Monthly Archives: April 2014

0-2: Respectful, Responsible, Safe

In which Ms. Ebner considers dogged self-worth in others . . .


I’m near the front of the room with five kids yammering for my attention.  Two ask if they can go to the bathroom before the bell rings.  One asks if he can go to the office to call his ride home from school.  One or two more are explaining something about missing the day before, or asking me if they need to do a test, or something.  I can’t really hear.   It’s 32 middle school students all talking at once. I just want to get class started, take role within the legally-mandated time frame of fifteen minutes, and have everyone present so I don’t need to repeat instructions.  And in all of this clamor—oh, yeah, kids are not in their seats yet, are not giving any indication that they are here to be here and learn, but playing or chatting or zipping through their touchscreens—there’s Albert*, saying in his oversized voice and equally oversized enthusiasm, “Hi, Ms. Ebner.  Here is my behavior contract.  You need to sign this, put it in the folder and give me five reward tickets (to use for purchases).  See I went over the minimum points for my goal for the week!”


I bet you did.


There was a time when I was newish to this school, and still wonder if I am cut out for the culture.  I first returned because the office manager treated me well, as a valued substitute teacher.  Later, when I got to know more students, I continue to serve there because so many of them seem to like me alright.  I am a now a person with a personality and won’t put up with too much crap, but enough to make me one of the “not mean subs.”  Hence, the line up of requests and stories and the full orchestra warming up before class even starts.  There will be more distractions throughout the day.  “Can I get a drink of water?” Can I go to the bathroom?” “Can I go ask my math teacher a question?” “Can I make you life in this room more like a family, rather than an 8 hour incarceration?”


Albert is the second person I took to be motive to return to this school day in and day out.  When I first met him he came right up to me, started asking me questions, wondering about me, and being, yeah, a bit annoying.  He would try to relate to me.  When I mentioned my insulin pump one day, he held onto that knowledge—not as a person with diabetes himself—and asked me about it, curious, concerned for several days after.  The kid exemplifies a willingness to make the first move to relating instead of cowering in insecurity and bitterness at the world.  Albert reaches out.


One grouchy old teacher there described him to me once as “a puppy dog” but I would say— when he greets me as I come into school or come near the classroom—his persona is more like riding the edge of an avalanche.  He is always there, booming and moving fast, and he always has something sparkling yet bracing to say.


His classmates don’t like him.  Probably most of his teachers don’t either, which explains the “behavior plan” he has been on since the beginning of the year.  He is loud, says outbursty stuff at odd times, has way too much energy, and radiates indefatigable optimism for the essence of life at least eight hours a day.


He is what I wish all people had within themselves, or kept intact.  He has something unstoppable inside which makes me want to protect him from society’s insistence on dumbing-it-down so we can all be bored out of our skulls.


But the thing is, Albert doesn’t seem to need my or anyone’s protection.  He appears to have woken one day at a very early age—with his scruffy, consistently unmaintained red hair—looked about him and decided, People behave like jerks.  I will try to be better than that.


The behavior plans challenge his personal ethics and motivations as do the countless barely-hidden remarks smacking of borderline bullying.  He turns a blind eye to this unnecessary noise, and focusses on me.  The cymbals clang.


“Hi Ms. Ebner.  How are you?  I’ve decided to be a force for good today again!  What do you think of that?  Here’s my behavior contract.”

* Name changed to protect the identity of this wonderful student.


April 23rd – Poem in Your Pocket Day

In which Carrie shares her poem in her pocket for this most notable holiday from the ordinary . . . 

I’m a little fascinated with language for its own sake.  Georges Perec, a French author with many instances of the vowel “e” in his name, endeavors to write La Disparition (French), a novel which omits the vowel in its entirety.

A Void Cover


The translator of my copy, Gilbert Adair, had an even harder task for the English version, A Void.  In this English version, syntax is convoluted, characters are always looking for something missing, and several of our poets–Milton, Poe, Shakespeare–are reproduced, without retaining that popular vowel in any of the semantic forms.  One such is a rendition of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

LIVING, OR NOT LIVING by William Shakspar


Living or Not Living Page 101 A Void


Living or Not Living Page 102


It is of personal preference that I recommend “Po’s” poem BLACK BIRD, which would take too much space here.


