Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Saying Good Bye from Afar

It’s odd to me that I sit here writing about the death of my grandmother, Frances Carr. Or Fran as I called her well more than half of my life. You see my grandfather had that bad habit of finding things I said or did as funny, and with the absence of a poker face, when I called my grandmother “Fran” once as a joke, it stuck. And for as long as I’ve endearingly called my grandmother “Fran”, she’s been prepping me for this day. In all honesty, probably even longer.

Growing up we lived with my grandparents twice. Once when our home was being built when I was in the fourth grade, and once when we were in between homes when I was a teenager. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up. When she would fold towels she would call me in the room to teach me how to do so properly. If I protested even a little; “when I’m dead you’ll say my grandmother taught me the right way to do things!” Like so many women of the Greatest Generation, she stayed home to take care of her family, but that didn’t mean she lacked intelligence. When it came to numbers, and how to financially run a household, do your taxes, Fran was the one to go to. I can’t tell you how many times she tried to teach me how to budget, bought me a notebook for such a scenario, and until I was married, she handled my taxes. It was futile to explain to her that my brain sees numbers as a foreign language, she didn’t want to hear it-I could do it. (One of the few things she was wrong about in life-I still see numbers and have mild meltdowns!) 

She would frequently “inventory”, for lack of a better word the items in her house, “don’t put this in a yard sale” or “I bought this when your Grandfather came home from the war” and of course her jewelry; “This goes to Lenore, this one to Melanie, this one to you.” And God forbid if I tried to get out of this morbid conversation. She would tell me I need to know.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer over twenty years ago, she didn’t want me to know when she was having surgery as I had a trip planned to NYC. She wanted me to carry on with what I had planned. After her mastectomy she got the biggest kick out of reminding us that she had “a boob” which is what she called the prosthesis she would use.

When I moved out of the house, she and my grandfather sent supplies on an almost weekly basis. When my car was broken and I had moved home and had classes to get to, they would drive me to class-both campuses were across the state from one another, but they didn't care.

When my son was born and I found myself recovering from a C-Section, it was Fran who came over every day to make sure I ate, could get up and down the stairs, and to offer company because it was apparent I was in way over my head as a new mom!

As a college graduate, even though I was in my thirties and not a traditional student, Fran attended the very long ceremony to witness me cross that stage. She couldn’t wait for me to find a job as a teacher.  And this morning, when I opened Facebook, it was of course the first post that jumped out at me as a featured memory on "see your memories."

Fran has been with me for all the milestones of my life, and even the days that on the surface didn’t appear to have anything special attached to them. Those "regular" days of course had the love and admiration of my grandmother attached to them.  

Today, I won’t be there today to help say ‘goodbye’ to her. I’m trying to ensure this isn’t something I dwell on as I’ll always regret as this isn’t my choice.  As I have missed many milestones these last few years due to matters outside of my control, I'm going to do my best to not dwell on that recent past, but rather the memories I was able to have until that time.  I’ll spend the day doing what I know she would tell me to do; I’ll teach my classes, I’ll carry on. At the time of her service this morning, I’ll say a prayer.  I'll remember the good times, I have a lifetime of those to choose from.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pay The Artists

I wrote this over the summer.  Sitting at home and seeing the one way we're connecting during this time of social distancing is through art; be it movies, shows, free concerts on YouTube, or quick jokes from comedians, I couldn't help but want to revisit it. 

Recently I came across something that made my blood boil. No, nothing to do with politics nothing to do about the state of education, but it did have to do art. It was a picture of a couple  holding art they bought from a local fair. But wait a minute Shannon, supporting local artists is a good thing!  The caption for this tone deaf photograph was along the lines of “ Us: We need to save money.  Also us: So glad we got this down $50 from the asking price!”

If you want to see me go zero to sixty in 3.2 seconds it’s watching the flagrant display of economic privilege online.  (And before you roll your eyes and say I can’t say that because I don't know them, this particular couple has not been shy in other posts about what they do for a living, and one half of that couple has a public salary, I can throw around the P word when it comes to their wallet.)  This post got me, and here’s why.  Apparently it’s okay for this person to talk down someone’s self-worth.  Because that’s what an asking price for a piece of art is.  An artist of any medium, whether it be theater or painting, writing or music.  The prices assigned to art by an artist helps them to create again. 

