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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.

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.
"His hyper-vigilant scanning for any threat he might perceive in the classroom created a wall between Danny and others. Often, Danny’s traumas could be retriggered by a classmate’s slight shift in position, or the most innocent comment or look. It was impossible to anticipate. Sometimes Danny arrived at school already triggered by events at home or along the way. When his fears were triggered, Danny could go off track quickly with a loud, nervous laugh, or an equally disruptive threat yelled to someone across our classroom. Then he would rip up his classwork, and throw his books, dump his desk, and often make a run for the hallway, with angry tears, screaming “f___ you”. His classmates watched, gripped in fear. Danny didn’t know it, but 11+ other children in the same room had similar life stories filled with trauma."

This comes from a new blog I just found today, and it PERFECTLY describes a child I had last year in that awful third period. For the sake of discretion, I'll refer to this kid as Caesar from now on, not his real name. All of this happened, quite regularly, over and over. And Caesar, in copying yet another traumatized kid in third period, also threw things at me and/or the white board. In that one class, I'd estimate there were a core group of perhaps five or six traumatized kids who all fed off each other. That whole "monkey see, monkey do" thing, acted out among several who were traumatized, just contributed to such a horrific, surreal climate in that class. And last year, I had NO CLUE how to deal with any of it. I had no clue what was happening, what had happened, how to deal. Teachers are simply not trained in how to recognize or respond to trauma. And we desperately need to be trained!

Caesar would regularly arrive to class already triggered, and who knows by what? I think now simply the act of coming inside the classroom could have been triggering. A recent article I read says that it's impossible, from the outside looking in, to know what triggers acting-out behavior. Whatever it was, I NOW know, after having read and learned a little, that the child may not know what triggers him or her, but whatever it is, it's stored in the deep part of the brain, what I call the reptile brain. This also explains why I spent all year looking at them and wondering, "Who ARE you?" because they were just so alien to me. I now realize WHY they were so alien: their brains were different, distorted, immature, and perhaps even shrunken from dealing with violence, trauma, abuse, neglect, substance abuse, etc. These kids were RADICALLY different from me, someone who has experienced only an inkling of trauma (fat-and body-shaming, some PTSD fairly long ago in the past to do with my knees), and always had the wherewithal to fight back and make it stop.

And I am so, so sorry that I contributed to this and all other kids' trauma. However, that said, they pushed me and all other teachers, way past any normal human's endurance, and when I did break, it was because I could not take it anymore. They knew it. I knew it. And little by little, over the course of the year, I suppose I (and I hope all the other teachers they had) DID teach them some about boundaries and limits, but it was so, so physical, so grim, and so unhappy. And yet, when I yelled or made my displeasure known (never again throwing anything), they always did pull back and rein it in for a day or two. It does not excuse what I did (throwing an orange around the classroom, after it was thrown at/near me, which just KEPT FUCKING HAPPENING, ranting and raving about their behavior and attitudes), but it does explain it. I'm beginning to understand this. I had no time, no resources last year, and certainly no help at all. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet were the abysmal vortex of inefficiency, indifference, and narcissism. I had mistakenly thought that these third-period kids were CHOOSING to be rude, disruptive, non-compliant, aggressive, etc. Now I see that they really could not help it.

What I would give to do that year over again with them, even knowing the tiny bit that I know now. What a year it was. And yes, I realize what I would be letting myself in for when I say that. I can only hope that I can learn from them and apply what I know to future classes and future traumatized adolescents. I look back now, with some shame and a lot more understanding of my own behavior, and see where I was deficient. I felt pressured as a teacher to focus on academics exclusively. I did not at all feel we had time to focus on what was going on with them, and moreover, suspected absolutely that something was going on, but I had no clue or training in how to approach them or help calm whatever storms were brewing. And as a natural academic myself, someone who is a low-level Type A personality, I like making efficient use of time. I didn't think that talking about feelings would be productive or useful. We had state standardized tests to prepare them for. This is the insanity and the inhumanity of schools now. Hearbreaking.

I'm also so, so sorry that the whole school system, and that school in particular, were so awfully punitive and punitive mainly by being ignorant. We had absolutely no tools at our disposal to deal with these kids when they acted out. We framed them as "bad" when yes, their actions were way out of control, but as I've since learned, all misbehavior is the result of unmet needs. And the core group of kids who constantly acted out, threw stuff, made noises and disrupted were masses of unfilled, unmet needs. No one, especially a teacher, could ever meet those needs. But we could start meeting them in the classroom, give those kids some sense of structure, limits, boundaries, appropriate behaviors and responses, and try to deal with triggers and fear, blame, anger, etc.

