Weddings’ Whys

At 4:30 in the morning last Sunday I was communally stuffing my face with pasta in a literal olive garden. Lowercase o, lowercase g. Unlimited everything. The pasta was buttery and cheesy and so well-timed. And as I helped myself to a fourth serving, I looked around at those doing the exact same thing. I had stopped slugging wine hours before and could really take in the scene–no judgment–more than others. There were still people dancing their asses off, still people hugging and loving and laughing, still people slugging wine, and of course, still people shoveling in Greek pasta. The scene felt like one of those in a Disney movie where there are twinkles around the edges and instead of feet, there are clouds of mystery. Lanterns, lights, and levity. And people. Just great people. Completely enjoying themselves, enjoying one another, and loving the moment. At the center were two people, one in a white dress, the other in a massive grin.

Chas and I attended 12 weddings in 2016, one of which was our own. It was a whirlwind of a year. As you know, weddings typically include more than weddings. The showers, the bachelorette parties, the tearful 2 a.m. confessions. Joking about that last one. There were definitely times when I felt like I had a bit of wedding overload with travel, finding a dress, wearing makeup, staying up late, buying a gift, remembering to get Chas to sign the card, making sure I’d tweezed my lone chin hair, but at the end of “Don’t Stop Believin'” (a song I actually loathe) none of those things matter.

Sentimental alert. What matters is tradition, friendship, and love. (And the time stamps of bridesmaid dresses and hairstyles do not hurt.)

I remember the first wedding I remember–not a typo, I like the way that sounds. I was a flower girl for my Aunt Kathy and Uncle John. I asked my mom if I could wear white because I think, in my head, I was marrying my cousin Brendan. I probably threw a fit when she explained that Aunt Kathy would be the only one wearing white since she was the bride. I think I got over it when they handed me my sweet hat. Glad they didn’t let me marry Brendan.

Amanda and Brendan

Me marrying Brendan.

Also in Aunt Kathy’s wedding (I know that most of my contemporaries are thinking, “I have an Aunt Kathy too!” We really all have an Aunt Kathy.) Aunt Kathy wore my grandmother’s dress. All three of my dad’s sisters wore it in their weddings. And the event of Aub and I trying it on a couple summers ago with all of the female members of my family was pretty special.

Aunt Kathy

The brides and grooms. Aunt Kathy wearing my grandmother’s wedding gown. Based on obvious factors, 10 points if you’re not a Doran and you can guess the correct year.

Jim and Ann - Wedding

My Grandpa Doran and Grandma Ann, and The Dress.

 

1Mo

Aunt Mo in the dress.

IMG_0525

Aunt Colleen in the same dress.

In 1996, Aubrey and I were the flower girls for my Aunt Lynn and Uncle Michael. We wore cream. Finally, I could be bridal. I know that this was one of the first documented events in which Aubrey is my height. She soon raced past me. But this is my time stamp for when it first happened. Weddings are such great time stamps because we remember them. At least most of us, and at least the beginning of the night.

 

aubs-and-manda-ml-wedding.jpg

I think we needed some work on the petal-dropping. #youhadonejob

The time stamps weddings put in our lives are indicative of how memorable they are. I know when I hear my extended family talking about someone or something from the past, I almost always hear, “That was the year ________ got married.” Or “That was before ________ and _________’s wedding.” We mark time by weddings because they matter. Extraordinary things can happen any day and I can remember them or just appreciate them in the moment and then never think of it again. But a wedding in which everything is documented and slow and monumental is something we can appreciate and remember. It’s a rare chance to stop and appreciate what’s going on, something we do too infrequently these days.

I remember one particular marital time stamp that earned me $20. My grandmother married Mikie in 1999 when I was in 7th grade. Her wedding was the first time I was allowed to shave my legs. A year later, Aubrey wanted to shave her legs when she was in 6th grade. I told her that I knew I couldn’t until 7th grade because I remembered it was Gram’s wedding day. We agreed that if she paid me $20, I wouldn’t make a stink. Fair is fair.

Back to the serious, I can still picture the dress I wore to Gram’s wedding (a little yellow number, to show off some freshly-shaven leg). I can’t remember a single thing I learned in 7th grade math (aside from Mrs. Rueling’s willingness to draw chalk on her face to get us to listen) but I can picture Gram in blue and Mikie with his tinted glasses at the Knights of Columbus Hall. That event mattered. And so I remember.

We all know the wedding industry is out of control. It’s like a toddler wrist-deep in a 32 ounce can of chocolate pudding, sitting in a ball pit, under a big screen TV, staring at an iPad, while using the potty. It is unacceptable to pay the prices asked when the W word is attached. Beyond the beyond, as Renee Buettner would say. The first wedding veil I tried on cost more than the dress I tried it on with. What?!

So you can scrimp and save and ask people to make brownies (Thanks, everyone!) and do your own this, make your own that. But at the end of “Piano Man” (sung in a slowly rocking circle of humans), the traditions that keep us marrying one another are binding, lasting, and incredible.

And if Chas and Kunal are both at your wedding, expect a very dangerous and very impressive display. Traditions come in all forms.

Kunal and Chas Spin.JPG

Email me if you’d like a video.

I loved that at Kev and Angeliki’s wedding, we were able to learn about Greek culture and Greek Orthodoxy by attending their ceremony. Not only were we learning more about where our friend comes from, we are learning an entire tradition. And one that’s really old! They will always have that moment in common with everyone who came before them and got married in the Greek Orthodox Church. The ties that bind us to our wedding traditions eat the wedding industry for breakfast.

Kev waiting for Liki

This is Kev waiting for Angeliki. In this tradition, the groom waits for the bride in front of the church and hands her the bouquet. In another, more common tradition, Maia dodged and then was forced to take that bouquet with her.

We will skip this last part

I LOVE wedding programs. Note the last sentence in the first paragraph.

Greek Orthodox

As part of another tradition, Kev and Angeliki are wearing crowns that are attached by one ribbon. Men with beards are saying things I do not understand.

It is special that so many of us have or will at some point speak the same or similar words while pledging our lives to another. We are obviously brought together on the day of a wedding. But for centuries we are brought together by those pledges and those shared words and experiences. If they weren’t important, we wouldn’t still be doing this. Tradition is such for good reason.

In addition to the shared words is the incredible shared experience of all of the people whom you love in one place on one day. On my wedding day, I literally needed to just shake out my hands I was so overwhelmed by the joy of having all of my peeps together. There’s nothing like it.

Amanda and Chas

Hand-shaking joy.

Being in a wedding party is a collective effort. You’re a team. You work together and you support your couple. Then, you stand by one of your best friends in one of the most important moments of her life. Wow. “Maid of Honor” is such an appropriate title because it truly is an honor.

Aubs and Me

Then as a wedding guest, each wedding acts as a mini-reunion. It’s a great reason just to be with your friends and family. And as I get older, I realize that this is more and more valuable. And sadly, more rare.

I know that marriage is not for everyone. Well, it should be for everyone but it may not be right for some. To each his and her own. But I wish there were a way for all people to feel that hand-shaking feeling of having everyone you love in one room. And I think all people deserve to feel the gravity of sharing centuries-old words and traditions. I guess there are other ways to do those things. But man, weddings are fun.

So after the early morning community pasta feast, when we stumbled into our Air BnB rollin’ 9 deep in the Greek GTI, we stopped and appreciated the sunrise, and that we were together, and that Kev was married. (And some were just still drunk.)

Post Wedding Sunset

Agia Pelagia.

Chas and I may have had a touch of wedding exhaustion in 2016 but when we walked out of #12 for Chris and Sara on December 17, we both knew how lucky we were. Because people wanted us there to share in the tradition, to witness their vows, and to celebrate their relationship. A trip to St. Louis, Garrett County, downtown Baltimore, Boston, Mexico, the Knights of Columbus, Michigan, Colorado, Gap, Pennsylvania, or even the island of Crete are all worth it. Because love.

Aubs

Andrew and Allison

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Ms. Mabel

Our 30-year next-door neighbors, Ms. Mabel and Mr. Clyde, renewed their vows in 2016.