Look, I am all about a bargain. I shop at Target, hit up Dollar Tree like it’s a hobby for classroom supplies, and my neck cranes when I drive by a yard sale. And I love looking at original art. It never crossed my mind to merge my bargain lot inside with the side of me that loves art.  

When you are looking at a piece of art you do not see the un- billable hours it took to create.  You do not see the student loan debt, the trips to the local supply store to buy supplies, the check the artist has to hand in order to sell their art at most fairs. You do not see that they spend their hours upon hours hoping someone appreciates the work enough to buy it and again there is no hourly wage for sitting out in the sun trying to sell your art.

Now I am sure people will argue that I do not see how badly that couple wanted to painting. I do not see their bills. (I also didn't see the name of the artist because they didn't even have the decency to share the artist's name.)  And yeah that’s true. I don’t see those things. I did see a self-proclaimed power couple holding a painting someone lovingly made. I did see the privilege they had over that artist. The privilege that maybe many people feel they have over an artist; that they are entitled to pay what they feel is an all right asking price for art they did not create. Let me say this loud enough for the people in the back; Art you do not create is not your right to bargain as if you’re sitting in someone’s driveway haggling over the price of a 20 year old tennis racket. Now of course it is our right as Americans to be able to express ourselves with art. It is our right as Americans to be able to attend art. To appreciate art. But that right does not extend itself over the creation of someone’s art itself. It is not our right to own art you did not create. I've never seen someone haggle the sales associate at Dick's over a Marchand jersey, or employees at Panera over their pick-two lunch.  So why is it okay to do this to an artist?  For a society that claims to support small businesses, why don't we extend that same courtesy to our local artists?  Our painters, sculptors, actors, musicians.  How many times have you as an artist been asked to give something for free "for the exposure?" It is a privilege when an artist shares their art with the world. It is an honor.  So when you are out this year at the Providence flea or any other of the pop-up shops don’t be a doofus. There is so much that goes into creating a piece of art. And if you think it is overpriced maybe you don’t value it as much as you think you can. If you think it is overpriced and you can do a better job then pick up a paintbrush. Put your money where your mouth is.

And for God's sake please credit the artist on social media.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Day After My 20th High School Reunion

So if you’re an avid reader of my blog you (well are most likely my mother-in-law)
and know that I recently had my 20th high school reunion.  When I told people that I didn’t go to my high school that I’d be attending my reunion, for the most part I received the same response; “Ew! Why would you do that?”  “I’ve never been to one” “Isn’t that what Facebook is for?”
And now, with the reunion behind me, I can’t help but wonder why more people don’t attend their own reunions.

Maybe it’s because we had a small school, our graduating class was about 100 people.  Although to be fair, while in the midst of it I didn't imagine I would be a "reunion person". I remember graduating and telling my roommate that I was never going back.  (Yes, rebel that I was I had a roommate for the last month of school as the second I turned 18, I flew the nest!)  In fact I didn’t even go to the BIG party because I had rent to pay, and a job to get to in he morning. And to be honest I never felt popular in high school, in fact I felt the absolute opposite, and remember at times counting the days until I was free from that "sleepy little town".

Fast forward ten years and I popped into my ten year reunion because I felt that it was the thing to do.  And in the decade between that I went to various pop up reunion nights, if someone was coming in town I’d meet up, I’d chat with people on Facebook.
And let’s not forget our town’s yearly art festival.  It’s as if we had a reunion every year.
So why go to the twenty?

There is something to be said about the people you went to battle with.  Yes, I’m being a bit hyperbolic, because we didn’t literally go into battle (although some of my classmates did answer that call) but we were all in that building at the same time where we wanted to do something more than anything; find ourselves.  We were the sporty kids, the musically inclined kids, the techies, the dramatic kids, but at the end of it, we were all just kids trying to find our way.  And find it we did...eventually. Beyond that we found a bond with one another.

Maybe it’s because we are that forgotten generation, that new termed “Xennials”- you know that microgeneration after X, but before millennials.  We started with the Dewey Decimal system, and eased right into ebooks.  We envied the Zack Morris phone, yet today we use the iPhone 7. We were the last generation to go all through high school passing notes, who learned the internet through dial up to gobble it up as broadband; the last generation to go to school without stories of school shootings, cyber-bullying; the nightmares that keep us awake now as adults. Compared to today's kids, our generation was idyllic. Or maybe it’s because we came from that “sleepy little town”.  But when we got together it wasn’t what my nightmares said it would be; you know the nightmares-the stares, no one to talk to...feeling awkward.  It was as if two decades hadn’t gone by; the tables filled with the lunch cliques were replaced with pub tables, but with integration.  as we ate, chatted about our families, gave advice, talked about our careers, our shared past and collective memories.  The teachers we loved, even the ones we didn’t really love in the midst of it all.
There’s a bond there that is difficult to describe.  A bond where any of the teen angst from the past doesn’t matter.  A bond where people who weren’t there, don’t get it.  And you would think more people would have had this experience.  I wish I knew why they didn’t, and I’m sorry for them.  For they are missing out on something exceptional.