What I hated most was how they were already amped up by the time they came to me. They also kept each other amped up, and this more than anything was what I hated most, especially as an introvert. I find it easy to relax, to lower my heart rate and breathing. I'm not sure now that they could do this. I am quite sure that any education about meditation or relaxation techniques might have helped defuse them as ticking time bombs. Their constant talking, activity, and refusal to comply, and actively LOOKING for distractions amped ME up, and I hated being in that hyper-vigilant state. I could neve relax around them, and they simply could not relax at all. This can't have done anything positive for anyone's heart health, or blood pressure, or blood sugar. All that stress, all the time. If anything, though, I did get a visceral education in what they felt all the time, and I could barely handle it for 50 minutes, five days a week.

I often think of these kids, and hope they are doing okay. I wish them luck, resilience, and peace. And I'm so, so glad not to be around them this year or ever again.
This past school year, I was displaced. That meant I had a job with the school district overall and was still being paid; I just didn't have a school, or a set of classes to call my own. So I was and wasn't at the same time worried about finding another job. I knew the school district was working hard to place teachers so they wouldn't just have to randomly assign teachers as pool substitutes and hope for the best. And now, I've won the lottery: I was placed, by default, at a really good, prestigious school. I tried to do some interviews and just gave up on it, realizing at my age, I'm just not willing to get out there, promote myself, razzle-dazzle, and sell myself on interview after interview. So I left my placement to fate, hoped for the best, and as it turned out, I won the lottery anyway with my placement, and I'm extremely grateful. I'm a high school teacher again for the first time since my first year of teaching, which was 1994-1995. I put in my time doing 20 years of middle school teaching. And I've grown and matured as a person and as an educator.

But what's stuck with me is how disparate my first two schools out here in California really were, especially compared to the school I'm at now, one I want to stay at until I retire. At my first school, in the San Fernando Valley, I had a 30-minute commute, but felt very appreciated. So there was physical distance, but collegial closeness. At my former middle school, the one I just left, I had a 7-minute drive or a 50-minute walk to school. (I REALLY miss being able to WALK to my job. Not many people get to do that in Los Angeles!) So there was physical closeness, but collegial distance and even hostility. Being at this new school, where there are no fragile narcissists (that I know of or have any meaningful contact with), and where I'm liked and esteemed, has put fresh wind in my sails.

I had promised to write about my time at my old middle school, and being at this new high school, having the summer off, hiking 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago (which was such a blessing and an accomplishment, that it's now made me a hiking addict), has given me some needed perspective.

Basically I couldn't afford to admit to myself, during the seven years I was there, just how abusive this middle school was. I did admit it at times, and railed about it here when I wrote about the over-the-top bullshit that Prima Donna SourKraut pulled, or tried to. And I admitted it when I wrote about Dr. No and his more egregious pettiness and lack of leadership. That said, overall I'd rate my time at my former middle school well over 90% positive, simply because it was so close, and so convenient. It was and is a pretty campus. Overall, the kids really were nice, with a very few exceptions, but such is dealing with people. I met some very nice people there that I'm still in contact with and consider work friends. A few of those I'm even connected with on social media, and it's nice to keep up with them. In spite of two fragile, retaliatory narcissists, I simply refused to let them, or their stunts, get me down. That said, though, I'm happy to have moved on. I was there for seven years, at a time when the school declined badly, and it was time to move on. The displacement turned out to be a blessing.

(A sidebar: I'm naming my former principal Dr. No not just as a James Bond reference because I'm SO looking forward to "Spectre" when it premiers next week, but because that name is highly symbolic of NO support, NO love, NO empathy, NO sympathy, NO leadership capability, NO depth of feeling, and NO actual competency in dealing with people. I'm sure I've forgotten some other negative descriptors, but this will do for now.)

Let's talk about that abuse, though. Once again, as with any and all abuse, it never broke me down; it just added even more steel to my spine, and made me even stronger. I'm a BIG believer in "never let the bastards wear you down". I stood up, kept standing up for what was right, kept speaking up for what was right throughout my time there. And yes, it did wear me down in that I was written up for yelling at a child and for indirectly touching him through his backpack when he was asked then TOLD to move elsewhere -- a child who for weeks was hostile and abusive toward me, who was stubborn, moody, irritable, defiant, uncooperative, and damn difficult to teach or get along with or interact with. And why did I finally explode? No support, of course. It took, though, a change of venue for me to realize just how unhappy and untenable a situation it was at my old middle school, for many, many reasons that I could not control.

I was written up for something else too, which I can't even now recall. It was a small, even miniscule lapse of judgment on my part, but far more was made of it than needed to be. In re-reading this, I do recall now: I emailed a rather desperate letter to other colleagues, about my third period of course, asking for help, for restorative justice, for a break, and referred to them as something less than darling little angels. I believe the word I used was "hooligans". I was written up for "hate speech". That email, which I had assumed was private, actually wasn't, and I fully suspect that I was simply the scapegoat, and that Dr. No was publically embarrassed at the lapse. It wasn't really that I and other teachers were having major issues, like assault, with this one period. No, what really mattered was the public embarrassment, the public tarnishing of Dr. No's carefully polished image, that was the real mistake in the matter. Oh, I'm sorry. I thought it was the children's education that actually mattered. Silly me.

