Showing posts with label SummerSchool. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SummerSchool. Show all posts

Lifetime Win

 When I showed up for pool class this past Sunday I thought I got the time wrong because nobody was in the the classroom pool.  

I stood still and looked for clues and saw familiar pool classmates moving their equipment to the lap pool, our temporary classroom for today.

This would've been a good time to pivot away and skip class. 

The last time I was in a lap pool was in 1985 at the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale.  At the start of my race I slipped off a wet starting block (true rookie move) and started my race treading water. 

It felt like minutes passed in the seconds it took to gain forward momentum without touching the nearby wall and disqualifying myself. 

I plodded through the race, never  even coming close to catching up, and upon finishing found myself the recipient of much clapping from other (faster,  better) athletes.

If you've never been the recipient of the slow clap for good sportsmanship, I would describe it as  a reverse cheer, the opposite of what you would get if you set a new world record.  

My swimming career ended then and there. I retired my goggles, hung up my speedos and have steadfastly avoided lap pools since then.

But I guess today it was meant to be.  

Why fight it?

The part of me that usually fought unexpected change is especially subdued now, having just last week had to practice peaceful silence when my happy quiet routine was interrupted, loudly, by roofers.   

I really didn't mind the roofers banging and the clanging and the stomping.  

What really bothered me was having to clear off my deck sanctuary, the place I retreated to every evening to witness the moment the very first solar light turned on.

Usually before it could change from blue to purple to red to yellow to green and back to blue again, three or four more lights would come on until all 24 bulbs across the deck lit up.  

At that point, it would be rude to walk away from the lights since they'd just arrived to work, wouldn't you agree?   So then I would linger awhile watching the sherbet colored light beams slice through the humid summer nights.

This was my normal happy until the whole "new roof" thing happened, causing me to divert my attention to other pursuits of happiness.  

 I fell back into digital archives, peering at documents created on the best and worst days of stranger's lives.  

I emptied a closet and prepare it to become something else, something better.  

I started writing again.

The  roofers have now finished and a familiar peace returns to my deck.

I haven't put the solar lights back up.  

Maybe I will later - maybe tomorrow? - definitely not until telling you what happened in the lap pool.

As I walked toward the lap pool, classmates greeted me from their positions on the entry stairs. It's cold, they warned.  I nodded and proclaimed my determination to face it.  I stepped quickly down the  stairs and dunked right under water to just get it over with.  

It felt fantastic.  As other students were arranging themselves along the lap pool toward the shallow ends where they could stand, I picked the deep spot right in the middle of the pool and had the time of my life doing pilates while treading water.  

Towards the middle of class, the instructor had us swim modified laps (hands only, feet only, backwards) and then we settled into a final intervals of kicking.  Holding on to the wall, face up, we kick our legs from the bottom of the pool to the surface and back down.  

For the final  set we do intervals of fast and slow kicking right by the surface, facing upwards as if we were swimming backstroke.   I dig deep in my soul and churn up white water for the entire fast interval, impressing myself if no one else. 

On this unusual class in an unusual location, our instructor does an unusual thing and asks the class if they would like to have Gladiator Races.  

Before many can respond she tells them to pick a teammate.  The people around me slide toward the far end of the pool, away from the instructor's encouragement. 

We chat until Joyce, our instructor, comes to our side of the pool and teams me up with Nancy. We twist two pool noodles together and sit back-to-back so that she looks like she is sitting in a chariot and I would say I am the horse but the horse would be in front and going forwards and I'm in back and going backwards. 

Because we are on the opposite of the pool from the rest of the chariot teams, Joyce instructs us to cross the pool and demonstrate so that the other teams can see how this chariot thing works.

Nancy squares herself towards the other side of the pool and keeps us going straight as I turn my legs back into a turbo-kicking whitewater-splashing mermaid horse engine, crossing the pool quickly.  

 We stop before crashing into anyone,  then turn ourselves around, ready to race. 

Joyce then asked the class, "Who wants to race them?"

No one. 

No one wanted to race us.  

Each and every person left the pool instead of racing us.

In my little world, this a lifetime win  -- big enough to cancel out the slow clap of shame and loud enough to lure me into future dates with the lap pool.

How High Can Rocks Fly: Part 3: How fast can dead snails run?

(From December 2017) 
I will forever remember finding a particular envelope the week after Christmas while sorting through odds and ends and putting away decorations and writing syllabi.

I thought the paper envelope was filled with some sort  of fragrance beads, so I got a glass bowl, opened the envelope and shook them out. A bunch of yellow beads fell out, accompanied by about 50 tiny assorted seashells mixed in with tiny beads.

 I spent the better part of the afternoon admiring each one of them and then placing them in to a spiral pattern in the bowl.  I loved each of them.

The seashells tell a story about creatures effortlessly – almost helplessly -- creating beautifully perfect geometric art that they leave as their gift. 

These creatures did not have the choices of  being kind and helpful – or did they? Am I underestimating them? -- but still they found a way to be generous.

