May 12, 2011

The Right Words

This video spoke to me….

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May 9, 2011

What The Huh?

Seems we have to teach our children about how it is necessary to use different language to communicate to different audiences. About when it is appropriate to abbreviate and when it is necessary to use a more formal tone, proper grammar, and a spell checker. About when to use and refrain from using emoticons. Today’s “screenagers” don’t get it….

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May 1, 2011

Guest Post by Sarah Giarraputo Fischer: How Zombieland Helps Folks Survive an Educational Job Search

Today’s guest blogger is one of my former students from my days at Metairie Park Country Day School. The daughter of two educators, Sarah Giarraputo Fischer is now all grown up and working really hard, trying to land a teaching position….

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April 14, 2011

Grammar is a Hussy

Let me be the first to say that I am a Grammar Pimp and proud of it. I use Grammar all the time. And she has never failed me. Ever….

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April 7, 2011

What the "Huck"?

I caught this bit on Huckleberry Finn and “The N-word” debate on 60 Minutes and I about 7 minutes in, I just knew that this report was saying it better than I ever could….

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April 4, 2011

Lessons From An Only Child & Three Dead Fish

While much work has been done to debunk the myth of the weirdo only child, most people still think one is the loneliest number. And, shockingly, strangers continue to ask me, over 10 years after my son was born, when I plan to have another. As if having just one is the worst, most unthinkable thing I could ever do….

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February 7, 2011

Lessons From The Dance Floor

For the record, the last time I went clubbing was when I lived in New Orleans back in the 1990’s, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there is, in fact, a joint less than five miles from my home where I could actually get down and get funky….

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January 7, 2011

My Weird New York State of Mind

I am terrified of New York City. There I said it.

This has nothing to do with the recent bedbug scourge; I have been afraid of The City for at least 20 years. …

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January 3, 2011

Guest Post by Megan Killinger: Lessons From The Spectrum

This personal narrative was written by Megan Killinger, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester….

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I have my best listening ears on!

I have been gaining subscribers for a year now. I have this cool, little dashboard that tells me how many people have viewed my blog, which pages they have checked out, what words they searched to find me, and a whole lot of cool information. My lice post is still the number one most frequently viewed post and, if you Google search “drag needle splinter twit,” you will find this.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Every day, more people are visiting my site. Which is totally excellent. And I am grateful to everyone who comes to check me out. And I’d like to take this opportunity to say to the folks searching for “psicologia: esconderse bajo la cama”: I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

But here is what I’m pondering:

Why do so few people who read blogs actually leave comments? I mean I have my regulars, the folks upon whom I can rely on to say something. They are the people with whom I have come to know and have developed cyber-relationships. Through these online exchanges, I have met so many smart/interesting/funny people. Some cyber-friendships have progressed to emails; some to phone calls. Heck, I’m playing concurrent games of “Words with Friends” with Jessica Buttram and Ironic Mom.

So imagine my surprise when a friend that I actually know in real life — yeah, I’m calling you out, Aaron — admitted that he has been reading my blog since my blog was born, that he has been there since its infancy, and added that he has really been enjoying watching li’l boggie mature. Now this of course made me all shivery and happy inside, and I immediately gave him a hug Actually, I may have hugged him first and then squealed when he made the comment, but you get the idea.

Of course, I love the idea that people are reading my content.

But later (after the hugging and squealing), I wondered, Why doesn’t Aaron ever comment? What’s up with that? And if Aaron isn’t commenting, why aren’t other people commenting? I decided to create a poll to try to find out. Seriously, I’d love to hear from you lurkers who read but don’t necessarily comment. Please know I don’t have any way to identify about you except the answers you leave here because all the info is collected at Poll Daddy and reported back to me anonymously. You know, unless you put your name in the comment or something.

I love writing and I am working my butt off trying to bring you interesting stuff. Am I missing something? I can never predict which posts people are going to go bonkers over and which ones will be duds. (I mean head lice? Really? Over 200 hits every day?)

Author Kristen Lamb (a woman to whom I refer to as “The Queen”) often writes about how important it is for writers to try to connect with one another in her blog and in her books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . I know not all of my readers are bloggers, but whether you are or not, I would love it if you would leave me a comment. For me, blogging is — of course — about writing, but it is also about creating a dialogue. After I have written something the delicious part is hearing what people have to say about it. The comments are like a fabulous dessert you get to eat — after slaving away for hours making a difficult meal.