And it's when we can't control things that despair, anger, and resentment set in, take hold, fester, and grow. When teachers get no support, are actively worked against, things get awful. I and others are unlucky enough to teach at a time when billionaires are trying to take over schools, privatize education, bust unions, take away all protections for workers, and test children into insanity or at least conformity and compliance. I and others are teaching at a time when teachers are treated with contempt, disrespect, and arrogance, by people who have never taught, who know nothing of child psychology or physiology, and yet who have the power to make major decisions that affect millions of people. That was, and alas still is, the setting.

At a time when Rafe Esquith, one of THE best teachers in the entire world, was complained about on an utterly trivial misunderstanding, led out of his classroom in handcuffs, put into teacher jail (where there is no representation, and no communication of wrong-doing), had his finances gone through for over 15 years, then fired -- at a time when educational administration is on the far, dangerous, ugly side of punitive, punishing, and pompous, things are not good for anyone, especially teachers and especially for children, the people for whom education matters most, and the people who have the least power to influence what's done to them. This is the setting from which, and about which, I write. Fortunately for all of us, Rafe Esquith, a fantastic teacher who also happens to be a published author, retained a particularly sharp lawyer, and is pursuing as of this writing, a $1 billion (with a b) lawsuit against the school district, against teacher jail, on his own behalf and on the behalf of all present and past jailed colleagues. He MUST win. He simply MUST win.

Much of what we as teachers could not control at my former middle school involved administration in particular. Parents we can never control either, but that's another story. We could at least contact them and talk to them, and listen to them, which usually brought about some minor change for a while. My personal thought were that a lot of these particular parents at this particular school were rather flaky, immature themselves, and not very competent as parents, or else they were working so hard and so long to provide, that they didn't provide enough attention, direction, consequences, and supervision at a critical time for middle schoolers who need to internalize a lot of social rules. However, an indifferent administration, coupled with flaky parents, overseen by an overweeningly punitive school district, backed by ignorant billionaires, just isn't a good situation. And yet, we soldiered on. What else could be done?

My former union chapter chair made up a list, off the top of her head, of 20 things our former principal did and continued to do that were absolutely illegal. This is really where the powerlessness and anger came from: an incompetent, uncaring, cold, indifferent administration that worked against children, teachers, and its own self-interest. The principal, Dr. No, would get up and walk out of meetings, letting the clock close the meeting, where of course, nothing ever got done or was decided. Ah, the ever-popular passive aggressive hostility! Always a crowd pleaser. He was vague, uncommunicative, a back-stabber as well as demanding, impatient, and critical. He also hogged the limelight, loved ceremony, and never gave his staff (without whom he would have no position) any credit. I think if one of us had published a book, or won a televised award, or found a cure for cancer, he would have claimed the glory, and we would not have been let anywhere near the spotlight. And narcissist that he was, he continued to wonder why we had turned on him, as if we were the traitors, we the wrong-doers, we the betrayers. He also, more tellingly, did not know any students' names, although I think he might finally have learned the names of the habitual repeat offenders that cycled through the dean's office. That was the level of the lack of control at my former middle school. Enraging. Day in and day out, maddening as hell.

His was the enraging, maddening sort of banal evil because he absolutely didn't care. That utter indifference to the school, the administrators, the teachers, and the students allowed no one to prosper and grow, and allowed everyone to waste away, remain angry, unfocused, frustrated, blocked, stymied, and helpless to make positive changes. Dr. No himself was always attired in a freshly-pressed suit and tie. He drove a Cadillac. He had a private office that had an outside door, and at the end of his tenure at my former middle school, we were not at all surprised to see that he had gone home quite early, well before school let out for the day. Administrators were supposed to stay daily until 4.30pm. He was often gone by 2.30 at the latest. That school, under Dr. No's tenure, lost over 600 students in about four years' time, and yet, at the end of last year, Dr. No was given a promotion -- downtown, to the bowels of the bureau-crazy, where at least now he is not interacting directly with teachers or students. One can only give thanks for small favors. One can only hope that Dr. No is now enraptured by orgasmic reams of paper with lots of data. So mote it be.

The kids knew, on a visceral level -- I doubt most seventh or eighth graders could actively say, oh we know the principal is phoning it in, and no one is really in charge here, so we can do whatever we want because we know no one cares, but it was apparent in their behavior. Kids will push boundaries; it's in their nature, and it's a developmental need. I don't fault them for doing it. I fault him for not enforcing any boundaries or limits, for tying the hands of the dean and security officers, and for allowing absolutely anti-social, harmful, abusive behavior to continue, even to thrive. That school became, at the end, rather a Lord of the Flies kind of place, where the strong pushed the weak around, and it was the law of the jungle. It was hell.