IMG_1111IMG_0001

Brady and Sam

1Alice1AandD

 

 

1Dottie

1Renee

Air Travel and Yoga, Incompatible

In most ways, air travel is the opposite of taking a yoga class. I sit stiffly, not wanting to breathe in recycled air that has been filled with coughs and sneezes. Do people cough and sneeze more on airplanes than in real life? This completely contrasts how breath guides every movement in Vinyasa or hot yoga. Sitting in a vinyl chair, or in our case, three different vinyl chairs for a total of 13 flight hours, in the span of 17 since we first took off, is the antithesis of 60 minutes of movement, stretching, strengthening, and meditating. As I am covered in goosebumps and using Chas’s suitcoat as a blanket, I’m craving the 105-degree yoga studio. Screens abound and glow. Book spines stretch. Headphones wail. People intermittently nap on their partners’ shoulders. I accidentally leaned on the stranger to my left in my sleep—at least that was good for a laugh. Anything to break the monotony.

If I had to think of a counterpart for our yoga teacher, I guess the job is split by our flight attendants. But rather than listen to them intently as I would a great yoga teacher, I block out every single word they say, especially when it’s in Icelandic. Because, well, have you ever heard Icelandic?

 

Icelandic

These are JUST the suffixes on the ends of very long words with many other similar looking pieces…to each his/her own.

Only in a hallucination will a person walk by the window with a cute Puggle on a bright leash, a common occurrence at two of the yoga studios I frequent. Instead, I have a view beyond Chas’s beard and book of milky clouds, stripey orange, anonymous mountains, and a prism of sorts being gradually crafted as we fly into the later evening from GMT into Grecian air space.

Chas on PlaneStripey Orange

The parallels between air travel and yoga classes start and stop at strangers being crammed in together with a common goal. And I feel like I am undoing weeks of intense yoga practice. My back is angry, my feet are tingly, and my head hates me. I asked Chas if I can have a shoulder massage when we arrive, he said “We’ll see.” I like those odds.

Ironically, I completed some of my “Omwork” for yoga teacher training here in this anti-yogic environment. I felt the urge to try out some of the postures as I wrote about cues for forming them but something tells me that almost all asana (postures) would get me quickly delivered to Federal Aviation Administration officials. Just picture me in savasana (corpse pose) in the middle of the aisle. Shoulders down your back. Heels touch, toes fall open. Hands face up. Feel the earth beneath you. Breathe here.

Instead, I perpetually cross and uncross my legs then plant them until I start the cycle again—does that count as yoga?

Flights are a means to a wonderful end, usually. And while I hate them, I will not curse my blessings—something my friend Shar instilled in me when we visited her exactly a year ago today in Swaziland. Chas and I are so fortunate to take this trip. So what my lips are cracking in this dry air, my butt feels like it’s about to fall off, and I look like I’m wearing eye black in the airplane bathroom mirror? I keep reminding myself this is one day. Rather than continue pointing out the discomfort of this journey, I’ve been taking notes on all of the things that amuse me. Airports and planes are pretty great for people watching and eavesdropping.

We drove from Baltimore to New Jersey and left our car at our friend Madeline’s house and then were off to the Philly airport with a chatty Lyft driver. The check-in was uneventful, aside from Chas being “THE FOURTH” and that not being on his ticket but having a prominent place on his passport.

What’s the deal with security lines? (said in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice) Every security line cares about different things. Some want the liquids out. Some want the shoes off. Some are very concerned about lip gloss. Some just yell at you and you don’t even know what they want (Philly). It’s survival of the fittest in security. Everyone kind of seizes up, forgets who they are, and almost everyone makes at least one mistake—a belt, a watch, a forgotten fake knee, a serious face when you were supposed to smile. I think if there were less yelling and more encouragement, security would go a lot more smoothly.

They should say, “It’s okay. Here in Manchester, we decided, completely arbitrarily, that lip gloss is highly combustible. But don’t worry, just take out your lip gloss, put it in its own gray bin, and you get a pat on the back. Then you’ll go in that little elevator thing and hold up your arms like we’re going to shoot you. But we won’t shoot. And you can have a hug when you’re done and then we’ll say, ‘Good day’ in a British accent.”

Manchester’s airport security room looked and felt like the basement of the Titanic and the sounds indicated that we were sinking quickly and all heading for certain death. Somehow, Chas and I made it through.

One a sad note, we saw a sign seeking information on the Manchester bombing.

Manchester Sign

This sign was above a water fountain in Manchester Airport.

I went for a jog to find an airport mailbox—I love that an airport is an indoor space where running is completely acceptable. Some people even yell encouragement! They should work for TSA. Someone hollered, “Catch that plane!” I will, ma’am, I thought, I will. Then I came across something I hadn’t seen before and had to pause my exercise for it: a service dog “relief area” with fake grass and a fake fire hydrant. I think that service dogs, and all dogs, are too smart to fall for that but then again, what is an airplane bathroom if not a mimicry of the real thing? It works on us!

Dog Relief Spot.JPG

Airports and airplanes can really mess with one’s sense of reality. One time, Chas and I were in the Bogota airport for 8 hours (long story for another day). We ate Burger King twice. I was so delirious, either from lack of sleep or from abundance of Burger King, I accidentally bought a $13 bag of Raisinets.

Back to today. When they start boarding the plane, something I love to observe but hate to participate in is the jostle to get on the plane. Obviously, we are all there in time to make the flight. We all have tickets and it’s not Southwest so we all have seats. But it never fails. They say, “begin boarding” and everyone becomes a rabid squirrel holding luggage. We jostle and shove and foam at the mouth. And then everyone ends up exactly where they would have been, without all the theatrics.

After we got on the plane, Chas and I had our usual conversation of What are they going to give us for free? The answer: a small water bottle. Oh well, it was Icelandic water which we can assume melted from something icy and clean and we glugged those down, continuing to scarf down the same granola bars. Water and granola…yoga parallel.

On any flight, I am almost always reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is upgraded to first class and Elaine is stick with the commoners in coach. She mentally yells at the person on the aisle because she has to go to the bathroom and the man is sleeping peacefully. I totally Elained. After my chemically-induced-nap from which I woke up and had no idea where I was—vinyl seat, plane, over the Atlantic Ocean—I started watching Suicide Squad on someone else’s screen, through the crack in the seats, obviously without the sound. I thought we all agreed we’d only let Donnie Wahlberg out on New Year’s Eve (I checked IMDB and Donnie Wahlberg is not in this movie and maybe I am thinking of Scott Eastwood but I liked this joke enough, that I am leaving it in here anyway). Anyway, weird movie, especially when you can’t hear what they’re saying. Silence—yogic.

By flight two, the commonly spoken sentence “Enjoy your flight” started to anger me. Why do they always say that? The flight is hardly the enjoyable part. Yet, every single time you fly you’re told to enjoy your flight. I move we change this to “Tolerate your flight.”

Also by flight two, the token crying baby has become my spirit animal. I feel you baby, I feel you. Can your mom rub my back next? All my podcasts started to blend together. The murder mysteries rolled into the gameshows and I suddenly laughed during a story about a naked dead body that too closely followed a political joke. Help!

I sought distractions. I kept trying to meet the eyes of the traveling monk I found. I decided he’d taken a vow of silence because he had a notepad and pen on a purse-like object at his hip. I still had not seen him talk. Still, I’m not trying to be the one to trick him into talking and breaking his vow so I didn’t say hi, as badly as I wanted to. He would probably would have tried airplane yoga with me.

By flight three, we had switched to a real budget airline (Jet2.com—yep), which is a whole other level of amusement. We shed the Icelandic translations and moved into British English. I’ll take it. Then the marketplace opened. Our poor flight attendants were forced to become groveling saleswomen. Throughout the four-and-a-half-hour flight they pushed: watches, wine, beer, makeup, “items for the ladies,” sunglasses, and scratch offs. The most popular? The scratch offs. Their sad little cart store was topped with a stuffed cat wearing shades.