If you are writing a blog, you are hoping that someone is maybe (*hopefully*) reading your words. Admit it. It’s true.

And if you are checking out other people’s stuff, you don’t have to feel pressured to write a crazy long comment. Even a short little “Thanks for this!” or “Hilarious!” can really make someone’s day. So don’t be shy. Just say, “Hi!”

Truly, I am interested as to why people choose to be quiet when they could be part of the dialogue. So please, enlighten me. At the risk of sounding like the National Inquirer, inquiring minds really do want to know. Has anyone else given any thought to this phenomenon?

What drives people to comment?  And what makes lurkers stay in the shadows?

Tweet This Twit @RASJacobson

This YouTube video spoke to me.

Once, someone hurt me. Physically. Emotionally. I trusted him, and he pushed my head under the water and drowned me. He never apologized. Until he did. Many years later, he said:

I’m sorry for ruining the thing we had.

Strangely, that one sentence – spoken without defensiveness or anger – made my lungs fill up with air. I started breathing again. I felt I’d set down a thousand pound steamer trunk, and I didn’t even know I’d been lugging a steamer trunk around!

Can you recall a time in your life when you experienced the power of words? When “getting the words right,” – either saying them or hearing them or writing them or receiving them in writing –  really mattered and made an impact on you?

Find me on Twitter @rasjacobson

This one comes to me from a College-Instructor-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, for reasons that shall become obvious. It is hilarious and awful all at the same time.

To: My Professor
Subject: Droped

Dear Professor:

I appologiz for not being in class the last and past week. But there is alot of stress put on me by other classes i can’t find myself a way to get to school on time for ur class. I know the matirial and everything is starting to let up. So i ask u to plez let me bake into the class. i promis to show up for the rest of the classes 🙁

Goin’ Nowhere Fast

Nice, huh.

In this horrendous wonderful day and age, where we can reach out and touch someone via text or email, college educators receive hellish quality correspondence like this all of the time.

All. Of. The. Time.

The lucky recipient of this email told me that this piece of correspondence – which arrived via email – was the first time he’d had contact with the student, and it came after his student had missed 12 out of 19 classes, two unit tests, and one quiz. 

So think about it? How would you respond to an email like this?

Is this what we have come to with all of our short-cuts and abbreviations? Do teachers at the college level have to respond to emails and texts filled with errors like this?

Do you feel sorry for the kid? I mean, he just wants “bake into the class.”

Or would you just say nothing? Because the student has already been withdrawn and, clearly, he is already fried.

I sometimes wonder if parents know that their kids are communicating with their college professors like this.  Seems we have to teach our children about how – sometimes – it is necessary to use different language to communicate to different audiences. About when it is appropriate to abbreviate and when it is necessary to use a more formal tone, proper grammar, and a spell checker. About when to use and refrain from using emoticons. According to Tim Elmore, today’s “screenagers” don’t get it. Or they get something else than us “old folks.”

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang: “Teach your children well.” Are we confusing our kids with all this “texting”? Or do teachers just need to loosen up and accept that the times  (and the language) are a-changing?

Job Search Inspired By Zombieland

Today’s guest blogger is one of my former students from my days at Metairie Park Country Day School. The daughter of two educators, Sarah Giarraputo Fischer is now all grown up and working her butt off really hard, trying to land a teaching position.

Sarah & her son Gibson

A wife and mother, Sarah offers hope to wanna-be teachers who find themselves praying for old teachers to retire, get fired or die so they might take over their classrooms. Okay, maybe kindhearted souls like Sarah aren’t hoping for old teachers (like me) to shrivel up and die, but she is definitely eager to get into her own classroom, and she has some great tips to offer. And, wouldn’t you know, like Clay Morgan (my last guest blogger), she found inspiration in  Zombieland.

So you want to be a teacher…

Well get ready for the roller coaster ride of your life. Oh, I am not talking about teaching; I’m talking about the job search! Cliché but true, my friends. If you are in the market for a teaching job, you need to have a thick skin, be creative and – when necessary – be a bit, well, ballsy.

After I graduated college, I spent a year in New York City (2001) trying to make it in the non-profit sector before setting out to look for a teaching position at an independent school. Without very much effort on my part, I was scooped up by a boarding school to teach English, run the dance program, serve as a dorm parent, and spend 24/7 on the campus. I was willing, able and ready to work for what seemed like a great deal – (after that year in New York City, a job that included room and board was basically impossible to turn down).

