28 February 2007

The Blog I Never Wrote

Every day as I'm driving away from school, I think about the blog I'm going to write someday about how my students only recognize an event as having happened if they filmed it with their camera phone. After tutoring today, I stood outside in the February wind with one of my students who told me that he and his friends are making a "Mid-School Jackass" which made me laugh. He told me about how they broke a tile over another kid's head, and it was hilarious, "but it didn't count, 'cause we didn't get it on film." Recently I've had students beg me to allow them to bring out their phones to show me films of them jumping over walls, falling off piles of ice, and even barfing. For the record, no, I do not want to watch a video of you barfing.

Someday I'll write a blog in which I ponder the meaning of this cultural shift: when we were kids, we did stupid things, but we kept them in our memories, not in our phones. Some of my favorite moments with Ali involve random acts of embarassment, but none of them are caught on film. Would my memory of her falling off of Darby Gym be different if mediated through the lens of a camera phone? Would our famous New York rest stop coffee coolatta fight of 2001 have reached the heights of stickiness and hilarity it did if one of us had to stop to film it? And is this complaint, this "Oh the youtube generation..." diatribe just another rant of Old vs Young, Us vs Them, Lame vs Awesome? No different from the hundreds of senior classes of Grinnellians complaining that the freshman classes are SO conservative this year! They're not Grinnellians at all! et cetera.... Is it just that? Am I old?

This blog, I assure you, will be thoughtful and poignant and hilarious. It will delve deeply into the collective psyche of Young America, their foibles and their faux memories. It will get at the very fabric of existence of which we are all a part, eternally creating and dividing and attempting to control.

It will blow your mind. You'll be thinking about it for days.

...when I get around to writing it. It's just that I've been so tired lately! Why don't they do a 10:00 newscast at 7:30? And my arthritis has been bothering me lately. These fingers can't type the way they once could. Sometimes I can hardly hold the pen to keep up my daily fiber intake diary. The effort it takes to stay regular! I tell you what.

But I'm not old!

(and speaking of old... happy birthday, natalie!)

23 February 2007

Best moment of the whole week:

It's Friday afternoon and all the 8th grade teachers are sitting in the library after school, postponing a weekend so close we can taste it, exhausted and burned out and sooooo over it. And... we're being forced to watch a cheesy video from the NAEP about testing. Great. On the TV, a shiny happy person with a huge saccherine grin (and a cushy government assessment coordination job, no doubt!) says sincerely, "Teaching is the most rewarding job there is!"

As if on cue, without even looking at one another, five teachers burst out laughing. Big laughs, giant booming guffaw laughs. The principal looks irritated as hell, which makes us laugh harder. It's a full minute before we can pull ourselves back together.

Ah, Fridays. Ah, Middle School.

14 February 2007

Barack do you like me; circle yes or maybe

It's a snow day, so naturally it's time to take a quiz on what candidate I should vote for. I'm actually a little surprised that Obama is my 100% (but pleased, I feel about him the way I felt about Jesse Kiley in 9th grade biology -- he's so intelligent and charming, and everyone likes him so much, I'm completely shocked that he likes me back -- insofar as "scoring 100% compatibility with me on some internet quiz" is equal to "likes me back" -- because it's Valentine's Day, we'll say they're equivalent).

Anyway. I'm also surprised that Clinton's so far down on the list; I shall have to investigate this further. I am having a hard time saying anything about Clinton right now without sounding like the people I heard at a recording of a Clinton Q&A yesterday, and though I think they were probably all very nice people, I kind of wanted to punch them in the face.

But seriously, Richardson beats both Vilsack and Edwards? Hometown hero love, I guess. The Albuquerque Journal is ripping him a new one, lately. They keep printing these front page articles about him being some sort of monster. GOVZILLA! they crow, and I'm a little taken aback by the vitriol I'm seeing here. I would assume that we'd be super psyched for him, or at least, you know, mildly supportive. Like if your cousin was running for office, you'd be somewhat excited and happy for him, even if you thought he was a douchebag. But that's just me.

And I love Edwards. He knows poor people. That's a huge deal to me. I honestly believe that most presidentially-driven politicians have never actually known any poor people. And no, talking to "Sally Johnson, a single mother of 3 in East St. Louis," for two minutes does NOT count as knowing poor people.

