Intrepid Girl Reporter

Sunday, 11/22: blackberry-picking
November 22, 2009, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It feels like the accumulated stress of the past two months or so has settled into my bones, weighing me down. It’s difficult to explain this feeling of emotional and mental fatigue – as though all the crying and yelling has actually drained the energy from me, like a long run, but without the ensuing endorphin rush. I should probably start running again.* I don’t sleep a lot in an escapist manner, but when I sleep I sleep longer and harder, my dreams more surreal, waking more difficult. These are not real stresses, not stresses like having to provide for a family or going hungry, but nobody told my subconscious.

I spent today drafting my policy memo, which was satisfying but not as much as I would have liked it to be, and came back and found the apples IGRB and I picked. I should not have been surprised that they smelt of rot.

As I mentioned a few days ago, we spent the last JF meeting discussing charity vs. justice – charity is palliative, whereas justice involves fighting for deeper, structural change. And when I am lost in my own self-centered miasma of negativity, I wonder what needs address with me: the symptoms or the person, myself. Something usually comes along, however, to remind me that there’s a world beyond my navel; in the case of today, I wrote a paper about the need for economic justice in addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS, because most funding in the particular area I’m covering is focused on treatment of the symptoms and not the larger problem. And then I spoke – briefly, via the written word – with a friend who means a lot to me, and who is facing loss right now in a way that dwarfs me. Which is a reminder that some justice can be fought for and attained, and some things are unfair by their very nature, but that all of them extend beyond my own petty concerns.

Saturday, 11/21: living the dream
November 21, 2009, 2:18 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, 공부방 (after-school program)

One of the great pleasures of my line of work is seeing movie cliches come true. Because, as they say, such tired tropes have to get their start somewhere.

DC has a geography competition called GeoPlunge, a team-based contest that hybridizes knowledge of US state facts with the competitive edge of a good game of Spoons. You can probably guess from the beginning of this post, Best Beloved, that we won. I went to watch the competition yesterday at the Museum of American History.

In the best tradition of scholastic competition, my kids – coached by our fantastic fifth grade teacher – found themselves facing off against a number of schools that are near my house, i.e. in the furthest reaches of the bourgeois wilderness. It was exactly the sort of sight one might imagine: both of our teams, entirely African-American and largely from struggling families, against wealthy kids wearing Gap. One school we played had two tiny white kids, both with long, skateboarder/hipster hair, and a black kid who was dressed like Twofer from 30 Rock. One of our girls, a miniscule fourth grader, had her “Are you GeoPlunging?” hat perched atop a high, puffy ponytail. I could not have written this stuff to be more cinematic if I tried.

What really astonished me, however, was the degree to which our kids did not notice any of this. While I mentally added the soundtrack from every educational movie and every inspirational sports film  I’ve ever seen, I heard not a word – not an indication from either side – that the players were observant of any distinctions vis-a-vis class or race. Seriously, nothing. My school did not enter with an underdog mentality; rather, we were the defending champions from last year (and the year before, not to brag or anything). All the trash talk was reserved for disparaging one’s knowledge of which state had the American goldfinch as its state bird (Washington State, in case you were wondering). In short, the competition – to our students – seemed to be so purely about academic excellence that other considerations had finally been erased from their minds.

Am I sure about this? Of course not. But I think I would have noticed something. The real moral of the movie, which I am not expressing very well, appears to have something to do with the degree to which adults project their own concerns, and their own narratives, on kids who, ultimately, want to just be kids without regard to other issues. And, in the words of one of our girls, who wrote this on her GeoPlunge survey: “To bring back the trofy to our school.” (Trofy brought.)

Wednesday, 11/18: I’m a challenge to your balance
November 19, 2009, 1:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m going to try and keep this blog a work-free zone with the exception of child-related matters. Suffice it to say that my lack of posting here can be traced in large part to work-related matters that make me feel like my brain is leaking out my ears. Also, that I am not wanted. I have a drawing of six boxes on a Post-it note that I stuck on my computer in my (still very hot) office to remind me to compartmentalize. I still feel like I’m going to get an ulcer.

Things I have eaten for breakfast lately that are not actually breakfast foods:

Godiva macaroons


We talked a lot tonight in JustFaith about the difference between charity and justice, and it really struck a chord with me, and I was going to write about it, but I’ve realized now that all I really want to do is go to bed and silence the thoughts thundering around in my head. So I guess I’ll talk about it some other time here.