I and other teachers of one particular class, my former third period, endured being assaulted in class nearly every day, and I do not exaggerate. Kids in my third, and in later classes with other teachers, would hide fruit and other items in their backpack, and invariably when our backs were turned or we weren't looking directly at them, would throw things at us. Often they threw fruit scavenged from breakfast, but once they threw an onion deliberately brought from home -- rarely ever hitting us directly, but aimed toward us, and in the case of the onion, stinking up the entire classroom for one day and much of the next. And they threw it several times, making sure it broke open for maximum odor. Such little sociopaths, well on the road to being psychopaths.

And Dr. No (my personal name for this former principal, a fellow fragile narcissist like Prima Donna SourKraut -- perpetually miserable, grasping for power, always ready to retaliate, and forever self-aggrandizing to an empty audience) had absolutely no authority. One story in particular encapsulates his complete lack of, and complete abdication of, any and all authority. One day toward the end of the school year, after I had had the brilliant idea, 85% of the way through the year, of having my third period put their backpacks beside the wall so they wouldn't throw fruit at me/assault me, I caught one little fucker red-handed. Never in my previous 20 years of teaching had I ever had to make secondary students put their backpacks by the walls, as if they were elementary students. But I did, and even without the backpack, I FINALLY managed to catch one evil little girl throwing something at me. What a sneaky little piece of work. I had suspected her for weeks and months, but could never catch her in the act. Glorious moment when I did!

I told her to get up, take her stuff, and report to the dean. She refused to budge. I told her again; she refused. I called school security (by this time in the school year, I had them on speed dial and had done so for months -- I called school security almost every day, and wasn't the only teacher to do so). School security came by, and still she wouldn't budge. Dr. No happened to be passing by, and he stopped in, told her to get up and come with him, and she refused.

But it was his response, a rather tepid, milksop, "Well, okay then," in nearly a falsetto voice for a man well into his 60s if not close to his 70s, that absolutely disgusted me. It was impossible in that moment to have more contempt than I did. If by this time I had retained a shred of respect for Dr. No simply for being the leader of the school (and doing a really difficult job -- I recognized that he got pressure from the school district, parents, and teachers) -- I lost it, and that respect plummetted into the negatives, where it had been threatening to dip and stay for quite some time. This was the last straw, and I was embarrassed for him.

Seriously, what principal gives an order to a child, then says, "Well, okay then," when a kid refuses? Of all the choices he had, such as getting up in her space, putting his face right in hers, and COMMANDING her to get her butt up out of that seat and come with him RIGHT NOW, what are you thinking, and how DARE you disrupt the learning environment? -- nope. Just pure milksop, pure beta male, nay even I would say gamma male, and that enraging, suffocating indifference. He did not care, at his own school, that a child was holding education hostage, had assaulted a teacher, and was being openly defiant, depriving herself and her classmates of an education. He had no authority, no command, and more importantly, no feeling. He had stopped caring about the school, about me and all other teachers, and about all students. And that level of indifference breeds a rather banal version of evil.

Finally, another administrator came, somehow managed to get Miss Girl With Huge Problems out of her seat. However, she stopped outside the door and was refusing yet again to go any further. Right after Dr. No had given his milksop "Well, okay then", I had called school police, who presumably were on their way directly to my classroom to remove this girl with whatever force it took. The administrator knew this, and told her, come with me NOW. I am trying to save you FROM the police. This girl was African-American; so was the administrator. I can only hope that once he FINALLY convinced her to come with him, that they had a short, direct, blunt discussion, with him doing most of the talking and her doing most of the listening (for once), about precisely what could have happened to her had she not complied with the police who carried weapons and were authorized to use them. I hope they talked about how the cops would probably have been white, and that no matter what the race of the cop, that any defiant child, any defiant citizen, especially an African-American who was defiant, would almost certainly have been manhandled and treated with violence. But I don't know if they had that conversation. I can only hope.

So I endured. Every day late that spring after my epiphany, the backpacks went by the wall, and most days things weren't thrown. But no learning got done, and I could never truly relax around them. They were perpetually chaotic, disorganized, hyperactive, and uncommunicative. Almost always they were surly, disrespectful, angry, with free-floating anxiety that they could not articulate. I was shocked and upset when I had missed an email about an official observation. Dr. No and his lackey, Ms. Crumpet, had chosen my third period by default, since they were doing a number of observations. I was absolutely in a state of dread and panic. I begged and pleaded with them to reconsider. My second period, although loud and boisterous, was my honors class, quite bright and capable. My fifth period, a regular class, was a sweet, funny class with lots of spirit. Either second or fifth period would have been great classes to observe, and I would have felt no major misgivings. But nothing doing. Third period it was. Dr. No and Ms. Crumpet came, and lo and behold, third period were little angels. They performed magnificently. They did everything I asked, were helpful, kind, cooperative, and seemed to learn and grasp what I was teaching.

What little fucking scammers.

