Friday, January 8, 2010

A Character without a Story

It's been said many times, many ways that inspiration comes in different forms. I have watched television shows and wondered how the story might have changed if the characters were gay, or what if a character followed up on his/her threat to leave. I have read classics and thought the same thing; hmmmm, Romeo and Julius? My first unfinished novel was inspired by a dream I had.

I teach. My students have inspired me. I recall working on my first novel, it was without title at that point, a work in progress. (It still is in progress three years later.) I walked over to help a student, and (I kid you not) it felt like a marble rolled from the back of my head dropped into my frontal lobes and the title just came to me. Kind of like that marble-in-a-maze game that sits on some tables in restaurants to help you pass the time while you wait for your order.

One of my students this year has inspired me again. Just before Winter Break, we saw a play at school. It was written just for kids, kind of a generic "Santa saves Christmas" with the strange assortment of characters at the North Pole you don't find anywhere else but these contrived stories. Still, for the kids it was cute. As is custom, upon returning to the classroom, I asked the students to write a thank you letter. After all, these people came and put on their play for free. Thank you notes were obligatory, (probably to be used as evidence in renewing their grant, or something like that.)

Anyway, back to the notes. I had the students, write their own rough draft, and I would help them edit and revise it. My students come from an English-as-a-Second-Language background. It may be their first language, but there may also be a second language at home. This said, I am treated to some very creative spelling when my students write unfamiliar words for the first time.

I was reading one note and came across a unique spelling for one of the characters' titles. She was known only by her title. The student was describing the "Beariness." Images of a large hairy man in a gown, evening gloves and tiara came screaming to mind. As I tried not to laugh at the image in my head, while correcting the spelling, "B-a-r-o-n-e-s-s" the idea of a large hairy man, dressing in drag (and possibly leather, though not necessarily simultaneously) thinking of himself as royalty, is too much not to work on.

As of now, s/he is without a home.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I was confronted the other day.

In spite of all the progress we have made over the years; 6 states now allow LGBT couples to legally marry, while a few others (and some businesses) have domestic partnerships, I was reminded we still have a long way to go. (Yes, the marriage setbacks reminded me, as well.)

I was driving in my neighborhood, a middle class area of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. On the back of my car I have 4 stickers/decals: one from my college; one that says "Coexist" made up of various religious symbols representing the letters; an "I DO- Support Marriage Equality" sticker and a license plate frame with rainbow paw prints along the bottom. I should also say, I have a Harry Potter-themed license plate. A lot of adults, but surprisingly few children, have commented on it, often while driving.

For a short while a van was driving alongside me. The driver, a middle age white man, seemed to be in a good mood. He would look over at me, smiling. I did not get the impression he was looking for a hookup. (At least I hoped he wasn't.)

We continued along the boulevard, with me in the left lane, he was in the right lane. We paralleled for a while, I would be ahead of him, and he would pass me. After a short while, we came to a light and I thought I saw him mouth something. I rolled down the passenger window, thinking it may be a comment on my license plate, or he wanted directions, after all he seemed to have a grin on his face this whole time. He rolled down his.

"Did you hear me?" he asked. Big grin.


"You're gonna die. M***** F***** C***S****** Piece of S***." At the first word, I rolled up the window and drove off when the light turned green.

At first I laughed it off, figuring him to be an idiot. But later this woke me up. I took a big step earlier this year. I taught my students some LGBT History. I came out to them. Not one of my parents complained nor commented to me or to my principal. My principal, a straight, Latino male, was behind me all the way. Some of my friends at school threw me a wedding shower when my husband and I got married. I began to feel complacent.

Yes, we have come a long way, but I was reminded we still have a ways to go.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sneak peek

Here is a preview of my short story which will be published sometime this year in an anthology of the diversity of today's classrooms.

“Lessons from an Election”

I knew the class would be special, but I would not know exactly how special it would be until November of that year. I walked into that class with high expectations: high expectations for student learning and high expectations for fun; fun in their learning as well as in my teaching. I had agreed to teach the class, a 4th/5th grade split of all gifted students and had prepared for it over the summer. In the era of No Child Left Behind, these students were indeed being left behind. They were being left behind in meeting their special needs; their need to excel, their need to be challenged, and their need to challenge. So, I had planned my lessons around differentiating for the specific and distinct needs to push these students further in their academics.
After 26 years of teaching in the same school, about 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood, I needed something different. I was burning out. In all those years of teaching I had had gifted students in my classes before, but never more than ten, now I had twenty-six. Twenty-six for the whole day, twenty-six split between two curricula! The idea was daunting, but stimulating. I had a new direction for my teaching. Four years prior I had taken on the role of Gifted and Talented Education Coordinator in addition to my duties as a classroom teacher, and I had worked with many of the students in an after school enrichment program the year before when they were 3rd and 4th grade students. So I knew many of them before the school year officially began.
The class was composed of eight 4th graders and eighteen 5th graders; ten girls and sixteen boys; one African-American female, one Filipino male and twenty-four Hispanic students. I was the only Anglo in the room. The class was quite homogeneous as an entity in itself, yet quite diverse from the classes across the hall, from across the school, from across the country.