I’ll always be a teacher…

…just not professionally anymore.

“Miss Kitten,” one of my students said to me one day, “Can’t you just work here for the rest of your life?” Those words really sting in a bittersweet way. My god, it’s heartbreaking when I think about them. My students. My kids. I see their eager little faces, rapt with attention. Hanging on my every word. Enjoying the Miss Kitten show. Their eyes lighting up with laughter.

I was that teacher, you see. The one the kids all love. The one the kids all want as a substitute teacher.

“You’re my favorite teacher.”
“You’re the best teacher I’ve ever had.”
“You’re the coolest teacher I’ve ever had.”
“You don’t talk to us like you’re our teacher; you’re more like a friend.”

When you’re a teacher, the kids are everything. They are why you do what you do. And they are amazing, inspiring, and truly remarkable young people. Particularly the latest group of kids I had the great pleasure and privilege to teach. There are no behavioral cases among them. Even the ones who try to get away with being naughty are no match for Miss Kitten. My greatest weapon is my sense of humor and it’s been sharpened and perfected over the years.

“Shut up.” I tell a student who keeps whisper-yelling during a test and hasn’t responded to anything less direct and more polite.

“Hey, you can’t say that to me!” He responds with feigned dismay, which I know is entirely for the benefit of his classmates. Every class has its clown.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Please shut up.” I say, and the entire class erupts in laughter. You can’t out clown the master.

*sigh*

But I am tired. Sick have I become. Old and weak. Well, maybe not that old. However the sick and weak part is true. Sort of.

In January of last year I experienced a breakdown that led to me having to stop work. I was diagnosed with acute stress reaction, which was caused by a number of factors, all of them work-related. It’s very common for teachers to experience this due to the nature of teaching as a very demanding high-stress job, but usually you can transform the stress into productivity. In my 15 year career I never experienced anything like that before, what I can only describe as a kind of paralysis. I simply could not do it anymore. I had to stop working and went on sick leave. The doctor prescribed me some anti-anxiety medication and told me to get as much rest and relaxation as possible. It was incredibly hard, because I was also dealing with depression and guilt for having abandoned my students. Every day I questioned whether I was really sick. I was convinced I was faking, that this was all in my head. That I just needed to pull myself together, forget about my stupid problems and get back to work. My students needed me. I realized much later that this reaction is completely normal for highly productive people (aka: workaholics).

The medication and instructions to relax were the only treatment I received. I only found out later that usually some kind of therapy is recommended in such cases. In Sweden they have a system in place whereby if an employee is injured on the job, they are referred to a company health care service. The company is responsible for rehabilitating the injured or sick employee and for fixing the problems that caused the injury or sickness in the first place. No such assistance was forthcoming from my previous employer. They had this service available, but they elected not to refer me to them, saying I should get treatment through the local health care service. I was told that this is their prerogative. In the end I was put on paid leave because they either could not or simply would not fix the conditions that led to my breakdown. I couldn’t go back to work, so they decided to pay me for the remainder of my contract.

This arrangement seemed reasonable and fair. Eventually I started feeling like myself, ready to start teaching again, but determined to be very selective in the type of school at which I wanted to work. I wanted to work at an international school, so I applied at all three of the international schools in the area. I got interviews at two of them, and was eventually hired. It was only a part-time position, which was perfect because I was in no way ready to jump back into a full-time position after my breakdown.

The school was wonderful. The students were, as a previously described, amazing young people, and my colleagues were fantastic. It was an international staff, reflecting the profile of the school. Yet, even though the work was satisfying and rewarding, after a few weeks the symptoms started creeping back. My employers were well aware of my previous breakdown. I informed them during my interview, and they were not at all surprised, knowing full well how common it is for teachers to suffer such breakdowns. They were very reassuring and supportive.