The next day, I sat down in front of them and asked if we could have a class discussion. This was near the end of the year, and all kids love classroom discussions because it means they aren't reading or writing. It IS a type of learning, though, more social, not as direct. I first of all thanked them for doing extremely well, told them I was proud of them, asked if they enjoyed the lesson. Yes, yes, it was good. All cool. Then I asked, very carefully, so why not do this all the time? No answers, blank stares, mumbling. I didn't expect an answer out loud; this was middle school, and in this particular tribe, being cool and being loyal to one's classmates absolutely trumped honesty, civility, responsibility, etc. I did, though, pass out index cards, and asked them to explain their really good behavior during my observation, and their usual lackadaisical work habits. Basically it came down to expectations: they did not want adults to expect too much of them, because they did not want to have to live up to those expectations and work hard every single day. My takeaway was that they were deliberately dimming their lights. And that made me sad.

And that got me thinking. It made me sad for the entire group, but it explained a lot. A recent book I've begun to read has explained a lot too, as well as one I read over the summer. I'm convinced, from a variety of sources, that these children were victims of domestic abuse, trauma, instability, disconnection, upheaval, what-have-you. I'm also convinced that quite a few of them, together in this particular class, formed a perfect storm with a poverty mindset. I'm convinced that these children had known violence up close and personal, that they spoke fluent violence, regarded all relationships distrustfully, and simply were not quite habilitated into the human family.

That poverty mindset, as opposed to my middle-class mindset, and my mindset of coming from a warm, attached, loving family, made understanding them next to impossible, mostly because they would not and could not trust or connect or be appropriately social for any extended period, due to fear. Day after day, they and I would regard each other as aliens. It felt as if I were shouting over a chasm, and could never quite be understood. It felt like the words I said to them, while perfectly clear and reasonable to me, were distorted by the time they heard. There was, throughout that year, persistent, dogged, absolute refusal to attach. This particular group was extremely avoidant. In typical irony, they were in such abject fear of being rejected and disapproved of, that they actively CAUSED rejection and disapproval.

It was an endless, miserable, downward spiral, one I had no clue how to remedy. It would take far more expertise than I or any other classroom teacher had. Last year, my first, second, fifth and sixth periods were good classes. There were a few kids with issues, a few bobbles and misunderstandings, but overall, they were normal kids who OF COURSE could connect, trust, and learn because they had those survival needs as well as social needs, taken care of. Those classes did well. My third period, I realize now, were simply suffering, much of it brought on by their families, but quite a bit brought on by their choices and habits of mind.

One very bizarre thing I learned from my former third period's poverty mindset was about silence. As a strong introvert, I'm from a quiet family, a family where loving quiet, cultivating quiet, cherishing quiet, existing blissfully in quiet, is second nature to me. For those with a poverty mindset, quiet is disquieting, pun intended. Finally, near the end of the year, my third period told me that they found quiet threatening. In their world, there is always noise and happy chatter, and the moment someone becomes quiet, that quiet signifies anger and the very real possibility of violence erupting.

They had thought, all year, that I was just about to lose my temper and become violent. I, on the other hand, felt increasingly agitated by and irritated by the constant chatter. I felt like I could not ever just relax because it never would get quiet. To me as an academic introvert, noise and talk just doesn't mean true, real, deep focus. And I recognize that's my bias, that some kids need to think out loud, to discuss, to bounce ideas off one another. But there comes a time to STOP talking, to get inside one's head, and FOCUS. They had a completely different, opposite outlook, one that made a very uneasy co-existence five days a week.

I felt devastated on one hand, thinking that how could they possibly think that, and on the other hand, utterly mystified. This was so not my social class, so not my experience growing up, so out of my league. I immediately began wondering what else they thought about differently due to their upbringings. And I realized I had no clue, so I would have to read about it. Over the summer, I read a couple of books on poverty mindsets in the classroom, and several things clicked. I was relieved to see I was doing most things right -- like giving a pen, pencil or notebook to a child, just so they could do the assignment and not just sit there doing nothing, and being somewhat easygoing about turning in papers, since some children don't have adequate space, or time, or resources, to do homework at home, in apartments or houses that may be cramped, noisy, violent, chaotic, or without enough space.

Thankfully, this last school year ended. I was displaced, tried to interview, gave up because I was too tired, and decided to put it all in God's hands and hope for the best. I'm lucky I got the placement I did. I'm happy to be back in high school and at this high school in particular. Dr. No got kicked upstairs. Another, kinder, more humane principal came in, and a former work friend told me earlier this year that the school is beginning to heal. Initially I had thought to give it a few years, and I would re-apply, but I've rethought that. I'm content to stay at high school, even though my former middle school would be close, and I could walk to work again. I'm content to let it be a part of my past. I moved on, on many different levels.