Now almost ten years after my first teaching job search, I am ready to go back into the classroom, but I am no longer a spring chicken. With a Master’s degree under my belt, four years of classroom teaching experience, and over four years non-profit management experience, I have a lot to offer. But I also expect decent pay and benefits plus time to spend with my family. I can no longer sell my soul to the school for nothing and, in many ways, that puts me at a disadvantage in this market.

Like most people, I hate the job search process. In fact, I feel the whole system is set up to make candidates feel like they are less than competent.

So how do I survive and why might you care what I have to say? Well, first of all – like you – I am in the thick of it. And second, I recruited, interviewed and placed AmeriCorps members for the past three years as teacher and tutors in Adult Education and ESL programs, so I have had the “privilege” of being on both sides of the job search.

In order to stay positive and engaged in my job search, I looked to the soon-to-be classic Zombieland for inspiration (trust me the similarities between scenes of the undead in Zombieland and one of the larger search firm’s job fairs are numerous). And so I give you my three top rules for surviving the educational job search:

Rule #1: ENDURANCE. Just like characters in the film needed solid cardio to out-run zombies and other undead creatures, a person needs endurance to survive the job search. In Zombieland, all the fat folks were the first ones to get eaten – and the same can be said of those who expect a job to come easily and quickly. If you are not ready for some long days, hard work, and serious emotional ups and downs you might as well get eaten. Regardless of your teaching field (even the math and science folks are facing steep competition these days), the process seems to be a long one this year. There are simply more candidates with a variety of backgrounds on the hunt.

Rule #2: IF YOU HAVE MULTIPLE TALENTS, USE THEM. In Zombieland, people need to be ready to kill the undead with whatever implement is handy at the time. This can range for a pair of hedge clippers to a piano. In the job search, you never know what will get an employer’s attention, so do not be afraid to show off your unique qualifications. I have landed interviews because of my experience with community service, my ability to coach soccer, my experience running a Dance program and – most importantly this hiring season – because I have taught English and History. As more schools are striving for a more interdisciplinary approach, I am looking good.

[WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!]: That being said, be wary. The more you do, the more schools will ask you to do and if you happen to have a life or want one outside of work, you need to be careful about the contract you sign. You do not want to land what seems like the perfect job only to realize you have sold your soul. Engaging in a school community is a variety of ways is important (and I think the best educational practice for reaching students), but in order to be your best you need some balance in your life. This may be obvious to many, but when the market gets tough, I find myself trying to please to the point that I end up being unhappy.

Rule #3: ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS. This rule is straight out of Zombieland but, hey, they got it right. Just like you have to let off a little steam in Zombieland in order to deal with battling the undead everyday, I encourage job-seekers to make the search more fun. This is not to say that you should not take the search seriously, but rather that you should not take yourself too seriously. This is especially if you have registered with one of the big teacher search agencies and have to attend one of their job fairs.

Personally, I dislike the impersonal corporate style of many of the big search agencies. Sitting at a conference sending little colored slips of paper and emails to perspective schools while having weird somewhat stilted conversations with other candidates who happen to be your competition is not my idea of fun, even if I have multiple interviews lined up. However, it is exactly this situation where Rule #3 is most practical. While sitting at a table of experienced teachers, take time to strike up a conversation and poke a little fun at the fresh-faced newbies. After all, they are willing to do more for less and might be taking your job so you might as well get a laugh out of it. If you are new to the scene, use the job fair as a networking event. You never know you might just find you true love sitting across the table while you both wait anxiously for an interview.

Also, do not forget to get out of the building and take some time off to enjoy whatever city you are in. This will make you much happier and more engaging when you return. Remember, no one wants to work with someone who does not have a sense of humor and, while the employer cares about your credentials, they also need to know that you would be a good colleague.

So those are my thoughts and rules for what they are worth. To those of you out there looking for a job, any job, keep up the good fight! We can do this! We can survive! And with any luck, eventually we will one day look back on the whole process and smile.

So how did Sarah do? What other tips can people offer to wanna-be teachers in this market?

I got this little gem from a colleague who was in the midst of grading three sections of English 101 mid-term papers. Upon completing one full section of essays, he decided to reward himself.

(I usually reward myself by eating a bag of Snickers.)

