow it. Looking back now, it's crystal clear. It's that beginning heart disease, along with diabetes, high blood pressure, and a lot of weight, as well as a lifetime of not exercising from adulthood, that led us to this place. To me, though, there's no blame. It's pointless to point fingers and blame-storm anyway. It happened. We've hired a tax attorney; J- has pulled a significant amount of money from his retirement fund to help pay the overdue taxes. It'll get fixed, now and into the summer and fall. And from now on, I'll have a tax person do our taxes. Life changes, and you adapt and roll with it. Two weeks ago, J- signed over durable power of attorney to me, as well as healthcare power of attorney, and we made an advance directive for him; no emergency measures, no heroics. He agrees: save the money, time and effort. If his body is going, then let it. Don't just keep the shell alive, while the real "him" is no longer there. I hope to do the same.

When we had completed the legal stuff, the traveling notary looked at both of us and said, you really don't know what a wise thing it is that you've just done. To J-, she said, you're lucky that she made you do this. If you have cancer and are under-going chemo, I've seen people wait til the last minute, and the person just isn't mentally able to give consent, and things get very messy. Doing it now is the best thing you could possibly do. And another anecdote: we were watching TV recently, and a character on TV mentioned something about being taken care of. J- said, very clearly and firmly, "I wish someone would take care of me." This happened on that Sunday night when he was stupefied by pain, had forgotten to take his major pain meds, and couldn't dial the phone, but finally got it together and ordered food for us, with help from me. I heard and listened. So it is time for him to be taken care of.

Even just going to the oncologist's office, and having to contradict J-, and give more detail and brush away J-'s minimizing felt pretty awful. At first, I looked at what I was doing and saying as a betrayal, but it isn't. It's love. It's doing what I have to do, with his welfare upper most in mind. It's telling the truth even when that truth is messy, scary, uncomplimentary, difficult, nuanced, new, and unfamiliar. A- talking to me like she did was an act of love, to be able to see a situation for what it is, know what needs to be done, even if the person you are doing it to doesn't like it. It seems like the beginning of life and the end of life have a way of overlapping. We have to sometimes over-ride the will of those we love to get them the care they need. A child is never going to want to get shots; an older person is usually never going to want to stop living at home. And sometimes care, especially physical care, has to be direct and for their good, not just what they want.

However, all that said, I've been very forthcoming with my students and colleagues. I've learned a number of things from this. Mainly, DON'T JUST QUIT after retirement. J- just quit. I will not! I'll certainly step down working to something less intense than teaching, but I want to keep working, traveling, exercising, doing, living. He had done his 30+ years of teaching, and just wanted creature comforts. But to sit and sleep 23 hours a day, to me, isn't really living. It was, however, at that point, all his body would let him do. Getting up, breaking a sweat, following your bliss, doing something you love that keeps you active and moving is just so necessary. I remember climbing out of that hole, and just how much it hurt and was uncomfortable. I did it, and kept at it. J- just didn't want to sweat, or be uncomfortable, or ache after exercise. And now we are here, contemplating living apart out of necessity. We will soon become "apartners".

I'm going back over later to see J- in the hospital. Apparently from scooting on the floor after he fell, he developed a fistula on his testicles. Yesterday, before I came over, after resting a while at home after work, the fistula burst, which was good: that meant it was draining on its own. So A- was right that his testicles appeared red and swollen, and we were right to be concerned. Doctors did a pelvic CT scan last night, to ensure there were no more pockets of pus or bacteria lurking. The mental fuzziness is a whole other issue that I hope we get cleared up before he either comes home or goes into care.

In some ways, this could not come at a more inconvenient time. It's my first year back teaching high school since I started in 1994. And this time around, it's fantastic, but it IS a first year. I'm madly creating quizzes and study guides like crazy, laying a foundation that I hope I will have until I retire. J-'s healthcare needs on top of the busy-ness of a first year at a new school, plus having to miss days of work, are wearing. Fortunately my principal is TRULY nice and understanding -- such a relief from Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet. I am, once again, about to get FMLA paperwork signed by the doctor, to protect my absences. DAMN I do not miss my former school ONE IOTA. Well, I miss some of my colleagues, but not the type of rough, spoiled kids who went there, and NOT the administration. Been there, done that, thanks for all the memories, happy to be moved on.

I feel like these next few months will be pivotal. I think a lot will happen. J-'s health and my own are my top priorities. So at this point, all I can say is more later, when I have a chance to exhale and reflect.

an open letter to four narcissists

Dear APDboy, Dr. No, PrimaDonnaSourKraut, and OnlineFailure:

I need to say some things to you. I know you'll never see this. That's really not important. I'm just tired of you taking up residence in my head. I need to forgive you, bless you, and release you, for MY peace of mind. You people have wronged me and I'm sure many others, but for MY health, MY peace, and MY equilibrium, I need to say a few things, then dismiss you into oblivion, where you belong. Three of you date from my last school where I taught for seven years. One of you dates from online, and recently, but you're enough of a thorn in my side that you need to be picked out and thrown away.