I thought of Jesus in the temple. Airplane Jesus would be enraged. He’d flip over the cart, furious that the sacred airplane had been bastardized by this commercialism.

Air travel is not yoga. And it doesn’t pretend to be. There’s no mindfulness, there’s mindlessness. There’s no stretching or flow, there’s tenseness and rigidity. There’s no deep breathing or collective exhales—even the thought of that makes me sick—there’s bathroom breath-holding and secret farts.

There is intention, however. The intention is the destination. Maybe one day I will find a way to combine the air travel and yoga. But for now, we made it. We made it through the security lines, the shoving squirrels, the pushy, sad-eyed flight attendants, the dry air, and fake Donnie Wahlberg. We tolerated our flights. And now we’re here.

Namaste.

Toes and Greece

Don’t look at my toes. No time for a pedi.

Yoga in Greece

A better yoga venue that Jet2.

Welcome to Hampden, Hon: Old, Weird, & Fancy

Hampden Mural

Disclaimer: At some points in this piece I will mention things I have “heard” from others. That’s what it is. If I could not find verification, I just told you where I heard it. I trust my neighbors but I cannot solidify some of this information despite some serious googling.

A few weekends ago Chas and I were at R House (not to be confused with OUR house). We were having a beer and when Chas went to the bathroom, I found myself itching for a pen. The guys next to me were about 65 and having the kind of conversation I must eavesdrop upon. First one said to the other, “If I didn’t already live in Baltimore and were visiting for work and came here [R House] or Hampden, I’d just pick up and move here.” Baltimore compliments are like little massages for my ears so I was with them. They moved their conversation on to growing up in Baltimore City. And the other one said, “When I was coming up, the baddest kids I knew were the ones from Hampden. And, now look at it.” He’s right, now look at it. What he may not realize though is that the baddest kids’ grandkids are still traipsing around Hampden dodging yuppies and hipsters and doin’ what they gotta. It’s a common crossroads nationwide. The new buys out or eminent-domains-out the old. If you’re going to buy into it and be one of those hipsters or one of those yuppies, I think you have to try to understand and in some way contribute to those who were there first, rather than just paint over their remnants in Agreeable Grey and call it a “hot new neighborhood” when it’s not new at all.

Yuppies

A bit extreme.

In 2017 Hampden really has three distinct facets. Old. Weird. Fancy. I think Chas and I take part in all three, though, he really hates the fancy. I try to hate it to support him and be true to my East Baltimore roots, but I just love kombucha and yoga and IPAs and $5 greeting cards.

Old.

When Chas and I were tilling our garden earlier this month we tried to really do it right. Usually we throw down some dirt, toss in some plants, and call it a garden. This year we decided to dig deep and replace some of the clay we know is down there waiting to choke our roots and stunt our peppers. Throughout this dig, we found rusty screws and nails, old pieces of ancient metal, pottery shards, plastic, and enough glass to build a new sculpture at the AVAM. I nursed my gardening injuries from glass encounters as we bemoaned the trash in our vegetable beds. I had heard before from some neighbors that our neighborhood had been built on an old dump but as I shook my phone dry after pouring out a watering can over it, the guy across the alley struck up a conversation. He said that from our street through the Rotunda was THE landfill for The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Was the debris we were finding really that old? Why was it surfacing now? Are we growing a bunch of lead-laden vegetables? It’s funny (scary?) how you can create an entire neighborhood over the past and the past still finds its way up. As much as I want my garden to succeed, I feel like an archeologist every time I find something weird out back.

When that man at R House (again, he was not at our house, but I am beginning to wonder about the name choice of R House because I always find myself saying “Oh we were at R House, not our house but R House,” as I draw an R in the air with my finger. It’s downright confusing.) was talking about the baddest kids from Hampden, I knew I had to do some exploring. Residential Hampden sprung up as housing for mill workers in the 19th century. Woodberry, just down the hill from us, is like a mill graveyard, if that graveyard now had reclaimed wood, rusty wheels, shabby chic runeth over, and rents in the multi-thousands.

When the neighborhood began it was actually not part of Baltimore City but was annexed by the city in 1889. Hampden mills produced flour, sail cloths made of cotton duck, tires (or if you’re from Baltimore, tarrs), fishing nets, ice cream cones, envelopes, train parts, weapons, the columns for the U.S. Capitol Building, raincoats, Stieff silver, carved rock, and I’m sure other things that came and went without being recorded.  The mill workers flocked to Hampden from Appalachia country of Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia and settled in these very homes. This migration is what made Hampden a white working class neighborhood and the flight of the mills is likely what then transformed it into something of a white ghetto by the 1970s. This unverified quote from Wikipedia will cause a collective “Ohhhh” from my Hampdenite friends: “During the 1970s and 1980s, many residents felt the area endured a long-term economic downturn. During this period, crime and drug usage increased along with changes in the dynamic of social life in Hampden. Like other areas of Baltimore, school dropout rates increased along with rising illiteracy rates while illegal drugs and prostitution became prevalent.” Ohhhh! Right? This makes a lot of things we see today make total sense. Such as the drug dealers I’ve seen at Chestnut and 38th in which a group of four or five men and women with a baby in a stroller boldly chat about their takes for the day. Or the cars that pull up under a tree, make an exchange through the window, and then drive anonymously into the Hampden night. Or when I am running on a nearby path, Stony Run, calling myself Katniss, and thinking what I always think: How does this exist in the middle of Baltimore City? I’m brought back to reality when I smell weed or see two people huddled over some likely sinister project under the bridge. Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, yes I can outrun them and they almost always avoid all contact, even eye.

Stony Run

Stony Run where I am Katniss. This is a five-mile path that connects Gilman School with Remington with just a few interruptions. An amazing urban gem.

So yes, there are certainly sad remnants of the mills’ and the neighborhood’s repurposing. One which Chas bemoans is that Griffith’s Tavern is up for sale. It’s one of a dwindling handful of old dives still open in Hampden. And maybe only one of two where I’d feel safe hanging out. Griffith’s is quintessential old Hampden with two beers on tap: Yueng Ling and Natty Boh. The bathroom is terrifying. But, it’s sad to see it go because you can almost guarantee whatever button-down-shirt-brown-belt-tucked-in-sockless-loafer-wearing-normie buys it will flip it and add an e on the end of a word that requires no e on the end. Puke.

Griffith's

Take a good, long look because its days are surely numbered.

Also to my earlier point, it’s not that I wouldn’t feel safe at a place the likes of the Bloody Bucket or Dimitri’s, it’s just that…well, yea, I guess I wouldn’t feel safe. The first time I went to Dimitri’s a woman came in real close to Lauren and me and said, “I’m gonna go smoke,” and pointed to her boyfriend who looked like a shorter, more overweight version of Santa wearing a leather vest. “If any woman tries to talk to him, come get me” and then something about fighting or cutting a bitch. I don’t think we responded. What does one say? “Okay! I got your back!”

There’s a house on the corner across the alley from me that screams old world Hampden. People cycle in and out, cats wander, and up until a few months ago, a very old woman held down the back porch in all elements. The front plaster is sinking into the soil and the backyard looks like the one remaining section of the century-old landfill. I learned from a neighbor that her grandkids have been selling drugs out of the house. Duh. Recently, they put Grandma in a nursing home and a developer bought her house. And here we go around again. It’s a tug between appreciating authenticity and wanting to ward off drug activity in your neighborhood. Those grandkids need mentors.

Trash Yard

Depending on the renovation job, I’m guessing they’ll start around $350k, money her grandkids would probably only dream of, but sitting on a gold mine that you can’t turn into one yourself is nearly useless. Maybe the developer should ask for $50k more and start a scholarship fund for them–I’ll look into it.

There are also the old parts of Hampden that make you smack your own forehead. These old photos of the Improved Order of the Red Men found here speak for themselves. Eeps.

Hampden Red MenImproved Order of TecumsehRed Men in Parade

Weird.

