Tuesday, July 7, 2009

MJ, MJ, MJ. Oh, Michael Jackson, RIP.

Is there anything that demonstrates the importance of funerals more than today?

For the last 15 years, Michael Jackson has been the butt of jokes, the source of an endless list of derogatory nicknames, and the subject of more insulting words than anyone else not convicted of terroristic threats on the United States. He has been accused of unimaginable crimes, and though he was acquitted in a court of law, he was convicted and condemned by the media and a public that is quick to judge and long to forgive.

With his death a few weeks ago, the world came to something of a standstill and divided itself into three camps: "I Love Michael", "I Hate Michael" and "I Don't Give a Shit About Michael, Get Back to the News." The "I Don't Give a Shit" folks have gone about their business with little more than a sigh and a shake of the head when MJ is mentioned, his song is played...again...on the radio, or an argument between the first two groups takes place. The conflict between the Lovers and Haters has been something of a spectacle.

I'm fascinated by Michael Jackson. Absolutely fascinated. I loved him when I was young, wondered about him when I was a teenager, and he fell off my radar through most of my twenties...except for the occasional tune where I would remember my youth fondly and think "man, he's one hell of a musician." And yeah, I heard the bad stuff too. The allegations, the bizarre behaviors...and of course I saw his face, right?

Michael Jackson is (was) a walking, talking representation of the ugliest parts of our society. Who cares if you're brilliant? If you changed the face of music? If you broke a color barrier stronger and higher than the Berlin Wall singlehandedly? We hear that you slept in bed with a boy. Villian. Nevermind that you never had a childhood. Nevermind that you were famous, almost literally, from the moment of your birth until the moment of your death, and the psychological ramifications of that. Nevermind that the people who accused him of molesting their children decided to take a cash settlement instead of seeking "justice"--how much is your kid worth? I'm not saying he didn't do anything wrong--maybe he did. Maybe he molested kids all over the place. But, if he did, well, he certainly left the world far more than most other child molesters do.

Back to the funeral, though, and the importance of memoralizing our dead. What an opportunity. Did you know that Michael Jordan ate fried chicken with Michael Jackson? There is nothing more beautiful, most poetic, than laughter of joy at a funeral. All of the memories that were shared brought the world back to the "old" Michael--the Michael we all fell in love with, who changed our world, and who disappeared (or got stuffed away) behind a freakish mask of solitude as the world decided they didn't need him anymore. The fact that SO MANY musicians and other celebrities came out to share their memories of Michael Jackson, to laugh and cry together, and that somehow his daughter, Paris, still managed to see enough of the real man in her father to be simply devestated... well, that speaks far louder to me than an accusation from over a decade ago. And was it a spectacle? Of course. He's always been a spectacle; we made him that way, and we wouldn't have it any differently.

The Haters--they can go ahead and hate. The Lovers know that Michael is okay with that--he always has been.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson

Natasha Richardson died today after a fall on a ski slope yesterday. I always have trouble when actors and actresses die...it's as if I almost can't believe it because, well, they're actors. That's what they do. It makes the word "die" seem heavier, seem like it's more real for the fact that it really can happen to anyone.

For whatever reason, maybe the suddenness of it?, I'm having trouble with Richardson's death. I have no idea why. I couldn't have told you a single movie she was in if you'd asked me a week ago, nor did I know as general knowledge that she'd won a Tony. She was low on my radar. But, I think it 's the idea that she was fine, and now she's dead. The doctors call it "talk and die syndrome"-- where delayed bleeding between the skull and the brain stem causes death but doesn't show immediate symptoms after the injury. The idea that you could be going about your business and dying with each passing minute is frightening.

Of course, I guess we're all doing that right now, aren't we? It's an unsettling thought.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The last first day

Today was an interesting day. It was, theoretically, the last "first day of school" of my teaching career. Ten years ago, I had my first day in front of my own classroom. Scared absolutely right out of my mind, but confident because I had absolutely no idea what I didn't know.