First of all, because you've all been so outrageously horrible, you don't get names. You're welcome; I'm protecting your ACTUAL identities, not that you deserve protection, but because I'm simply a good human who doesn't out people, although God knows I have ample reasons to do so with you people. So you're welcome, and just to let you know, if there's ever ANY blowback from this, I have ammunition against you which would do your reputations GREAT harm. So I'll just speak my piece and be done with you people... and I mean "you people".

To APDboy: First of all, I forgive you for ripping posters and other paper off the wall in my classroom. (Seriously, who the fuck ever does that? No one in 21 years of teaching. That action alone made you sub-human, an animal, completely contemptible in my eyes.) I forgive you for demanding all my attention, all the time, in the most negative way possible. That shit got old, really quickly. And I'm sorry for you that your home life sucks, but I'm not a teacher in order to raise you; that's your parents job, and DAMN, I wish they'd actually DO it, because you seriously need some home raising, as well as consequences.

You know, I talked to your mother and father one time, and it was really bizarre. It was only your mother who talked. Your father, a really big, tall guy, was completely silent. That was just weird, and really didn't sit well with me at all. It made me wonder about your family, and just how the dynamics were messed up. I'd hazard a guess that it's your mother who's the "bad guy" who gets stuck with all the discipline, and that's the role I got cast in, against my will. I wonder if your father is the "fun parent" or for whatever reason, he just doesn't step up at all and discipline you. I wish I were wrong about this. If that's not how it is in your family, and both parents actually care, actually discipline you, actually impose consequences, then I'm happy to be wrong.

APDboy, I hope you don't actually have antisocial personality disorder. I hope your seventh grade year was just one of those years, and you were just a young, callow, immature jackass and idiot, like many seventh graders are. But if you do have APD, then God help you. I don't see you as someone who is murderous, thank goodness, just as someone who lies all the time, even when telling the truth would be easier, and that's just sad. I see you as someone who's powerless, weak, insecure, unstable, whose center cannot hold, especially since you couldn't maintain eye contact, which is always a big red flag. And I see you as someone who could very easily get involved with drugs, petty crime, and con schemes, because it just seemed to kill you to follow rules, to cooperate. I wish you real strength, stability, and centeredness. Those are three gifts I truly wish I could give you. APDboy, I forgive you; I bless you; I release you.

*****

Dear Dr. No,

I knew from the moment I met you, in a visceral way, that something wasn't right. And sure enough, you turned out to be the least effective principal I've ever had in my entire 20+ year career, with your last year a failure in all sorts of ways. I forgive you first of all, Dr. No, for your exclusionary gayness, for your seeming dislike and distrust of women on a deep and visceral level. I really didn't like feeling excluded and marginalized based on my sex; I mean, if you're going to push me to the side, get to know me first, and base it on something real about me that doesn't measure up, as well as something that I might be able to strengthen. I forgive you for having the narcissistic attitude that out of sight is out of mind, because overall that worked for me, independent sort that I am; however, all teachers eventually need help and backup, and you failed me and a lot of other teachers on this over and over again.

Not only did you not punish kids who were way out of line, you also regularly threw me and other teachers under the bus to appease parents. Unfair, not right, and a complete failure to lead. I forgive you for your blindness, how you seemed to think we teachers had betrayed you or turned against you or didn't support you, when it was you who wronged us first, and over and over again. We teachers are a forgiving bunch; it's part and parcel of dealing with young, immature humans, and humans in general. After a few years, though, we got the message that you really didn't consider us as professionals, equals, fellow educators. We were regarded as rather lowly, expendable staff, and even then, we really wanted to cut you a break. We all kept waiting for you to change, to see all the talent, all the experience, the know-how, the professionalism, the determination, the love and so much more, that we showed every single day toward our students, colleagues, the school, the District. And finally, we were done. Slowly, one by one, we did turn against you because of the lack of respect you consistently showed us.

Your last year, Dr. No, was a colossal failure. I and other teachers were regularly assaulted in our class by one traumatized, out of control class that egged each other on. Nothing was done. Those kids weren't put into other classes; their schedules weren't changed. And yet, the moment a parent complained, even if it were halfway through the semester, overnight a child's schedule got changed. Facts like that hardened us against you. There's more, and more personal examples I could state, but I won't go on. These are enough. Dr. No, I'm sorry your mother died, but even grief is no excuse to just stop leading a school and let the children run wild, run roughshod over your teachers, end meetings by the clock without deciding anything, stay holed up in your office, and just not care. Dr. No, above all, I forgive you for your indifference. It's my firm belief that narcissism is a brain disease, an injury. Narcissists are disabled, less than, inferior, and very damaged. I forgive you for your inability to care about other people. Dr. No, I forgive you, I bless you, and I release you.