In which Carrie remembers something nearly forgotten . . .

Now it is used to store trash cans which aren’t really cans and several boxes of my books are in the stall named “Annie,” for she was the last resident.  She came along after I had gotten past my horse ownership phase, but my mother took up the torch.  I had three that I called mine.


As an adolescent I was introduced to horses by getting one and getting bucked off him a few times to instill the fear properly.  That horse (He Who Shall Not Be Named) was sold three months later.  I got Scotch Lad, or “Scotch,” soon after.  He might have really been my first love, as girls who get to own horses can understand.  We even don’t think their shit stinks, which helps.  It has a oaty-hayey clean smell to it and is usually around tack and other good smells, like the horse himself.


What I was just memoryin’ (to borrow David Mitchell’s coinage for “remembering”) came back to me like a twelve-thousand pound hug.  A salve for loneliness and feeling lost and driftless in an ocean between continents.  Is it why we have memories like these, and why something in me plucked at that stray daffodil among a field of cheatgrass?  The warm tones in the barnlight and the horse fur kept me in some cloak of okay then and now.


I believe I must have felt lonely a lot as a kid. Not unlikely, not uncommon.  But some have more usual routes to manage that and more friends and family to share the burden.  I had those but was too afraid to ask sometimes.  I had the horse too which is better in some ways than people.


I would ride in the daytime, but not everyday.  It was work and effort to saddle up.  Plus, I was afraid sometimes.  I wasn’t one of those girls who was all free spirited and fearless.  I had to work myself up to getting on.  But one thing was an easy release of my self.  My way of losing who I was in that state called by some “flow.”  I didn’t really know about it until now until I remembered going out to the barn in the evenings.


The trail from my parents house to the barn is still slightly carved, and gets some rare foot traffic.  I remember it being thick with snow sometimes.  I would go out in the middle of the night in my jacket and nobody looking.  I would walk and call to him.


He came for the little extras, carrots or a handful of hay or oats, and sometimes I’d just leave it at that.  I’d stand there, arm across the barn wall, in the beautiful barn colors of leathery saddles and cloudy saddle pads and firm bridles and earthy hay bales and those standard bark chips on the floor.  I’d watch him rolling the food in his jaw, or sometimes go in there and put my ear to it and hear him demolishing the carrot.  I think I thought in those more serene moments, watching.  Smelling.  Thinking about my troubles or pleasures.  Troubles become pleasures like that.


Other times I would put him in the cross ties.  His face looking out the rolling barn door usually closed in winter.  It was well lit in there.  I could have used it as a reading room but I don’t think I ever did.  Hay is kind of uncomfortable to sit on.  It comes through the cloth and there are spiders and stuff.


Sometimes I would have so much energy.  Some nights practically burning with it pent up by the square chairs at school or the suffocation of other people.  I’d let it out through brushes and hoofpicks and other weapons of mane and fur maintenance.  Scotch’d just go with it.  The hind feet were a little ticklish at the hocks.  He’d pull a little in resistance but I wasn’t really too afraid of being kicked.  He was a really trustworthy animal.  An all-around good guy.


I’d talk to him.  He’d smell my breath when I breathed into his nostrils. He’d let me fondle his ears, and I still retain the old habit of scratching the insides of ears belonging to other horses to check for fly egg deposits or lice or whatever gross thing it is inside horses ears, mostly in the warmer months.  This, I just realized, represents something I know.  This is knowledge I have in the form of an action.  I’d never really thought it before.  And now I write it.


This helps to think about.  The image of a saddle when I type “saddle” but more than just an image.  It is like a whole miracle that happens only within me.  Same with hoofpick and handful of hay and Scotch’s copper penny fur, thick and dull on this remembered winter night, shiny when it becomes summer inside my imagination at another time I call on horses to help.