There may be more to add, but this is the bulk. It feels cleansing to write this all out. I feel purged. The Camino helped enormously. I walked through all pain, suffering, resentment, anger, frustration, confusion, dread. And I'm grateful now to be in a much better place.
First of all, although wi-fi was easy enough to get all along the Way, it wasn't consistent. Sometimes I could play games and check email; sometimes I couldn't, and got minimal internet access, even though two or three bars of wi-fi reception would show up. Who knows? I for one have no clue what makes some internet more powerful than other forms. Now I know to ask for a local "locutorio" or internet center in major towns, where I can access a desktop. That's just one of many lessons learned along the Way. I might think about bringing a portable keyboard along with me, but "every ounce counts", so we shall see. I know for this next Camino, summer of 2016, I'm going to try to go ultra-light, which may mean journaling on paper and just typing it all up later. One thing I didn't do this time was journal, so maybe this upcoming Camino (and hopefully others), I can make a point of doing that.

I began in Leon, really wanting to hike 200 miles and best a friend's measly 62 miles or 100 kilometers. He had suggested, in kindness and without condescension, that perhaps I should build up more endurance, lose more weight, and try the Camino next summer. And with love in my heart, without malice, I just thought, "Fuck you. I can do this. I want to do this. I NEED to do this." So I started out, in hope and ignorance, and the very first day of my very first time to hike, I did 17 (!) miles -- and ran right into heat exhaustion. I stopped sweating, vomited about seven or eight times, and felt faint. It was extremely scary. However, I knew that if I wanted water, a room, and food, I had to walk. For an hour or so, I lay down in the shade along the trail right next to one of the major roads, close enough by car -- who knows, perhaps five or ten minutes! -- to Villedangas. And I rested and drank water. Fortunately people kept coming along the trail, always asking if I was okay. That's one of the many good things about the Camino: people are always coming along, and there is such kindness all along the Way.

For the rest of the afternoon, I hopped from shade to shade, resting and drinking as needed. I noted that in the morning, I was walking fast and well, and the hotter and later it got, the slower I got. I got to the hotel FINALLY, which had blessed air conditioning (thank you God) and took the next day off. I took a couple of hot, then cold showers, and drank more water than I thought I could, and realized I needed to keep drinking. And I made sure to take potassium and magnesium tablets; that was a very good thing I did, to bring those, and will again. In fact, the potassium and magnesium might literally have been life-savers, and saved me from heat stroke. Lessons learned: hike in the early morning when it's cool and damp. Big miles are made in the early mornings. Get where you're going by around noon or only a little later because the hotter it is, the slower I walk and the more rest I need to keep from overheating. When you come to a fountain, finish what you have in your bottle, fill and drink again, and once more if necessary. There are always places along the Camino to hop off the trail and pee. Water is life. Drink water all the time.

And people like me who are overweight and diabetic are at increased risk for heat exhaustion, even heat stroke; once you have it, you're more susceptible to it again. Water really did mean life and health; I learned that in a deep way. From then on out, I took heat and hydration very seriously, and had no more bad episodes. And I kept taking, as needed, potassium and magnesium. My fingers didn't swell from needing potassium in my system, and the magnesium helped my endurance and stamina. Since diabetics for some reason are always low on magnesium, I have decided to make this a regular part of my pill regiment. It even helps regulate sleep! But as far as eating goes, I could not get enough sugar or salt. Everyone has told me I lost weight and inches on the Camino. I regretted not being able to eat a vegetarian diet, but by the end of the day, with only initially fluent Spanish and deep tiredness and with an increasingly aching ankle, I ate whatever I could. I was ALWAYS hungry; that's life on any extended hike.

The very good thing along the Camino is that there are always people in front of you and behind you, at any time of the year, any time of day. People were never more than five minutes behind me at any time, and that was a comfort. One wrong step over one badly-positioned rock could mean an end to anyone's Camino. From Villedangas, I made it the next day, 13 miles, for a total of 30 right out of the gate as a first time hiker!, to Hospital del Orbigo. (Not a real hospital, just part of the name. When I posted about that on Facebook, everyone got confused.) I had done 30 miles in three days! I kept marveling the whole Camino over just what my body could do, when I just let it go and walk as much as it really wanted to. That told me that here in America, I didn't walk nearly enough, partly because there just weren't enough local trails that I knew about. Maybe there are. That's part of what I want to discover now that I'm back. It's mid-September, and my ankle is mostly healed. I'm champing at the bit to get out and walk extended walks, even if it is out in the desert. Hiking here in the southwest desert is a different experience than hiking in the green, lush, verdant, stony, hilly, even mountainous Spanish countryside.

From Hospital del Orbigo, I took another day, drank water, took hot then cold showers, to help keep heat exhaustion a memory, not an active burden and health risk I would have to deal with. I was a bit frustrated with myself: ever the optimist and idealist, I thought I'd just be able to walk and walk right from the start, but not so. Although the Way prepares you for the Way, and hiking a lot prepares you to hike a lot, I for one had to build up some more endurance. I had stamina. I had strength. But for an extended hike like this in summer, I built up more endurance over the ensuing weeks. By the end of my Camino, I was doing 10 to 15 mile days consecutively, with no sign of heat exhaustion or exhaustion in general. And it felt fantastic. I would walk six to eight hours, and I had no problems whatsoever with insomnia. My body was always rested.