My favorite of Hampden’s traits is weirdness. And don’t worry I will be less verbose than I was for “old.” My favorite example of Hampden’s personality was on another jog through Stony Run. After passing an entire living room set perfectly arranged in Wyman Park and thinking, “God, Hampden is weird” I headed south toward Remington and happened to look up. There in the tree: a wheelchair. 30 feet in the air. No reason. No explanation. No writhing person at the bottom. Guess I’ll never know…

Wheelchair1wheelchair2

Then there’s the entire existence of Lou Catelli, real name Will Bauer. He’s a Hampden mainstay (though rumor has it he doesn’t live here). He attracts businesses to Hampden and does a pretty damn good job. If you’re interested in entering a rabbit hole, google him. Year-round, he wears shorts, tee shirts, and a man bun complete with chopsticks. I once walked by the Food Market, a nice restaurant, and there was Catelli shorts, bun, and all, having dinner with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake.

Catelli also rides an adult tricycle, which oddly enough was stolen from The Avenue two weeks ago, a crime completely caught on tape by the Hampden Family Center security camera. The crime is also documented all over Baltimore news sources. Have you seen it?

Catelli on Trike

Catelli wearing more clothes than usual, to celebrate Christmas, and the portion of the Hampden Christmas Parade (also called Mayor’s Christmas Parade) which features dozens of people dressed up as Star Wars characters.

BREAKING NEWS! The trike has been returned. Thanks for your email, Tighe! http://www.baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/the-mayor-of-hampden-gets-his-stolen-tricycle-back/

More evidence of Hampden’s unique character is its celebration of Christmas. I whine each year as suburbanites consume our parking places but living four blocks north of this tourist attraction is actually pretty cool. Hampdenites also use it as collateral to get the police to respond to crime in the area i.e. “We won’t have 34th Street Lights this year unless we get more cops on Hampden streets.” It’s been lighting up for decades and I think we all hope it continues for decades more.

34th Street 2

34th Street

A photo from the annual Eby Family Cousins’ Christmas Party–a walk to 34th Street.

Each year at Hampden’s Hampdenfest in September is the exciting Toilet Race whose website boasts: “Toilet Races combine the do-it-yourself ingenuity of soapbox races with toilets, gravity, and crowds of your favorite neighbors.” Information on enrollment in this year’s Toilet Race can be found here.

 

I know Portland and Austin have billboards and tee shirts encouraging people to “Keep Portland Weird” and “Keep Austin Weird.” I just don’t think we even need that sort of propaganda. Weird just happens organically here.

If you don’t believe me, ask John Waters. You can easily run into him in Hampden at the Giant deli counter, or Rocket to Venus, or outside of the back pain place on Hickory. Whatever you do though, do not watch Pink Flamingos.

JOhn Waters

I think he’s like Hampden’s Spirit Human. Hampden does nothing half-assed.

Fancy.

ICON

THE ICON. #eyeroll

When Chas and I bought our house, we lived across from a vacant parking lot and a row of strong-smelling evergreens. I loved the lot because kids rode their bikes in circles around it every afternoon. It felt very Mayberry and happily simple. Within 4 months, the trees were ripped out and the lot was pebbles. Bozzuto bought the land to turn into multi-use space and apartments. When Bozzuto took on this project, he/they knew what he/they were doing. Taking the old Rotunda, a 1920s gem and adding posh and what passes for classy in 2015, the site became THE ICON. Excuse me while I puke.

We lived through two years of early morning Saturday construction, two years of back-up-beeping, construction workers stalking parking spots, and noise, just constant noise. I had to replace four tires because I ran over nails left by the construction, not to mention the dozens of screws, nails, and trash I picked up and PUT IN A DAMN TRASHCAN, you know, like a human does.

Screws and Nails

This is a photo I sent to Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. I collected this stack in about 4 minutes in less than a full city block. Thanks, Bozzuto!

For these years our front door view was a progression from hideous and into anywhere-USA-apartments. Now that they’re here, I hate them a little less. The noise is over. The people are always walking around which helps with the drug deals. But, man it’s fancy. The birth of THE ICON feels like the death of a piece of Hampden. It doesn’t match with the Red Men–thank god. But it also doesn’t go with the women in muumuus and the tall updos. It’s not a rusty car in a backyard. It’s not Baltimore’s own formstone or beer bellies at Griffith’s. It’s not adult tricycles or life-sized cow statues in the front yard. It’s the antithesis of a John Waters’ freak show. And when the red velvet seats of the old Rotunda movie theatre were ripped up to make way for the CineBistro (gag me with a spoon), Satan was probably smiling.

Cow at Linda's

I hate to admit I love Mom’s Organic Market because I wanted to hate it–but they have free coffee all the time! I am a member of the yoga studio at THE ICON–and I am doing their yoga teacher training. The new nail salon gives a free three minute massage with any service! And the Starbucks opens at 5:30, unlike the other nine independent coffee shops in Hampden which don’t unlock until 7:00 or even 8 a.m.! Yes, I drink the Kool Aid, but at least I feel bad about it. It’s a total fancy monstrosity and it’s not weird or old. But here we are. So when the juice bar opens up, we will roll our eyes. When the line for the Charmery spans seven storefronts, we will grumble. When Griffith’s finally goes to its dive bar grave the the Bulojee Cafe Grille and Pube` (haha) opens up, Chas may cry. But these are the tradeoffs for living in a cool place–fancy people like it too–and sometimes, non-fancy people start to do fancy things. Oops.

When House of Cards filmed in Hampden for season 4, I was shocked to see our own The Avenue depicted as small town Texas. Somehow it worked, though, and Hampden showed her best face. In another episode, Rocket to Venus is depicted as a D.C. bar (slightly insulting). This little hood looks as good on screen as it does in person.

House of Cards Hampden

Scene from House of Cards. Formerly, Avenue Antiques, presently Five and Dime Ale House, was depicted as a Texas campaign office.

Hampden is Cute

Storefronts on The Avenue.

Hampden is just so picturesque. I tell people it’s like living in a resort town. I can walk two blocks away and have the experience of being on vacation. And then I snap back to reality because we’ve run into our neighbors in a bar where Sonny is playing the bagpipes and we all decide to share a drink. I again realize I’m in Hampden, Baltimore and what a cool place this is.

I live in a small town within a major (albeit small major) city. I am in an on-and-off book club with just women from my immediate block. I can text neighbors to get someone to help Chas jump his car and get three responses within five minutes. My friends two doors down are volunteering at my school, just because. I don’t really count the apartment people but most of my block I can call friends. I see the same characters every Saturday and watch them live, and maybe they’re watching me live too. There’s the guy with the climbing shoes, the talkative Baltimore City judge at Common Ground, the woman with the limp who’s unstoppable, the redhead boys (pretty sure they’re drug dealers), the man with the white Samoyed, the lady whose Golden Retriever Charlie sits down every 8 steps, the little white dog and her extremely shy owner who wears knit gloves year-round, vest-wearing, arm-swinging speed walker, the crunchy kids with leather jacket dad, and so on.

The juxtaposition of the old world, by Baltimore standards, and gentrification is by no means unique. But Hampden is unique. And I’m so fortunate to live here.

dont-forget.jpg

If I could give advice to Hampden, it’d be the beginning of this quote that Steph just gave me “Don’t forget where you came from.”

Hampden Old

Old Hampden

These are hardly solutions to the many horrors that gentrification creates but here are my ideas (only some I have implemented) to help the grandkids of “the baddest kids” and the area where they and I live. Please check some out yourself, even if you don’t live here.

  • Trash ministry (coined by Nancy Papa Doran)–picking up trash in the neighborhood, others see you, and see that people do care.
  • Volunteer at the Hampden Family Center or look at the in-kind donation wish list.
  • Attend Hampden Community Council meetings–always extremely entertaining.
  • Check out Thread and/or get others to.
  • See if Reading Partners operates at Hampden Elementary and see if I can fit it into my new schedule next year.
  • Promote Big Brothers Big Sisters in Hampden, possibly via Chas if he joins the HCC Board.
  • Join the HCC Board.
  • Actually attend Get Trashed Tuesday.
  • Email Mary Pat Clarke whenever I have an issue. #MPC
  • Smile at people on the streets of Hampden, even the apartment people.