*****

Dear PrimaDonnaSourKraut,

I've already blogged here and told the entire world what a bitch you were, but it's worth repeating: I forgive your pettiness. I forgive your insanity in trying to bring me down, even possibly get me fired, for no better reason than my refusal to be yet another protege when I had 15 years of experience, and my refusal to allow you to be the smartest person in the room, and not give you any narcissistic supply. Your retirement was a blessing, I must say, although I do forgive you for the cloud you created that I came in under when I was hired. Overall, it didn't get me down; in fact, I'm proud to say, I was pretty damn well oblivious to it, to you, and you really had to get up in my face and do/say some extraordinarily bitchy, rude, petty things to get me to notice, because I for one believe that most people are good, and most people, especially teachers, have good intentions. You are the happy exception to that rule, and now you are a retired non-entity. PDSK, I forgive you, I bless you, and I release you.

*****

Dear OnlineFailure,

We've talked. For a long time, I knew something wonky and bad was going on, because you were getting something from me that I didn't intend to give, and I kept on feeling drained from our interactions. But thank God for being analytical! I realized that you were manipulative, dysfunctional, toxic. You insanely wanted to be rejected, and you just wanted any engagement at all, so I started withholding. You said something manipulative, and BLAM! I had the power NOT to engage at all. Suddenly, all that power came back to me! I began to interact with you on my terms, only when I wanted, never consistently, always leaving, always pulling away.

And today, I discovered something else: narcissists hate to be told what they are doing, and how other people feel about it. Ammunition! I will absolutely continue to tell you your game, and how I feel about it, in order to force mindfulness that yours isn't the only agenda, that I and others have feelings that must be considered, and that what you say, how you say it, how you act online gets you treated (or not) the way you choose. Don't want disrespect, attitude? Don't put it out there, or that's what you get, by your own choice. You train people how to treat you. Think about that. You get back precisely what you put out there, if not more. What you put out into the world, OnlineFailure, comes back to you three-fold. Is this what you really want? I don't think so.

OnlineFailure, I get that you are a very little man from the South, who probably isn't married, or suffered an acrimononious divorce. (I can totally see why your wife walked!) I get that you probably have a low-control, high-stress job. I get that you probably really want female attention, but due to real or online narcissism, you're incompetent. I get that you think you can come online, and say whatever you want, to whoever you want, however you want. And you can... up to a point. But do that enough, and you'll simply get ignored, ostracized, whispered about, shunned. And that's narcissism for you: that lack of care, that inability to care about others, is such a way to get sliced out of other people's lives. Anesthetically sliced out. Excised like a malignant tumor. And there you are, alone again, yet another relationship in shambles because of what you have done and have not done. And only yourself to blame.

Online, I forgive you; I bless you, and I release you. God knows you need it.

Now, if at any point any of you people intrude into my thoughts, I'm raising the rent: either say something nice, or leave. That's the price of being in my head from now on.

Thank you, that is all. :)
I am no Erin Gruwell. I am no Esme Codell. I am no Rafe Esquith. I'm just a career, veteran teacher who has learned along the way like millions of others. I'm a pioneer in my classroom, because here in America, we are cut off from nearly all meaningful planning time with colleagues. I am an innovator because I've had to be. And I am a survivor of the ed biz. I'm first going to talk more about my time at my last middle school, with some reference to my first middle school out here in California, as well as my beginning teacher training in another state, in order to set the scene. And then, because it's necessary to know background, I'll then talk about being evaluated as a teacher under the TGDC, or as I like to call it, That God-Damned Crap.

Recently, my ed biz survival skills were called into play over the past several years. As many of you may know, education is under attack from billionaires with ideas and money, but no experience whatsoever in teaching or dealing with children. Many want to privatize education, taking only the children they choose, invariably those who are gifted, highly capable, able to play the education game, leaving behind those who are poor, less capable, who don't know the rules of the education game, and who have no resources. This very mindset undermines the idea of public education. Charter schools are funded by taxpayers, yet have no accountability to taxpayers, and that idea must die once and for all. I'm here to tell my story, in condensed form, of the past several years, at one particular school, with one particular principal and one woman, who was technically an underpaid assistant principal, whose official title was instructional specialist. I'm here to tell how I survived, specifically, and concretely, all those reformer/deformer ideas and ideals, because they just don't work. They are abusive. I was abused at this school, and especially by the evaluation process, and this is just one story among many.

I came to my former middle school under a cloud, but did not know it. I had been at my first middle school here in California for 10 years, and it was getting really old driving 30 minutes a day one way. (Previously, I had started out teaching in another state, and moved to California with several years of teaching under my belt, two or three years in graduate school as a teaching assistant, and three years teaching public school, one year of high school, two of middle.) In all those situations, I had respect from my peers and from older teachers. I got along with everyone. With most people, I was at least a work friend, and a few I counted as friends outside the workplace. But after 10 years of commuting, I wanted something closer, and this new school looked promising. It was a beautiful campus, three miles from home. Everyone seemed nice -- at first. And then it turned into something out of a nightmare.