So my fellow Xenials let's do this again… but why wait five years-let's make it two years- when the majority of us will be turning 40.  We redefined 30, we redefined our own generation, we redefined reunions so why not redefine 40?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

On the Eve of my 20th Reunion

Well it isn’t the eve of my 20th anniversary...but it’s this month.  And I know that some of these thoughts will be running through my head on the eve of my reunion. And sometimes when thoughts run through my head, I have to write them down. Call it an occupational hazard.

It’s been twenty years since I graduated high school.

Ten years since our last reunion...which at the last minute I decided to attend despite the yuckiness I was feeling due to being pregnant.  After all the pregnancy was a perfect excuse for my weight gain.  In 1997 when I graduated high school, I barely hit 3 digits on a scale.  For some reason in my mind I thought that I would look like that forever.

Insert reality check here.

A year ago when I started to hear that we’d have a reunion, I gave myself a goal to lose some weight.  I can do that!  I’m an overachiever.  Apparently I’m an overachiever in everything else but weight loss.  In fact, I’ve never weighed so much in my life before, I now laugh at how nervous I was ten years ago.  For a few moments I toyed with the idea of not going.  

And then I smacked myself in the head.  Sure, I’ve gained a lot of weight in the last ten years, but when I began to think about it, I gained so much more.

I became a mom, and learned how to change a diaper in the same weekend. I was never a "baby" person, and the idea of taking care of one was as foreign as Mars to me. In fact, my son was two days old before I learned how to change his diaper.

I gained unconditional love for this little guy, patience, and the ability to say "I have no idea what I'm doing!"

In ten years I went back to school not once, not twice, but four times.  Yeah, you read that right.  Four times.  This chick who didn’t apply herself twenty years ago, woke up.  The first time I was 8 months pregnant, and had to take a Composition course.  So yes, while most new moms were enjoying being new moms, I was cranking out an essay when I returned home from the hospital.
Then I went back for my teaching MA.

I gained knowledge, confidence, a new career.

I worked in a daycare...for seven of those ten years.  I ran music classes, drama classes, assisted some of the greatest teachers I’ve ever met.  I worked with and became friends with some great ladies.  I met families that “took me into” their village.

I gained love, friendship, and the title Miss Shannon.

I attended countless graduations watching students move on to the next phase, sometimes Kindergarten, sometimes high school, sometimes college or the work force.

I gained respect for multitudes of students.

We sold our house, bought a boat, and began to travel more.

I gained the feeling of not being tied down, and adventure.

I made new friends, reconnected with old friends, even lost a friend or tow.

I gained the lesson that life is short, don't muck it up with silly squabbles.

I wrote two books, five and a half plays (still working on that half!), co-wrote three short films, and became a published author in an anthology, and local publications.

I gained the feeling of accomplishment.

I directed more plays than I can count, and met some of the most amazing people in our little state.

I gained a theatre family.

I buried my father.

I gained an appreciation for life, a need to live it to its fullest.

So instead of focusing on the extra pounds, I know I should focus on that list.  And instead of being embarrassed by the extra pounds, I should remember where they came from.

Late night snacks where my husband and I can actually veg out a bit and laugh at the same stupid movie.
Every bucket of popcorn shared with my son at the movies.
Family dinners, birthday parties, and impromptu ice cream nights.
Times out with my girlfriends, pitchers of Sangria, margaritas, and of course Taco Tuesday.
My inability to say “no” to the Pastry Arts students.  How do you deny a chocolate chip cookie a student makes you just because they know you love chocolate?
And stress.  Lots of stress.  The year I ran PARCC for my school, studying, family tragedy.  (Yeah, I’m the type of person to start rolling out breakfast for the Hospice nurses the morning my Dad passed.)

