Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Evening With David Sedaris

David Sedaris, my favorite writer, gave a reading last night in Austin, Texas.  This was the second year that I attended with my daughter.  We’ve already made plans to attend next year.  This performance we remembered to bring our books to get signed.  Prior to the show we waited in line with about 50 other people.  We were right behind a woman who passed the time trying to hack up a lung.

As it grew closer to the 8:00 curtain, we were nervous that we wouldn’t get to the front of the line in time to get our books signed.  The woman in front of Tubercular Mary pulled an armload of books out of a tote bag.  Shouldn’t there be two books per person limit?  Then the usher started counting and making notations on our “how do you want your book signed” piece of paper.  I was number three behind TM and my daughter. Tote bag lady made the cut.

The guy behind us in line, number 4 in the you might not make the pre-show signing lottery, received his ticket as a Christmas present and had never heard or read Sedaris.  He had purchased his book in the lobby.

“But my friend told me I would enjoy it” he told us.

He was my age, an average white guy.  I still carry my stereotypes of  Texans leftover from the sixties.  I wondered if he would be surprised at the content of the reading.  I'm thinking that Sedaris, a fiftyish gay man with a definite liberal point of view (although from my perspective it’s not liberal it’s just correct), would not be well received in Bush country.  White guy looks like he voted for Bush.

We inched closer to the door. I wanted to take a photo for my blog but there were NO PHOTOS signs.  I expressed my disappointment to white guy.

“Can’t hurt to ask” he said.

He’s right, I thought.  What’s the worst that can happen?  I’m almost 60; if not now, when?  I vowed not to let another opportunity pass me by.  At 60 I live life without regrets.  And then I was in front of David Sedaris stammering “I know it says not to take pictures but I wanted a photo for my blog.”

And he says “no.”

I feel like an ass and immediately regret asking.  So much for no regrets!

“When I turned 50 I realized I really didn’t like having my picture taken.” David Sedaris told me. “So I don’t take photos.”

“Ugh, oh that’s reasonable” I sputter.  God, what a dork I am!

“What do you write about in your blog?” he asks

My brain refuses to function.  I want to be witty and self-possessed and articulate and cool.  I am none of those things.

“Her grandchildren” my daughter chimes in.

“Well that and other things…”  I am a smart person, why can’t I talk?

He gives me another opportunity. “What’s the name of your blog?”

This time I can stutter out “Benchmark 60…I turn 60 this year and it seems like it should be a benchmark…”

He had been drawing pictures of animals on each book he signed.  His next book will be published in October and is a collection of animal “fables. ” He drew a hedgehog on my daughter’s book that looked a lot like an anteater.  “ I’ll draw a picture of myself” he says.

So, I didn’t get a photo, but I got a picture of him…a self-portrait.  I probably got tuberculosis too.  All in all a great evening.  I can’t wait for next year.  Maybe I can find one of those spy cameras and take a picture…what’s the worst that can happen?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Treasure Hunting in Nana's Suitcase

I am heading to Texas next week to see my grandchildren.  Before they were born I promised my daughter that I would not be overindulgent.  Unlike my mother, I would not waste money on useless trinkets.  Instead of buying gifts, I would save money for their college education.  I did set up a 529 plan for each of them and I contribute monthly.  However, I can't stop myself from also buying gifts.  I went shopping today...and bought three dresses for each of them.  They look so cute when they have matching two of the dresses match. 

I did not want to be the grandmother who is greeted with "What did you bring me?"

I think I lost that battle quite a while ago.  My son-in-law told me that before I visited last month he had told Megan, the four-year-old, that I was coming  and he said to her "You know what that means?"

To which she replied "Yes, candy!"

Damm...she was right!  I brought Easter candy for both girls.  What her father meant to tell her was that she didn't have to go to daycare when Nana was there.

The first morning of my visit she came in the bedroom and asked me "What do you have in your suitcase, Nana?"  She's a smart little's a little more refined than asking "What did you bring me, Nana?"

So, to prepare for my trip I've stockpiled useless trinkets that I can stash in my suitcase.  It's the non-holiday version of an Easter egg hunt.  I have accepted that I am an over-indulgent grandmother.  When Nana visits she will have princess dresses, useless trinkets, books, and candy.  Two little jammie-clad girls will tear into my suitcase seeking treasures...and they will find them!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

100 Words: Betrayal

One of the blogs I've been reading is Mr London Street at
MLS writes posts of 100 words on topics suggested by his readers.  I suggested that he write on the topic of
"Betrayal."  When he emailed me that he was going to use my suggestion for his post this Sunday, I decided to try and write a 100 word post also.

