Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burning a Hole in My Head

There are books that stick with you when you don’t want them to. This is one that won’t go away. Granted, I just borrowed it yesterday. I finished it yesterday. Not a big feat. It was short. I had heard the author over a year ago on NPR. I’ve been “meaning” to read it ever since. Something made me remember it Friday. I picked it up yesterday. It had been so long since I’d been to the local public library that the address they had on file was before I met Mr. J. I blame school. Can’t exactly read for fun when you’ve got peer-reviewed journal articles hanging over your head.

Some books end and you’re sad – not because the book had a sad ending, but because it’s over. East of Eden was like that for me. For four days, I couldn’t put it down and didn’t do much else (much to Mr. J.’s chagrin.) Then, when I knew I only had a few chapters left, I started lingering. Each word, each page. When I only had a few pages left, I’d turn each page with dread and anticipation. I wanted desperately to know what happened next, but I also knew that soon I wouldn’t know what happened next to me. What other book could be this compelling, this all-consuming? When a great book ends, you almost feel like you’ve lost a friend. Definitely, you’ve lost your companion for a moment in your life. I still remember what was going on when I read East of Eden – not in the world, but in my life. It was July, hotter than hell and we had just moved into our townhouse. There was so much to do and all I did was read (see: Mr. J.’s chagrin, above.) The bed wasn’t yet assembled and there were boxes everywhere so I read much of the book while I was sprawled out on the new carpet (cooler on the floor, anyway). I drank lots of Diet Pepsi and stayed up late and got up early. I had just finished teaching two classes for summer session and this was my reward for the student who wrote “pee hole” instead of “urethra” on his final exam. That book marks that exact point in my life.

Yesterday’s book ended and I laid it on my chest while I stared at the ceiling. Minnie snoozed beside me. Mr. J. was downstairs, grading papers or paying the bills or checking e-mail on his laptop or doing one of the millions of things he’s always doing. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. This time I didn’t want to cry because the book was over. My chest felt heavy but it wasn’t because of the small book I had placed upon it. This book kicked my ass. Welfare Brat.

Talk about a slap in the face. Talk about putting things in perspective. Talk about something that made me feel overwhelmed and helpless and hopeless yet confused and amazed. Mr. J. and I went to dinner and I wanted to explain this book. One of the reasons this book is burning a hole in my head is because Mr. J.’s childhood was in many ways like the author’s. Yesterday I kept saying, “OMG. You have to read this book, honey. You have to read it. This author grew up with 5 sisters and a brother in a two bedroom apartment in the Bronx. Her mom was a single mother and there were 4 different dads among the seven of them. Her mother wasn’t big on going to school and if you didn’t feel like it, then you didn’t go. Sometimes her mother would tell the author, Mary - #3 – that she had to stay home from school and watch the little kids because she, Sandy, the mother, was too hung over to do it herself. Can you believe it?” I shook my head in amazement and waited for Mr. J. to show some shock, something. He stared at me and then blinked. “Uh-huh.” Then he took a bite of his portabello mushroom wrap (with chicken). He doesn’t want to read the book. He’s made a few comments like, “Oh, sure I’ll read it, what with all my spare time.” He doesn’t have any. But I don’t just think it’s about that.

Maybe one of the many, many reasons this book was so compelling to me is that I feel like it gave me more insight into my husband’s past. I can’t tell you about Mr. J.’s childhood in much detail – not because I don’t know much detail but because it’s not my childhood and therefore not my story to tell. I can tell you though that while we all have stories to tell and we all (okay, maybe not all) can say we came from a “dysfunctional” family, I know I didn’t really know the meaning of that word until I met Mr. J. and learned about his life. The things that sent me running to the therapist’s couch for so many years make me cringe now. Oh, I didn’t have the exact right clothes for high school and oh, I never learned how to properly wear eyeliner and boo-hoo, woe is me. I didn’t have everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed. I had my own room and my own bed and new clothes never worn by anyone else. I had trips to Disneyworld and trips to the dentist. I always knew where both my parents were and I was never left unsupervised, without food, for days at a time.