 

My sources include but are not necessarily limited to:

  1. Kevin from across the alley.
  2. Pam, Linda, Kristin, Delia, and other neighbors on my block.
  3. Wikipedia (linked above)
  4. https://baltimoreheritage.org/project/explore-hampden-history/#.WUOrc7wrJmA (linked above)
  5. http://hampdenmerchants.com/hampden-history/
  6. https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/NR_PDFs/NR-1397.pdf
  7. http://www.baltimoreorless.com/ (linked above)
  8. http://baltimorefuture.blogspot.com/2008/08/hampdena-transformation-on-its-own.html
  9. http://hampdenfest.blogspot.com/p/toilet-race-entry-form-2012.html (linked above)
  10. http://honfest.net/hampden-history/
  11. https://www.christmasstreet.com/ (linked above)

A Sense of Place

Every summer from when I was nothing years old onward, the beginning of August was marked by a long drive to Michigan. These drives are carved into my heart. We sang along to the records my dad had recorded to cassettes and then to CDs. We still lovingly call these “The Michigan Tapes” and the songs they contained “The Michigan Songs.” Somewhere between I-70 in Maryland, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nothingness of Ohio, and the celebrated crossover onto Michigan’s roads, “Taxi” by Harry Chapin would come on. And the Camry, the first Honda Odyssey, or the second Honda Odyssey, would explode like a stage at a concert. Through the too many miles and the too little smiles, I still remember you…

I may not always have appreciated these drives because well, they weren’t short. But I think somewhere on those drives, I became a contemplator. There are not many circumstances as effective as turning one into a contemplative kid as nothing but the back seat for 10 straight hours. Also, I wasn’t, I don’t think, a normal kid–if you’ve met my parents, surely you understand why (in all good ways). One of my favorite pastimes was to copy information about the presidents into my spiral notebook. I found this notebook not too long ago. Each president has his own page and his details are carefully plagiarized, down to the names of his children–even the ones that died of tuberculosis.

So on these drives, I looked out the window and thought about the places we whirred past. Who had been there before? Who owned this land? Had anyone stood in that very spot before? Or that one? Or that one? Or this one? Imagining a little boy in his 19th-century overalls and funny hat, I liked to think about the last person to have appreciated a very spot. And now it was my turn. And somehow we were connected. I’ve always loved the past, even the past I don’t know. I just make it up. And the places that the past occupied–they are the relics we have left.

Michigan Drive with Chas

Now, even Chas knows the experience of a Michigan drive.

It was on one of these drives that I wrote the following poem about my Grandpa Doran (I actually read it at his funeral). To me, he is Michigan. But only the good things about it, and there are plenty. There’s something about those drives that just lulls a Doran into contemplation.

“Michigan Seems Like a Dream to Me Now”

He’s sitting in the front passenger seat,

The window’s down just enough

And my dad has his arm out the window,

Craving a cigarette.

 

As Grandpa looks to the right,

He turns around slightly

So he’s got one stern eye on me.

He says he’s been here before

Was here with someone with some name

A name like “Bill Donnelly”

One of those names

And you can picture a man wearing a thin tie

And a prominent belt

And his shoes are shiny…

Because he’s “Bill Donnelly”

They were on a trip

And the way I can’t remember the name

I can’t remember the year either

But with Grandpa,

I feel like all years end in ‘9.’

Probably 1959.

I can just hear him saying NINE

NINE

NINE

In his Michigan accent

From his lips,

The most important number there is.

 

It’s bearably hot in the van

There’s a good book in my lap

Through the large, tinted window

I’m scrolling through fast food places with my sleepy eyes

And listening to Grandpa tell his story

And I’m wishing for him that it were 1959

And Bill was here

with his tie

and belt

and shiny shoes

Because then Grandpa wouldn’t have multiple doctors

Or diagnoses

Or things to think about other than

Where to eat

And I just want 1959.

Grandpa Doran

Grandpa Doran and baby Amandy beside a lake in Michigan in 1988.

Among my favorite things to read about and to teach about is setting. In grad school they called it “sense of place.” I love reading about a place and feeling catapulted there by imagery and painterly lines, even if I never want to be there in the first place. One of my favorite writers is Rick Bragg. He writes about growing up poor in Alabama–some state and state I’d not want to be. His descriptions of setting make me want to weep. Maybe someday the pages of his books will simply absorb into my fingers and through my veins and into my brain and I’ll be able to write like him.

Bragg writes of Alabama, “This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven.” And “Momma kept a garden which sounds romantic to people who have never held a hoe.” And, “I grew up in the time when a young man in a baggy suit and slicked-down hair stood spraddle-legged in the crossroads of history and talked hot and mean about the colored, giving my poor and desperate people a reason to feel superior to somebody, to anybody. I know that even as the words of George Wallace rang through my Alabama, the black family who lived down the dirt road from our house sent fresh-picked corn and other food to the poor white lady and her three sons, because they knew their daddy had run off, because hungry does not have a color.” Wow.

Read All Over But the Shoutin’ or The Prince of Frogtown and let’s talk afterward.

There’s something about a great description of a place that tells so, so much more. The building in which I work was built in 1953 to educate thousands of baby boomers. Now it has enough space for two small schools and still has dozens (I’m guessing but I haven’t been able to fully explore, because I am scared to go alone) of unused classrooms.

I recently had my kids write about the auditorium in our school. I set them up with the history of the building and that the school opened as all white. We looked at the few photos I could find online and talked about a time they or I could barely imagine. Then we walked up to the auditorium and through those they-don’t-make-them-like-this-anymore-doors. I let them run amuck down the ramped aisles. They stomped on the stage just to hear themselves exist. They ran through the rows past so many chairs fallen victim to sharpies and sharp objects. They tugged at blood red curtains that may have been sewn by Betsy Ross. Backstage they found an old soundboard and decorations from stage sets of the past. It’s a teacher’s and a writer’s gold mine but I just feel sad knowing that people cared for this place once. My school has brought some life back into the auditorium with fashion and poetry and talent and orange bucket drums but it’s hard to erase decades of neglect or the wrong kind of attention. Each performance in my mind has a tiny shadow cast over it by the fact that we’re in a space that was once what my girls deserve. That auditorium has been cared for and not cared for by thousands of people since 1953 and what remains is evidence of that. A place tattooed by its temporary residents.

In one of my graduate courses I wrote a piece about Memorial Stadium. I grew up down the street from it. It’s Baltimore’s quintessential example of a place that has changed over time but is still referred to by what it used to be there. In my research for that piece I learned that our next door neighbor and my daycare mother, Ms. Mabel, had moved to Ednor Gardens in 1971. (Side note: Ms. Mabel died in 2016 and may she rest in peace.) Because the neighborhood was white and she was not, she had to have a “letter of recommendation” from a white person in order to be able to buy her house. The demographics have since completely reversed. Places change hands and change.

In my parents’ 1950s knotty pine basement there is an old bar. It’s where Aubrey and I used to play all kinds of games that were as above our heads as the height of the bar counter. Over the bar are stick-on letters welcoming some military person long gone. Still I like to imagine him coming home from some far away shore and seeing that his wife had decorated their basement bar for him. Did she balance on the counter to get the letters straight? Did she lose sleep over excitement that he’d see it when he came home? Did he come downstairs, see her handiwork, and they drank and ate and remembered why they fell in love? Did they know that one day the Dorans would use that bar for storage?

I hope in 100 years whoever lives in my parents’ house loves it like we do. In a way, it feels like 1536 is part of our family.

Aubs at storm door

Little Aubs at the old storm door.

