Saturday, October 28, 2017

Carmela in Paris

We're binging on The Sopranos. My second go-round. Himself's first. In the sixth season, Carmela visits Paris. She looks around a bustling restaurant and muses that the crowd exists only because she is present to experience it. Then she flip flops, realizing that in the vastness of time and space her existence is virtually meaningless. Beside the Seine, Carmela talks about her life, now that her kids are grown. “You worry and worry, and then what...?” Carmela hides a cache of weapons before an anticipated raid, she swipes $40K that Tony has hidden in the bird-feeder to play the stock market. Tony is hospitalized and Carmela stashes manilla envelopes stuffed with cash, proffered by his henchmen, into her purse. Conflicted, she is advised by her priest not to divorce but also not to partake of Tony's ill gotten gains. She stays in the marriage but continues to live lavishly. She's one of the most complicated fictional characters that I've encountered. Her face, as she ponders her future as something other than a mother, says more about the last few years of my life than I've written here or will ever write.

Both of my children are far away, living in houses that I've never set foot in. I do not know what they eat or wear or where they go, but for an occasional Facetime call. I understand Carmela's feeling of emptiness and lack of purpose, exacerbated by motherhood induced PTSD. My own mother worried about me constantly. It felt like she expressed this merely to draw attention back to herself. I considered her constant cautionary advice as evidence that she had no faith in my ability to navigate the world. I suppose my own boys feel the same way when I guide and caution. I try to convey my pride but remember too that my own parents expressed pride in me, there was an off-ness to it. They were never proud about what I took pride in myself. Nevertheless, I try my best to let my children know that I like who they've become and be sparing when vocalizing my fears. I know that both thrive and are where they need to be. I still wish that they were here.

Sometimes it feels like I'm just going through the motions of finding purpose. The owner of another archive library, a friend of many years, dies suddenly and mysteriously this week. I look around my own office and wonder who will be burdened with all of this stuff. I am alone in the house for nearly a week while Himself is at a conference. It feels enormous, and like the office, crammed with detritus. I've lived here for more than a quarter century. Bad roof. Peeling paint. Deck on the verge of collapse. My head spins, yet I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

An online course to earn a professional certification for teaching English as a Second Language is nearly complete. Teaching videos are required. The course is largely peer graded and none of the other videos are of actual classrooms, instead students merely film themselves pretending to teach. Unfortunately, many of them speak English poorly but we are instructed again and again that English proficiency has no bearing on the criteria. I can't imagine just filming myself so, I pass a student my cellphone to film when I am teaching a lesson germane to the weeks' topic. I notice that there is a decline in student proficiency for some reason when the camera is on. I present exercises similar to ones they've done again and again and they suddenly become dolts. The videos require a bit of editing. My final video submission is actually pretty good. The students are responsive, verbal and having a good time. I am more effective than in any of the other videos that I've submitted. When I screen it myself I see that my bra strap droops through the entire lesson. I'm going to use the video anyway. At least I'm a native speaker.

Sometimes I drive home from my teaching job blissed out. I also think about quitting a lot. There are only three weeks left of the trimester. I realize, after the fact, that I've signed a two year contract. No one has said anything so I assume I'm returning but if I were let go, my feelings would be crushed but I confess I'd breathe a sigh of great relief. It is just within the last few days that I know all their names. There are three additional tests to administer and I'm trying to keep things interesting and useful but for the most part, I am teaching to, what in my opinion, is a very badly written battery of tests.

I spend all day preparing a quiz called “Kahoot!” which I project from the classroom computer onto the whiteboard. There is a listening component to the looming promotional test so I incorporate video with dialogue and accompanied by comprehension questions. I spend all day on the thing, shooting video of my employees and the dog and creating questions of the sort they'll be subjected to on the test. I check it on a couple of different computers to make sure it plays properly. I tout it throughout the night to keep students awake and excited. They love these games. I start up the game and they all log on with their phones. The Internet crashes. We try again. The game begins but despite being properly logged on to override it, the district firewall blocks the video. I throw candy at them, and despite admonishments from on high to keep students in class until the bell rings, I send them home.

Gonzalo three years older than I am. The other students refer to him as the “old man.” He's Honduran but has been in the U.S. for decades. I let him into the classroom every night about twenty minutes before class begins. Gonzalo has never missed a class. He painstakingly copies, in an old fashioned handwriting, the night's objectives which I've written on the board. It's not necessary but I figure that the writing practice won't kill him. He communicates effectively in spoken English but he struggles very much with understanding instructions and reading. He worries about not ascending to the second level. He's attended level one classes for several years. We're both determined that he succeed although there might be an element of “social promotion.” He holds forth one night and says, in remarkably cogent English, that he loves everyone and that people love him back. “My life is very good. Learning English, it's important.”

I guess that, unlike Carmela, with her Porsche Cayenne and Givenchy bags, as ineffectual as I often feel, what I do is of consequence. I am drained and frustrated more than satisfied lately. My kids are likely gone for good. With every passing year, more of my peers will die and the odds of my own continued survival diminish with the passing of time. Angst and doubt are as familiar as my own aging face in the mirror. But Gonzalo says that I'm important. I'll get to school early on Monday and try to get that friggin' game to work.

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