Sunday, 11/15: Ms. IGR eats the GRE
November 15, 2009, 6:14 pm
Filed under: books, Catholicism, life progress

In my ever-expanding quest to make myself the Best Graduate School Applicant I Can Be, I decided (Wednesday) to retake the GRE, as most grad schools take the best scores you get and don’t average them. When you decide to take the GRE and you only have two weeks in which to do it, your options end up being somewhat limited, which is why I ended up taking it today (Sunday). That’s three days of prep, in case you were counting.

Evidently the powers that be had decided that I could use a break from the less than ideal things happening in my life right now, because during the quant part, I lost track of time, guessed on five or six questions, and still managed to a) defeat my old score and b) meet Princeton’s average entry score. HOLLER. I also had a mimosa at noon. Maybe it was the champagne?

I don’t know that this reflects my actual abilities in the arena of math, for the reasons stated above, but I certainly could use this ego boost. Thanks, ETS.

I’m in a Starbucks near Howard U now, but I’m going to a rescheduled JustFaith meeting in a few. Our reading for the past week has come from a really terrific book, Jonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace, which is not as good as Random Family – probably the ne plus ultra of the genre – but still pretty good. I’m finding JF surprisingly rewarding, and it’s a good way to cap off a day that has gone better than most as of late.

Saturday, 11/14: the widening gyre
November 14, 2009, 12:27 pm
Filed under: cultural theorizing, poetry

A few thoughts and observations on the Internets and other forms of communication.

1. I came pretty late to the Twitter party, and I use it somewhat infrequently because (fortunately for my productivity) DCPS blocks pretty much every web site available. So I’m not exactly qualified to opine on its usefulness and popularity, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I saw a friend’s tweet today that re-tweeted a tweet (did I really just write that sentence?) from McSweeneys magazine, under the topic #bleakraplyrics. Obviously, most of these are hilarious (“Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge and I am REALLY afraid of heights”). Clicking on the hashtag, however, allows the viewer – as I’m sure most Twitter users already know – to see other people who have contributed to this fun little parlor game, some quite cleverly (“What’s my mother f#*king name? Sorry, but these psychoanalytic methods aren’t helping retrieve any of my memories”).

This is the true genius of Twitter: fostering collective brainstorming. The networks are loose enough that ideas travel fast; all you need to see is one person on your friends list contributing to a topic in order to learn about it, after which you can pass it on to everyone in your list, et al. The character limit constraint prevents any one person from dominating the conversation and makes it easy to sift through all the ideas. And simply by clicking on the topic, you have a centralized place to look at everyone’s contributions.

I googled twitter + collective + brainstorming and no one else appeared to have written on this, so I feel okay making such an obvious observation.


2. As any regular readers of Wikipedia will surely have noticed (ahem), fake facts abound, often slid in next to real facts so that a casual glance might not reveal them. Usually, it’s pretty easy to pick these out, given their nature.

When truth proves as strange as fiction, however, it’s more difficult. Earlier I was reading about REM and then about Michael Stipe, who, as most people should remember, came out of the closet to no one’s surprise a few years ago. As I read, I came across the following passage (emphasis mine):

Stipe described himself as a “queer artist” in Time Magazine in 2001 and revealed that he had been in a relationship with “an amazing man” for three years at that point.[10] Stipe was also featured on the cover of BUTT Magazine in 2003.

This presents a conundrum. “Butt Magazine” is exactly the sort of name that someone with a juvenile sense of humor towards gay people might make up. On the other hand, porn is weird, and there are no names that I would really posit as off-limits. I couldn’t google “Butt Magazine” at work for fairly obvious reasons, so I had to wait until I got home to solve this mystery.

I should have more faith in the power of Wiki.



3. I was an English major who studied Yeats in multiple classes with several professors who were brilliant at explicating meaning in an accessible manner. Nonetheless, I was never able to get my head around the image of “the center cannot hold.” Currently, I am reading Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, and in a single inadvertent sentence, he applied a similar metaphor that made that line abundantly clear to me. That’s right, I didn’t get Yeats until I read a book about rap. Go on and judge me.