When I drive through the depths of the East Side and Over West in Baltimore, I always get into a stare at stoplights. I look at roofless homes with trees growing through the windows. Still a marble stoop out front. Maybe I can see the staircase from the street, condemned and incomplete. I stare because I am picturing someone getting those keys a million years ago and thinking, “Wow. This is my home.” I imagine the care this house once had when someone swept and scrubbed those marble steps. When a tree growing through the window and past the absence of a roof seemed like only a nightmare or a scene from Jumanji. Yet so many Baltimore houses have this fate. But someone a few squatters and slumlords and redlines ago probably walked in that door, put down a briefcase, hung up a hat, and hugged a child saying, “How was school?” Those are the images I get lost in. What that place was once.

Baltimore Sun The Dark Room

This is from the Baltimore Sun’s online feature called The Dark Room. It’s a series about the neighborhood surrounding Pimlico Race Course. Patrick Smith, am I citing this correctly?      Photo Credit: (Kalani Gordon/The Baltimore Sun/August 2014)

A couple years ago we were going through my dad’s mom’s old photos and came across one of her standing in front of her childhood home. She had been a department store model and she looks like an angel, and now she is one. In the photo she’s dressed up and smiling, ready for whatever date won her affection. I imagine she probably got ready in that bedroom upstairs across the hardwoods from the bathroom. She’d sat at a vanity and smiled back at herself, thinking Yes, I’m ready. I got lost in that photo, as I often do when looking at pictures of her–she died well before I was born and still stuns me every time I see her face in those old photos. I pictured the inside of that house and the love and memories it contained.

Grandma Doran Gorgeous.PDF

Ann Doran. As she was.

I should have kept it at that.

But I couldn’t help myself. I googled the address and the street view came up to reveal a victim of Detroit’s plight. I had to know. And now my image of teenage Ann getting primped is altered slightly by the deterioration of her childhood home. However, despite my day dreamy mind, people are not their place.

doran-grandparents.jpg

My dad’s parents at the height of Detroit’s boom.

My Gram Mary Lou, the toughest little lady I know, grew up in Polish Canton in Baltimore. As opposed to my paternal grandmother’s home, hers is now highly prized real estate. It’s right off of Canton Square. We visited a few years ago and Aub, Mom, and I soaked in her intact knowledge of what was there, and there, and on that corner, and over there where that restaurant is now. I guess this is the better fate for a home you once loved. Still, I remind myself people are not their place.

Gram at Her House

Gram and my mom in front of Gram’s childhood home in Canton, Baltimore.

May you care for your little corner. May you leave no trace–unless it’s the good kind. May you leave each place you inhabit a little better than you found it. And may you think about those who were there first.

Shadows

Bonus Blog Post: Ms. Doran Month ? & Year 1.5

Bonus Reads Titled”Ms. Doran Month ?” & “Ms. Doran Year 1.5”

I decided to include these too because they’re also somewhat amusing.

“MS. DORAN MONTH ?” (It was the 5th month. Must’ve been too many to count.)

Emailed: May 26, 2010

(Positive Disclaimer: This is shorter than the last one. I heard I lost many readers after paragraph one.)

Well I think I have officially lost track of time. This is a good thing, I think, considering I previously was counting when I made it to one month as a teacher, two months as a teacher, and now…I think I am just a teacher.

March through May has been a giant blur of office referrals, the occasional hug, some true laughs, and many surprising yet encouraging words from co-workers. I am still belittled by being called “so little and cute” by my colleagues but I guess that’s better than “giant and ugly.” Every time I meet a parent there is a detectable one to two-second pause in which he or she realizes that I am not the child’s 7th-grade friend, I am the child’s Language Arts teacher. I’ve gotten really good at writing parent emails and if I’m feel especially grown-up on a particular day, I will sign it “Best, Amanda Doran.”

As for the office referrals, it really took me a couple of months to feel like I have enough power to write an after school detention and a few months to feel like I have the authority to write a referral. My power has arrived. My authority has arrived. I can throw a mean look as evil as that of the Wicked Witch of the West (and I guess you could call me that considering Pikesville’s location in Baltimore.).

I feel like I am finally able to grin and bear it when I hear comments such as, “Somebody has an attitude today. If Ms. Doran has her period, I don’t think she should take it out on us.” Yes….these are the things I must leave lingering in the air for if I address such a comment surely the child will know my wrath no matter what time of the month it happens to be.

One thing I need to keep reminding myself is that their minds are ALWAYS in the gutter and asking them to assemble into “threesomes” will only result in severe behavior management issues. I teach somewhere near 130 kids and I think most of the time I love 128 of them. The crazy hormones of a 12 or 13 year old are preposterous but these hormones make my days interesting and my paychecks well earned.  My favorite way of comforting myself is saying in head, “You have to rationalize with irrational beings.” This helps me know that I am the sane one….although I did have a kid in my homeroom scream, literally scream, to the class “I’m not the crazy one, she’s the crazy one! I am normalllllllllllll.” Right. He made that reallllllllly obvious by randomly belting this out when I asked him to spit out his gum.

I have learned some valuable things such as the fact that a good day with the kids is nearly ALWAYS followed by a terrible day with them. Exercise helps more than anything with sanity. Not all children like me to shorten their first names even if they lend themselves to shortening (I called Satchel “Satch” one day and I thought he was going to cry due to the ridicule). Lastly, I have learned that with enough confidence you can really make others at least think you know what you’re doing…and I think that if you have that confidence (fake, real, semi-genuine) somewhere along the way, you find that you actually DO know what you’re doing. Have I told you they’re giving me a student teacher in the Fall?

MS. DORAN YEAR 1.5

Emailed: June 29, 2012

I just high-fived a stranger sitting behind me because in my casual (nay, overt) eavesdropping I heard her say she works in a school and has a few weeks off. Trading in the typical school year commiseration, I’ve fallen into the steps of my fellow educators by co-celebrating the summer time. Those who teach summer school like to pipe in that it’s “only a few hours per day and only a month long.” I am reveling in these “few hours” and this “one lone month.”

And just minutes later as I stare out of this airplane window, gazing at the ground lying seven miles below my seat, I wish I could take back that high five. I should not value my job for the time I spend not doing it and I don’t want others to think that’s why I teach but even more importantly, I don’t want myself to think that’s why I teach. So as my eyes dance on land belonging to a state I cannot accurately identify, I’m actually thinking about how many students I’ve taught who have never seen a view from this high and even more sadly (to me) how many of them never will. Additionally, I am convinced that I can see the curve of the earth in the distance.

Last August I began my first full school year with my own room, my own students, my own afterschool clubs, and my own stress. Written English cannot express the difference between being thrust violently into the middle of the year (as a class of 29’s sixth homeroom teacher) and gracefully commencing at the beginning. I think to explain the ocean that lies between these two experiences I would need a long hailstorm on a mountaintop in Antarctica and a performance by professional ballet company.

Day one I came into my room to greet my homeroom with my nicely packaged lesson I had made for a “standard” class. As my questions remained lingering in mid-air, unanswered except with blank stares, I soon realized this lesson was not going to be easily portrayed with my new “normal” group. When a para-educator entered the room, I was downright confused. Was I teaching inclusion and not told? But would they really do that to someone? I already had the first two weeks mapped out…was I just supposed to start over and adjust for an inclusion class I was never told I was teaching? The answer to all of these questions was obviously a resounding, “Yes,” and a “times two!” It was one of those yeses that no one wants to admit so it’s never actually spoken out loud. “They” just expect you to understand. When the same para-educator entered my 4th period class as well, the shock had already worn off. I, without ever being told, had become an inclusion teacher. (Inclusion is a dumb PC term for a class that has some students with learning disabilities and some without who are usually “lower.”)

My para, Debbie, is one of the most fabulous people I have ever met. Had she not been there this year to support me, the members of my homeroom may have killed me not by poisoning me to emulate last year but just by being themselves and slowly chipping away at my excuse for a soul. Debbie became like a mother and a coach to me even though she probably doesn’t fully realize it. At the end of the year she wrote the principal a commendation form about me stating that she learned a lot from my class and how hard I worked for my kids. I’ve been meaning to get over to Target for a frame for this note because there’s really nothing like getting a compliment from someone you yourself constantly compliment. Anyway, Debbie should be a millionaire somewhere not making half of my salary as a para-educator. From what I’ve heard about some of the other para-educators at our school, Pikesville doesn’t even deserve her and I’m still not even sure I did.