Anyway, he found this little gem and sent this around via department mail:

My colleague took pause to wonder:

Do you think if we “sexed it up” (as the British say), we could ever get everyone to use it?

Let me be the first to say that I am a Grammar Pimp and proud of it.

I use Grammar all the time.

And she has never failed me.


Grammar is slick.

She is tireless, and she never lets me down.

She has never asked me for anything, and I have only benefited from my relationship with her.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want in on that kind of action?

Grammar, you have a bag full of tricks, you dirty girl.

You aren’t afraid of anything: noun-pronoun agreement, misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers. Colons don’t scare you and –  Grammar, you little trollop – you love when people use their hyphens properly.

Don’t you?

Yes you do.

Knowing Grammar is great.

But using Grammar is excellent.

I’m telling you: Use Grammar.

She wants you to.

If we approached grammar as if it were a reality TV show, do you think it would make kids more psyched to learn their grammar rules? Or would a whole bunch of teachers just get fired?

Traditional raft, from 1884 edition of Adventu...
Image via Wikipedia

A few months ago, I wrote a tirade about the Alabama publisher who took The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and “sanitized” it because school teachers confessed they felt uncomfortable teaching it in their classes due to the  use of the “n-word.”

I ranted and raved about how wrong it is to alter books and how it sets a dangerous precedent.

I never posted it.

I realize that not everyone will agree with me, but I think much (but certainly not all) of the power in Huckleberry Finn is in Twain’s brilliant use of language and how the plot morphs from a story of one, young, rather selfish boy on a journey to a story about a boy and a man, together, against the world.

There is an incredible irony that engaged readers will pick up on that Jim, the slave, referred to as a “nigger” 219 times during the course of the novel, is the most moral, loving, genuine, forgiving, character in the entire book. He is probably one of the greatest father-figures in American Literature. And, if read correctly Huckleberry Finn stands as one of the strongest condemnations of racism in American literature as Huck recognizes Jim’s humanity and says he would rather go to hell than send Jim back into slavery.

I had written much more – about how it is important to discuss the power of the “n-word,” its origins, and its different contexts in different communities; how it is necessary to challenge students about the casual use of the “n-word,” to get them to consider if it is ever okay to use this word and if so, who can say it, when and under what circumstances.

I caught this bit on Huckleberry Finn and the N-word debate on 60 Minutes and about 7 minutes in, I just knew that this report was saying it better than I ever could. If you ever read Twain’s novel or have kids who read it or might read it, it is worth the next 12 minutes of your time. And if you are an educator, I recommend you see it – first, to think about your methods. Because this is a book where one has to be mindful. But this piece of journalism would be great to show in one’s class to get a real discussion on race relations going.

If you were an English teacher, would you use the version with the original text? Or would you choose the new version where the “n-word” is replaced by the word “slave”? Or would you avoid the discussion on race altogether?

Calvin is an only child

Sometimes I’d really like to flip Granville Stanley Hall the bird.

Problem is, the dude is dead.

About 120 years ago, Hall established one of the first American psychology-research labs and supervised the 1896 study “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children,” which described a series of only-child oddballs as permanent misfits. Hall concluded only children could not be expected to go through life with the same capacity for adjustment that children with siblings possessed. “Being an only child is a disease in itself,” he claimed.

Thanks, Granville.

You, like, totally rock.

And by rock, I mean suck.

While much work has been done to debunk the myth of the weirdo only child, most people still think one is the loneliest number. And, shockingly, strangers continue to ask me, over 10 years after my son was born, when I plan to have another. As if having just one is the worst, most unthinkable thing I could ever do.

You’re hearing it here first, folks: I’m not having any more kids.

The womb is closed.

Meanwhile, Hubby and I are doing our best to raise our singleton son, now 11 & 1/2 years old, and we think we are doing a pretty good job of it. I was recently thumbing through a journal that I kept when Monkey was very small, and I stumbled across an anecdote that seemed apropos to share here.

When Monkey was about 3 years old, he won three identical goldfish at a carnival. Actually, he didn’t win them so much as acquire them; the man at the booth said it was late in the day, that it was the last day of whatever festival we were attending, and he basically wanted to unload the fish. So when Monkey’s dart popped one balloon he became the “big winner” of the day and we came home with a plastic baggie o’fish.