(100%) 1: Sen. Barack Obama (D)
(91%) 2: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D)
(86%) 3: Retired Gen. Wesley Clark (D)
(85%) 4: Sen. John Kerry (D)
(80%) 5: Ex-VP Al Gore (D)
(80%) 6: Gov. Bill Richardson (D)
(76%) 8: Ex-Sen. John Edwards (D)
(74%) 9: Gov. Tom Vilsack (D)
(73%) 10: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D)
(65%) 11: Sen. Joseph Biden (D)
(46%) 12: Gov. Mitt Romney (R)
(43%) 13: Rep. Ron Paul (R)
(42%) 14: Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R)
(38%) 15: Gov. George Pataki (R)
(34%) 16: Sec. Condoleezza Rice (R)
(30%) 17: Gov. Mike Huckabee (R)
(24%) 18: Ex-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R)
(19%) 19: Sen. John McCain (R)


Lately, I've been hearing much talk comparing votes for Obama and/or Clinton to votes for Nader -- wasted, thrown away votes -- when we could or should be voting for someone who could actually win. To me, that's a pretty bleak assertion -- after all, the media's going to tell us the things that make better stories (or stories at all), and not necessarily the truest things, so "Could America Elect a Black Man????" is going to be a popular story, especially if the reporters interview lots of experts who say, resoundingly, no. The media is going to say no, no black man, no white woman.... until the day after we elect a black man or white woman, when the media will cry "AMERICA'S READY FOR A BLACK MAN!" Reporters, of course, don't like to look wrong. Like Senators. And they'll look back in retrospect and pretend they saw it coming all along, or they'll say that if they knew then what they know now.....

...but until then, it will be up to us to believe, and work for change.

And really, in this case, isn't strategic voting a form of racism? What would have happened if all the Freedom Riders had told themselves that "America isn't ready" to accept African Americans as equal citizens, and decided to fight instead for a cause they were more likely to win? Come on, kids, we've been waiting our whole lives for causes as worthy as those our parents had, and now we're in the SAME place our parents were in the late 60s and early 70s. Vietnam, Kent State, changing norms and expectations of gender and relationship roles, barriers in race and class and sex breaking down.... and here we are again, if we embrace it.

...I think of my mother in college, or Ali's mom, sitting in Grinnell's South Lounge with her friends and boyfriends, watching their draft numbers come up on TV, smoking and laughing and drinking and loving and fighting and fucking and working for change, working to make the world a better place for their children -- US -- and their children's children -- and now it's our turn to pick up where they left off.

And if we can't -- if we don't -- then we deserve every label the old folks can throw at us, we deserve every accusation of apathy and lack of focus, because we're too busy thinking in text-message-sized blips to see the big picture.

09 February 2007

How Charming....

..> ..> From: Kudo


Date: Feb 9, 2007 7:13 PM
Flag as Spam or Report Abuse [ ? ]
Subject: u r fucking RUDE!!!
Body: You are an abomination to the lord and should parish in hell for what you said about rainbows and God having "Gay sex"! Not everyone is like you! You filthy nasty little girl. Grow up!



This precious little missive was sent to me today by some random 17 year old girl in Las Vegas. It strikes me as odd on several levels:

1) the child clearly has no sense of humor. However, since this is often the case when it comes to people's understanding and definition of divinity, I get it. I do. I can see why she -- as (I infer) a God-loving/fearing person -- would be offended. I feel the same way when people tell me that they hate gays in the name of the very same lord who tried to teach people about love and forgiveness.

2) Okay, all theological questions aside, if you believe that God invented the Heavens and the Earth, doesn't it follow logically that God created sex as well? Right? Sex is supposed to be a sacrament, right? But God also created it to be fun as well... I don't know, I like to think of a playful divinity, one who went out and played with the platypusses and giraffes and ellies back in the garden. It stands to reason that God would have had as much sex as possible, straight and gay.

2.5) Well, the Greek gods had sex.

2.75) I once told my friends on Norris 4th that I planned to have as much sex as possible in case a god took a human form (or, you know, like a shower of gold coins or a swan or something) to have sex with me. Because what if a god went to all that trouble to change forms, and then I was a bad lay? Really, wouldn't that be a sin against the gods?

3) What I don't get is randomly sending people mean messages. Seriously, what?

4) My latest hobby is picking up student notes and reading them.... they encompass the entire spectrum of human drama: loudly proclaimed love, abject hate, jealousy, infidelity, sympathy, comedy, gossip, and friendship -- all wrapped in neat little packages of bad handwriting and poor grammar. It's funny to have one such note directed at me.... (for the first time in perhaps 15 years).