A friend of mine from my first middle school here in California once said, "This district makes Alice in Wonderland look like a documentary." Truer words never spoken. This new middle school made me think often that I had fallen down the rabbit hole.

Looking back, though, I could tell something was going on the day I was hired, but I had no clue what. It turns out that I was hired on the sly, with a rather last-minute interview that deliberately did not include one particular teacher in my department. It was that teacher who turned out to be a fragile, vengeful narcissist, someone who would make my life hell over five years before she thankfully retired. She tried everything to get me written up and possibly even fired. I'm glad to say nothing she said against me ever worked, and both principals, the outgoing one who was nice overall, and the one who came in, who, by the way, was also a fragile, vengeful narcissist, ever took what she said very seriously. I only knew about her campaign against me the last two years she was there, and after she left. I just made sure all along that she never saw me sad or hurting. I made sure she only saw me happy, productive, and collegial. I killed with steel-in-my-spine kindness.

What it came down to was that several teachers hired before me were truly new to teaching, and this narcissist, hereinafter referred to as Prima Donna SourKraut, or PDSK for short, would swoop in, take them under her wing, train them up, and keep them around as providers of narcissistic supply. And then I came on the scene with 15 years of experience. She really, really wanted me to be another protege, an idea that I poo-pooed, at which point she immediately set to work to undermine me, discredit me, ruin my reputation, and possibly even try to get me fired. Hell hath no fury like a scorned narcissist.

What ultimately played out was that I was ignored by PDSK, which turned out to be quite a blessing. I had complete freedom to do whatever I deemed best with my students in my professional opinion. I had complete freedom to work with all other colleagues in my department. After a while, I twigged on to what she was doing, and it took me awhile, because I had never had this happen before, and also assumed that she was a functional, well-meaning adult like 99.9% of all other teachers and adults I had ever worked with. But the dark side turned out that she tried to make it difficult for me to get supplies, which I did anyway; my head of department was only two doors down from me and rather liked me. She tried to make it difficult for me to speak up in meetings, but she underestimated me as a badger-type of person who has always spoken up, and who tends to speak up MORE when I've been repressed or ignored by others, and who simply will not give up. I am always that 1% more stubborn, more persistent, more determined than anyone else. And given how toxically and dysfunctionally she was treating me, I rather reveled in being annoying. I spoke up, I smiled, I kept offering ideas, and kept contributing to the department.

But there was, of course, much more darkness. One fragile narcissist was enough, and after I confronted her, after intercepting one, then two rather petty, unprofessional comments made about me in meetings I did not attend, her treatment of me, behind my back, got worse. I think she amped up her campaign against me. However, it came to naught: those who knew me kept on being my friends, some from the very first day I walked into that school. Others who believed her didn't talk to me much anyway, and I can't say I missed talking to them. I learned later that the faculty had a history of being divided and divisive, with clear lines drawn around who talked to whom, who interacted with whom, who could and could not work with whom. I was always cordial, always professional. I deliberately remained inclusive and kind, and felt the best revenge was living well and continuing to be kind in the face of unkindness. I worked with everyone. I included everyone. I worked hard, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, for my students, for the department, for the school.

But then Dr. No came on the scene, and things radically changed for the worse for the school, for teachers, for students. The most important fact to know was that over Dr. No's tenure, the school lost over 600 students in about four or five years. Dr. No was the principal who came after the first principal left at this new, closer middle school. Former principal Mr. Magic was very nice to me, although not always to other teachers -- but overall, a kind, caring man who valued teachers and who liked interacting with students. Mr. Magic cared, and that alone was enough to forgive most weakness and failures as a human being.

But Dr. No was ice-cold, and I knew this, with dread, from our first meeting. There was just something not right about him, something missing, which was my first visceral, gut feeling. Whatever personal feelings I had about him as a person, as a man, played out professionally, in that he actively preferred the company of men over women. He had many more men in his confidence than women. He talked more to men, less to women. He promoted and hired far more men than women. He listened more to men than to women. And as a woman, an older woman, a veteran teacher, and someone who worked at a physical distance from him, he and I never had any type of professional relationship other than the most perfunctory. I never felt seen by him. I never felt acknowledged, or validated, understood, listened to, or valued. Around Dr. No, I never felt that I actually existed.

That feeling of invisibility, of not existing, not mattering, was extraordinarily demoralizing, and not just for me. Teaching as I did out in some bungalows far away from the main office, I was forgotten most of the time, which suited me, but which was not at all good for support, which we all need from time to time. And fragile narcissist that he was, there really was no support to be had, because support requires care, concern, and effort. As the years wore on, there was increasingly less care, less concern, less effort for everyone, until last year, there was none at all.