Monkey promptly named the trio the best names he could think of: “Mommy,” “Daddy” and “Monkey.” And he fed them (sometimes). And he watched them swim (sometimes). And he disappeared when I cleaned the bowl (always). And for a while, things went along swimmingly. The fish were nice to have, but he didn’t seem very invested in them.

One morning, hubby and I awoke to the sound of Monkey screaming, “Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!”

Husband and I jumped out of our bed and ran down the hall to find our son standing on top of his bed staring into the fishbowl.

“Mommy and Daddy are dead,” he announced.

Now these were three completely identical goldfish. There was absolutely nothing to tell them apart. no telltale spots, no interesting marks, no places where anyone had been chomped, so I had to ask.

“Monkey, how can you tell that it’s Mommy and Daddy that didn’t make it?”

My son looked at me like I was an alien. “Well, because as you can see,” he said, pointing into the tiny little bowl, “Monkey is right there. He’s fine.”


Hubby and I looked at each other. Our child didn’t seem to be traumatized. In fact, when we asked him what we ought to do with the two fish that had gone belly-up, he replied pragmatically, “Probably flush ’em.”

Like most only children, Monkey has hung out with his cousins and turned his closest friends into pseudo-siblings, knowing it’s not the same as having real brothers or a sisters but not necessarily missing what he doesn’t have. For him, siblings are kind of like the floating goldfish we flushed away so long ago: they were nice while they lasted, but he prefers having the bowl to himself. He has seen siblings who get along beautifully, and he has watched siblings claw at each other like cats. He realizes that just because a person has a brother or a sister doesn’t mean that relationship will be a close one. These days, he also knows that being an only has its perks: No one will mess with his many collections, or go in his room to snoop around, or kick him unexpectedly in the twigs and berries. But he couldn’t have known this back then.

The day the fish died, my husband explained the bowl had been too small, that there had been too much urea in the water and not enough oxygen. He asked our son if he wanted to get a bigger tank, more fish.

“No. One is good.”

Recent studies show that only children are no more messed up than anybody else’s kids. In fact, only children tend to do better in school and get more education — college, medical or law degrees — than other kids. Source Material

So everybody can stop worrying.

The only kid is all right.

Where do you fall in the birth order? Has birth order impacted you? Do you think birth order matters at all? Or is it all a bunch of hogwash?

Outside of Taylor's Nightclub & Bistro

Last Thursday afternoon, my husband took Monkey to a fencing tournament in Arlington, Virginia. While they were at The Capitol Clash, I spent hours working on my book. I didn’t eat or watch television; I simply wrote. And it was fabulous.

But by Friday late afternoon, I got antsy and started thinking it would be kind of a good idea to get out of bed and move my body a little bit, maybe go dancing. For the record, the last time I went clubbing was when I lived in New Orleans back in the 1990’s, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there is, in fact, a joint less than five miles from my home where I could actually get down and get funky.

So I started asking (and by asking, I mean begging) friends to go dancing with me that night. After hours of foolishness spent on Facebook (and the phone), I realized that there was simply no one willing or able to go with me. My first rejection came when my bestie sighed and said that, while she loved me, she was going to have to let me down. This was followed by a handful of other friends who felt compelled to tell me everything they were doing with their children that night that prevented them from going dancing with me. As the hours passed, my beloved neighbor emailed to let me know she was already in her jammies while another buddy reminded me of her back injury. Finally, at 9pm my pal Lisa said if she hadn’t blown out her knee she would have totally gone with me.

“Really? I asked.

“No, not really,” she giggled, “That place is gross.”

Even my gay friends declined.

Dejected, I crawled back into bed and wrote prolifically until just after midnight, at which point I flipped off my light. As I lay there in bed, I thought to myself: Why didn’t I just go alone? What was there to be afraid of? I didn’t need an entourage. I wasn’t going out to get laid. I just wanted to shake my groove thing a little. Snuggling into my comforter, I decided that I would go the next night.

At 9:30pm Saturday night, I gussied myself up (and by “gussying myself up,” I mean I put on a pair of clean jeans and a black short-sleeve t-shirt) and headed over to Taylor’s Nightclub and Bistro – which, by the way, is a total misnomer. Taylor’s is no “bistro.” When I think “bistro,” I conjure up a small, informal restaurant that serves wine – usually found in France. Let’s be clear: Taylor’s is a dive. No one is serving bread or wine or olives at Taylor’s. Which, by the way, was fine. All I wanted to do was shake my groove thing.