I really wanted to keep going! Other Caminos, other trails here in the US, other trails in Europe are definitely trips to look forward to in retirement. I want to go back around this time, late August, September, October. It would probably take me a good two and a half to three months to walk the entire Camino Frances, 490 miles or 800 kilometers. While I was there, blackberries and apples were just coming into season. A hike during fall would mean lots of free food along the trail! I ate a handful of early blackberries, and a couple of small apples during this Camino. Yes, a hike right at the beginning of the traditional school year, my first year of retirement, while the fall fruit is just in season, is definitely something I want to do.

But after Hospital del Orbigo, Spain was under a heat advisory. I was feeling it, and knew I could not risk heat exhaustion or heat stroke at all. I knew I had limited time, could really not hike 200 miles as I was wanting to while building up endurance, so I needed to skip ahead with some regret. I bought a bus ticket, changed once, and headed to Sarria, the place 62 miles or 100 km where you have to walk from to get to Santiago, to get the compostela, or certificate of completion. But the bus trip itself was an adventure, an education. I got to trace the trail by eye from the bus, from Hospital del Orbigo to Astorga, where I changed, and then from Astorga to Sarria. It was so mountainous! At this point in my hiking career, I would have had trouble hiking all those mountains. It would have taken me too long, and it would be far better done in fall when the weather is turning cooler. For me, I could not have done it in summer under a heat advisory. But I did get to see what the trail looked like over the next 120 miles.

When I got to Sarria, I felt good that I had indeed bested my friend's goal by 30 miles, a not inconsiderable distance. He had walked from Sarria; I had added more miles for an even 100, which calculated out to over 400,000 steps. Over the 60-plus miles, though, I turned and twisted my left ankle over and over, and realized that a 35 year old injury I had sustained when I was 12 was now going to be something I had to deal with on extended hikes from now on. When I was 12, a friend and I were playing. For some reason, there was a hole in the front lawn of our school. She told me to watch out, but I backed up, fell directly on my ankle, sprained it the worst possible way without breaking it, and was in a cast for a while. I even stayed home from school for a couple of days, the pain was that bad.

For the past 35 years, I knew the old injury to my ankle was there, but it had never bothered me. What had bothered me most of all were shin splints when I was 150 pounds heavier and out of alignment. My ankle, thank goodness, never had until now, when I pounded it for hours on an uneven trail. Fortunately, 150 pounds down, the shin splints disappeared years ago, the more I lost and the more proportional I became. On the Camino, my ankle bothered me intensely because the walking made the tendon tighten up. I had to keep tucking it in and stretching it. I had wanted it to pop, but it only popped a few weeks after I got home and it had begun to shrink down from swelling. My podiatrist said that I had made the tendons and muscles around it very, very tight with repeated steps and repetitive motion injury on a spot that will always be a weak point. In 35 years, it had never seen that much repetitive motion. From now on, when I hike the Camino again summer of 2016 (or do any extended hike), I'll wear an ankle brace on the left ankle all the time, and bring a back-up brace for the right ankle in case I start over-compensating.

So I started out hiking one day, really overdoing it, then having to take a day. I hiked a day, took a day. Then I began to be able to hike two days, and take a day. Then three days and take a day. Near the end of my hike, I was hiking four or five, then taking a day, or hiking five or six days, but taking extended rest stops along the way. I was even, by the end of my Camino, getting used to hiking somewhat in the afternoon, but I always made sure to stay in the shade. For a first-time hiker, I felt amazingly badass. I had learned, adapted, and persevered. I weighed 270 pounds, but I had hiked 100 miles in about three and a half weeks. That meant an average of 33 miles a week, so not too shabby, and certainly far more than most Americans ever walk in a week, perhaps even a month. And of course I wanted to do it again! (I did recently buy my airfare for LAX to CDG, Charles de Gaul Airport in Paris. From CDG I'll take the TGV train to Bayonne or Biarritz, then take a bus to St. Jean Pied de Port, and start my next Camino at the traditional starting point of the Camino Frances, and see just how much I can walk in a month's time. This time, 150 miles? 200 miles going ultra-light or using a sherpa baggage transfer service? Let's see! I am SO excited!)

One of the blessings I had along the way was meeting Kathy, an older woman from New York state, in a little cafe outside of Leon. It was my very first day and I needed a cafe con leche and something to eat for breakfast. Kathy had walked a Camino before, and I learned later she had walked all the way this time from Lourdes. I learned also later that her husband was with the military based in Germany; she was also a long-time mother of four nearly grown or already grown kids. And she was so relaxed, open, laid-back, easy-going -- traits I admire but don't have myself. She's one of what is called the "long walkers": people who start off from their front doorsteps or a site outside one of the traditional Camino trails, and meet up with it along the way. I met some people who said they had walked from Sweden! Long walkers like Kathy and the Swedish hikers get maximum respect on the trail, with reason.