The first staff-wide meeting, in his first year with us, told me that things were not right at all. The staff had been grumbling for some time about Dr. No and his behavior, so we finally had a sit-down, where nothing got resolved. The staff basically said in so many words, that they weren't feeling listened to, that certain major concerns weren't dealt with, and that Dr. No just didn't seem to connect. All of this was true, and none of it, from Dr. No's surprised, blinky-eyed, clueless fish-out-of-water look, could possibly be his fault. We all left that meeting disspirited, blamed, and victimized, but not quite knowing what was wrong. What was wrong was that we were dealing with a narcissist, someone too weak to admit wrong, too incompetent to address social/emotional concerns, and too indifferent and spiritually stunted to know why he should do anything. Clearly working for him, being in his presence, should have been more than enough. And people started leaving, several teachers every year. I stayed on, thinking and hoping things would get better. Besides, the school was pretty; it was close; it was convenient. And still things kept going downhill incrementally but incessantly.

It's this last year, my last year at that middle school, as well as Dr. No's last year, that was simply breathtaking in the scope of its abuse and neglect. Our UTLA chapter chair made up a list of 20 things off the top of her head that Dr. No was doing illegally, like letting the clock run out the time on school site meetings, without ever deciding anything; ignoring seniority in next year's matrix; not holding instructional leadership meetings, ignoring complaints from teachers, and so much more. Our last Open House, the last public event of the year, there was no all-call to parents, no email reminder to faculty and staff. The day simply came and went. We all had a handful of parents show up, the die-hard few who were really in touch with their children's education, the type who come to parent conferences. The type we don't need to see, but for whom we are profoundly grateful, because they are on top of their child's education, they nag, pester, push, praise, cajole, and do what it takes to make their child or children succeed. We all turned in our parent sign-in sheets. To have had half a dozen parents show up that night, for any one teacher, was an accomplishment.

The main thing that happened last year was that I and other teachers had the class from hell. For me, it was my third period. These kids, looking back with 20/20 hindsight, because we were all in hunkered-down survival mode, were traumatized. They more than likely spoke fluent violence. They would throw BIC (Breakfast in the Classroom) at me, at other teachers. Fruit was popular, because it splattered. I was only hit once or twice, but the ongoing threat of having a missle lobbed at or near me contributed to my own trauma and hyper-vigilance. I and other teachers had security on speed dial. Security followed that one class around all day. Teachers regularly called, every period, to report or suspend one or several, for a day's reprieve. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet never did anything about that class. Occasionally they would show up, make a speech, then leave. And something would be thrown at me, at the white board, after they left. There were no consequences. Yes, we could suspend, with UTLA paperwork. We could, for a day, with the cooperation of another teacher, send a kid to work in another class. We could call home, through Connect-Ed, if the parent chose to pick up. We could call home, if the home number was working.

I should add here as an aside that my husband went into the hospital during Thanksgiving, and got out after New Years. I'm a caregiver for him; it's light caregiving. He's older, less able, but still mobile and able to walk around. It was the fourth time in a year he had had to go to the Emergency Room. He had Fournier's gangrene, which was life-threatening. I had to take personal necessity leave. Fortunately he survived and now takes better care of himself. But at the end of the year, Dr. No said, "You've been absent this year 30 days," and he did not bother to differentiate that over 20 days were to care for my husband, before, during, and after his prolonged hospital and rehab stay. So all this was going on in the middle of everything else at the school. It was a grim, ugly year.

And finally, 85% of the way through the year, in spring semester, I finally had the bright idea to have this particular period, the only period I have ever had to do this with in 20 years, put their backpacks at the side of the room. And still, I had to watch for items smuggled in pants and shirts. We had to take time to let them come in, one at a time, be seated, then let someone else come in. We had to take time at the end of the period for them to get their backpacks, because otherwise, if they did not do so individually, they would steal other backpacks, unzip and empty backpacks, turn over tables and chairs, fling open windows, write on the walls, and throw/smear more food as they left. It wasn't every day. Some days were better than others. They forced us teachers to be their jailers.

And by the time third period got to me, they were already triggered, by who knows what? It was completely unpredictable to know what would set them off. I've never been in an ongoing trauma situation. I come from a secure, loving, attached family. And never in 21 years did I ever have to deal with unattached, possibly sociopathic children in a group. Teachers have no training whatsoever in how to deal with trauma, how to recognize it, what to do in a classroom setting. Our insistence on bell-to-bell instruction, teaching, testing, without any arts, with less time for recess, play, and movement, traumatizes already-broken children.

I myself broke one day, after days, weeks, months of dealing with this one class. I am ashamed to say that, in the spring semester, after yet another piece of BIC fruit was thrown at/near me, I snapped. I threw an orange around the room, never hitting children, but ranting and raving to them about their attitude and behaviors and intentions, until I realized that they WANTED to provoke that. And I told them that if that's what they wanted, I was sorry I was manipulated into such a display of temper, and would make sure to withhold all anger. They were already traumatized and rejected, yet they brought on themselves more trauma and rejection. That was the lowest point.

I should not have snapped, but I was pushed into it, day after day, week after week, month after month, with no support whatsoever. Third period, to their credit, reined it in, at least for a few days, but that's how it went, throughout the year: they pushed it, I pushed back, growling and snarling, they would rein it in. I suppose I and other teachers did teach them about boundaries and limits, with some habilitation into the human community, but it was grim, physical, grueling. I did not get written up for that; I got away with it.