5) Isn't it weird that when I was this little girl's age, she was in first grade? And now she's sending me mean myspace messages? I think the world is so neat that way. In high school, I had to do a family tree, and as part of my project, I made a picto-graph charting the geographic locations of my three parents in the last 50 years. I just found it so incredibly interesting that three totally separate human beings, born in different cities in different years, at one point in time living in three separate countries (Vietnam, France, and Chicago, which is its own country in my book), could intersect in such a way that they found themselves sharing one life, raising two little girls. I just think that's awesome. I think it's pretty neat, too, that when I was going to Disney World and crying over the death of my golden retriever and learning all 50 states in alphabetical order, there was a baby born in Las Vegas who would grow up to call me a filthy nasty little girl. Small world, right??

6) And, um... for the record:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I'm just saying....

05 February 2007

I had a flashback to my first year of teaching the other day when I walked into the building, immediately greeted by a couple of 8th graders who were currently supposed to be in my class racing each other down the front hallways, and then into my classroom to find my kids running around chasing each other, fighting, garbage everywhere, desks and chairs strewn throughout the room, and the (COMPLETELY INEFFECTIVE) sub sitting in the back corner, knitting. It took me about 15 minutes to regain control, but after an extremely stern lecture from Ms. Backes (VERY rare), I had my room cleaned, organized, and the kids looking properly chastised. But still -- I will admit it freaked me out a little. Sometimes Lord of the Flies hits a little too close to home, yes?


Things found in my room after 1/2 day with the sub:

-- pictures of someone's grandparents (next to my computer)
-- LABRYNTH on DVD (IN my desk!)
-- a scrap of paper that says "Dorfus Dippin Doodle" (in my gradebook)
-- garbage everywhere
-- good kids gone bad


Annie: Ms. Backes, is ran an adverb?
Me: Ran? No. It's a verb.
Annie: (whining) But it's in past tense!
Me: Um... true. But it's still a verb. Adverbs tell how you do something. So... how did you run?
Annie: By moving my legs.


Gina: I can't think of any more adjectives for dog!
Melusina: Are you writing a story about DOGS?
Gina: (very dignified) About a dog PRINCE.
Melusina: Oh, okay. That makes sense!


Dakota: Ms. Backes, are you double-jointed anywhere?
Me: No, I'm normal.
Dakota: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!! NORMAL!


Every now and again, my 7th graders manage to bring me down to their level....

(Coming in from Hey-Don't-Push-Each-Other-In-The-Snow Duty)

Jerrod: Ms. Backes, did you get a sunburn?
Me: ...
Jerrod: Because your forehead's all shiny and your face is pink!

Okay, the pink cheeks can be explained away by the 12 degree temps outside this morning. The shiny forehead? Just embarassing.


Mrs. James: Kurt, go wash your face. It's all messy.
Kurt: Oh god! Do I have DONUT FACE???

04 February 2007

Tales of Intrigue and Humdrum

I saw a shooting star tonight. It arced down across the dark Sandias, sparkling as it fell over the twinkling city below. Simple and profound, it seemed a fitting end to this evening.

I spent the night at the Launchpad, an Albuquerque bar a block away from the now-closed Gorilla Tango Theatre, a building which was my second home for almost two of my four years in this city. The last time I was at the Launchpad was 2003, a few months after I moved here. Then, I went to see Mistletoe, a band featuring a guy I was dating at the time. After their set, I sat with him at the merch table, losing myself in the familiarity of fan/band banter, a ritual I'd grown fond of while dating Nat – though, as I told Doug and Rory tonight, there are few fans more awkward and annoying (and, I must admit, sweet in their way) than worshipful, drunk sousaphone nerds. Sitting there while he chatted with fans, I recognized a familiar sticker on the table: an orange YoungBlood Brass Band logo, from their "Unlearn" tour. It was a moment of dizzying vertigo, of new life meeting old, a little of Oregon in New Mexico.

I had another such moment tonight. Doug (and later, Tony and Rory) and I went to the Launchpad to hear my friend Dave's band Cougar play. I sat up in the balcony, surrounded by my New Mexico friends, watching an old friend from high school play. Oregon meets New Mexico. Watching from above, I realized I've been listening to Dave's music for eleven years now, since those first One Lard Biskit shows at the tiny House of Sounds in Madison when so many of us would pack into the room that an open door would reveal clouds of steam into the frigid February night air. There is a comfort in this: touchstones, rituals, moments you return to throughout your life which serve to remind you that it's a continuous journey. That you're living the same life, still, that you're the same person, still, as you were as a spazzy, happy high school sophomore.

