Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bridge to Nowhere

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I want this lesson to be over

Just as much as you

Last week, I started a unit on poetry with the high school ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) class I have been student teaching for a few weeks now. Although my lesson on figurative language seemed to be a success on Tuesday, Wednesday’s focus on the poetry of Langston Hughes proved to be as much of a train wreck as the Shake Weight. Eyes glazed over, sweat appeared, and desperate pleas for a time check occurred every five minutes… and that was only my reaction.

Naturally, the sad affair was caught on camera. Had the file not been accidentally deleted, it’s the kind of thing I’d watch with the shades drawn while drinking a beer float. Or, mute and sync with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in hopes that something significant would surface in its replay.

When I began this grad program, I anticipated imparting everything I knew and loved about English to those who have a genuine need and/or interest in learning how to communicate with the language. In actuality, the teaching profession has catapulted me into a perpetual student role that has made me rethink a lot of the words I thought I knew as well as Salt-N-Pepa lyrics. Take “empathy” for example.

For my “Exceptional Children” class, I read an article titled “Exploring the Experience of Autism Through Firsthand Accounts” by Laura Cesaroni and Malcolm Garber. One of the participants in the study is a 27-year-old man named Jim who very articulately shares his experience of living with autism. When addressing the commonly held perception that autistic people lack empathy and are unable to take others’ perspectives, Cesaroni and Garber write, “While empathy implies the capacity for participating in another’s feelings or ideas, Jim believes that in practice this often means projecting one’s own feelings on to others. He states: ‘It is therefore much easier to empathize with someone whose ways of experiencing the world are similar to one’s own than to understand someone whose perceptions are very different.'” As a result, Jim says he is often misunderstood. He explains that contrary to popular belief, an autistic person actually expends an enormous amount of energy trying to connect with others while the effort from the opposite party is often disproportionate.

At some point during the course of my studies, I heard that you often end up teaching students in the same way that you learn as an individual, in spite of hearing how important it is to address all learning styles. I’d even extend this statement to include that we are often guilty of loving others in only the way we are most comfortable with and know how. We might try to reach out and empathize, but rarely do we acknowledge that to be successful in these attempts, we might also need to adjust and redefine our truths and ourselves. That which we tend to label a deficit in the other person is likely just a difference.

Before I recently chopped my hair, I often got compared to Tina Fey and, unfortunately by default, to Sarah Palin. Although Russia’s most famous neighbor is equally famous for her association with the “Bridge to Nowhere,” I wanted to share a different perspective on construction and communication that has me in a rebuilding phase. Jim, the 27-year-old man living with autism, penned this:

I built a bridge

out of nowhere, across nothingness

and wondered if there would be something on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of fog, across darkness

and hoped that there would be light on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of despair, across oblivion

and knew that there would be hope on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of helplessness, across chaos

and trusted that there would be strength on the other side.

I built a bridge

out of hell, across terror

and it was a good bridge,  a strong bridge,

a beautiful bridge.

It was a bridge I built myself,

with only my hands for tools, my obstinacy for supports,

my faith for spans, and my blood for rivets.

I built a bridge, and crossed it,

but there was no one there to meet me on the other side.

I. and love. and you.

A society that has reduced love’s mascot to a manbaby who wears a diaper and wields a bow & arrow during the coldest month of the year is hardly in a position to discuss its intricacies…  but doesn’t it make for fantastic conversation?!

Full disclosure: This week’s post boldly mentions Bruno Mars, Miranda July, Dead Prez, and Valentine’s Day, so if that makes you want to choke on chalk-flavored candy hearts, you should probably stop reading now. And also eat the one that says, “Bite me.”

Annnnd we’re back.

I am only mildly ashamed to admit that I listen to The Weekend Countdown with Billy Bush on the radio whenever possible… mostly in hopes of hearing and finding out where that one Rihanna song will land on the playlist. Not the one in which she and Eminem talk about setting themselves on fire, but the track where she keeps forgetting her name. Ooh na na na na. Yes, please.

Sadly, my mohawk inspiration and her jam were dethroned from the top spot this week by Bruno Mars, who simultaneously took over the #1 position on my “Best Worst Love Songs to Countdown to Valentine’s Day” list. I didn’t think it was possible to beat Dead Prez’s lyrics to “Mind Sex,” which include suggestions of wooing a date with “a fresh bed of lettuce with croutons/Later we can play a game of chess on the futon” and my favorite line, “When you show me your mind, it make me wanna show you mines.” However, Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” does indeed take the cake.

In less than 4 minutes, this scorned lover expresses frustration and surprise over the fact that his lady is not impressed by his willingness to:

a. Catch a grenade.

2. Throw his hand on a blade.

3. Jump in front of a train, and…

d. Take a bullet straight through the brain.

But this is exactly what I’m talking about when I say we’ve let Cupid spike our Love Potion #9 with crazy.

In my opinion (though it is humble and covered in permanent marker mistakes), the true test of love doesn’t just lie in our willingness to go to extremes for each other but in our ability to share the everyday. Passion should be there, but also progress and patience.

To put love back in a healthier perspective for myself, I’ve started working through the 70 assignments posted on Miranda July’s “Learning To Love You More” Web site. The project, which was active for seven years, encourages people to engage more creatively with the routines and relationships in their day and document those efforts through photographs, video and text. Number 30 says to “Take a picture of strangers holding hands,” while #15 says to “Hang a windchime on a tree in an unexpected place.”

Portlandia fans, that might sound a little like “Put a bird on it,” but it’s still way better than throwing your hand on a blade. Ooh na na na na.