I did, however, get written up for hate speech after sending a desperate call for help. That email had others who were not strictly teachers. And I was the scapegoat, written up for referring to this third period as "hooligans", because what mattered was that I tarnished Dr. No's carefully polished image. It wasn't that important that I was a desperate teacher being assaulted daily by sociopathic children, in a school with no consequences, no leadership. I got written up another time because I yelled at a child who for weeks had been pushing it with me, muttering under his breath, cursing near me, being an all-around difficult mess. I didn't call home, mainly because it was sixth period, I was tired, and this child normally didn't cause that much problem. But this sixth period boy, too, was traumatized, like the children in third period. Sixth Period Boy, too, came from an abusive, neglectful household. He was also special ed, and had learned misogyny, anger, and hate speech, tinged with racism, from his father. Sixth Period Boy told me later that he was worried about his grade, and when he gets worried, he gets angry. Sixth Period Boy had never been taught how to handle worry or anger, or the original emotion of fear.

That day, Sixth Period Boy wanted to sit somewhere where he could slack off, talk, and not do any work. I would not let him sit with a friend, slack off, and do no work. He refused to comply, even after I told him, ordered him, and then moved in front of him to prevent his walking over to his friend. I grabbed his backpack, a mistake after a long and hyped-up Halloween day, when I was tired, worn out, hadn't eaten, and got reported for touching a student. He did, however, do all his work in another classroom for the rest of the year, which I was glad of, and never ever cursed at me or was difficult toward me again. I have a feeling that I was the first, possibly the only strong woman he had ever dealt with in his life, who had ever stood up to him and imposed limits and boundaries on his behavior. And I have a distinct feeling that these write-ups were meant to push me out, to make me want to quit, to move, because I was an expensive veteran teacher.

I and other teachers of this group, this third period that still haunts me, tried everything we knew to change up the mix in that class. We begged, pleaded, cajoled with Dr. No and the educational leadership/underpaid assistant principal Ms. Crumpet (aka Blackbelt Barbie) over and over, through fall and spring semesters, but nothing could or would be done. The schedule did not allow them to be moved. I and other teachers were not convinced of this, since other kids had been moved the MOMENT a parent complained. Ways were found, weeks and months into the semester, to move children when a parent complained. But when teachers complained, nothing was done. Looking back, I think that administration blundered onto the perfect storm of kids, and then hoped that these kids would do their dirty work for administration, by forcing older, veteran teachers to resign, or move, or quit. After all, it didn't matter that we teachers were experienced, had tons of professional knowledge, cared deeply about education and children, and wanted to help others. What mattered is that we were more expensive to pay, so we did not help the bottom line.

I should say here that after this last year, I was displaced (but ended up at a far better school, thankfully). Another teacher moved to a different state. One teacher moved to get married. Another colleague fought hard against displacement, since he also lives close and has a child going to a nearby school; I think he got to stay. That meant that for all core subjects, me in English, and in science, math, and history, 80% of teachers that that third period had, left. This year, for better and for worse, those kids will get a new principal, someone I'm told who is pro-teacher and pro-student, more humane and caring. And they will get a new slate of teachers.

Other things contributed to a rapid decline in morale at this middle school. Coffee with the Principal went by the wayside, perhaps as early as fall semester, definitely by spring semester. Phone calls home to parents from administration, to alert parents to events happening at the school, decreased and finally stopped. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet stayed increasingly holed up in the main office. Dr. No often left before school ended, while legally, under contract, administrators were supposed to stay until 4.30pm. Whenever they did their mandatory yard duty, Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet never seemed to interact with any students; instead, they were on guard, vigilant against children, forming a shield wall of adults, us against them. And tellingly, when Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet evaluated me, kids shuddered when these adults were next to them. Kids would not sit next to them. Kids were afraid of them and took all necessary measures not to be near them.

My evaluation process spanned over four years. During Dr. No's first year or two, I submitted a letter from our chapter chair and UTLA, asking to be evaluated every five years as a veteran teacher. It was ignored. I was evaluated four years in a row under TGDC. It felt punishing, abusive, demeaning, demotivating. I was never good enough. I was made to feel troublesome, lacking, as if I were just not getting it, when there was no real support, no collegiality, no way to ask questions without being made to feel needy, bothersome, annoying, clingy, childish, incapable, incompetent. I learned nothing, or rather how to plaster my walls to impress the evaluators, how to put on another dog and pony show, and then when they were gone, go back to doing what my students needed, to get them literate.

The TGDC guidelines were intimidating, and I'm not one to be intimidated by much. They were for superhumans, not mere humans. No teacher, no human being, could possibly do what the TGDC deemed advanced or even at an acceptable level, every day, every period. The most I ever got was "developing" and "meets standards" which is the same kind of back-handed compliment as telling someone they're not bad looking, or that'll do. Whatever sop to improvements were given were phrased in the most abstract, ed-biz jargon. I took all TGDC reports, put them in a binder, and shoved them into the back of my supply closet.