It all makes up parts of who I am. So on the eve of my 20th reunion when I am contemplating not going because I have nothing to wear than makes me look like the Shannon of 20 years ago, I'm going to take a deep breath and remember I'm not 1997 Shannon. I'm Shannon 2.0

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I am a Public School Teacher

I am a public school teacher.  I teach ELA in the capital city, where the busy life of a city blows by my classroom window.  Where we read works by William Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Sherman Alexie, Arthur Miller, and Mark Twain.  Where we write the stories of tomorrow, and the essays of today.

I am a public school teacher.  My day begins an hour before my students so I can make copies, plug in laptops, meet with students, work on grading.  My day ends after after school activities I run, or tutoring, or cleaning my room, or even the occasional time where I zone out and get a moment to breathe.

I am a public school teacher.  My students are referred to as “my kids”, because they are more than just my students, and I care about more than just their ELA grade.

I am a public school teacher.  I am blessed to work with our future; the doctors, performers, managers, librarians, nurses, teachers, leaders of tomorrow.  

I am a public school teacher and I do it for the outcome.  

I am a public school teacher and I love every minute of my day from the light bulb moments, to the occasional tantrum.

I am a public school teacher, and I don’t say “I have to go to work tomorrow” I say “I’m going to school.”  

I am a public school teacher, and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.  It is a calling, not a job, not a passing fancy.

I am a public school teacher and I am maligned in the press, and now in the government.

I am a public school teacher, and I pledge to fight.  For my kids, my son, for your children, for our future.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Keep Calm and Head to an English Class

Well social media has been a blast lately am I right?  From the overused Minion memes, (that quite frankly are just weird), to the comments section where on any given day you can find an expletive laden, misspelled, insulting, all in caps “rebuttal” to an article, one thing has become quite apparent to me.  Everyone needs to calm down and take a really great high school English class.  Why?  Glad you asked dear reader, read on!

I’ve been teased for a few years over my insistence that grammar needs to be correct, even when on Facebook.  Which is fine, I don’t mind being called the Grammar Snob.  However recently someone who loves me said that they were afraid I was looking elitist regarding my grammar.*  (Specifically when I back up a friend on Facebook, and then someone who can barely spell or capitalize goes on the attack.  I’ll admit I go for the jugular first-if you can’t be bothered with capitalization and you’re busy attacking anyone who has a different opinion that you, I will pick on your lack of capitalization.)  And for a split second I was worried.  Was I being a jerk?  Should I not care that much about grammar? And then I smacked myself.  Of course I should care!  Writing is permanent.  Sure, you can delete something, but when you take the time to write something, there’s a sense of importance, urgency even.  (And yes this is also true for social media!)  Why is it elitist when we insist on not only doing things correctly, but when we value people who are smart?  In school we want to sound smart, so why does that change when we leave the classroom?  Shouldn’t we try to act smart outside of the classroom?

Why else should we turn to ELA classes?  For accountable talk stems.  What?  I’ll explain.  Lately I’ve been using these great little stems in class for my more spirited classes; the students who will go to bat about Amir’s choices in The Kite Runner, or the students that can’t understand why Penelope’s dad is such a jerk in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.  (And yes, there are students out there that are this passionate about literature!)  Everyone wanted their voice heard, and sometimes it would get a little heated.  So I started handing out stems, and displaying stems.  “I disagree because…” “I understand…” “So what __________ is saying is …”
At first I was afraid that my students would sound too wooden.  However, it has given us mature, vibrant, and diverse discussions.  Discussions where all ideas are shared, and where everyone feels they have value to add to the conversation.  We need this outside the classroom.  We need this in social media.  Lately all we hear is how protesters are whiny, and locally we keep hearing such awful things about children that I won’t even repeat what is being said about them.  Wouldn’t it be great if social media platforms had accountable talk stems pre-loaded in the comments section?  Maybe as adults we could learn to speak as respectfully as my students. (They're teenagers by the way! Aren't they the ones who are supposed to be disrespectful?)

I became an English teacher because it was the coolest job out there where I could live in the world of writing, literature, and share that love with others.  It also teaches us empathy.  You can’t study To Kill a Mockingbird and not feel for Boo Radley.  You can’t study Romeo and Juliet and not see how blind fighting accomplishes nothing.  Or Night and see how devastating the Holocaust was. These are all stories I have taught, or will teach this year.  I have had amazing conversations with students about the themes in these stories.  I have seen students cry at the injustice these stories highlight.  Online we see a barrage of nasty memes, we read comments that you wouldn’t dare say to someone in person, and hostility can run rampant.  Online people seem to have lost their ability to empathize.  Maybe as adults we should slow down and pick up a book every once in awhile.