During my initial interview, they gave me a tour of the school. It was a small building but there was an atmosphere of positivity and happy looking students working on projects everywhere. However, there was something very unusual about this school and that was the location of the Home Economics classroom. This was the position I was interviewing for. There was, in fact, no Home Ec classroom at all. There were four kitchen units set up, oddly enough, in a busy hallway. I’d never seen anything like this before. The practical Home Ec lessons were taught in an area that was completely exposed. I would find out later how just how impractical it was to teach in that space.

However, at first, it was kind of exhilarating. Home Ec lessons are usually very lively, smelly, and noisy. I was used to teaching Home Ec so all the chaos didn’t really bother me. We were reminded on several occasions to try and keep the noise level down, since there were other classrooms nearby. We were also located right in front of the principal’s office, and just around the corner from the assistant principal’s office, as well as student toilets, staff toilets, and the staff lounge. This meant that colleagues were walking through the area constantly. Students weren’t supposed to go in there during practical lessons and were instructed to use different toilets when lessons were taking place. Our solution to prevent students from walking through there was to place traffic cones at the entrances to the hallway. The older students knew to keep out, but the younger ones frequently walked right past the traffic cones and right through a lesson. It was also normal for a colleague to walk through the hallway during a lesson, pushing a large cart of iPads or laptops, and forcing me and students to move out of the way. In addition, when lessons were happening, we were very entertaining. Students and colleagues alike tended to stand just outside of the hallway and watch the show.

It sounds completely crazy, and it was. However that was simply how Home Ec lessons were taught at this school. I actually enjoyed it. The exposed situation made it really exciting. At least at first. After a while, however, it made it increasingly difficult. I had no control whatsoever over that area, even though I was responsible for it. On the days when there was no Home Ec, the hallway was used by other teachers. The kitchen counters were used to place computers and books, pretty much anything. Each kitchen was equipped with a set of utensils, dishes, and cookware, and these were constantly being removed when I wasn’t there. At least once every lesson, I would have to hunt round the staff kitchen for a missing whisk or a skillet or something that was definitely there before, but which had since disappeared. No one seemed to understand or respect that that hallway was, in fact, my workspace. To them, it was just another public area.

Eventually it became unbearable. My anxiety level increased and I started having panic attacks. I couldn’t stop thinking about work. I obsessed about those kitchens, and the state they would be in the next time I had a lesson. Before each lesson I would have to spend time putting them back in order, checking that each kitchen was fully equipped, tracking down items that were missing, removing books or other items that had been left on the kitchen counters, make sure we had enough clean dishtowels and start a load of laundry if we didn’t, empty the dishwashers from the previous lesson, check to make sure we received all of our grocery delivery, and whether it had been put away, anticipate a trip to the grocery store in case anything hadn’t been delivered (a regular occurrence). It was a lot of responsibility for one person, and too much for me.

During lessons, I had to supervise up to four groups of students working in the kitchens, while attempting to minimize disruption from other students and colleagues walking through the area, as well as trying to keep the noise level down so as not to disturb other ongoing lessons. In other words, we (the students and I) had to accommodate everyone, but no one would accommodate us. I still enjoyed the practical lessons very much, but after a while, the conditions made it almost impossible to maintain a proper classroom environment. I’m usually a very effective teacher who has no problem with classroom management, but under these conditions, I had no control and ownership over the environment and this made it extremely difficult to have control and ownership over the class.

I know I’m making it sound like it was complete chaos, but it wasn’t actually that bad. The worst thing about it was the psychological toll it took on me. After this experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to get out of teaching, for my own sanity. It’s time for another career. What that will be, I have no idea, but after fifteen years I’m pretty sure my time as a professional teacher is over. I don’t make this decision lightly. I always promised myself that I would keep working until it was no longer “fun,” that I would quit before I turned into one of those totally burnt out and bitter teachers, who obviously hates their job but keeps on working out of spite or lack of ambition.

The kids deserve better than that and I won’t let that happen. Who knows what the future holds…

I’m All Out of Eggs

To be sung to the tune of, “I’m All Out of Love” by Air Supply. 