Going online and accessing the TGDC website was always iffy, because it didn't always work. One time, after procrastinating all weekend and feeling increasingly resentful and angry, I finally logged in to do my initial planning sheet, only to realize that the whole site was down. One good thing about Dr. No was as long as you had a plan, he would actually leave you alone, so I typed up my proposed lesson, presented it, and agreed to type it into the TGDC platform when it was up and running again. That was a rare positive interaction with Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet. It was actually sane, adult, and relatively benign. And for being so utterly banal, it stands out as a bright spot in all our interactions, for not being toxic, dysfunctional, and indifferent.

Under TGDC, I never felt like I could do enough. I never felt like I could be a competent teacher, no matter that I have two degrees, 20 years of experience, and have taught in two states and have taught both high school and middle school as well as college. I could not keep all students on task all the time. I could not control how they talked, or about what, so I was constantly dinged for not having 100% accountable talk. Students didn't move around enough. Students didn't do enough of this, did too much of that. Without ever being told exactly what kind of lesson they wanted to see, or what constituted good teaching, nothing I ever planned was quite enough. Teacher standards were piled on for me, for professional growth. Ultimately, it reminded me of why I divorced my first, passive-aggressive, withholding husband: if it was good, it wasn't enough, and if it was good enough, then it wasn't enough. There was no way, for me at that school, with those administrators, to get high marks.

During one particularly telling debrief or post-observation conference, I received no feedback at all on my teaching, and no guidelines for improvement. I asked several times what they liked and what I could improve. Dr. No's and Ms. Crumpet's answers were abstract, vague, and listless. Instead, the whole post-observation conference was spent complaining about one special ed girl who talked off-task the entire time they observed me. I honestly did not hear her, intent as I was on the other students. Miss KM, the student, looked like she was on task, and I think I remember that she turned in her work for that day. Dr. No even said that he had no power to make a child stop misbehaving, at which point I openly goggled at him. No, of course he had no power; he was only the principal, the school leader. And rather than letting them make me defensive, I smiled and agreed with everything they said. I defended nothing. Yes, she did talk a lot. Sure, I could move her seat, like I've done so MANY times before. Yes, I could make sure she sits with another student who is more capable and who would be willing to help her... which she already does. On and on and on. And not one word about my teaching, or that lesson, or ways I could improve. They had to find something to criticize, to be fair and balanced, just like Fox News.

Later this last year, before I left, and after I knew I was being displaced, I was told by a colleague whom I liked and trusted that my style of teaching had gone out of style a couple of years ago. I, however, wasn't helped at teaching in the new CCSS style, and although I do now teach mostly CCSS style, it's all been done by me, on my own, doing my own reading and research, implementing here and there as I see fit. I still mostly go by what my students need and are deficient in, and am guided by what they like and are interested in.

This colleague and I also talked many times about there being a two-tier system at this school, those who could do no wrong (and who were seldom if ever evaluated), and those who could do no right (and were evaluated year after year). I had always been in the tier of those who could do no right. My colleague had been in my position, too, and had had a horrible year the year before. Other evaluators, the now defunct ISIS, came into the school, saw his teaching, praised him to administration, and suddenly he became a darling, a go-to teacher, whereas before he had been looked down on, disparaged, ignored, and bullied by administration. Fortunately he resisted becoming a golden boy, saw the sexism and misogyny of Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet, and kept his usual low-key, sympathetic demeanor and robust resolve to help all students and be a colleague to all teachers.

Just one more thing, and I will close this already long, ranty blog post. Dr. No informed us sometime after spring break that several teachers would be displaced. We were dismayed but not surprised, because we all knew that the school had been hemmorhaging students for years. It was when Dr. No said, casually, offhandedly, in front of the faculty at a Tuesday PD, "Oh, I think some people would be DELIGHTED to be displaced," that I and several others just shook our heads. Who says this? What kind of leader says that to and about his faculty, in front of them? This past year I had been praying for Dr. No to leave, and finally one day during spring semester, we got a terse, three- or four-sentence email informing us he was leaving. Of course he got kicked upstairs, working in the bowels of the bureau-crazy, where like the capital of Panem, no citizen goes in want of anything, and offices are lush and amply provisioned. One can only hope that Dr. No continues to work with orgasmic reams of data, and never again has to work with teachers or children.

So mote it be.

dealing (or not) with visibility

Short and sweet, since I'm hungry, want dinner, and want to get offline for a while. I've had my fill of yet more males who 'desire' me. What a crock.

A couple of years ago, over summer, I had a number of messages from some of the thousands of Facebook friends that I have online. These were men who wanted to chat. I didn't mind. I chatted. They were complimentary. Weird, but ok. Nice in its way. Huh. How about that. Men actually think... I look nice? When did THAT start happening? I was a tiny bit freaked out, but blew it off, kind of liked it a little, got my ego boost, and forgot about it, especially in August when the new school year was revving up and I was super-busy as always.