It is harder than it looks.  I had lots of good words that I had to throw away.  My first effort had 241 words!  This was a good exercise for helping me to determine the essential elements in the story.  I think I will also write the same piece and aim for 500 words...I hate to waste those good words I had to toss out to get down to 100.

Beth sat watching her friends run to waiting cars. Practice ended at 4:30. She shivered in the wind as she scanned the parking lot searching for her mother. Twenty minutes later the lot was empty, the school office was closed and she didn’t have a dime for the pay phone.
This wasn’t the first time Beth had to walk the three miles home. The last five hundred yards were all uphill.

In the house Beth yelled “Mom?”

She found her mother in the living room, a cigarette smoldering in the ashtray. Once again her mother had chosen bourbon and vermouth.

Count em...exactly 100.  Yeah for me!!!  Do you think I communicated the theme of the prompt?

Friday, April 9, 2010

What's In A Name

I grew up in Southern California. Sunshine and post-war prosperity were the constants in Granada Hills in the 50’s and 60’s. Housing developments sprang up where lemon groves had once stood. One day my family’s house was surrounded by lemon trees and the next day huge bulldozers had flatted the trees and created a new neighborhood. Our only neighbors had been the migrant workers who irrigated the trees and picked the fruit. Then there were houses, paved streets, sidewalks and neighbors.

In the 50’s children played outside. We roamed in groups. Sometimes leaving home in the morning and not returning until late in the afternoon. We played kick the can in the cul-de-sac and rode our bikes on the sidewalk. Cathy Olsen had a license plate on her bike. In black and yellow California license plate colors it said “Cathy.” Lots of kids in the neighborhood had personalized license plates that they had secured by mailing off labels from cereal boxes and a small handling fee. Other friends had started the school year with pencils with their names printed on them. I never had a license plate for my bike and I’ve never had pencils with my name printed on them.

I am one of those people who has to go through life spelling my name because it is not a traditional spelling. It’s one more thing I can blame on my mother. I lusted after those pencils. In the 50’s personalized clothing, cups and pencils weren’t as common as today. Every time I went to Disneyland as a child I scanned the gift store racks for personalized items with my name. I never found it.

My mother had a multi-syllabic name, Barbara. She disliked when people called her Babs or Barby. She consciously named each of her three children a one syllable name that can’t be shortened to anything else. I, secretly, always wanted a nickname. If I couldn’t have a nickname, why not at least a personalized cup or pencil? My name is Jann. Not Janet, not Jane, not Janice, not even Jan. It’s Jann, with two “n’s” Other than the guy who publishes Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, it is rare to run across anyone with my name.

I’ve had friends tell me how they were named. Usually it’s a family name, or the name means something like strength or bravery or spirituality. I guess having just one syllable is just as valid an excuse for a name, but not as emotionally powerful as being named after a famous ancestor.

One thing I liked about being a school administrator was having notepads with my name on them. I still have a few pads around the house that say “From the Desk of Jann Tresham, Assistant Principal.” I suppose I could even get an Oregon license plate with my name on it. Now that I have a presence on the internet I even have a nickname. It’s #1Nana…but I don’t think they have pencils with that name either. I can’t win!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Special Ed Easter

On Friday I substituted  in the life skills classroom and we colored eggs.  Even with a lot of preparation and aggressive supervision I still managed to send several kids home with blue and red fingertips.  They just couldn't resist touching those wet eggs.  Nothing says a good time like bowls of permanent dye, boiled eggs, glitter and princess stickers.  If only we'd had cupcakes, it would have been a perfect day!

It is a joy to work in this classroom because of the quality of the educational assistants.  The assistants are paid a little above minimum wage and frequently perform tasks that an average person would find unpleasant.  Changing the diapers of  a young adult student is not an easy task and day after day the assistants perform their duties with respect and compassion. 

This classroom serves students with multiple disabilities. I am weighed down thinking about the challenges that they and their families face. The progress is slow, but small accomplishments are celebrated. This classroom is a joyful place. The students enjoy being there and their eagerness to participate in each activity is reinforcing to the staff.

We used some of our eggs to make deviled eggs…not as good as cupcakes, but the students gobbled them down.  At the end of the day each student clutched a small plastic bag of eggs as they climbed on the buses.

Once the buses had left the staff gathered in the classroom to debrief the day.  This was my favorite story:

The assistant accompanied a student with autism to a history class.  Her job is to help the student to manage his behavior in the mainstream classroom.  Learning appropriate social behaviors is one of the skills that we're working on with this student.  The student kept picking his nose.  She reminds him that it is not appropriate behavior and that other students in the class will be grossed out by this behavior.  She points out that no other students in the class are picking their nose.  To which he replies "But I'm Soooo hungry!"

Guess we should have fed him more deviled eggs before class.
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