I’m all out of eggs,
I’m so lost without you.
There’s nothing to make.
Oh, what will I do?
I’m all out of eggs
And the bread is all moldy.
The bacon is gone,
And the corn flakes are soggy.
I’m all out of eggs,
Won’t somebody save me?
Oh, what would I do,
For some biscuits and gravy?
The oatmeal has bugs.
Can’t have any porridge.
I’m even eat that.
Though, I think it’s horrid. 
I’m all out of eggs,
And I’m so very hungry.
Oh, fuck it, let’s go,
Get an Egg McMuffin, again. 

The Statue of Bigotry

Picture it now, the colossal statue that Trump is going to erect of himself, with an arm outstretched and a palm facing east, his other arm clutching an executive order that reads:

Get back, wretched refuse,
To your teeming shore.
You are not wanted anymore.
Go back, wretched refuse,
To your lives of fear.
You are no longer welcome here.
You wanted refuge, I suppose.
But now the Golden Door is closed.
I lift no lamp to guide you to my land.
I lift only my tiny little hand.

Countless

From the crumbling, bullet-ridden houses,
Full of countless childhood pictures,
They fled.
From the smoldering cities,
Heavy with the smoke of countless fires,
They fled.
From the dust of countless broken buildings,
They fled.
Into the dust of the desert,
With countless broken people,
They fled.
Their countless dead,
And all their possessions,
Left behind.
In the fire.
In the dust.
Across the world, across the sea,
They fled,
For countless weeks,
They waited and hoped and prayed,
Their struggles, countless.
The horrors they’d witnessed, countless.
And then…
When they finally got there,
They were told,
That no one would help them.
That they were not wanted.
That they, the countless,
Did not count.

Always Forward

Time keeps moving forward,
Always forward, measuring change.
Moving energy and matter through space.
Artificially divided into intervals,
We call by different names.
Seasons and seconds.
Hours and eras.
We order our linear lives in this way.
For we too are matter and energy,
Constantly being moved forward by time.
Our form is sentient, observant,
Aware that it’s being moved.
Fearing the moment when awareness ends.
Naming that moment, death.
Matter is neither created, nor destroyed.
So we won’t be literally be gone,
When we’re dead.
We’ll no longer be in the same sentient form,
But we’ll still be here.
Our matter, our energy,
Still being pulled along,
Always forward, by time.

A Day in the Life of an Expat

I read the news today. Oh boy.

On Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, I awoke in the five o’ clock hour and just lay there in a half-asleep state, my brain still feeling the effects of the sleeping pill I had taken before going to bed. I use them only rarely now, when I know it will be impossible to shut my brain off in order to fall sleep. This was one of those nights. The day before was the 2016 presidential election back in my home country, the USA. In Sweden we are several time zones ahead, so when I finally pulled my groggy ass out of bed at six AM, it was still going on. The polls had closed but they were counting up the votes. I went to sleep the night before feeling relatively confident that Hillary Clinton would win, hopefully with a sizable landslide. Of course she would win. Everybody said she would. They had totally dismissed Donald Trump’s chances and were already talking about her presidency in the present tense. When she wins, they said, the cult of personality started by Donald Trump and its zealous adherents will still be around, and they will be very pissed off and very loud. She will have to figure out how to deal with them and heal the country. This was the constant narrative being repeated during the final weeks leading up to the election.

But then, the totally unexpected happened, was still happening as a matter of fact, as I opened up Facebook fully anticipating the messages of triumph and joy from my American friends. However, those weren’t the messages I saw. Instead, I saw a lot of updates written in full caps, about the shock and despair and horror they were feeling. Wait a minute…

Thus began the Five Stages of Grief.

Denial:

My husband made us coffee as I sat there reading those updates, not fully comprehending what I was seeing. “Uh…so it looks like Trump won,” I reported. The words hit me like a sledgehammer. My heart was pounding in my chest, like I had just finished running a marathon. At first I actually thought this had to be a joke, that my friends were mistaken. Or they were trolling. I mean, there’s no possible way that Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States. Right? That’s just ludicrous.