New Mexico captured my heart the second time I saw its low brown hills, its soft violet mountains in the first light of morning. My first time here, I was a baby – one, maybe, or two – visiting my grandparents who lived in Alamogordo. That visit, I don't remember at all; I know it only through photographs of one year old Molly petting a boa constrictor at a New Mexico zoo. The second time, in March of 1995, I came on tour with the Oregon High School orchestra. As our plane landed in Albuquerque, I looked out the window and saw a coyote keeping pace with us along the runway, and I remember in that moment feeling certain that I was the only person on the plane – the only person in the world – who saw it. On that trip, I fell in love with these modest mountains and this endless clear sky. I remember sitting next to the Taos River for what seemed like hours, letting the land make its imprint on my skin.

Tonight as I watched the band, I remembered that trip. Dave's parents were chaperones, and his mother took care of me when I fainted at a concert (Marcy Rosen, cellist). Later, Judy told me to give myself permission to follow my dreams, to give myself the luxury of a year to do exactly what my heart told me.

My heart told me to move to New Mexico.

When I was in Wisconsin over the holidays a few weeks ago, I sat in my childhood bedroom and flipped back through my senior yearbook. I almost didn't recognize the person it belonged to – there were pictures of me I couldn't remember posing for, and long, fondly written signatures with which I couldn't match faces. But then, in the senior index, I found myself: "Molly Backes: Moving to the mountains of New Mexico with my pet donkey and career as a writer."

Recently, my students wrote mid-term reflection papers, looking back over 2006 and ahead to 2007. One student, an 8th grader, said that the biggest accomplishment of 2006 was beginning to know herself, to figure out who she really was, a project she intended to pursue through 2007. I found this to be incredibly charming. Pausing by her desk, I said quietly, "I love this. I think it's extremely important. And believe me, it's a lifelong goal. I'm still figuring out who I am, to this day."

Lately, I've felt more like myself than I'd felt in a long time, as if I am once again rediscovering Molly Backes, who she is at the core. I am at once the person I am now, in this moment – teacher, writer, friend – and the person I was at 14, discovering New Mexico for the first time, and the person I was at 22, coming back to this familiar sloping horizon, wandering out in the desert at dawn.

Hearing Dave play tonight bookended my time here – in a sense, reassuring me that 15 year old Molly was here too, wandering through the Plaza in Santa Fe, talking to the Skogens, falling in love with this land. Oregon meets New Mexico; this is who I am today. Instead of a donkey, I have a fat, sleepy brown dog, and though it may not be a career, I have written three novels, a number of short stories and poems, and hundreds of journal pages, here, in the mountains of New Mexico.

Just as I said I would.

01 February 2007

Senile yet?

Work Time. Everyone's actually working really quietly, including me at my desk. The radio's playing quietly... & then the song SUPERFREAK comes on.

Me: Hey you guys, anyone seen Little Miss Sunshine?
Class: Um... no...
Me: Oh man, you should! It's so funny!
J: I thought it was boring.
Me: WHAT? No, what about the part at the end where the little girl is dancing to this song? Or when the van is like: MEEEP MEEEEEEEEEP! So FUNNY! And the other drivers are like, shaking their hands and the guy's like shrugging! And the van won't start, and the whole family has to push it and run after it? HILARIOUS!!
Class: (looks on in quiet amusement)
T: (really nicely, as if he's a little worried that I'm losing my mind) Um, Miss Backes? Didn't you say you didn't want us to interrupt one another? And... aren't you kind of interrupting us now?
Me: Oh my gosh, you're right! Get back to work!
J: Oh Ms. Backes.....

I find it almost unbearably charming when kids treat me like I'm just this side of senile. They seem so nervous and encouraging, like if they say just the right thing they can keep me from losing it altogether.


C: (murmur murmur)
Me: Okay, Caden, time for you to move!
C: Oh man! It's all your fault, Trent, for making me talk to you!
Me: Yes, that really was awful of him to force air across your vocal chords.
T: I did! I used my Jedi Mind Powers!
K: Star Wars is GAY!
T: (without missing a beat) See? I made you say that!