This book rattled the teeth in my skull. What it means to have problems, real problems is something I don’t often think about because I don’t have to. I also sometimes think about what it means to escape those problems physically, but never escape them mentally. This book is about that. The author escaped the Bronx. She went to college and got a Ph.D. One of her seven siblings also escaped with a Master’s in Social Work. The author writes how when she tried to explain to an admissions rep that she didn’t really know anyone with a car who would be able to drive her to campus on move-in day, the admissions rep didn’t believe her. But she managed to get out in spite of insane obstacles that I can only conjure up in my head with some effort.

Mr. J. got out. He has two degrees, both in Math – not in Math Education as he is quick to point out. One of his other siblings (of six) got out. He went to college, got a degree, has health benefits and saves for retirement. I think his heart has been more damaged, he has more of an aura of sadness about him, but when you look at the circumstances of his life, at least externally - he got out.

What has fascinated me for years (and what made me fall in love with Mr. J. and what makes me love him more with each passing year) is why and how some people get out and some people don’t. It is intangible, I think. We could talk about grit or raw determination or work ethic but that’s too simplistic. Mary Childers, author of this amazing memoir, wrot a sentence that I think will stick with me for many years and maybe become my new mantra. I won’t do it justice and I’m too lazy to get up and quote the book directly, but basically she says it boils down to circumstances. Lives are launched and derailed by circumstances. Yet it’s more than that, too.

I don’t know. I haven’t got any answers. I just had to get these thoughts out of me, out of my head, on to “paper” because swirling around in my brain they weren’t doing me any good. What does it mean to “suffer”? What does it mean to be poor in America? How do some people get out and some people continue the cycle of poverty and what can we – what can I – those of us who are not the working poor - do? I’m not a politician and I never will be because I don’t know. It’s complicated. And yet it’s not. Clearly, education is the way out. Clearly, smaller planned families and accessible, affordable birth control (among about a dozen other things) are the way out. But what if that’s not the way your world works? The author’s family- especially her mother – chided her for “wanting to escape” and showing off and basically disowned her (albeit briefly) when she went off to college. Mr. J.’s father wanted nothing more than for Mr. J. to break the cycle and get out and achieve his dreams. His siblings are . . . another story. I think they envy him. I think they feel he owes them. He should help more than he already does financially. How dare he not help them support their children – his own nieces and nephews? I don’t get it but reading Welfare Brat helped me get it a little bit. This world is confusing and complex and with each passing day I understand it less and less.

And no I’m not on drugs and yes, I think my doctor would say I’m mentally balanced (more or less). This is just something I’ve been thinking about since I’ve met Mr. J. (over five years now!) and this book helped me get a glimpse into a world I never lived in and I don’t understand. Thank you for reading this atypical post. This is just garbage that was littering my head and I’ve needed to throw it out for quite some time now. Otherwise, I’m not going to qualify this with my usual disclaimers. (Okay, wait – there’s still some of my typical neuroses left. I so desperately needed to get this down on paper that I didn’t spell check this and I won’t go back and edit it right now or maybe ever.)


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Introducing Unnecessary Complexity

Once again, I am living in a house with a kitchen that has really none of the standard "traits" of a kitchen. Yes, we have a microwave and we finally have a refrigerator. A stove, sink, dishwasher, countertops? Not so much.

As you might imagine, this has truly affected the whole food preparation process. I ditched NutriSystem because all the food was starting to taste like the cardboard boxes in which it was delivered. Mostly I've been eating lots of Lean Cuisines and lots of "prewashed vegetables" - spinach (Now! With extra e. coli!), baby carrots, etc.

The other night I decided I was SO sick of pre-cut baby carrots (and the accompanying slimy feel) and I wanted a “real” carrot on my salad – the kind that requires washing and perhaps some peeling. You know, not the baby kind. The big girl kind.