“Whaaaat?!?” His response was undoubtedly being repeated around the world.

I should have been getting ready for work, but at that moment all I could do was sit there, ignoring my coffee and trying to figure out what had just happened, because it hadn’t really happened.

Bargaining:

After all, they were still counting up the votes and neither candidate had reached the 270 vote threshold in order to win. He was ahead but there was still hope. There was still time. It hadn’t happened yet. Hillary could still win. And she was AHEAD in the popular vote! But Trump had taken North Carolina and Ohio and…Florida. They said that if Trump took Florida then he would win. It was well and truly over.

Depression:

I somehow managed to shower and dress myself and board a train to take me into the city to work. I sat there on the train feeling completely numb. I no longer wanted to look at Facebook. The updates and articles being posted were just too goddamned depressing. I needed to try and focus on the day ahead of me, on my students. I teach Home Economics at an international school in Växjö, Sweden, and I went over the things that needed to be done. The ninth graders would be baking little meat pies and spinach-feta pies and I had to make sure I bought Quorn crumbles for the vegetarian students so they could substitute those for the ground beef in the meat pie. The sixth graders were making candy apples and caramel popcorn, and I was wondering where I put the Popsicle sticks.

I had to switch to a bus when I got to the train station in Växjö. It was a minus four (24 Fahrenheit) freezing cold morning, as November mornings in Sweden typically are. The bus was late, and as I stood there on the totally exposed bus platform, for fifteen minutes, then twenty, and then twenty five minutes, I watched bus after bus which wasn’t my bus drive by. I thought about jumping in front of one of them. I didn’t want to live on this planet anymore. Nothing made sense. Donald Trump had won the election. He had done every single thing wrong, lost all three debates, committeed gaffe after gaffe, and got caught doing and saying things that would have been deal breakers for literally any other candidate. And yet, he won. Hate had won. Sexism had won. Racism had won. Bigotry had won. Islamophobia had won. Xenophobia had won. Anti-Intellectualism had won. Stupidity had won. The Ugly American had won.

By the time the bus finally arrived, I couldn’t feel my toes, so instead of throwing myself under it, I boarded it and felt its delicious warmth surrounding my body.

Anger:

I eventually got to work. Groceries were bought and I welcomed the distraction of lively practical lessons. Every now and then, an American colleague would ask me, “So, are you a proud American?” in a can-you-believe-this-shit-is-happening kind of way. Swedish colleagues would ask me how I felt about the election, and I would tell them that it hadn’t really sunk in yet. Right before my last lesson, there was some kind of minor drama involving two students’ lockers. They both started chattering at me in rapid Swedish and I couldn’t really understand what they were saying. At that moment, I couldn’t have cared less, and I told them so. “I don’t care.” I was fighting back tears at this point. If I get an email from a parent informing me that they didn’t appreciate me telling their kid that I didn’t care about their problem, then I would apologize and tell them that Donald Trump had just been elected president and I was barely holding it together emotionally. And they would totally understand.

There was a staff meeting directly after my last lesson, but I decided to skip it. It was almost miraculous that I managed to show up to work at all. Throughout the day, a various times I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “WHAT IS HAPPENING????” As I sat on the bus on the way home, it finally sunk in. This was reality. And the tears finally came.

Acceptance:

For some reason, my left ankle was killing me all day. I must have taken a bad step and twisted it. I limped through my lessons and when I got home, my husband took a look at it and said it was all swollen and bruised, like it was sprained. I have no idea what happened. I certainly do not remember spraining my ankle. But I must have. Nothing to do now but deal with it.

Almost every woman you know…

…has a story of sexual assault. Some of us have several stories.