Yes you can get all of this in an ELA class; grammar, how to speak with one another, and empathy.  It’s a nice reminder for us as adults.  Writing correctly isn’t only for the classroom, we can disagree without yelling, and sometimes we get so wrapped up with ourselves and our problems that we forget there’s a whole world out there with concerns and problems, and maybe a little empathy would go a long way.  So keep calm and got to an ELA class.  
’s a great deal for taxpayers.

*As for what spurred this entire post, I am not upset with the person who made the initial comment.  In fact, when it was said it began with “I agree with you, but…”I just don’t want that person to read this and think I was upset!  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Paying the DMV in Pennies

By now many of you may have heard about the man who delivered his taxes in the amount of pennies, which took five wheelbarrows to bring in.  Of course you saw cheers from hard working taxpayers about this move, because let's face it, who hasn't thought of delivering their bills in a snarky manner?  Upon reading articles about this I learned that the man who did this delivery was angered over where to send the taxes for his son's Corvette, as he has four houses he wasn’t sure where to have the Corvette registered- yes epitome of first world problems. From here a web of misplaced anger began and he ultimately sued the DMV when he couldn't get the phone number for the DMV.  Now I am certain all of that was annoying.  This was his justification for carrying in 300,000 pennies and having two clerks (who by the way look like they are someone’s grandparents)  count the pennies for 12 hours.  And it’s not like they were already in rolls, Stafford made sure to break the rolls the night before his stunt.  But these two public servants did their job and counted 300,000 pennies from a very bitter man.  Why?  Because it was their job.  As public servants, they have to do ridiculous jobs at times because well that’s how we keep this country running.  And some people, people like Stafford, seem to think that the word “servant” in public servant means just that; if you work in government you are a servant to the people and therefore not due any respect or consideration by fellow citizens.  

This is my issue with Nick Stafford and people who think like him.  (I mean my other issue is the whining over his four houses and Corvette, but I digress!)

People who work in the public sector are under immense scrutiny.  Yes, the DMV clerks I mentioned above, but there are other groups of people that work in the public that are frequently maligned.  And one group in particular is my focus; teachers.  Think of another profession where every detail, benefit, or decision is so closely scrutinized by the public.  School closed due to weather?  Kids should suck it up and deal with the cold.  Teaching methods?  Well in the past we didn’t do it this way why change it?  Summers off?  Must be nice to only work half a year.

Never mind that if given the chance an adult wouldn’t walk to work in the snow.  Or the fact that as education professionals we have not only gone through school with our main focus on how to each students, but we are constantly attending professional development workshops so that we can stay on top of the technology and research out there to help our students, And as for working only half a year, since I became fortunate enough to be a public school teacher I have worked more 12 hour days, more family vacations, and spent more time working at home than ever before.  (And I love every second of it!) We’re said to be puppets of our union, only care about the money, and don’t understand real work.  I’ll be honest, I love my union-they fight for our kids.  I’m not one to complain about money-I never will when it comes to teaching because it isn’t about the money!  It’s about my amazing students I am blessed to spend my days with!  And as for not knowing real work?  I get to work and immediately become consumed with worrying about my students.  And honestly with some kids, that worry carries throughout my evening, and the weekend!  I help students write papers, read critically, and provide a space where they can talk about anything they need to talk about.  

And that's just the teaching profession.  I'm sure DMV clerks have  along list of complaints; long lines, grumpy people, a ton of paperwork.  The town tax collector?  I'm sure they have a few tales to tell of people yelling at them, or laws they have to follow that they may not agree with.  The sanitation worker who literally takes the crap no one wants.  But they do it.  They go to work, and do their job, even though it isn't glamorous, and frequently is the butt of jokes or viciously maligned online.  And these people, these neighbors, are not at your beck and call.  You are not Daddy Warbucks and they are your signing house staff.  They're Americans; moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles...the list goes on.  And without these people who would ensure the roads are in order, or take your trash, or educate your children?  Let
s try to not malign these people online, and maybe when we go to the DMV we can smile, or if we meet a teacher maybe we can ask them about their profession, not hurl accusations.  And for goodness sake, let's not pay our tax bills in pennies.  Remember, they have a job to do as well, our job is to not be a barrier.  So for 2017, let's try to see less Nick Staffords in the world, and more understanding.

A picture of pettiness