Today I paid attention to myself. To the rapport I can establish in a few minutes time. The ease with which I joke with kids, welcome them, share information about myself and learn about them. Establish a learning environment. Teach them without them knowing that I'm teaching them. And it's hard....because I'm a very good teacher. I see it in myself now, where I spent years thinking I wasn't.

So...it'll be interesting to see where the year takes me. As of now, it's my last. But, I'm not sure that anyone (maybe me included) truly believes that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

In the wilderness with my map

Sorry I've been absent for so long. Basically I've been suffering through summer classes, alternately loving and loathing biology, chemistry, math and health. I have rediscovered that I love to learn. I love the "click" when I go from total confusion to total understanding. And, I've discovered for the first time that I love science. Love it. I've spent my whole life avoiding science classes and now that I'm older, wiser, and more open to learning, I'm embracing the scientist within me.

Which brings up the question of my future. I have three classes left to take in order to do the prerequisite work for the U of M. I'm taking statistics this fall and then will need to fit in another chem class and another health class. Those two classes are going to be a problem, since neither is offered at a convenient time (read: after 3pm) in the foreseeable future. But, once I get all of those taken care of, I'm set to enter the mortuary science program.

Except these days I'm not so sure.

I've been working at the funeral home--have worked at four different funeral type events so far--and I'm definitely enjoying it. I'm finding that I have definite ideas on how I would run my own funeral home and can, sort of, envision what it would be. Keeping in mind, of course, that I know about 1% of what goes on in the "ownership" of a funeral home. But I feel like I'm wandering through the wilderness and I have a map and I know where I'm going, but I don't know if I grabbed the right map before I left. I don't know if where the map is leading me is where I want to be going.

I'm going to miss working with teenagers. And I'm going to miss teaching. Am I going to miss it enough to say "nope, I want to stay a teacher"? I'm not sure. I don't think so. But, teenagers...I'm not sure I can give them up. My alternative kids, particularly. So, do I make a clean break and completely switch careers? Or is there a way to combine my talent for communicating with teens and another job?

Plus...this year is going to be very hard. There are a lot of people I see every day who genuinely don't believe that I'm going to be done at the end of this school year. I would argue that more people are betting against me leaving than for me. When it all comes down to having to plan the next year without me, that's going to be hard. For everybody. Not that the school can't operate without me, of course, but I've been there nine years. That's a long time.

Basically I have a lot of questions, and every time I try to write about them or think about them, they grow. And I have chemistry to do.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Funeral for a friend

Yesterday was Craig Olson's funeral. Dr. O. I arrived at 8am, when only the funeral director and his assistants were there. I took comfort in this "business end", though I only watched. It's been important to me--to the point that it even decided what funeral home I'd work at--that Craig's funeral be personal, not business at any level. When other teachers who were helping and the musicians arrived, I walked to the pictures set up in the front of the gymnasium and looked at parts of Dr. O I knew and parts that I did not know. I did not notice him, his ashes, in the center of the room--his urn insignificant against the flowers and the large photograph taken of him in Africa while he was in the Peace Corps.

I helped set up and test microphones, and then I helped set up the food. I told Stacy "I'm short on money but not on time", justifying why I hadn't brought anything. She said, "Time is more valuable." We set up the blue and yellow table cloths and napkins and platters of food (a diabetic nightmare and so unbelievably Lutheran I think Dr. O's soul was rolling). At 8:40ish the family arrived to spend their time privately with Dr. O.

At 9am, I walked through the pictures again, and the urn caught my eye. I wished that I had seen it earlier so I could spend some private time with it, even (sorry if this offends) open it up and look inside. I've never seen cremains before, and I knew that of all people Dr. O wouldn't mind. He'd say "Crack it open, check it out." A learning experience is a learning experience. But, of course, I didn't. I did take my semi-private time, though, walking up in front of everyone there, touching the top of the urn and saying a few words to Dr. O.

I saw many former students at the visitation, and I kept waiting for the throngs of people to arrive. Surely someone as influential as Dr. O, as life-changing for so many, would have thousands of people at his funeral. The gym would be packed to overflowing. The police needed for traffic regulation. Parking a nightmare. But as the funeral began at 11am, the chairs numbering 420, were not full. The bleachers, holding 618 to a side, were nearly empty. All in all, a few less than 500 people were there. A perfectly respectable showing, but where were all the people? With between 300-500 people in each graduating class for the last nine years I've taught, there should be at least 50 from each class, surely? He'd worked in PL for twenty-two years. Where were the crowds?