The first time I can remember it happening I was probably about eight years old. I was riding my bicycle home on a sunny afternoon in a calm Los Angeles suburb. A man walking in the opposite direction waved at me, indicating he wanted to talk to me. I slowed down and stopped obligingly, and he asked me if I knew where a certain street was. I started to tell him that yes I did know where that was, but as soon as I started describing the way, he walked closer to me and shoved his hand down the front of my shirt. He felt up my bare chest for a few seconds, then pulled his hand out, and walked away, giving me a self-satisfied smirk that told me that he had just done this thing to me and there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t speak or scream or react at all. Mortified and ashamed don’t really describe what I was feeling. I felt violated. Completely and totally violated. I’d never been touched that way by anyone before. But at eight years old I didn’t know how to process those feelings. I rode the rest of the way home, turned on the TV and watched cartoons. I tried to block out what just happened. I tried not to see his face. I was determined that I would not cry because I didn’t want anything to seem out of the ordinary.

I never told anyone or spoke about it until recently, when I told my husband. This was my introduction to sexual assault. I was eight years old and it happened in broad daylight. Other things have happened to me since then that make this first incident seem pretty mild by comparison. It had long since been buried and forgotten.

Then Donald Trump’s “grab’em by the pussy” scandal hit the news. That’s when women started sharing their stories of sexual assault, about how powerless and violated and weak it made them feel. It’s the guilt and shame that makes us never want to report it or talk about it. We know that we will be told that we must have wanted it if we made no effort to fight them off.

As for that, I can tell you that when it’s happening to you, these are the thoughts going to through your mind:

Oh god, this is really happening to me.
Please, please, don’t hurt me.
Please don’t kill me.
Please just let it be over soon.
Please don’t kill me.
Please just go away when you’re finished and leave me alone.
Please don’t kill me.

You’re not thinking about fighting back. You’re just hoping it will be over soon and that he won’t hurt you or kill you when he’s done.

To men like Donald Trump, woman are not thinking and feeling human beings. We are nothing more than play things to use and abuse whenever he feels like it, and then discard when he tires of us. We’re not really people and therefore we don’t need to give consent. Merely being in his presence is consent enough. After all, if we didn’t want to be grabbed, we shouldn’t have been within grabbing distance. The onus is always on the woman to not allow herself to assaulted or raped. Men like Donald Trump say they are unable to control themselves. She was drunk. She was wearing a short skirt. She was there. They see a pretty thing and they just act, and they know that most of the time they will get away with it.

This is not an indictment of all men. Far from it. There are so many wonderful, strong, loving, caring, supportive men out there. Men like my husband. This is about the pussy-grabbing, cat-calling, child-molesting monsters out there. A man-like creature who has the pretensions to the office of POTUS is one of them, and that must not be allowed to happen.

The Wisdom of the Swedes: Too much patriotism is a very bad thing

Perspective.
I has it.

It’s what most Americans don’t have. At least those who haven’t lived abroad for an extended period of time. They are, for the most part, totally unaware of how they and their country are viewed by other countries. As an American living outside of the United States I have the uncommon perspective of viewing my country from the outside, and I can tell you, at the moment it ain’t very pretty.

What I can tell you is that most of the people I know love the idea of America and the people of America. They think it’s fascinating that I come from there, and choose to live here. For the record, here is Sweden. This is a country that thinks so little of itself they can’t comprehend why anyone would want to come here to live indefinitely and deliberately. At the same time, they are so elitist, they make American exceptionalism look like nothing. They honestly believe they are the best at everything, but unlike Americans, they’d never dream of boasting about their superiority. That would be very un-Swedish. Instead they are casually patronizing about it in an, “Oh, you poor thing.” kind of way. Americans adore their flag and display it proudly everywhere and on everything for any reason or no reason at all. Swedes love their flag as well, so much so that they only bring it out for special occasions: National Day (kind of like Swedish Fourth of July), Mid-Summer (the most important Swedish holiday of the year), graduations and weddings. However, it’s considered very un-Swedish to display the flag for no reason other than, like their American cousins, pure patriotism. The Swedes believe without a doubt that they better than everyone else, but they have an uneasy relationship with patriotism. They keep outward displays of patriotism in check because it’s considered to be a sort of gateway drug to a fascist authoritarian regime ala Adolph Hitler.