A blustery Saturday night with about four inches of fresh, slippery snow on the roads, I was surprised to see that the place was, in fact, packed. One dance floor featured an eclectic (read: skanky) mix of women wearing really short dresses and really tall heels doing a lot of bumping and grinding. Sure, there were men on the prowl, but they were harmless enough. There was even a cluster of older moms, laughing and enjoying a night out together.

I made my way to dance floor number two where a disco ball turned and strobe lights flashed. It was much less crowded. The DJ played hits from the 70s and 80s on a warped turn-table. Much more my speed.

I warmed up to “White Lines” and “Cold Hearted Snake” when (gasp) Janet Jackson’s “Pleasure Principle” came on. Sidebar: You have to understand that in 1989, I memorized every single move in that video and I still remember most of the sequences, so I started going full force. It all came back to me. My God, I thought, I am even wearing the black shirt and jeans. (Note: there were no chairs or microphones to topple or throw, so I had to improvise during those parts, and while it was tempting, I did not tie my shirt into a front knot.)

Anyway, near the end of the song, Janet starts throwing her head around and striking these tight popping poses, so I dug deep into my old repertoire and tried to recreate my old moves.

Keep in mind that I had not had one single drink.

Not even a gingle ale.

But suddenly the room started to tip, and I started to topple. You know when you have put too many towels in your washing machine and it starts making that kachung-kachung-kachung sound and you know things are unbalanced, and then you have to go in the laundry room and move things around so that things run smoothly again? Well, it was like that.

Except I was alone in a bar, so when I grabbed the wall for support, I am sure I looked mad drunk.

And the sensation  wouldn’t go away.

The DJ actually announced something like: “If you’ve been drinking, for everyone’s safety, please stay off the dance floor.”

I am pretty sure he was talking to me.

And then, I felt a vibration in my back pocket. Retrieving my phone, I saw that it was my husband, texting to say the airplane had landed. I had to get them at the airport, but I was in no condition to drive. I grabbed my coat, prayed the cold night air would make me feel better, and staggered out into the snow (and by staggered, I mean I zigzagged across the parking lot). If a police office saw me, he would definitely have demanded I take a Breathalyzer. It was embarrassing.

Once in my car, I waited for the weird swirling feeling to stop completely (which it did, thank goodness), and, as I drove to the airport to pick up my family, this twit had a sad epiphany: At forty-sumthin-sunthin years old, I can no longer channel my inner Janet Jackson.

From here on out, as Billy Idol once sang, I’ll be “Dancin’ With Myself.”

Probably in my own living room.

Anybody else miss being in their 20s, even once in a while?

(If you’ve never seen “The Pleasure Principle,” please enjoy Janet’s moves from 1989. Just imagine my face on her body.) 😉

Photo from Skyline Park in NYC

I am terrified of New York City. There I said it.

This has nothing to do with the recent bedbug scourge; I have been afraid of The City for at least 20 years. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love watching movies about New York. I think the first film with scenes shot in New York was called The Thieiving Hand. I learned about it in a Film class in college where we also saw Citizen Kane and The Pawnbroker. None of these were particularly uplifting movies: to the contrary. But they made me feel that New York was the place where people could start revolutions, where broken people came to start new lives and reinvent themselves.

So pretty!

As a kid, I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and 42nd Street and who doesn’t love Miracle on 34th Street? At some point, I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is when I think I started dreaming of going to New York one day and locating the store with those lovely blue boxes. I imagined myself a little like Dolly (in Hello Dolly!), always surrounded by friends, no matter what the circumstances. Later, I fell in love with “ethnic films” like Shaft and Super Fly, The Jazz Singer and everything ever produced by Spike Lee, especially Do the Right Thing. I was already in love with John Travolta, so put him in a movie about New York with the music of the Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever), and I was in. I memorized the dance moves from The Wiz and All That Jazz and belted out Annie so people could hear me at the top of the Chrystler Building. I laughed at Tootsie and,more recently, I obsessed over the television series Sex in the City, living vicariously through the four friends who made their way in the Big Apple.