 I suddenly want to know more about the communities of whatever these are but oh wait. I am dumbstruck. Entirely.

  I am a grown human being and I do not know what to call the creature that lived and died and created seashells.

Are they snails? I’m thinking snails are land things. 

Snails are like Gary on Spongebob.  Wait, is Spongebob really under the sea? Is Gary a native underwater sea snail  or is he from above the water like Sandy the Squirrel and does that explain why Gary meows?  I want to look this up but stay on track.

The creatures that made these seashells can’t be “snails” and I’m stumped but motivated to get through this and find the right word so I can finish writing this and finally grade.

 I think of typing in “What died to become a seashell?”  or “How are seashells made?”  but I think google would laugh at me. 

Of course I know how seashells are made.

They are made by math, by the golden spiral and by the Pythagorean swirly square root thing.

Each sea shell is  made by a divine creature that instinctively grew at exactly the right speed; they could not go faster or slower, they could not grow into a shape any different than the one they were intended to become.  

I can’t imagine they were aware of their shells, but then I can also imagine an entire show based on snails having shell envy and some snails getting plastic shell surgery to look more like a conch. 

I finally did search “how are seashells made” and have an answer that is boring and ugh.  The smug top sentence for any big search should be disregarded. 
 Then I switched to google image search and got this treasure for you. You’re welcome.

At least now I have an answer.

A variety of sea creatures leave their shells.  They have all sorts of names. Mollusks and clams and oysters and guess what?  As the narrator I get to make choices and for this story we are going to call them sea snails, and leave their names a mystery that died when their entire family-village perished in whatever catastrophic event that caused all these shells to be seeking refuge halfway around the world from their home.

How do I know they are from far away? The tag on the bag of shells read “Made in the Philippines.” Of course I read it, I look for hints and clues everywhere, all the time.

It did not mention whether the contents were food or could be given to children – do they care if anyone is harmed? -- but I bless their hearts anyway, because that’s the right thing to do.

The Philippines are pretty far away from Tallahassee, an unimaginable distance to be covered by any snail, much less a dead one.

That’s right. I now realize my question is really “How fast can a dead snail run?” and the answer has been answered by every single one of these shells.

 It moved as quickly as it needed to in order to go where it was intended to go, and the universe did the rest of the work.


*On exam day I will have enough rocks and stones so that each of you can pick two shells and two stones; one of each to keep, and one of each to give away. 

Chasing the Dawn

On a normal Tuesday during the last week of February, I carried a case of water to my classroom then hustled back to my car to get the rest of the supplies for my classes. 

This whole “bring food to my students” thing escalated quickly.

It started with Vinny from last semester. You remember him? You would if he was in your class.

Anyway, as part of his service project he collected donations from Planet Fitness members, and we packed the canned goods and snacks into brown bags that we distributed at Veterans Village. 

Vinny brought me so many donations that I had a few odds and ends left over in my office, so I decided to make a tray of granola bars and cheese crackers to bring to my class the first week of classes.

 All the food disappeared quickly, so I bought more, and added bananas Alicia’s mom sent two huge boxes of granola bars.  Tia brought Little Debbies.  Every single day in every single class I had enough food for everyone to take something.

Of course I had no rules for my students about the food. They didn’t have to earn a special grade or come to class early. They could take two, take three, take one for their friend who was always hungry. No one took too much, and students rarely took anything before class and instead grabbed a snack on their way out of the class and said goodbye and thank you.  A very nice way to end class.

During the first exam – back in January -- there was a little situation where a Starbucks cup filled with ice water that had been precariously balancing on the edge of the desk fell down in a minor explosion of ice and water and embarrassment.  My student’s face turned red so I blurted out from across the room, “I’m sorry for knocking your water off! My super powers go crazy some times.” She giggled. I offered that I had a water bottle in my lunch bag in my office, and if she was really thirsty she could run upstairs and get it. 

She said no and the room went back exam-day-quiet.

I arrived to my next class early, set up all the food and got ready for exam day. 

Once everyone was settled but before I passed out exams, Tyler raised his hand. Yes? “I heard you were giving out water bottles in your earlier class….?”  I told him that was fake news, but then asked my class if they were thirsty. Heads nodded.  So throughout February I brought both water bottles and brunch, often arriving on campus before dawn to set my class up before 7:15 and head upstairs to eat breakfast with colleagues. 

Back to this particularly normal Tuesday in February I was discussing earlier.  As I was walking under the inky sky that was turning just a bit pink and orange my mind flashed back to Spring 2000, the only other semester I brought food for my students. It was different but the same; I was an adjunct teaching 5 classes on 3 campuses around Tallahassee, and I would spend about $20 every Wednesday to get enough ingredients to make one tray of cookies for each of my classes.

 I take three more steps before the gravity of it all hits.

20 years ago I was bringing cookies and having a normal semester until something happened that changed everything – Marvin Scott, one of my favorite students, died in a car accident.  Ten years later when I was trying to write a book about Marvin’s life, two people in one of my classes passed away.

A little voice inside me said “Oh-uh, brace yourself.”