Ergo: Swedish flag -> Patriotism -> Nationalism -> National Socialism -> Hitler-like demagogue seizing power/World War III/collapse of civilization/nuclear annihilation/return to a stone-age like existence.

Maybe the Swedes are onto something here. Maybe too much patriotism can be a bad thing. A very bad thing. It’s okay to know that you’re number one but don’t shout about it. Don’t shove it in people’s faces. Don’t threaten with bodily harm and/or death, those who disagree with you or who would rather not participate in your patriotic display. Too much patriotism riles people up and turns them into a mob. A mob with a funny-looking man gesticulating behind a podium and telling it that everything is going to hell, and it’s all the fault of the Jews/Mexicans/Muslims/Gays, and only he can fix things and make everything great again. Yes, great again, because obviously things were fantastic before Those People came along, and they can be Great Again if they all just went away, if they build a wall to keep them out, exclude them from entering the country, or if they’re already citizens and cannot be deported or excluded, put them in camps to keep Us safe from Them.

And the mob believes the funny-looking man. It responds to him and wonders why it never saw this before. Their Muslim neighbor was always friendly before but now that they think about it, there was always something Not Great about him. He’s probably building a bomb in his basement. And their Mexican co-worker is obviously a car thief, or a drug dealer or a pimp. They are no longer friendly neighbors or co-workers. They are dangerous infiltrators trying to undermine our freedom and our democracy.

However, the thing about the authoritarian figurehead and its mob is that they depend on one another. One cannot exist without the other. As soon as that strong authoritarian figure disappears, the mob evaporates. It turns into individuals who suddenly blink back into existence and ask themselves what the hell just happened. One thing that I’ve read a lot lately is that even if Donald Trump loses the upcoming election, that his supporters will still be out there and the thought of that scares the shit out of people. But without Donald Trump, the “Make America Great Again” movement will eventually quiet down and become only a whisper. I doubt he will have the stamina to continue his rallies after the election. And he’s not getting any younger. By the next election, he will be seventy-four years old. Will be run again? Or will he wait until 2024, when he’s 78? At that point, I doubt he would have the strength to make the effort.

After this election Donald Trump should just retire, secure in the knowledge that he came this close to Making America Great Again by leading the entire country over a cliff. But, it wasn’t meant to be. We like our country just the way it is, okay? We have no inclination for the kind of greatness that consists in persecuting and excluding anyone who is not a wealthy heterosexual white Christian male. Thanks anyway.

Heart Feelings Linger

Science.
For all you’ve given us,
You’re not much of a romantic.
Love, you tell us,
Is only in our heads.
Just a chemical reaction.
Elevated levels of dopamine,
Seratonin, and ocytocin.
Flooding our brains and bodies,
With intoxicating pleasure.
High from the uppers and opioids,
Created by our own brains,
We wouldn’t mind staying,
In this crazy-in-love,
Can’t-get-enough-of-you phase,
Forever and ever.
But, Science tells us,
Such feelings are fleeting.
Your feel-good chemicals,
Will level off,
Because love, you tell us,
Is only a chemical reaction.
Elevated levels of dopamine,
Doping our brains.
Seratonin, soothing our souls,
And intoxicating oxytocin.
Nothing more.
But love is more complicated,
Than chemistry.
What if the chemical levels,
Drop in our brains,
Because they’ve migrated to our hearts?
Settled in the neurons there.
Which is why when we’re apart,
From the one we love,
We feel a physical ache in our hearts.
It’s because heart feelings linger.
And if you don’t feel that pang,
Then those feel-good chemicals,
Never made their way to your heart.
They were, sadly, only in your head.