The fantastic thing about my schedule was its diversity. By the end of the year, my homeroom contained 30 children, (no, I’m not rounding up; I did not have a single spare desk) 14 of which had an IEP: Individualized Education Plan, meaning they required some type of service for some type(s) of learning disability(ies). I’m almost certain that 14 in one classroom is illegal according to laws of special ed. 

Also, despite my end of the year request from my first schedule of “I’ll take anything but 2nd and 3rd periods as my planning mods!,” I was (of course) given 2nd and 3rd periods as my planning mods. This was explained to me as a mistake but I still firmly believe “they” do not want to give you everything you want…not even 50% of the time. If these types of wishes were granted, “they” might risk the general you becoming overzealous, content, and maybe not quite on your toes. Believe me, my calf muscles prove I spent those 10 months on my toes.  I followed that up with another inclusion class of lovelies, then a sweet but very annoying standard seventh grade class, one section of tear-your-hair-out chatty gifted and talented sixth graders, and one group of 24 angelic, gifted and talented sixth graders each donning a halo above his or her head. Only teachers can appreciate the value of having cherubs for the last period of the day when your own halo, if it was ever there, is long-gone and most children start to look like they’re sprouting two devil horns a-piece.

On top of my diverse schedule, I moderated the literary magazine, co-directed “High School Musical Jr.,” mentored an intern from Stevenson University (might I add she was 10 years my senior), was paid to travel to New Jersey to help write the Middle School Language Arts Praxis, and was observed four times as a not-yet-tenured teacher.

Around November, I thought my intestines might just fall out due to stress, lack of sound sleep, an abundance of scary work dreams, and my first very mean and completely unwarranted parent email. I soon considered all organs safely intact after a series of emails from my boss one afternoon. My principal wrote us cancelling data initiatives that were newly implemented by the middle school dictator…oh I totally meant, superintendent not dictator. This irrational, self-seeking, children-second coward had us implementing FOUR extra assignments every week to all of our students (in my case 145), grading each item, entering them into our gradebooks, and maintaining a spreadsheet to examine the data. We then had to write a few pages of BS about what the data indicated for each of our classes. Even just typing this and remembering it, I’m scowling at the overwhelming bureaucracy I endured.

“The Day the Data Died,” as I fondly call it in my head, was more joyous than Christmas or Hanukah (need to include that at Pikesville). Teachers were running through the halls, skipping, yelling, rejoicing! We could be ourselves again! We could keep our intestines! We could live again! While I still remember this day with a sincere grin, I’m told we “never know what’s coming next.” And this past year, I’ve learned just how much teachers are threatened into submission, that as a whole we can be easily made to look like villains, and that there are a handful that are threat-deserving villains. So falling into place with the rest of my liberal views, I do what I’m told and do it enthusiastically to abide by the laws the dingdong-loser teachers have forced people far too powerful to create.

What I’ve also taken away from this year or at least solidified something I learned in my waitressing days is that if you work hard, people really really do appreciate you. I gleefully received a slew of parent emails this year telling me things I never dreamed I’d hear. I have a drawer full of notes from students, parents, and colleagues telling me that I am appreciated. I have finally starting crying more for good reasons than bad. I don’t want to gloat. I just want to make it clear that I really do love my job. And I love it more for the time I am there than the time I am not there. In the words of Deonta H. whom I deeply miss as he was sent to juvenile hall in April, “Ms. Dorin is my favoritt teacher ‘cause she cute and you know how I feel, sweetheart. Love, Deonta #52.” It’s that type of repeatedly-abandoned, obstinate (he once went off on me calling me repeatedly an “n***** b*****), personality-of-a-see-saw-type of child who for some reason clicks with YOU that makes it worth getting up in the morning…just not during the summer months. Yes, I know how you feel, sweetheart. 

Then and Now

I just began my final (at least for now) month of being a real, live (usually breathing) middle school teacher. I thought this would be the right time to look back at what was going through my head and heart seven and a half years ago when I started this journey. In my new role, I will still have some responsibilities of a teacher and I don’t think I can ever shake some pieces of my teacher personality. Here to stay: a need for control, OCD, type-A, being completely amused by children, and an obsession with influence and wisdom impartation. 

Below you will find reflections called “MS. DORAN – MONTH 1” and “MS. DORAN – MONTH 2.” I emailed both of them to friends and family in 2010. Interspersed, now, are my current thoughts.

Because of my OCD and type-A tendencies, here’s a key:

  • Blue italics – MONTH 1
  • Green italics – MONTH 2
  • Gray and whatever the opposite of italics is – MONTH 91
you-is.jpg

My friend Melissa cross-stitched this for me when I left PMS. It hangs in my current classroom and is something I look at when needed.


MONTH 1

This may seem somewhat pompous but I just wanted to publicly reflect on my first month as a true adult. Please, humor me and read at least some of this. 

Not pompous. I think all teachers should keep some sort of diary to reflect and simply brain-dump. And, as I’ve said before, the more others who are not in the classroom know about what happens in the classroom, the better.

Tomorrow marks my one-month anniversary of serving the Baltimore County Public School System as a real, live, (usually breathing) middle school Language Arts teacher. In some ways, this has been the longest month of my life and I guess I am supposed to say, “in some ways, it has been the shortest…” but that would be lying. I feel like I have put more emotion, effort, thought, and sometimes tears into the past 30 days than I have put into most years.

The paragraph above makes me think that I had no idea. My dad said that for the first three months of 1st grade I cried every single day when he dropped me off at school. That eventually stopped, aside from the time I smacked myself in the eye with my snap bracelet just before computer class and Mrs. Vivirito told me I had to stop crying before I ruined the computer keyboard (of the 1993 indestructible Apple Mac). That said, the teacher-crying does not stop. I just cried on Friday in a scholar-led conference. I think I believed back then that the chorus everyone sang at me: “things get easier,” meant that I wouldn’t have to feel so much, work so much, or think so much. The truth is that all of these things increase with time. 

For those of you are teachers, have been teachers, or have truly known what it is like to be in a school as a non-student on a daily basis, you know that it is an absolutely insane existence. Being around children all day and furthermore, talking to them all day, is utterly strange. They are so magnificent and so horrifying simultaneously that one wonders how one could have ever been 12 years old.

All of this is still completely true. And one thing that makes being a teacher so strange, I’ve realized, is that you are on stage all day. It’s like a play with a 180-day run and each show is 8 hours long. 

I have definitely enjoyed having my own classes, creating my own activities, and not having to “run things by” someone else. The kids have no idea how old I am and I could not be more pleased about that. Some have guessed over 30 and I have heard a kid in the hallway exclaim to a friend, “Damn, she looks like she’s 2!” The last thing I need are 120 sets of parents (or single parents or grandparents or guardians – inclusive language!) calling the school and creating a stink about the 22 year old in charge of their children’s education.

When I was about 26, I finally started telling my students my age. I wish I hadn’t hidden it ever. I think I should have been proud to be 22 and to command a classroom. It wasn’t my age that made me powerful or weak, it was my me

teacher-appreciation.jpg

I still receive notes like this with some comment along the lines of “She’s nice to us even when we’re rude to her.”

 

I spent 3 weeks addressing a “child” named Gabby using the following phrase for Gabby and friends at the same table, “Gentlemen, please stop talking.” During week 3, Gabby raised Gabby’s hand and politely said, “Um Ms. Doran, I’m girl.” I, trying to play it off, replied, “What’s your point?” In any event, I certainly learned my own lesson about checking the class lists for gender before making any assumptions.

It’s probably best I work in an all-girls’ school now because the event above was not the last time this happened. Maybe 2 years later and about a month into that school year, I had a kid with a gender-neutral name and long, shiny locks. During roll I said, “Welp! K, she’s here,” to which K replied, “Uhhh Ms. Doran, I’m a boy.” Oopsies.