Thursday, 11/12: it takes a nation of millions to hold us back
November 13, 2009, 1:10 am
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program), identity

I’m going to preface this with several caveats: Most aspects of my job are terrific. My hours are borderline unbelievable, I get daily hugs and affirmations from the cutest children I currently know, and I get to both play games and problem solve. Compared to other stuff that I have done, this is a cakewalk.

That having been said, I do not think it is unreasonable for me to become frustrated when some of the other teachers and staff confuse me with one of the other teachers who works for my 공부방. This teacher is white. So am I, apparently, which means that it is okay to mix us up.

Except that:

a) I am not white. I am Asian (Vietnamese) and white, aka hapa, aka mixed-race or multiracial. It is not the same thing. I repeat: IT IS NOT THE SAME THING.  I have a unique cultural identity that comes with its own benefits and struggles, and choosing to ignore that is, quite frankly, a bit insulting. My upbringing was neither fully white nor fully Viet. I identify as both white and Asian, not exclusively either, because I’m not exclusively either – the mix is part of the identity. That’s why it gets its own separate classification.

b) I don’t look white. For those readers who may never have met me in real life, I have been told that my ethnicity is generally difficult to pin down, but as I have been told by countless well-meaning adults, “You can tell that you’re something.” Which is cool, because I guess if I was white, I would be nothing? I have black hair, dark eyes, a very Vietnamese nose, and skin that is somewhere between yellow and tan. In the past I and members of my family have been mistaken for Mexican, Chinese, and God knows what else, if that helps.

c) I don’t look anything like this other teacher. She is very nice, and very pretty, but she has at least six inches and 25 pounds on me (which is not an insult – I look like a twelve-year-old). Her skin is white; mine is not. Her hair is a medium brown. We don’t resemble each other in ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM except that we both work with children and we are both under thirty.

I’m in a class at Sacred Heart and we talk a lot about compassion, which is obviously something that I – like most people – could use a bit of work on. Of course I have no idea what sort of backgrounds everyone involved comes from, and I should work to learn more about why they insist on considering me interchangeable. But I do feel aggravated – I can’t help it – because I know everybody’s name, and in order to tell them apart I look at things like height and hairstyle and eye color, not just race. Because that is how you tell people, both of the same race and of different races, apart. And to not even be willing to do that – well, it just makes a job that is already pretty stressful even harder.


Wednesday, 11/11: it’s the great Marxist, Charlie Brown
November 11, 2009, 7:20 pm
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program), politics

Up to this point, I have blogged an impressive (impressively narcissistic?*) nine times this month – that’s once per day. Evidently frameworks don’t always work for me, as the last time I tried to do NaBloPoMo I gave up after maybe three days. I did not make it to the computer yesterday, which may actually have been for the best, as frustrations at my work – where I am now no longer allowed to offer academic interventions to most of the lowest-level kids, as they are not going to boost our school test scores** – came perilously close to causing my brain to boil out of my ears. It’s best to keep those sorts of emotions off the internets.

So I’ve spent most of this dreary day talking to Communists, asking them why they have not elected a president in the US ever. Well, questions along those lines. I had the good fortune to speak with Vijay Prashad, who has one of the best book titles I’ve seen in a long time and whose child (maybe a toddler?) I could hear in the background. Perhaps it’s reflective of my sheltered reality that it felt like a throwback to discuss the proletariat. I’d like to work on a personal essay on this topic myself – as has often been discussed, I have a complicated familial relationship with leftist ideologies, and Neutral Milk Hotel has already given me a title. I’m in Starbucks, where I was driven out of a table by a man chewing but not smoking a cigar (white) and his mustachioed friend (black) so they could play cribbage (wood-colored). The scene was weird, and weirdly heartwarming, enough that I almost didn’t mind. And now I’m giving my brain a break before moving to article #3, and then grad school essays? I only have time these days for a relationship with my MacBook.



*That word took me about two minutes to type.

**Let’s be fair here: my principal has done some very impressive work. And we are judged/funded by the number of kids we get over the hump – not the number of kids we get from really low to just sort of low in terms of test scores. But I still have a real internal problem with the idea of not devoting at least a few of our resources to second graders who don’t know the alphabet. Even if they are, quote, the teacher’s responsibility. We are all part of the beloved community.