On film, New York always seems so romantic. Remember watching the child run from one parent to the other in Kramer vs. Kramer in the blindingly bright sunshine of Central Park. Seeing Harry meet Sally again and again and again… until they finally realize they really were meant to be together and kiss. Sigh. And I love Sleepless in Seattle when Meg Ryan (aka: Annie) flies to New York to meet Tom Hanks (aka: Sam) where they finally meet on the top of the Empire State Building and kiss. Sigh. And I love when finally, finally, the cyberspace relationship between Meg Ryan (aka: “Shopgirl”) and Tom Hanks (aka: NY152″) from You’ve Got Mail turns real and they meet each other at Riverside Park and kiss. Sigh.

In the movies, New York totally works for me.

In real life, not so much.

In July of 1990, I went to New York for a friend’s wedding reception. It was a sloppy event as it was raining and muggy. My hair was a wreck. Everyone wore shiny, slinky dresses, and I felt like I’d worn the absolute most wrong thing – ever. I knew no-one other than the bride, and I had already suffered through hours of ostentatious name dropping, so I decided to leave.


Here is where the trauma starts. I got lost. Really lost. I found a subway station and planned to take a train back to my hotel which was about 40 blocks away. At that time, I felt fairly confident (less than 50%) that I had picked the right train. I sat down and watched the streets roll by. For a little while, I was heading in the right direction, but suddenly, to my horror – instead of stopping at the street I’d expected, the train just kept zooming on. I asked a woman where the train was headed and she said Connecticut, and that it was an Express train.

“No stops,” she said.

Somehow I’d gotten onto the completely wrong train and was forced to make peace with the fact that we would not stop until we “landed” in Connecticut.  I felt like I was in that book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. (You know, where the kids escape their home in Connecticut and go to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and discover the secret behind a mysterious sculpture?) Only I was going the wrong way.

Exhausted and scared, I cried. A man on the train took pity on me, got me turned around, and wrote out elaborate directions regarding where I needed to go and which stop I needed to be sure to get off at. He warned me to stay alert, watch for pick-pocketers, and avoid talking to strangers.

“Not everyone is as trustworthy as I am,” he told me as he pushed a $20 bill into my hand. “In case you get in trouble, use this for a cab.”

I don’t think I ever got past that whole train thing because in real life, everything about the New York City scares me. I am one of those people who was not born with any kind of built in GPS system, so no matter how many times people tell me that the Aveues run this way and the Streets run that way, I always smile and promptly forget. The information doesn’t stick; it simply evaporates like piss on the sidewalks.

Nevertheless, each summer I fly to the Big Apple to and force myself to try to conquer my weird phobia and to learn to negotiate the City by myself.

You know how psychotherapists make people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder touch doorknobs to prove to them that nothing bad will happen to them? That’s kind of what I’ve got going on when it comes to New York. I have to go there and try to push through my fear. My theory is that if I deal with my NYC phobia the way people deal with other phobias, perhaps things will eventually be easier for me.

The advent of technology has allowed me to go to New York alone. If I didn’t have a Smartphone, I wouldn’t even try; the Yelp app has helped me find everything from restaurants to public washrooms.

My friends in New York are very accommodating. They are patient when it comes to my fear and always tell me to call them from where I am and that they’ll come and get me.

“It’s faster,” they assure me, “and no trouble at all.”

When they find me, they take me to their favorite places – which is awesome because I’ve seen some places that are really off the beaten path.

Shortly before Person A has to go, I call Person B who asks me where I am and tells me to stay put. Can you imagine? So much delicious learned helplessness.

Central Park is divine!

Maybe some day I’ll be brave like one of those cops from NYPD Blue, exploring the internal and external struggles of the fictional 15th precinct of Manhattan. Or perhaps some day I’ll become a purple-haired assassin (like the costumed
vigilante Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass), fearing nothing. Until then, I’ll live New York City mostly vicariously  — through the movies.

But for real,  just know that all of you City dwellers are endlessly fascinating to me. To me, you really do know everything: where to find the best gazpacho and the best sushi; you live in tiny apartments, stacked one on top of the other, paying crazy rent — but you know the nightlife makes it all worthwhile; you know where to go for tea and which laundromat has the best dryers. You know which car service is the best to get to the airport. You have survived terrorist attacks. And you know how to take underground transportation, daily, without ending up in Connecticut.

What scares you and how do you attempt to conquer it?

photo by Sean Rogers at

This personal narrative was written by Megan Killinger, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester.