The funeral began with Pastor Ron, the spouse of a teacher and a friend of Dr. O's, who agreed to do a secular service to respect Craig's non-belief in organized religion. The ceremony was musical, with O Fortuna being sung, the school song played by a brass quintet, and the school concert choir performing a lovely song a capella. Letters staff members had written to Dr. O upon learning of his illness were read, and several people delivered eulogies, including Dr. O's best friend Andy, the former superintendent of our district, and a friend of Dr. O's from college. When each finished speaking they stepped away from the podium and hugged Mary, Dr. O's wife.

At the end of the service after we filed out (I'm pretty sure I went out of order. Oops.) and went to the food area. I talked with a few people, but did not speak with the family again. And, at a little after 1pm, I left.

The amazing thing that happened was that Craig came to his own funeral. He was there, and I have never felt the presence of someone deceased as strongly. I've thought that I have, but it's one of those things that when it happens you *really* know it. Craig was there and he was all around us. He will not leave that school--it is his legacy. He is in every classroom, in the hallways, in the auditorium, in the storage closets, in the furniture. He is in the lights, in the bleachers, and in the railings. It sounds trite and the more I try to clarify the more hokey it'll sound, so I won't. But when I was in that gym with Craig's family and friends, in the building that he created and shed blood, sweat, tears and time for, he may as well have been sitting in a chair there. He was not in the urn, he was everywhere.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A death in the family

A few months ago I wrote about my former principal, Craig Olson, and his impending death from ALS. He passed away this weekend. We got the news this morning via calling tree and email, and, while I was questioning a few months ago how I would react, I don't yet have the answer.

My reaction has been largely physical so far, though I haven't cried. When someone dies I always have something of a numbing reaction--things seem foggy and distant. I'm either starving or not hungry at all, either exhausted or I stay awake all night. For Craig, we had such a unique relationship I don't really understand how I should react to his death.

He was my boss, but also a friend. Our friendship was based around work--socially I didn't spend time with him except at events where there were teachers and staff. But, as anyone in education will tell you, teachers form a family with one another. Craig was a part of my family. I feel regret when I think that I didn't get to know him as well as I should have, but I know that I did the best I could, especially once I found out he was sick.

Then, this afternoon the funeral home I'm working at called to see if I could work this Wednesday. I had to say no because the funeral arrangements aren't posted yet and I'm sure there will be something either Wed, Thurs or over the weekend. The balance of the funeral director wannabe in me with the person that I am.....right now it's hard.

I hate being sad. It's such a waste of time to feel crappy. It leaks over into everything. But, my friend Molly says that the Chinese believe emotions can go like the seasons, and that they have different durations. Someone may have a particularly lengthy "winter" but should be assured that "spring" will follow. I want to ask her more about it; it seemed to make a lot of sense when we were speaking of it a few weeks ago. So, for me maybe this is just a temporary winter? A brief darkness?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One term down, something like 8 to go...

I finished my last final for my first term of "back to college" about an hour ago. I was the most nervous about this final--Death and Dying--but I got a 98% on the test. That means that, with Accounting and Biology, I have my first ever 4.0 gpa. This is a great beginning :-)

I'm celebrating, of course, but my best friend is in a meeting, my other best friend is putting her son to bed, and my parents are in Costa Rica. So, I'm celebrating alone, but that's okay. A lot of this I did on my own. All of my celebrations will come with various friends and family in their due time, but tonight I'm content to celebrate with myself. Gatsby greeted me at the door and we spent a fair amount of time jumping on our hind legs and dancing about. Gatsby did great work too...he spent a damn lot of time alone during this term and didn't so much as tear up one shoe or dig one item out of the trash.

I start up again in two and a half weeks with intermediate algebra and cellular biology. I need to find a way to bottle this feeling, 'cause it's not going to last long. Tonight, though, I will allow it to last forever.