Much later on, three weeks later in fact, in a little cafe out in the middle of nowhere, within a day or two of the Camino, within a day or two of Santiago, I met Kathy again! Kathy kept complimenting me, after we found each other again, telling me how that very first day she thought I just didn't look quite balanced (I wasn't, quite), and how I had picked up my trail feet and gotten my balance. It was nice to hear, especially from a long walker. She, I, and another woman, Pam, walked most of the rest of the way into Santiago together, and I saw Kathy again several times inside Santiago Cathedral, where we attended masses in English and Spanish. (My one disappointment was that I did not get to see the Botofumiero, or massive incense holder, swing during a mass!) Running into Kathy again, especially out in the middle of nowhere at a roadside cafe, and meeting a new hiking friend, was such a blessing. It made finishing the Camino a little sweeter with amiable companionship.

The Camino brings you to people who you need to meet; it's one of the mysteries of the Camino. I had read it, wondered exactly what that meant, then experienced it with Kathy when we first met, and with Kathy and Pam weeks later. For this Camino, I found no one who really irked me or with whom I argued, and that was a blessing. That said to me that I was hiking my hopes and dreams, not my fears or issues. The only minor annoyance was that one morning, there were a group of young hikers. One blasted tunes from a boombox. But I thought, like the teacher I am, it's what they needed for stimulation. Music for them was a boost that helped them hike, like silence and solitude was my boost. It was a bit too early in the morning for my taste, but I knew as a "snail hiker" that they would soon pass me, and take their bouncy if slightly annoying music with them, and leave me to my blessed silence.

Another mystery was that I felt absolutely pulled along, compelled to finish my Camino. Every day I took off I still felt like I really wanted to be out there walking along the trail. Perhaps because the Camino lies on ley lines, directly under the Milky Way, I always felt a surge of clean energy when I was out walking on it. And yet, when I got to Santiago, the spell of the Camino simply vanished. I felt Sant Iago, Saint James, pulling and urging me along. Throughout my Camino, I had prayed to Sant Iago several times: help me make it up this hill, please let me come upon water, thank you for the shade and the breeze. He seemed to hear my prayers better when I could phrase them in Spanish, but he heard me in English, too. I felt pulled along the Way, but I when had made it, I metamorphosed effortlessly from being a pilgrim into being a tourist. I had also picked up one hiking pole along the way (next time, two, worth the expense -- it's iffy to pack them due to TSA regulations), and that helped my balance, feet, knees, ankles, and weight enormously. Hiking poles function like shock absorbers. They are worth their weight in gold. Maybe Kathy noticed I had developed my trail feet because I was using my hiking pole and that gave me added confidence.

This time, though, I want to go ultra-light, and see just how light I can get my pack. I carried a basic Jansport backpack, nothing technical, no proper hiking backpack, although I might go for one later on, if it's significantly lighter. But even though I kept the weight down to about 12 pounds, that has had major impact on my ankles and feet. By the time I walked into Santiago and the Plaza Obradoiro, I was hobbling. I had ankle pain, obviously, but also shooting pains down the outside edges of my feet. My shoes by this time were just shot, and this was even a second pair I had had to buy in Melide. Since I tend to under-pronate, or walk on the outside of my feet, this shooting pain was pronounced with now worn-out shoes and significant pounding for hours every day along a rocky, uneven trail. One of the BEST things I did was ship clothes and new shoes to myself. Indeed, that motivated me quite a bit to finish the Camino, since I packed them in a backpack I wanted very much to reclaim. This backpack had lots of patches on it that I had hand-sewed; all the patches were from past trips which represented experiences and memories that I wanted to keep. I could not let that backpack go, so I knew I would pick it up in Santiago, preferably by walking to it, or if needed, by train or bus if I could not complete the Camino. I picked them up at the Santiago Correos (post office) center. It was a gift to myself. Praise be to thinking ahead!

I had also read that the Camino teaches you lessons that keep coming long after you've stopped walking the trail, and this is true. I appreciated the immediate lessons about hydration and heat. I appreciated learning what my body could do, what it needed, and how much food, water, and rest to give it. But I've learned most of all that our whole life is a Camino. Quite a lot is out of our control, but what matters is how we react when we face challenges, obstacles, setbacks, or shifts in our plans. We can go around, climb over, or go through. But most of all, perseverance and determination plus self-care do a lot to make a physical Camino, plus our own life walk, a pleasant one for the long haul.

More later on being a displaced teacher, thoughts about the final year and the past seven years at my old school, the principal (who shall henceforth be referred to as Dr. No, a Bond reference and short for Dr. Always Says No, Dr. Nothing, Dr. Nobody, Dr. Do-Nothing, Dr. Be-Nothing, Dr. No-Help, ad nauseam. And more later on being placed in a really good high school, and receiving a pleasant, kind welcome that made me realize just how bad in some ways the previous seven years had been.