“No, no, no! Look at me, Megan!” my mother would say to me tapping the tip of her nose with her finger, repeatedly trying to get me to make eye contact. She did her nose-tapping routine in public — pretty much everywhere, anytime I’d forget to look at her or at someone else. I hated her for it. She never understood me, no matter how I tried. Whenever she did her nose tapping thing, I could feel a hot flush of anger rush through me, aching like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. Apparently, I needed to get it through my head that the person who I was “wasn’t cutting it,” and I needed to transform myself into someone else more acceptable: a hard lesson to learn — that “what you are” isn’t good enough.

As a child, I hated crowds — hated going to the mall — rarely made eye contact, and had a tendency to say whatever I wanted. I was constantly told my actions were “inappropriate,” and I learned to live in a world filled with criticism and boundaries.

I was always the odd one. School was a penitentiary for me, for it was difficult to make friends. I watched my peers react to each other, and that’s how I learned the basics on “How to Make Friends-101.” Personally, I would have preferred to have hit myself in the face with a shovel rather than associate with people, for kids always saw me as “weird.”  I was too blunt or too curious; I learned that telling the truth was not always acceptable. For example, when someone asked me if the outfit she was wearing made her look fat, I learned that it isn’t always appropriate to tell the truth.

So I clammed up.

Guest blogger, Megan Killinger

Growing up, my mother and my doctors were the worst. My mother constantly told me “We’ll find out what’s wrong and fix it.” But I didn’t think anything was wrong with me; nevertheless, I must have seen fourteen different psychologists. No one could figure it out, until one day, as I sat there, playing with some little wooden blocks (as per usual), I heard something I didn’t think I’d ever hear.

“I know what it is!” Quack Doc #14 said to my mother, oh so casually, after spending a lovely ten minutes with me. His stupid tone, just like all the others and their lame stereotypical Quack Doc questions; how I wished I could kick him his shin and see how breezy his tone would be then.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and no — it doesn’t mean I’m “retarded.” My life drastically changed that day — November 12, 1999. My mother was finally granted a reason for my so-called “abnormal” behavior. She cried, and her sobs sounded like a dying mouse; maybe someone told her that I was a retard.

Once I had a diagnosis, my mother enjoyed telling people “my secret” to anyone I brought home. This shattered the “normal” image I worked so hard to create. I watched and tried to make myself as much like the others as possible, so I’d have a chance at fitting in. Honestly, I’m still impressed at how well I did.  I was (and still am) careful about how close I let people get to me at first, so when I drop “the Asperger bomb,” they know me and then they can decide whether it changes anything. But back then, with my mom beating me to the punch, it made maintaining friendships a lot more difficult. When people heard the word “autistic,” they automatically conjured up a drooling idiot or something along those lines.

After I was diagnosed at age 9, I felt like a drug-lord-zombie for a while. It seemed like Quack Doc had me trying out a new medicine every month. Concerta was a real winner. When I took Concerta, I felt like all my life’s blood had been drained, like I wasn’t present — almost. Once, while on that medication, I sat and counted the lines on a bug’s wings. It is amazing how a person can tell her doctor that what they’re giving her is making her ill and then have that doctor respond by prescribing a higher dose of the same medication. Things were eventually adjusted.

I used to get angry with myself, when someone could tell I was autistic. I kept telling myself I didn’t have Asperger’s, that I wouldn’t be that person, but I stopped fighting and learned to accept my diagnosis. I tried to make small changes, for I understand now in order to obtain what I want  — a “normal life” — I have to play by everyone else’s rules: Monkey-see, monkey do.

These days I have some fancy coping mechanisms. One of my coping methods is to play a type of mind game, which involves me asking a ridiculous amount of questions without giving much information about myself. In other words, I get the person I’m talking to inform me about themselves without really having to say much at all. In addition, I always check myself to make sure I look everyone square in the eye and, I am happy to report, I have made some close friends. I even like going to the dreaded crowded, noisy mall.

What I have gathered from my 18 years of life experience is that people reject what they don’t know. If they don’t understand something, most people don’t even want to try. My first semester at college was exactly what I expected, for the most part. To be honest, I was just really excited to have a fresh start. At college, no one knows anything is “wrong” with me, which is a great feeling. I’m finding acceptance in college, and its a part of what I have always wanted: to be seen with unbiased eyes. Sometimes I still speak a little too quickly and I still have to watch what I say to people. I suppose I will always find it hard to blend in, but college is showing me that there can be more to life than just blending in.

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