I had the bag of carrots on my miniature “counter top” (probably 18 inches wide at best) next to the utility sink in the basement – aka, my kitchen sink. At some point there wasn’t enough room on the postage stamp-sized counter and the whole bag of real big-girl carrots fell behind the stupid *&^%$# counter thing. It was too heavy to move, and I couldn’t reach the carrots so I had to settle for one carrot and leave the whole bag back there.

When Mr. J. got home I informed him of the situation and first he asked my least favorite question, “What do you mean, you dropped carrots behind the countertop?” which always baffles me. I never understand this question. The other day at Home Depot, I told him I thought a particular configuration of wall hangings would look "absolutely ridiculous" and he asked, "What do you mean, absolutely ridiculous?" I only speak English. And I don't know any other way to say "absolutely ridiculous."

But I digress. Then he asked me why I wasn’t using pre-cut carrots, etc. I told him I was sick of them and he said (with a completely straight face), “Why are you introducing unnecessary complexity into the carrot preparation process?”

I laughed until I actually cried and then said, “Why are you not normal?” His response: “I’m totally normal.” I told him that I could ask every woman I know if her boyfriend/husband would EVER utter those words and the answer would be no, about 100% of the time.

Cabinets to be delivered Sept. 21-26. Countertop (and of course much desired sink) to follow two weeks later. I don’t know if we’ll make it.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Whole New World

Of pet peeves!!!

Oh, kids. I completely forgot what gives Corporate American its stank. That would be "The life of the cube." That's right, I traded the life of the mind for the life of the cube and you know what? Sometimes, we get what we deserve. Karma's a bitch, ain't she?

Let us begin with building facilities - I guess - because who else could be responsible for cranking the air conditioning so high that my fingers are shriveled and my nose drips? I wear a sweater or blazer to work every day and over that (in the office, of course. It was 93 degrees outside today - what am I? On a mission from God or something?), I have this lined fleecy/jacket thing I wear OVER everything else. At all times. If it's hot on the way to work, I'll put my hair in a ponytail. When I arrive in my cube, I take the ponytail down so my hair can cover my ears. Once the sun hits my side of the building, I'm totally screwed and I bust out the old-school phone headset and pretend I'm Ernestine. My co-workers probably think I'm running some sort of betting pool from my desk. But really? It's just to keep my ears warm. And just in case we weren't dorky enough in our house (stay tuned for fall and the return of the plaid flannel hunting cap with ear flaps!) poor Mr. J. is so cold in his office that he has actually broken the rules and has an illegal space heater. Since June. He also wears suits to work every day. The other day he received the "digital weather system" he ordered online (please don't ask!) and took it to work so he could check the temperature in his office. The verdict? A chilly 63 degrees. Now I can kind of (almost) understand why he doesn't really care that we don't have air conditioning in our house. When he walks in the door he's still thawing out.

What else? Oh, so many pet peeves. But I've just spent the evening warming up with a mug of hot spiced wine and I'm currently too gling-glongy (as we say in our family) to make much more sense. If I made sense in the first place. Who knows? Could be peaches, could be meat! (Points to anyone who can name that movie!)

Oh - and thank you for the kind wishes about my grandfather. He is doing as well as can be expected. On his second or third night in the hospital, my grandmother fell. Do you see? Do you see my genetic legacy of bad luck here?

Just kidding. My grandmother missed my grandfather more than anything and we think she may have been walking in her sleep when she fell. My mom has been staying overnight to keep an eye on my grandma and the fall must have happened in the wee hours of the morning. But can you imagine living with the same person for 67 years? Of course you're going to miss that person so much you walk in your sleep. Would be romantic if it weren't so freakin' heartbreaking.

On that happy note . . . stay warm, kiddies!!!!!!


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm in Love!

Okay, I'm the first person to admit that after 3 years of reading poorly written papers, my writing and grammar skills are just barely out of the toilet. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when a friend sent me this website.