Then this past year it happened again, only moreso, much much moreso. Many men messaged me. Many men chatted me up, claimed I was beautiful, gorgeous, pretty, attractive, etc. etc. etc. To me, this comes out of nowhere, left field, out of the blue. And given that I'm someone with 40+ years of body image issues, I was, this time, more than a little freaked out. I was bothered. And finally I just became angry and exasperated and out of patience and resentful.

Just go the hell AWAY. Have a nice life somewhere ELSE.

Apparently Facebook had me as someone who adds easily, and for years, I did, because I LOVE having game friends. Game friends online are awesome, because they don't chat! They're just people who also happen to play the same games. They give you stuff, you give them stuff, and you do not chat. That not chatting is awesome, especially for me as an introvert. All I want from social media is to see pictures, like pictures, see interesting quotes, like said interesting quotes, and play games. Seriously, that's it. That's as social as I care to be online. And the MOMENT anyone messages me, damn. A red notification. Ugh, I don't WANT to talk to anyone. Noooooo, please just NO. Fine, whatever. I'll click on the message, just so I don't have to see the red notification. (This is seriously how introverts think when people message us, even people we know at times. Strangers, multiply the reaction times 10 at least.)

So now, I'm just so done. Some seriously messed up excuse for a human being, who shall remain nameless and utterly forgotten, messaged me tonight. He wanted to pay me to go on cam and "help" him. I'm not even going to dissect how wrong that is or on how many levels that's wrong. I let him know, cursing him up one side and down the other, just how wrong it was. And I told him to eat shit and die. And then he asked how big my tits were. Again, motherfucker, eat shit and die. You don't get or deserve an answer. Go suck YOUR MOTHER.

If this is what being a visible woman means, then I do not like it. There is no going back to 425 pounds. There is only forging ahead, losing more weight, gaining and re-gaining more health, strength, endurance, flexibility, stamina. But I don't like being visible. And I have nothing but contempt for the so-called "males" who think they're entitled to any part of my attention or affection. You're not.

Ironically, I'm 47, post-menopausal, way past the "useful" stage of life. I'm not only married, I'm very married, so I don't want to hook up or fool around with anyone for any reason. No one interests me that way, and it's absolutely not worth it on any number of levels. I'm in the best shape of my life, and if you looked up "emotionally unavailable" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of me.

Seriously, I am so damn tired of males and their peacocking and their often desperate, stupid bids for attention. I don't want you. I look FORWARD to the time when I "lose my looks" and get ignored by males. All of this makes me want to be 20 years older, grey-haired, wrinkled, and invisible yet again. It's going to be a LONG 20 years.

FUCK.
This will be short, because I'm considering going to see "Spectre" the new James Bond Movie. But a recent Facebook post triggered a very powerful memory from my past when I was married to Peter.

This must have happened in the early 90s, maybe even from the couple of years when we didn't have a television -- I miss those days. I would not mind not having a TV now, although that's beside the point.

I do remember that I was at this point 20something, perhaps already a first- or second-year teacher, still in graduate school, so juggling a lot: work as a beginning professional, work as a grad student, being a first time wife. And I was poor. There was no getting around it, being a first-year teacher in Louisiana, and being a grad student didn't pay jack shit. And so at one point, Peter and I ran out of food.

Technically, that wasn't true. There was food in the house, but nothing terribly palatable, mostly just canned goods. I think this was before the start of the cold war in our house, but it was probably brewing by then. I was expected, as a female, to hunt and gather, although I made sure he brought home food just as often as I did.

Anyway, I don't know how I found out about getting "government cheese", Peter's term for free food for poorer people, but I did. I showed up at a school gymnasium, where I was one of VERY few other white faces in the crowd. And I could feel the resentment. It wasn't overt, and no one said anything to me, but there was a definite feeling in the air of, what are you doing here? You're white. You don't look poor enough.

I got to the front of the line to register, and the kindly African-American lady asked how many in my family. I naively said "two". She looked at me up and down, rather quizzically, and said, "Just two?" I remember at this time that being childfree was a BIG issue in my life, all about retaining sovereignty over my body, my life, my choice for how my life should go. So I was adamant. I think she kind of shook her head, called out "two" to the person who would give me a bag (or more) for the people in my family.

As other people queued up, they got asked how many in their family, and I heard answers ranging from three or four, to 14, to 27. But no one said anything. Later on, I realized what was happening. They weren't lying just to see what they could get away with. They were lying because they were poor, they were hungry, and they needed to feed their family that possibly, probably included others, and they needed enough food to last for a month, given limited, perhaps even non-existent job prospects in my small, insular, Southern college town.

That day was a wakeup call to my own privilege. Peter got paid the next day, and I immediately legged it over to the supermarket. I got paid soon after, either later that week or early the next week. And we never had to go back for government cheese. And our own personal economic circumstances improved each year. But yes, what a wake-up call.