Yesterday, I decided that if I ever own a textbook company for middle schools, I will not include a page 69. My books will go from page 68 to page 70.  It is far too emotionally distressing to have 7th graders giggle over the direction, “Do page 69.”

Giggling about page 69 is nothing compared to the things I’ve heard over the past 7+ years. Check out the artwork I found on the inside cover of a book a few years ago.

Book Art

Maybe an anatomy lesson was in order.

 

Additionally, the new “word” to say is petty (it used to be ignorant). Apparently petty covers: mean, stupid, annoying, rude, dumb, lame, boring, and a slew of other negative adjectives. I am thinking of including it in their next vocabulary list to have them see what petty actually means…there’s a good chance they will describe this action as…petty.

See my previous post for updated teen slang. (Kids do still say petty–okay, Deb?)

I had my first observation this afternoon and it went very well. I know that I have a long journey ahead of me but, honestly, I am excited. I love having goals. I love interacting with humans (even if they are 12). I love being in a position that at least feels like it matters. I can’t say that there will be a week anytime soon in which I won’t have at least one solid sob session. And I certainly can’t guarantee that my 120 kids will all pass the Reading MSA but every single day and every single 45 minute block is an opportunity to eek these young minds forward.

Each subsequent observation sent me into a complete tizzy. During my second year teaching, I taught a lesson for an observation and walked in the principal’s office for the post-ob and immediately burst into tears. And the lesson had gone well. That emotional release was too much. Up until 3 months ago when I had my most recent observation, I still struggled with anxiety.

Please forgive me for being busier than usual, as Ms. Doran, I’ve certainly developed some severe OCD. Thanks for listening!

 

MONTH 2

Ciao!

Since I decided to publicly reflect on Month 1 of teaching, I figured why not steal away your attention for a few addition paragraphs at my 2 month anniversary? This might technically be cheating since I missed over a week of school for the Baltimore blizzards (and February is so short) but…being off for snow is just a part (a perk) of being a teacher! In those 12 days…I worked 3 days (EACH 2 hours late) and made normal 2-week pay. Don’t you just love paying taxes to employ people like me?

I will never forget the blizzard of 2010: Snowpacalypse. I remember being snowed in with my parents. I was such a newbie, I didn’t know how to best use a blizzard. By the blizzard of 2016, I was ready. I spent the first three days writing two weeks of lesson plans. I spent the subsequent two grading every single paper I had. Then, I spent much of the rest of the time ordering things on Amazon to use in my classroom: plastic ice cubes on which to write de-stressing strategies, fly swatters for vocabulary games, and a beach ball to use as a reading debrief. Aside from all of that, there was beer. In a year with no snow, things are so much less choppy and unsure. But, there’s no feeling like waking up on a March morning to glittery white on cherry blossoms and an unexpected day off. 

cherry blossom with snow

I wish I could tell you that the crying has stopped. I wish I could tell you that my students are angels. I really wish I could tell you that it’s so much easier now. Alas…and I don’t think I need to say more than, “alas.” But truthfully, somedays I do think these things are true. Today for example was utterly adorable and it made me feel good about my kids, and consequently, myself. We did a quick theatre lesson to prepare for the MSA (the only thing that seems to matter to anyone these days). My most learning-disabled, easily distracted, self-isolating, and at times, completely shunned child was welcomed by his class and felt good about himself. He took care of the stage directions in the Alfred Hitchcock play, “Sorry Wrong Number” which entails a series of onomatopoeia phone noises. It was AWESOME and for once, the kids were laughing with him instead of at him. GLORY! It’s so amazing to see a child that’s typically dark and dreary switch to bright and cheery (Did I mention we’re in a poetry unit?). I literally (and I probably shouldn’t admit this) nearly peed myself standing in front of 20-some 12 year olds and only partially because before I assigned him his role he was singing the “Cha Cha Slide.”
I remember this victory so vividly. It still warms my heart and makes me want to teach “Sorry Wrong Number” again. I can still recall his face and stature. I wonder how he’s doing. I wish I had a way to look up former students and just check in. I love when I bump into them. 
Back to the MSA…I am basically REQUIRED to say that acronym in every single class period. If I marry a man whose last name begins with “A,” I will do everything in my power to not name our child “Michael Steven” or “Megan Sarah.” The letters MSA haunt me in my sleep! I know most people have work dreams, it’s not abnormal. Mine include worries that kids “won’t meet the objectives” or will be confused by a worksheet I made…and in my dreaming head, these things will end the world! I guess they’re nightmares really. 
Now, we use the PARCC. I have learned that these tests come and go. What seems like it is the most important assessment ever will be old news and no better than used toilet paper in a few short years. As for above, I would never name a child after one of these putrid lifeless tests. In addition, there are many, many names that are off limits for my future offspring because of kids I’ve taught.
The steam-roll of education continues. And the stress probably isn’t worth it. What is worth it? Notes like the one below (and the accompanying brownie). The other day I ran into a male student from a few years ago and I couldn’t remember his name. I think I taught him twice. But then when I realized that I’ve taught over 1000 kids, I feel slightly better. I was able to tell him, “I remember that you were always a really sweet kid. Stay kind.” I think it’s more important to have that memory. 
Hallie Note

I remember her and her handwriting so vividly. There are so many kids I miss, even if I hardly ever think of them.

I’ve easily talked to 20 parents of children this week alone. This action yields one of the following reactions:
1. No change. 
2. Child sits in class, suddenly raises hand, and stops talking to neighbor. (Alleluia!) 
3. Child becomes radical schizophrenic, mumbling to self phrases such as, “I hate Ms. Doran,” “She’s such a bitch,” or, “Why doesn’t she ever shut up?”
Sadly, #3 is typically reality. 
The above is still true. It is so much more effective to work with a child directly. And I’ve finally learned how to do that. 
A few quick tallies from the month then I’ll leave you alone:
Tear sessions to 7th graders’ guidance counselor: 5
Planning periods wasted entirely by crying alone in office: 3
Documents already submitted the Baltimore County Public School System that they have “misplaced”: 6 (most impressive stat)
Number of days my entire homeroom has been on time (promised donuts when a total of 5 is reached): 2 
Current F-students out of 135: 40
Current F-students who care: 3
Reasons I actually think I am supposed to be a teacher, at least for now: 823748923
I hate that I called them F-students. Ick. I don’t do that anymore. It is funny that I thought it was impressive that BCPS had lost 6 documents–that’s nothing. I know any teacher reading this is laughing right now. 
Until next month…Keep encouraging me because I need it badly at least 3 of 5 days. Love to all!
On top of all of the emotional ripple effects, are the intellectual ripple effects. I now have fascinations with:
  • Maryland’s communities of enslaved people (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass)
  • Japanese internment camps (Farewell to Manzanar)
  • The French Revolution (A Tale of Two Cities)
  • The Dust Bowl (Out of the Dust)
  • The Battle of Gettysburg (Killer Angels)
  • The Holocaust (at least 5 books)
  • Conspiracy theories (Chasing Lincoln’s Killer)
  • Falcons (Frightful’s Mountain)
  • Rock-climbing mountain goats (YouTube this–you won’t regret it.)
  • Migrant workers (Esperanza Rising)
  • Dialects in English and in other languages, also urban gardens (Seedfolks)
  • This list could go on for a while. Being a teacher and pretending to love a topic, really makes you love a topic (Except for Dracula, I hated reading it, teaching it, and watching bits of the movie to try to show in class.)
classroom with Ben Carson

I found this perfectly arranged August classroom photo. What I would NEVER do again is hang a photo of Ben Carson in any educational setting outside of a medical campus. I had to teach Gifted Hands for three years. Ugh.

Manzanar

I flipped out when I came across this  monument in D.C. after teaching Farewell to Manzanar. 

 

It’s hard to picture my life, as a non-teacher. I think I will always force myself into teaching-like roles and maybe find my way back totally some day. I am sure on that final day during that final writing prompt and when I dismiss my class for the final time, I will cry. But probably no more than I did from that slap bracelet.