If I ever get my act together, I will post it in my updated links. Someday. Soon. I think.


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Sunday, September 02, 2007

None of My Business

Supposedly, Mr. J. and I are going to stay in this house for quite some time. (Knocks wood, prays, clicks heels, etc.,) So when you're starting from scratch (with some limitations), you have the luxury of a clean slate. You also have the burden of creating a home where none currently exists which costs money. A lot of money.

We bought our little love shack back in December. Wait - we put in a bid that was accepted in December and we closed at the end of January. This means that Mr. J. has been toiling away on this place ever since. Evenings, weekends, even a week of "vacation" all dedicated to making this 70-year-old foreclosed-upon-owned-by-the-county brick Cape Cod into a homey abode for Teacher Lady, Minnie and himself.

Mr. J. and I have very different priorities about what is "urgent" in a house and what merits a "splurge" and what merits a "scrimp." Unfortunately, his priorities usually make more sense. A leaky roof needs to be repaired (or, as it turns out - replaced) much more than the current kitchen floor needs to be ripped out and replaced with Mexican ceramic tile. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Even though I've often mocked my students for not grasping the "I can't have everything" concept, I trip over it myself more than I'd like to admit. To me, it's obvious that as a student I can't skip every class, turn in every assignment late or not at all, never read, review or take notes and then get an "A" simply for rewarding the universe with my presence.

However, I'm struggling with the concept when it applies to the refurbishing of a home. I'm 110% ashamed to admit that neither Mr. J. nor I have ever owned an unused (okay, "pre-owned") couch. I am 37. He is going to be 39 in November. This seems rather silly and extremely immature to me. But we have chosen (mostly) to spend our money on things like stainless steel kitchen appliances and quartz counter tops. Now, I am absolutely dying to get these blinds. If you're familiar with them, you know why I feel like I have to have them. If you're not familiar with them, then you'll just think I'm completely insane because these suckers ain't cheap, people. In fact, they are so outrageously priced that I'm too embarrassed to tell you about the recent quote I received. Mr. J. thinks that buying expensive window blinds is an outrageous waste of money when we could be buying a new dining room table. (We already have one. It's my old boss's sister's and I have no idea how old it is and my old boss's sister had actually already put it out on the sidewalk for bulk trash pick up when I decided I wanted it, but still. We have one.)

So here's my question (which is none of my damn business and I realize that, so no pressure to answer): Since I'm guessing that most of my readers are not reading my blog from a lounge chair at an exclusive resort in Bora-Bora while sipping a tropical drink (although I certainly hope you are), I'm also guessing that we all have our financial priorities - the places where we "splurge" and the places where we "scrimp." Specifically, I'm being nosy about home repairs/maintenance/furniture, stuff like that. Do you get the most expensive refrigerator possible and save by getting laminate counter tops? Or, like a friend of mine, do you completely scrimp on the house all together and splurge on vacations and a commitment to exploring other cultures (via travel) instead?

A former co-worker buys all her furniture at Ethan Allen. Gob bless her. Even if we had that kind of income, I'm not sure I'd feel I could fork over a few thousand for a dining room table. What furniture we haven't inherited, we've bought at Target. (Except for our bed. I will not scrimp on a mattress people. I also refuse to buy cheap sheets.) But I also know that millions of Americans would think I'm completely insane for even considering to spend the amount of money on window blinds I'm considering spending on window blinds.

It's weird and tricky, this whole money issue. I used to talk about sex for a living and never felt the least bit uncomfortable. But money - whoa! Now that's private. But just like my students all ultimately wanted to know, "Is that normal?" or really, "Am I normal?" I just want to know the same thing: Without going into debt, and after "paying yourself first" are there certain household items you're willing to fork over serious cash for and others you just won't? I await your responses. And if I don't get any back, I get it. I think that in this culture we can talk about nearly anything on Oprah, Dr. Phil, etc., except the dirty little details of our financial lives.

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